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Cold War and the Treaty of 1948

The immediate postwar years of 1944 to 1948 were filled with uncertainty for Finland because it was in a weakened condition and the because new policy of reconciliation was still being formed. The Allied Control Commission, established by the 1944 armistice to oversee Finland's internal affairs until the final peace treaty was concluded in 1947, was dominated by the Soviets. Under the leadership of a Soviet, Marshal Andrei Zhdanov, the commission checked Finland's adherence to the terms of the preliminary peace of September 1944. The first test of Finland's new policy of reconciliation was thus to observe faithfully the treaty with the Soviets, including the punctual payment of reparations and the establishment of war crimes trials. Eight leading Finnish politicians were tried for war crimes in proceedings lasting from November 1945 to February 1946. Among the accused were ex-president Risto Ryti (served 1940-44), who, along with six other prominent Finnish politicians, was convicted of plotting aggressive war against the Soviet Union and was sentenced to prison.

The war crimes trials and other stipulations of the armistice were distasteful to the Finns, but their careful compliance led to the reestablishment of national sovereignty. Compliance may have been facilitated by Finland's having its national hero, Mannerheim, as president to carry out these policies, until he resigned for health reasons in March 1946 and was succeeded by Paasikivi. The signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1947, led in September 1947 to the removal of the Allied Control Commission.

In their strict fulfillment of the Soviet terms of peace, the Finns faced other difficulties. The armistice agreement of September 1944 had legalized the SKP, which had been outlawed in 1930. In October 1944, the SKP led in the formation of the Finnish People's Democratic League (Suomen Kansan Demokraattinen Liitto--SKDL). Commonly referred to as the People's Democrats, the SKDL claimed to represent a broad spectrum of progressive forces. From its inception, however, the SKDL has been dominated by the SKP and has provided the electoral vehicle by which members of the SKP have been sent to the Eduskunta.

In March 1945, in the first parliamentary elections held after the war, the SKDL scored a major success by winning fifty- one seats and becoming the largest single party in the Eduskunta (the ML had forty-nine and the SDP had forty-eight). Several factors account for the success of the communists. A strong sympathy for communism among a large number of voters had persisted since the Finnish civil war. In addition, many Social Democratic voters were alienated from the SDP because of its ardent support of the recent war that had cost Finland so dearly. Many Finns who suffered under the depressed economic conditions of postwar Finland voted for the SKDL as a protest gesture. Finally, the SKDL proved adept at electoral politics, de- emphasizing its communist ties and emphasizing its devotion to democracy, to full employment, and to a peaceful foreign policy.

The SKDL played a large role in Finnish politics during the immediate postwar years. By November 1944, President Mannerheim recognized the growing power of the communists when he appointed to the cabinet the first communist, Yrj Leino, ever to hold such a position. Following the election of March 1945, Leino was appointed to the important post of minister of interior, a position from which he controlled, among other things, the state security police and a large mobile police detachment. The power of the communists was at its greatest from 1946 to 1948, when the SKDL held, or shared, as many as eight of twelve cabinet posts. These included that of prime minister, which was held by Mauno Pekkala, who also served as co-minister of defense.

Pressures on Finland reached a peak in early 1948. In February the communists took Czechoslovakia by coup, an act that heightened international tensions considerably. The Soviets then requested that Finland sign a treaty nearly identical to those forced on some of their satellite states in Eastern Europe. By March there were rumors of a possible communist coup in Finland. Although it is not clear that a coup was imminent, President Paasikivi took precautionary measures. The Finnish armed forces were under his control, and he summoned them in strength to Helsinki, where they would have proved more than a match for the police units of the ministry of interior that were suspected of involvement in the coup.

In negotiating the requested treaty, meanwhile, the Soviets showed a willingness to accept a neutralized Finland. Paasikivi secured significant changes in the treaty that gave Finland substantially more independence with respect to the Soviet Union than was enjoyed by the East European states under Soviet domination. Paasikivi had served notice on the Soviets that they would not get their way through pressure, but rather would have to use military force. This they were reluctant to do in the tense international atmosphere of early 1948.

The Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance (FCMA), which was signed on April 6, 1948, provided the foundation for Soviet-Finnish relations. The key provision of the treaty, in Article 1, calls for military cooperation between Finland and the Soviet Union if Germany, or a country allied with it, attempts to invade Finland or the Soviet Union by way of Finnish territory. Article 2 of the treaty calls for military consultations to precede actual cooperation. Finland's sovereignty is safeguarded, however, because mutual assistance is not automatic but must be negotiated. The treaty helped to stabilize Soviet-Finnish relations by giving the Soviet Union guarantees that it would not face a military threat from the direction of Finland. The Soviets have been pleased with the treaty, and before expiration its original ten-year term has been extended to twenty years on three occasions--1955, 1970, and 1983.

When new elections were held in July 1948, the SKDL suffered a sharp drop in support, falling from fifty-one to thirty-eight seats in the Eduskunta. Communists were not included in the new government formed under the Social Democrat Karl-August Fagerholm, and there was no communist participation in Finland's government again until 1966.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:57:02 ZULU