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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Neighbor Finland Knows Russia only too Well

Finnish expat blogger Tero Paananen of The Mad Finn has this to say about the ridiculous notion that there is some "third way" for Russia (in short, he sees it merely as the enabling of dictatorship and failure):

The situation of NGOs has gone from bad to worse in Russia during President Vladimir Putin’s reign. The authorities are doing their utmost to eliminate the emergence of a free civil society. The government is trying to subjugate any signs of civil expression, subordinate public opinion to state interest, and incorporate civil society into the government’s statial strategy.

Many NGOs in Russia defend those most vulnerable, and it is exactly these organisations that suffer the most from government repression. Those at the receiving end of this repression are thus the weak and the helpless. If we close our eyes from this, and choose to cooperate with “front” organisations enjoying state blessing, we are not only wasting our financial support, but are doing real damage to the very people we wish to help.

Stating a few obvious facts: The Russian Federation is a state, which engages in an open war of terror against its own citizens. Authorities at both federal and local level attack, terrorise, and kill their own fellow citizens. Russia is no state governed by law.

Government pressure on NGOs does not depend on the NGOs themselves, but on the political and economic interests of the ruling elites. Authorities do not react to the actions of NGOs, but create themselves the conditions, in which NGOs are left with no way out; in which NGOs cannot avoid an open confrontation.

It is the moral duty of Finland and other free nations, especially in the EU, to help our partners in Russia to survive. We cannot let the authorities intimidate our friends, drive them into a corner, and destroy everything we have achieved together in the past ten years. It is vital to continue the work and support one another.

Finnish experts often highlight the “uniqueness” of Russia’s development; most likely, this is because we wish to monopolise the expertees on Russia. It seems that Finns have stressed Russia’s uniqueness for so long that we have begun to believe in it ourselves. The end result of this is that the average Finn has a very hazy knowledge of our eastern neighbour; even those who have visited Russia only see what they want to see.

Many are simply unable to regard Russia with common sense, according to the same human standards that we regard other states and cultures. Instead, many choose to spread all sorts of fictitious legends and metaphysical constructions about Russia. It often seems that economists have the clearest idea of what is going on in Russia, because they usually understand the value of money. And money is the only thing Russia’s ruling elite is ever interested in.

The uniqueness of Russia’s development, the so-called “Third Road”, is the artificial ideological construct that the notion of a “Sovereign Democracy” that Putin’s regime has declared is based on. This “Sovereign Democracy” is ruled by the “Power Vertical” — the authoritarian power apparatus of Putin’s presidential administration. By stressing Russia’s uniqueness, we are, in fact, lending support to the development of authoritarianism that lies behind the troubles Russia is facing today.

The Mad Finn also notes that Finns are putting their money where there mouths are:

I’m proud to report news about the birth of the Finnish-Russian Citizen’s Forum by a group of human rights activists from Finland and Russia. Founding members include, among others, a Finnish Member of Parliament and my brother. The press release about forming the organization follows.


A group of persons worried about the development of democracy and the state of human rights in Russia has established a non-governmental organisation, Finnish-Russian Citizens’ Forum.

The organisation’s aim is to “promote cooperation between citizens and different peoples in Finland and the Russian Federation by supporting non-governmental organisations in their effort to strengthen democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech in Russia”.

The murder of the Russian journalist and civil rights activist, Ms Anna Politkovskaya, acted as a catalyst for establishing the Citizens’ Forum. This sad event served to consolidate cooperation between people concerned about Russia’s current development, prompting several appeals, public discussions, and demonstrations in autumn 2006.

The Citizens’ Forum supports Russian non-governmental organisations, which are now facing difficulties in their work due to Russia’s new draconian law on NGOs. The Citizens’ Forum will invite representatives of Russian organisations to Finland, organise visits to Russia, and distribute information about the situation in Russia.

The Citizens’ Forum will soon open its web site at

The Chairperson of the Finnish-Russian Citizens’ Forum is Ms Heidi Hautala, MP (The Greens). The organisation’s Deputy Chairman is Mr Jukka Mallinen, Chairman of the Finnish PEN Club. The Citizens’ Forum has a nine-member Board. Mr Mikael Storsjö, entrepreneur, serves as the board’s Secretary, and Ms Iida Simes, producer, as the Board’s spokesperson.

The name of the new organisation translates into Swedish as “Finsk-ryska medborgarforumet”, and its domicile is in Helsinki. The Citizens’ Forum carries an unofficial name in Russian: “Finsko-rossiyskiy grazhdanskiy forum”.

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