From Sweden, we cross both the border and the Baltic, and head for Finland.
Admittedly, besides the word sauna, the Finnish language hasn’t contributed an awful lot to English. In fact if you were to compile a list of Finlandisms we English speakers have borrowed over the centuries, you would have to resort to plundering the dictionary for obscure gems such as rapakivi (a type of granite), kantele (a Finnish zither), puukko (a hook-shaped knife), and rya (a traditional Finnish knot-pile rug). Indeed until English finds the need to adopt eminently useful Finnish words like peninkulma (‘the furthest distance at which a barking dog can still be heard’) and poronkusema (‘the distance a reindeer can walk without stopping to urinate’t), it’s unlikely that list will grow any longer.
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You can, however, thank Finnish speakers for naming the Molotov cocktail (if ‘thank’ is quite the right word to use here). During the Winter War of 1939, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov fiercely (and dishonestly) denied that the Soviet Union was dropping incendiary bombs on their Finnish neighbours, and instead claimed that they were dropping food parcels to help starving Finns through the harsh winter. The ever resourceful and sardonic Finns in return nicknamed these bombs Molotov bread-baskets and, requiring a little something to wash them down with, labelled the impromptu fuel- filled incendiaries they used to attack Soviet tanks Molotov cocktails.
Finland’s prickly relationship with its neighbour to the east is also the origin of the word that brings us here: Finlandisation. Unfortunately, it’s yet another word coined in the heat of war – only the war that led to this particular term was cold.
Finland shares eight hundred miles of its eastern border with Russia, and as a result the two nations have endured a long and often uneasy history. In 1809, Finland was incorporated into the Russian empire, but after the Russian Revolution in 1917 it declared its independence and has remained independent ever since.
During the Second World War, however, Russia repeatedly attempted to occupy and regain its former Finnish territories; the Finns retaliated strongly, and in all only one-tenth of the country changed hands during the war. When hostilities finally ceased and the United Nations was formed in 1945, Finland officially adopted a policy of neutrality, but during the Cold War that followed, it once again found itself in a precarious situation.
In 1948, with an increasingly formidable and ever more belligerent superpower just across the border, Finland was compelled to sign an official Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union. The treaty obliged Finland to resist any Western invasion of Soviet territory via Finnish territory, even if that meant calling on the Soviet military assistance to do so. In signing the agreement, the Finns also had to accept some Soviet influence on their politics, but crucially it allowed Finland to remain independent in the shadow of its undoubtedly imposing neighbour, and saw off the growing threat of a Soviet invasion.
As the Cold War deepened and East-West relations became even frostier, the West increasingly saw Finland’s uneasy relationship with Russia as an unwelcome appeasement and a quiet tolerance of the
Soviet Union’s growing belligerence – and it was this that became known as Finlandisation. As the Oxford English Dictionary explains it, the term refers to the state of being compelled ‘to favour, or refrain from opposing, the interests of the former Soviet Union despite not being formally allied to it politically’.
Precisely who coined the term is unclear. Austrian foreign minister Karl Gruber is one of those often credited with its invention; he reportedly warned his country not to follow the Finns’ example as early as 1953. But the earliest record of the word Finlandisation itself (or rather its German equivalent, Finnlandisierung) is credited to German political scientist Richard Lowenthal, who in 1961 theorised that it was the Finlandisation, not Communisation, of vulnerable European nations that was the Soviet Union’s ultimate Cold War goal.
Whatever its origins, the term remained in vogue in political discourse throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s (and Finland tore up its agreement in 1992), Finlandisation began to fall out of use.
It survives today in a more generalised sense, referring to any country that finds itself obliged, for whatever reason, to tolerate or remain neutral towards a larger or more formidable neighbour that exercises considerable influence over it. The word’s actual association with Finland may be a thing of the past but Finlandisation itself, alas, lives on.
Now sadly obsolete even in its native Finland, the peninkula was a unit of distance roughly reckoned to be around 3.3 miles and that’s 4.6 miles, should you ever need to know.
Molotov’s real name was Vjaceslav Mihajlovic Skrjabin. His alias, Molotov, was derived from the Russian word for ‘hammer’, molot – just as Joseph Stalin (Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili) took a pseudonym derived from the Russian for ‘steel’, stal, and Vladimir Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov) earned a nickname apparently honouring Russia’s River Lena.