As a child of the Cold War – and a Finnish mother – I’m not surprised that anger towards Moscow is rising. Geopolitics weren’t high on my agenda during summer holidays in Helsinki in the 1980s, but even then, I sensed that Finland’s dutiful relationship with the bear next door was fraught. The only adult who convincingly described the tension was a lonely drunk I once met at a party. Gazing eastwards across Helsinki’s archipelago, he told me about his gun collection before demonstrating how he’d fire at the Soviets if they invaded. With one last imaginary bullet, he shot himself in the head. That, he said, was what Finlandisation meant.
I spent three days this week trying to get out of Russia with my three-year-old son, who was visiting his grandparents in Murmansk for the first time (in retrospect perhaps not the best time to have made such a trip). There were no flights out, but also no spare tickets on any bus going to Helsinki; the train was still running (for Russian and Finnish citizens only) though everyone expects it to stop any day. At Finland Station payments to Russian Railways with Western cards were not working. I had to beg the lady to hold the tickets in the face of a long angry queue as I ran to a nearby Sberbank to withdraw cash.
'People are like boats, we head off for a place we've been longing to visit for ages,' says a character in 'Pirate Rum', a short story by Tove Jansson. 'Maybe an island. Finally we get there. And what happens? We go right past, further out.' Having set off in a canoe, the man gets caught in a storm and is sheltered by two women living on a secluded island.
We have a new prime minister, heading up a centre-right coalition, with a fondness for bear-shooting and cerise tops. It’s Mari Kiviniemi, elected on Tuesday by the Eduskunta, the Finnish Parliament, as leader of the governing coalition’s dominant Centre Party by a margin of 115-56. She takes over from the discredited Matti Vanhanen. Though the talk is that Vanhanen’s hand was forced by irregularities in party funding, he has blamed his departure on his leg (phlebitis). Vanhanen, like his successor, was chosen partly for his boringness: in a past life he was, incredibly, a teetotal journalist. He hadn’t even been through detox. But he then spoiled it all with a slather of extra-marital affairs.