Center for Strategic Decision Research


Finland's Experience with Sweden and Russia

Mr. Nikolai Marschan
Special Counsellor, Finnish Ministry of Defense

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to provide a voice from Finland. Actually, my presentation was originally intended to focus on security and defense policy, but I believe that a short presentation on Finland's history, my connection, and my job may be more interesting.


I would like to start with some history. Finland is located in the northern part of Europe, and the Finnish people have had merchant contacts with the West and with the East, with Novgorod and the whole Hansa. Sweden, which during the Crusades was quite a strong kingdom, sent crusaders to the southwest of Finland and a large number of Swedish people to inhabit the coastal region and thus Finland was incorporated into Sweden. Finland was a part of Sweden until 1809, when Sweden lost its war with Russia as well as lost Finland. In one way, this was a happy situation for Finland, because Finland was made an autonomous state as a part of the Russian Empire, The Grand Principality of Finland. We had our own laws, our own money, and our own passports, but we had a common foreign policy with Russia and mostly a common army with Russia. In 1917, when major events in St. Petersburg led to the Russian revolution, the Finnish parliament decided to declare Finland's independence and Finland became an independent republic. 


I was born in the town of Vyborg in Finland in the late 1930s, and I must say that my first contacts with the Soviet Union were not very happy as Finland was forced to defend itself in the Winter War in 1939 and our family had to leave Vyborg. After World War II, Finland was obliged to pay war compensation to the Soviet Union, thus forcing Finnish industry-the metal industry, the wharf industry-to develop fast. We learned during that time that quality and maintaining contacts are very important to international trade. The war compensation was fully paid in the beginning of the 1950s and Finland could start so-called normal business relations with the Soviet Union. At the same time Finland maintained normal contacts with all Western countries including Sweden. 

We have a minority of Swedes in Finland, the descendants of those Swedes who were sent there in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. That population is now 5.6% of the Finnish population, and we have two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. This of course explains why it is so easy for us to do business with Sweden; we have a similar background and the same language. 


With Russia, it is a little bit different. While we maintain good connections with the East, the population of the St. Petersburg region is more than twice the size of the entire Finnish population, which is over five million people. So there is an enormous potential at our border. Our border with Russia is about 1,500 km long, and it is the safest border of the Russian Federation. In fact, Mr. Sergei Ivanov, the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, asked a couple of months ago if Russia could send its frontier guards to other parts of their borders because the Finnish border is so safe and easy to protect! 

Before I joined the Ministry of Defense I was in private companies for about 30 years and did business both with the Soviet Union and western countries. Since 1988, however, I have been working for the Finnish Ministry of Defense, and I have had the opportunity to deal with many different countries, especially with Russia. Working with Russia is different, but if you are patient enough you can achieve tremendous results.  

When Finnish businessmen invest money in Russian companies, they often expect good results and profits within one year. This is not a good way to think, because the Russian culture needs more time; the Russian community expects that if you invest, you leave the money to grow slowly and steadily in order to get the best results. When Finnish companies send their people to subsidiaries abroad, they think that they will encounter the same culture as in Finland. This is also wrong. You must work with local experts in order to achieve the best results. That means that you have to trust your company and your fellow workers and colleagues. 


To conclude my presentation, I would like to leave you with the words of a Russian diplomat, F.I. Tutchev, from November 1866. Although he expressed himself in Russian at the time, what he said can be translated in the following way: "It is not possible to understand Russia with one's brains, to measure it with normal means. It has a special soul: you just have to grasp it." 


















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