Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 06/2008

Coming Home or Moving Home? "Westernising" Narratives in Finnish Foreign Policy and the Re-interpretation of Past Identities

Chris Browning

January 1999

Finnish Institute for International Affairs


Since the end of the Cold War it is widely accepted that Finnish foreign policy has oriented increasingly towards the ‘West’, the most pertinent and concrete example of which, to date, has been accession to the EU. Implicit in many commentaries is the assumption that this orientation is a natural phenomenon, the natural culmination of an effervescent Finnish ‘Western’ cultural identity. Whilst the rhetorical style perhaps differs espousers of this view draw on Herderian and Hegelian assumptions, essentially arguing that after the unfortunate interruption and deviation from its true path occasioned by the Cold War the Finnish ‘national spirit’ is now back on its rightful historical and linear course to national fulfilment and blossoming. Looking into the nation’s history such discourses see Finland’s cultural and political roots as lying in the West and hence posit that with the break-up of the Soviet Union Finland is returning to these organic origins in Western civilisation, with all the effects for foreign policy such a ‘Western’ identity will entail. This is what we may term the ‘Westernising’ narrative of current debates about Finnish identity and Finnish foreign policy. On this basis the Finnish Cold War foreign policy of neutrality is characterised, either as having been a total aberration and betrayal of the Finnish ‘Western’ Self, or, and perhaps more commonly, as having been the best possible option available to the Finnish elite at the time: constrained by the dictates of power, agile Finnish political leaders were able to manoeuvre the Finnish ship of state through the various pitfalls and traps waiting to beguile them in the stormy waters of great power Cold War politics. Now free of such power dictates these current ‘Westernising’ discourses are attempting to push Finnish foreign policy towards the West, legitimising such a move to the Finnish public and the wider international audience on the grounds of Finland’s claimed historical Western identity. To note the title of this panel discussion, “Defining New Identities Between East and West’, for Westernising discourses there is no between about it. As an organically Western state why would Finland want to be between East and West any longer? On this basis the Finnish neutrality of the Cold War period merely disguised the true Finnish identity, a ruse so that Finland could in the future once more live as its true self when conditions once again permitted.