FINLAND may or may not be moving away from its long dependency on the Soviet Union. That is still a matter of speculation, although this week's parliamentary gains by Finland's conservatives lend credence to that assumption. What does seem clear is that Finland is finally shedding much of the diplomatic and geographical isolation that has characterized that thriving nation of 5 million people in recent years. In the process, many Finnish voters are moving toward the more market-oriented economic approaches that have become popular throughout Western Europe.
Greater involvement in global economic and diplomatic affairs by the enterprising Finns is welcome.
Japan's prime minister, for example, visited Finland recently, emphasizing trade ties between the Finns and the Japanese.
In this week's parliamentary elections, Finland's conservative National Coalition Party apparently gained 9 seats over the last vote, held in 1983. The party, which now holds 53 seats in the 200-member parliament, is only 3 seats behind the ruling Social Democratic Party. Social Democrats have dominated Finnish politics since the end of World War II.
The shift taking place within the Finnish electorate is of considerable magnitude: The conservatives last governed Finland in the 1940s - when the nation was resisting a Soviet invasion. After the war, and to the present, Finland sought to avoid antagonizing the Soviet bear on its eastern border. Politically, Finland remained neutral. Economically, Finnish-Soviet trade was kept in careful balance.
The system worked. Finland's economic growth rate has been phenomenal, perhaps second only to Japan, in part allowing Finland to be dubbed the ``Japan of Scandinavia.''
What is now happening, however, is that Finland's large volume of trade with the Soviets is in danger of slipping. Beyond energy supplies, Finland doesn't need to buy all that much from the Soviets. With oil prices falling, it is harder for Finland to sell all of the exports it would like to sell to the Soviets and still keep trade accounts in balance. Unemployment is up. Hence Finland must look to other Scandinavian nations and elsewhere to sell more of its exports.
At the same time, Westerners have been investing in Finnish industry. And the Soviet Union, under Mikhail Gorbachev, is willing to tolerate more independence in Central and Eastern Europe.
Eurocommunism is in disarray throughout the Continent.
Whether or not Finland's conservatives manage to gain entry into the government as part of a grand coalition - and discussions are still under way as of this writing - they insist that they do not intend to alter Finland's neutrality or relationship with Moscow.
Conservatives stress that they essentially seek a greater reliance on tax incentives and other market forces.
Whatever the situation, given the conservative electoral gains, Finland's politics should be warming up during the months ahead.