WITH rapid change going on in Eastern Europe, an old question has been raised anew: How can a country share a border with the Soviet Union and still be free and democratic, without ultimately provoking Soviet distrust and hostility? The answer, some think, lies in the example of Finland. Finland is perhaps the only country in the world that enjoys the distinction of having a foreign policy syndrome named after it. Perhaps ``enjoy'' isn't quite the word for it, for few terms have been more misleading than ``Finlandization,'' or more offensive to the Finns themselves.
When Finlandization was first coined about 30 years ago, it was used to derisively describe a supine posture on the part of the Finns vis-`a-vis their Eastern neighbor. Despite it being a pluralistic democracy with a free economy, many in the West saw neutral Finland as having yielded the substance of its national sovereignty without so much as a whimper.
Not surprisingly, the Finns were anything but pleased with this description. Yet at the same time, they could not deny that their country has had a rather accommodating relationship with the Soviets. Finland, for example, is the only Western democracy to have signed a ``Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance'' with the USSR. A key part of this treaty is Moscow's right to move troops into Finland as a defensive measure. The Finnish press has also been careful to practice self-censorship insofar as it tries not to provoke the USSR. For example, Finnish printing houses long refused to publish the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Conservatives saw the Finnish case as a warning to the rest of the West. In the last few years, however, Finlandization has taken on a more positive meaning. Today, Finland is being promoted as a role model for Eastern Europe. It is, after all, a true multiparty democracy, with a flourishing free press and a vibrant economy (real growth about 4 percent a year), and it has never had Soviet troops on its soil. What Poland or Hungary or Estonia wouldn't give to be so Finlandized, goes this line.
Yet the Finns hate this definition as much as the previous one. As Pertti Paasio, Finland's foreign minister, said recently of this ``new'' Finlandization, ``Even though the concept is perhaps being mentioned in a different tone than before, we still have reason to condemn it.''
Above all, Finland does not want to be anybody's role model. Their country's situation regarding the USSR, Finns argue, is unique for a variety of historical and geographical reasons.
It is not out of modesty that the Finns say this, however, but for reasons of pure realpolitik. Finnish officials generally describe their dealings with the USSR as ``neighborly'' or ``good,'' but at the same time these relations are cool, low-key, and surprisingly distant. In Helsinki, and throughout the rest of the country for that matter, the ``Soviet presence'' is so nonexistent in everyday life that it is difficult to remember that Finland is situated on the frontier with the communist world. For example, while nearly every high school student learns English, less than 1 percent bothers to study Russian.
In the end, neither definition of Finlandization quite captures the true meaning of Finland's delicate relationship with the USSR. Basically, the Finns have made a virtue out of a necessity. They have devised a unique foreign policy path that allows them to remain free, democratic, and prosperous while presenting no threat to the USSR. For a small country living in the shadow of the USSR, this is no mean feat.
The Finns have made their peace with the current Soviet system. The last thing they want is to stir up the Soviet empire, either directly or indirectly.
Recent developments within the Soviet bloc have presented them with a dilemma, however. As Westerners, the Finns support the democratization of Eastern Europe and the liberalization of the communist economies. At the same time, a destabilized USSR is a potentially dangerous one, particularly for someone on their border. This is the next challenge of Finlandization. Just don't call it that.