Throughout its history, Finland has been a borderland in battles between the East and West. For 600 years it was part of Sweden. An 1809 Russian victory turned it into an autonomous czarist grand duchy. Independence came a century later -- only to be followed by two devastating wars against the Soviet Union. Yet Finland persisted in defending its values and sovereignty.
A milestone on this historical journey was reached last week, when Russia and Finland signed a package of three treaties governing their future state and economic relations. The key phrases of those documents talk about the "full-fledged equality" of the two parties as well as of cooperation "in the spirit of a united Europe."
From both countries' standpoint, the emphasis on a "united Europe" is extraordinarily important. For Russia, it signals a declaration of foreign policy intent because these are the first treaties the new independent state has negotiated with any Western country. For Finland, the phrasing provides a long-sought confirmation that its desire to join the European Community is not opposed in Moscow.
That some Finnish leaders would seek Moscow's approval even now serves as a reminder of their country's post-war political reality. It was based on President J.K. Paasikivi's conviction that none of Finland's political actions could go against the Soviet Union. This attitude was ratified in Stalin's 1948 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance which obligated Finland to watch its step and would have welded it to the Soviet Union's defense system in any future war. Over the years, the caution became known as "Finlandization," a policy of neutrality but also of self-censorship and political self-deception.
The new treaty package cancels the Stalin era political-military pact. Instead of an emphasis on security issues, wide-ranging cooperation in economic and ecological matters is underscored. The package calls "particular attention to developing cooperation between Finland and its bordering areas of Murmansk, Karelia and St. Petersburg."
Under the czarist rule, Finland was an important supplier of artisans, industrial products and food for St. Petersburg. Today, Russia's second largest city has a population equal to that of Finland. If conditions of economic order and progress return, St. Petersburg could again be a key market for Finland. Finns are also behind plans for Via Baltica, a new 2,500-mile highway from Murmansk through the Baltics to Turkey. If completed, such a road could trigger development in all countries around the Gulf of Finland.