Cold Comfort

Ambling through the Museum of the History of the City of Helsinki I find myself in a small projection room where a film about the history of Helsinki during the last 70 years is shown. It is poignant and telling. There are shots from the late 1930's of young, smiling, large-boned Finnish women in their long white skirts, chatting at the trolley stops or pushing their babies in prams, during the relentlessly pale Nordic summer of 1939. Then the Russian bombs start falling: the Winter War. The sound of air raid sirens; the fires crackling through dark walls and windows on December nights, their blaze more sinister in these black-and-white pictures than on color film. Then the stream of refugees from the lands the Russians have taken. Then the Second World War. More bombs. Hospital scenes. Then the slow rebuilding. All through this not one critical word about the Russians, which is remarkable as well as rare, since the history of small nations is ever so often suffused with the history of their (often legitimate) complaints.

The Finns are an admirable people (except when they are drunk, but that is a different story). They are stolid, courageous, civic-minded, patriotic rather than nationalistic. They have many reasons to hate Russians and to dwell on their injustices; yet they are not inclined to do anything of the sort. The Russians, including Stalin, knew that. In turn, what the Finns do not know about the Russians may not be...

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