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The long roots of anticommunism in Finland and in the Baltic countries

18.02.2013 - 12:17
(updated: 06.06.2016 - 13:48)
  • TA
Lena Huldén

The Baltic states today experience a renaissance of nationalism, populism and extreme capitalism. The differences in income between the rich elite and the poor are increasing. Instead of class struggle easy solutions of racism and nationalism are offered by the mainstream media, which is either state own or in the hands of the capitalistic elite. The communist parties are marginalized and the left is fragmented and weak.

The roots of the anti-communist movements go, however, as far back as to 1917. Finland, Estonia and Latvia share a common history as all three countries were part of the Russian empire before the First World War. There were close ties between the workers’ movement in Russia and in the three countries. Therefore the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 also offered inspiration to the working class in Finland, Estonia and Latvia.

The Finnish parliament declared the country independent in December 1917. The independence of was approved by the Russian Bolshevist Council of people’s Commissars in January 1918. The country was in a political turmoil with violence and mistrust. The regular police and military forces had been dissolved and both left and right groups started to form their own armed forces already in spring 1917.

With the dissolution of regular police and military forces, both left and right began forming armed groups in the spring of 1917. The 27th of January 1918 the Social Democrats led by the people’s deputation of Finland seized power and a civil war broke out. The fighting quickly escalated and the right-wing conservative military forces were strengthened by German forces. The war ended with failure for the socialists. Tens of thousands of workers, socialists and suspected sympathizers were interned in camps, where thousands died by execution or from malnutrition and disease. Of a total of 39,950 casualties almost 35,000 were victims of the white terror. The new conservative government even tried to sell the prisoners as slave workers to the mining industry in Germany. They were put into railway wagons and waiting for shipping when the Swedish government intervened. Deep social and political enmity was sown between the both sides and the leading socialists fled to the Soviet Union. The socialist movement was divided and the Finnish social democrats became a party, which got a leading fraction that would become dominated by right wing opinions.

The Communist party of Finland was founded in august 1918 in Moscow by the socialists that had been exiled by the war. The party was illegal in Finland until 1944 and it worked through other organizations to organize the workers.

The situation in Estonia and Latvia resembled that in Finland. While the right wing forces in Finland formed close ties with Germany and invited the German forces, imperial Germany occupied both Latvia and Estonia as a part of the First World War military operations. The fight against the occupation hardened in 1918 and the Estonian red riflemen got support from the Red Army. In the liberated area Estonian workers declared a commune in Narva in December 1918. Although the term “independence war” are used for both Estonia and Latvia, they could more justly be labeled as a civil war or a class conflict, which resembled the development in Finland. When Germany collapsed the right wing side in Estonia got support from a British fleet and from Finland. Estonia was then used as a base for the attacks against Petrograd. The Estonian Communist Party was founded in 1920 and it became illegal in 1924. The founder and leader of the party, Victor Kingissepp had been active already in forming the Narva commune in 1918. He was arrested by the secret police in May 1922 and executed a few days later.

Several Latvians fought in the army of the imperial Russia and in 1917 the Latvian riflemen transferred their loyalty to the Bolsheviks. They took an active part in the Russian civil war and had a major role in the attempts to spread the revolution to Latvia. The Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was declared in December 1918 and consisted of almost the whole of present Latvia. In spring 1919 the right-wing forces of Kärlis Ulmanis got backing from the Entente and German Freikorps. The Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was reduced to a part of East Latvia and was finally conquered by Latvian and Polish forces in 1920.

The first rise and defeat of fascism

The efforts to spread the revolution to all three countries had failed in 1920 and the first wave of anti-communism can be seen as white terror. But the international efforts to destroy the revolution in Soviet union had also failed and the sole existence of a big socialist country as a neighbor was considered a major threat for the rightwing governments. The economic crises in the 1930’s saw the rise of fascist movements in all three countries. The communists had to work underground and the governments used the fascist organizations as an outlet for dissatisfaction and economic injustice. The communists were a prime enemy and one of the few forces to oppose the spreading of fascism.

The fascist movements were usually paramilitary. The paramilitary Vaps movement in Estonia wanted to introduce the spirit of youth and militancy. They opposed the seemingly decadent liberalism and Bolshevism. P?rkonkrusts (Thunder Cross) was a Latvian ultra-nationalist and antisemitic political party founded in the 1930s. The slogan was “Latvia for Latvians – Work and bread for Latvians”. The party rejected legislation that gave national minorities cultural autonomy. Their propaganda was aimed against minorities as Baltic Germans and Jews.

In both Estonia and Latvia the development went from some kind of democracy to dictatorship in 1934. The all political parties were forbidden and with the help of the state police totalitarian states were established.

Since the Communist party was illegal in Finland, communists used other organizations to organize the workers. Several workers crossed the border to the Soviet union illegally to study Marxism-Leninism in the Lenin school. After finishing they came back to organize the party and educate the workers. The mass arrests of communists in Finland started already in 1923. A former prison camp from the civil war was made into a prison mainly for political prisoners. It was popularly called the “university of Tammisaari” because the political prisoners studied vigorously besides forced labour.

Most of the police force was many were also active in the paramilitary movements. Informers infiltrated the trade unions. Between 1922 and 1934 5,000 organizations were forbidden as communistic. During the same time new fascist organizations were founded in Finland.

The Academic Karelia Society was a Finnish elitist nationalist activist organization officially aiming at the growth and improvement of Finland. It was founded in 1922 and disbanded in 1944. A lot of prominent academics, bishops, business leaders, officers and generals and politicians as the later president Urho Kekkonen were members. Even if the organization was disbanded many of the members were influential still in the 1950’s and 1960’s. They opposed socialism, Swedish speaking Finns and worked for a strengthened army. The border of Finland should be moved east of the Ural Mountains. They were closely allied with a secret military organization called the “Brothers of Hate”.

While the Academic Karelia Society was an organization for the elite the Lapua movement gathered the lower middle class in smaller towns and the conservative rural countryside. In many ways it resembled the true Finns today. It was founded in 1929 and was mainly an anti-communistic movement. According to the Lapua movement the communists mocked God, the Lutheran Church, the bourgeois fatherland, the Finnish army and Marshal Mannerheim. The active members therefore tried to stop the spreading of communism by destroying communistic printing press, by kidnapping and beating suspected communists. The names of suspected communists were often given to them by members of the secret police. In 1930 they organized a march to Helsinki, which 12,000 people attended. Their demand was that all communistic newspapers should be forbidden, which also was done. In 1932 they tried a poorly planned coup d'état and the organization was dissolved.

The legacy of the Lapua movement was taken over by the party Patriotic people´s Movement in 1932. It took part in elections and had several seats in the parliament. It had a nationalistic and anti-communistic ideology and they also opposed the Swedish language in Finland. Their uniform was inspired by Mussolini and the members greeted each other with a Roman salute.

The fascist movements and the state terrorism reached a peak during the Second World War. Germany occupied both Estonia and Latvia. The anticommunist terror was mainly carried out by local fascists and Nazi collaborators. Finland was allied with Germany and the known Finnish communists and members of the peace movement were put in prison. Russian prisoners of war, which were suspected party members, were sent to Germany and Finland founded concentration camps in the occupied parts of Russian Karelia. The death rates of the Russian soldiers in the Finnish prison camps were higher than in the notorious Japanese prison camps.

The victory of the Red Army changed the situation. Only after the war the communists could work legally in all three countries. Estonia and Latvia became Soviet Republics and in Finland the communists and the left wing parties won the election.

Anticommunist movements today

After the war many important social reforms were introduced in all three countries. But the dissolution of the Soviet union had a fundamental impact on the development. The political system changed in Estonia and Latvia. The large communist party in Finland split in two and was re-founded in 1992. All three countries became members of the EU, Estonia and Latvia also became members in NATO.

One of the main social problems in both Estonia and Latvia are the Russian minorities. There have always lived Russians in both countries, but the minorities grew after the Second World War. Russians form almost 25 % of the population in Estonia and 27 % in Latvia. Many of them lack citizenship and are not able to take part in the political life. They are also subject to other kind of discrimination. In both countries anti-communism to a large degree mixes with Russo phobia. A communist party was registered in Estonia in 1990 but it does not exist any more. The Estonian United Left Party, which is very small, represents also the Russian minority and stands for democratic socialism and eco-socialism. In Latvia there is a small functioning communist party. Since 5 % of the votes are needed for a seat in the Latvian parliament, all small parties are marginalized.

Anti-communism in both Estonia and Latvia is also manifested by a collective denial of the history of the Soviet time and a very black and white view on the development. This creates a difficult psychological for the people that worked to build and develop the kolkhozes and factories that now often just are abandoned and left as ruins.

The best known example of the Russo phobia is the riots concerning the location of the bronze soldier in Tallinn in April 2007. The bronze soldier is a monument of the liberation of Tallinn by the Red army in 1944 and it was also a burial site for Red Army soldiers. The monument had a great symbolic value and it was decided to move it secretly during night to a more remote place. The decision led to mass protests and one of the Russians that took part in the demonstrations got killed.

In the 1930’s anticommunism manifested itself as state terrorism, in the fascist movements and political parties. Today the anticommunism by the state is more subtle, but in the populist movements there are a lot of the same elements as before the Second World War. The economic crises in Finland 1992 and the current crises have formed an excellent platform for their growth and these parties have been able to collect the discontent of the people. For the establishment this means an easy solution. Therefore the populist party, the True Finns and its leader get a lot of TV-time and headlines in the newspapers. The True Finns have now 39 seats of 200 in the parliament and one seat in the European parliament. It is based on nationalism and several of its members have racist values. According to the True Finns all problems could be solved by restricting the acceptance of refugees and immigrants. As its predecessors in the 1930’s it is restrictive against modern and abstract art. Only Finnish should be recognized as an official language in Finland. The True Finns have also monopolised EU-criticism and want to restore the Finnish mark as the legal monetary unit in Finland. Although the party has a polished surface, there are ties with groups and organizations that directly represent neo-fascism and anti-communism.

Direct anticommunism in the Finnish society can be seen in several ways. The politicians that lead Finland into the disastrous Continuation war 1940-44 are again glorified. As in Estonia and Latvia, a lot of anti-Soviet propaganda is circulated and the communist movement is considered equal with Stalin’s repressive actions. Communists are discriminated at work, in the trade unions and in nominations for civil servants. The communist party is the biggest party without a seat in the parliament and it still get no state party support or financial support for its newspaper.

The discrimination culminates during election campaigns. The party is mostly left out from debates in the radio and the TV, while the other parties are invited to participate in TV- shows and debates, the communist party is usually left out. The party does a lot of work in other organisations as Attac, the Peace movement and by organizing European action days. By using the argument of “communist infiltration” this progressive organizations are marginalized and ignored.


Anti-communism today thrives on the fascist legacy from the 1930’s. Although communists are not imprisoned, they and the parties are still subject to discrimination in funding and visibility in state media. Progressive movements are marginalized, especially if they are suspected of communist involvement. The Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia and all minorities in Finland are discriminated.

Populist parties with ties to neo-fascist groups are favored as vessels for the discontent of the people. They then offer racism and populism to the capitalistic crises with minorities as scape goats.

Socialist achievements are underrated combined with anti-Soviet propaganda. In Estonia and Latvia the development during Soviet time is disparaged. In Finland the nationalist propaganda from the Second World War is again circulated and the former fascist leaders are glorified.

(Intervention in the seminar "La Peru du Rouge en Europe" in Belgium, organized by the European Left and the Parti Communiste on 

Lena Huldén, vice-chair of the CP of Finland