Reimag and Kantine

A little one to emphasize a new research project funded by the Academy of Finland: “Reimag“, for Reimagining Futures in the European North at the End of the Cold War. The goal of the project is to explore the systemic transformation of international politics and economics at the end of the Cold War as it was experienced in Finland and its external geopolitical environment in Northern Europe. The whole enterprise is based on the fact that archives concerning the late 1980s are slowly opening in Finland, giving the possibility to look at events unfolding between 1989 and 1992.

My contribution to the project aimed at looking at the way Finland’s trade promoters, cultural diplomats and public diplomats did conceive of the changes happening in and around Finland. A part of this project concentrated on studying Kantine, a public diplomacy committee that gathered between 1987 and 1990. The article mostly makes use of Kantine’s archives, and tries to replace this committee in the developments of Finland’s national image management during the Cold War. The article has now been published by the Hague Journal of Diplomacy, over there.

A little extract, trying to look at how the committee was justified – of course, because foreigners looked down on Finland:

In late 1989, a collection of memorandums gathering foreign impressions about Soviet Premier Gorbachev’s visit to Helsinki reinforced this notion among Kantine’s members. Foreigners appeared generally hesitant to qualify Finland as ‘Scandinavian’, decried Helsinki’s unfriendly service, run-down accommodation and high prices, and criticized Finland’s hostility to foreigners and self-centred, unworldly cultural life. Finnish ambassadors emphasized that Finnish companies abroad did not use Finland’s image, which did not stand out for anything in particular.

In this context, and as the world was changing around Finland, Kantine exhibited a new range of concerns and intentions regarding Finland’s foreign relations. As such, it went beyond the concrete organization of efficient trade promotion campaign, into policy-related advise as to how to change Finland to make it “look” better.

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Northern Future Forum: Uniscan reborn?

In January 2011, representatives from the Nordic and Baltic countries gathered in London under David Cameron’s stewardship for the first UK Nordic Baltic Summit. As described on the event’s webpage, the goal of the meeting was to…

bring together Prime Ministers, policy innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders from the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to discuss how best to boost economic growth, enterprise and job creation while improving people’s wellbeing.

The whole scheme originated, according to the Financial Times, in a meeting the past November between Cameron and Frederik Reinfelt, Sweden’s conservative Prime Minister. On the Nordic/Baltic side, the framework was provided by the NB8 cooperation, an informal setting gathering ministers and other actors from the five Nordic Countries and the three Baltic States. After the first reunion in London, the countries involved renamed their creation the Northern Future Forum, and have met every year since, first in Stockholm 2012, then in Riga 2013. The 2014 meeting is due to happen in Helsinki in November.

Why exactly should we care about what seems like a benign, informal talking shop between Prime Ministers, interested mostly in trade and economic relations?

The first reason to care has to do with the … interesting times the European Union is living in. David Cameron has a tough domestic crowd to please: Tory backbenchers with an eye on UKIP and an old euro-skeptic streak, the euro-bashing British press, etc. To those, he has been brandishing some kind of EU reform as the goal of his tenure. But the looser, less institutionalized European cooperation Cameron advocates will need support from other EU member-states in order to proceed.

Seen from London, the Scandinavian and Baltic states can appear like the right candidates for the kind of alliance building London needs inside the EU. Britain and the Nordic Countries have a history of cooperation outside and inside the EU. Juhana Aunesluoma reminds us in his PhD of British-Nordic contacts during the 1950s. In the 1960s, the Nordic Countries and Britain were the heart of EFTA. They could also be seen to share a less sanguine vision of European cooperation than their “continental” neighbors, aloof from the desire for political cooperation exhibited elsewhere and more interested in scaling the system back to trade cooperation between sovereign nation-states.  In the two-speed Europe that might come out of the current crisis-induced brewing of ideas and projects, the Scandinavian countries might be susceptible to fall on the side of Britain. In this context, the NFF can be seen as a little push: a British effort to create an intergovernmental forum to try and coordinate Cameron’s attempts to reform the EU (this is, for instance, James Kilcourse’s view on the forum). Will the NFF unfold into a new Uniscan, before becoming a new EFTA?

Of course the big question – that seems to puzzle the Brits themselves – is on which side of the fence Germany will fall. Merkel’s “mehr Europa” stance has been cruelly devoid of actual substance – and when it crystallizes for a while, it seems to get as much criticism as support, both in and outside Germany. And then there is France, cast as the villain of the play – the unreformed, bureaucratic, socialist, latin problem child that, being pushed too much, might be susceptible to actually push back. In any case, the endgame will be difficult if it relies on one of the actors involved having to accept an unsavory deal: whatever comes up will have to be a compromise between coalitions inside the EU. Informal arenas like the NFF look like preparatory work for such alliance making, a lobbying effort happening under the surface. Looking at relations between the three big and smaller nations in this kind of organizations might be a way to get a better feel for the coalition building that will set the pace for EU reform down the road.

The second reason why the NFF should draw attention is because of the redefinition of the Nordic region it might usher in. Potential Nordic cooperation in defense matters has been regularly teased at since the 2008 Stoltenberg report, and it is coming back in the context of the Crimean crisis. In parallel, the Baltic States have been using their EU memberships to develop contacts with their neighbors, and especially with the Nordic Countries. Are we looking at the emergence of an axis, that would go between Reykjavik and Tallinn, with London as the midwife cum godfather? What would be the effect of this kind of cooperation?

Finally, the NFF brings to light an aspect of foreign relations that deserves scrutiny, namely informal politics and networks. The build-up of parliamentary majorities in the countries involved in NFF – that with the exception of Denmark are led by conservative governments, or by split governments with a strong conservative core – brings to mind the 1960s-1970s cooperation between Social-democratic Nordic parties and Labor leaders. These aspects have been studied by both Christian Salm and Matthew Broad; both of them find links between the formation of Labor European policy and the contacts of Labor personalities with Social-Democratic Nordic leaders in informal settings (party conferences, etc). Are we looking at the same sort of links between David Cameron and the conservatives of Nordic and Baltic Europe?

All that might be pure fantasy, or at least exaggeration. After all, the NFF might be just what it says on the tin – a glorified business fair to promote British goods and know-hows in London’s “near abroad”, through “public diplomacy” aimed at certain groups inside the Nordic Countries – business leaders, politicians, the press, etc. Yet, the temptation is strong to see something else under that. Let’s see what will be the results of the 2014 Helsinki meeting of NFF.



Ps. The main problem for the creation of any form of political axis between the UK and the Nordic Countries might be the difficulties the Nordic Countries have had in the past, and may have in the future, to work together beyond bold statements of solidarity. NATO membership is something that clearly introduces a wedge between these countries, with Finland and Sweden standing as the only countries in the region outside of the Organization.

In these two countries, the “NATO debate” has been reactivated by the Crimean crisis and Russia’s new activism.  But as recent polls show in Finland, the population remains largely unimpressed by NATO. One interesting thing, that showed in a poll realized three weeks ago by the weekly Suomen Kuvalehti (edition 21.3.2014), is the reason why people oppose NATO. As the picture below shows, what stands out of this poll is the 34% who can’t say why they oppose NATO, or won’t tell why. That is a third of the polled unable or unwilling to formulate why they see NATO as damaging to Finland’s international position.


What this poll shows is that a good part of opposition to NATO in Finland is rooted into unreflective isolationism, the reflex of a part of the population which frames Finland’s “neutrality” as an effort to retire from the world. For them, NATO will never do – and so will the EU and other international cooperation schemes.

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Conference report, Leiden conference 2013

And another one: the conference report on the conference “Reframing Diplomacy: New Diplomatic History in the Benelux and Beyond” organized in Leiden in early September. The report is written by the Leiden Roosevelt center’s Giles Scott-Smith.

You can go and read it here.

Once again all thanks to Giles for the organization!

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Integration and Diplomacy – conference at the Firenze EUI…

Quickly, again, two small things.

One is the following workshop:


Organized by European Integration History Working Group – EUI-HEC
Tuesday 19th November 2013, European University Institute
Seminar Room 3 – Badia Fiesolana (09:00 – 13:00)

‘The Diplomat’ has become a contested figure in many disciplines. Political
scientists have analysed the processes of Europeanization of national diplomacies;
the shift from government to governance; and the shift from diplomats being
boundary maintainers to being boundary spanners. Social scientists have for long
grappled with the relationship between institutional changes, the norms and practices
of diplomacy, and the composition of diplomatic corps. Social anthropologists such
as Iver B. Neumann, for example, have studied the practices of diplomacy. The
overarching question being: What’s the name of this tribe?

Short term, but for anybody happening to be in Firenze, this should be interesting. Program here.

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…and the AABS/SASS 2013 conference at Yale University.


The common conference of two American learned societies, the SASS and the AABS, will take place next march in Yale University. Amongst the themes developed during this conference, one is particularly relevant to my current research: Public diplomacy in the Baltic Sea Region. Looking forward to that.


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The ties that Carl built…

A few quick ones here. Let’s start with Sweden-American relations.

On the occasion of Barack Obama’s visit to Sweden and discussions with the heads of states of Nordic and Baltic countries, I can’t resist to mention this article by David Lindén. The title is pure genius, of course, but the content is important, too. Sweden seems to succeed in organizing strong, profound ties with the US without being a NATO member. Carl Bildt, the current Foreign Minister in a center-right coalition, is widely seen as the architect of these ties. This brings, again, to the fore the dialogue in international relations between wide structures and the action of individuals.

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Diplomatic lives in and around Finland: Arthur J. Collingsworth, Yuri Deryabin, Krister Wahlbäck

This summer saw the death in close succession of three retired diplomats who had been in contact with Finland during the Cold War: Arthur Collingsworth, Yuri Deryabin, and Krister Wahlbäck. All three showed, at different stages, with different reasons and at different degrees of intensity, considerable interest for this country; one of them, Deryabin, can even be seen as an important part of Finland’s contemporary history. Out of scholarly interest for its history, personal ties with its people, or political interest for the peculiarities of Cold War situation, or just because they thought immersing themselves in the society they were commissioned to was the best way to do their job, these diplomats built strong links to Finnish society.

The first to die, on July 23rd, was Arthur J. Collingsworth. While Wahlbäck and Deryabin were in the business of bilateral relations between their country and Finland, the boy-wonder from Michigan, born in 1944 and educated in Ann Arbor, specialized in multilateral relations. He worked mostly for the UN, and moved into circles that modern research would call “transnational”: UN offices, associations and international organizations specializing in education and exchange policy, humanitarian fund-raising, innovation policy and the like. He specialized in the kind of sub-political international relations conducted in organizations and through networks distinct from the traditional diplomatic circuits. At the end of his life, he branched almost naturally from the work of these agencies into private consultancy work. All in all, the man cuts a modern figure of “public”, “multilateral diplomat.”

His interest in Finland originally came from the contacts he built through Youth For Understanding* trips, and the networks he built with Finnish personalities who treated him as an “esteemed foreign guest.” Innovation policy and development aid were the main parts of this relation with Finland. He managed with Finnish authorities the creation in Helsinki of the World Institute for Development Economics Research, and was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Millennium Technology Prize in 1999. In the coming years, anyone interested in these two aspects (development aid, “technology” diplomacy) of Finnish diplomacy should certainly pay attention to the eventual opening of Mr. Collingsworth’s papers…

Collingsworth stands in sharp contrast to his two colleagues. Where the American moved in transnational circuits, and dealt with technical or cultural aspects of international relations distinct from the high politics of traditional diplomacy, Youri Deryabin for example was a staunch G-man in the Soviet ambassadorial tradition. Where Collingsworth mostly saw Finland through his networks amongst the country’s academic, diplomatic, political and intellectual circles, Deryabin and Wahlbäck shared a profound acquaintance with the country, its history, its language.

Krister Wahlbäck, who passed away two days after Collingsworth,was first and foremost an academically trained scholar, whose specialty in the History of Swedish Foreign Policy pushed him towards studying Sweden’s relations to its former eastern part, lost in 1809 to the Russian empire. He was a professor in international relations for most of the 1970s, and entered the diplomatic corps almost as an afterthought to this academic career. He was sent to Helsinki at the end of the 1980s.

When he arrived in Finland, Wahlbäck had already conducted most of the research that will inform his excellent Jättens andedräkt. Finlandsfrågan i svensk politik 1809-2009 (The giant’s breath: The Finnish Question in Sweden’s Foreign Policy, 1809-2009), published in 2009. The Finns have had complex, at times conflictual but mostly distant relations with foreigners writing about their history, and Wahlbäck’s study hasn’t been translated in Finnish yet. Despite that, the book was noted by scholars for his vast knowledge of both Swedish and Finnish material. Wahlbäck got beyond “esteemed foreign guest”, up to the level of someone “who knew about the history of Finland”; high praise indeed, leveled by Helsingin Sanomat in the title of Wahlbäck’s obituary.

Yuri Deryabin, last but not least, managed to climb even further in the ecosystem of “Finland’s friends”: he carved for himself, as the most powerful representative of the Soviet Union in 1970s Finland, a very specific position. Deryabin’s position as a Soviet diplomat in those years obviously gave him a certain status: he had worked in Norway in the beginning of the 1960s, and upon coming back to Moscow led the Nordic division of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His interest for Nordic and Scandinavian affairs brought him back to Northern Europe, and he was nominated in Helsinki as a deputy chief of mission in 1973. There he became the main Soviet interlocutor of the Finnish leadership. In a context where the Soviet Union was the first circle of Finnish foreign policy, Deryabin’s advise was sought after, and his oracles dissected to find out what “Moscow was thinking”. A supporter of Yeltsin, he was minister for a short stint in 1991, then came back in 1992-1996 as Russia’s ambassador to Helsinki.

In the generally low-profile world of Soviet diplomats, Deryabin stands out as a particularly flamboyant figure. Under two Cold War presidents, from Urho Kekkonen to Mauno Koivisto, he commented in books, articles, editorials and in conversations the position of Finland and the intricacies of the “Eastern relation” that linked the country to the USSR. Having learned the language, Deryabin wrote books and columns under a rather transparent pen-name (Yuri Komissarov), and took a strong part in the Finnish debates. Deryabin’s gusto, his strong positions on the necessity of close and confident Finno-Soviet relations, his knowledge of Scandinavian and Finnish realities, and his handy links with the Finnish political world, guaranteed that he stood at the very heart of finno-soviet relations. He was part of a network of interlocking personal bonds that extended from the political circles in Helsinki to the Soviet leadership in Moscow, and through which the Cold War political and economic relations between Finland and the Soviet Union were largely managed. As such, Deryabin was part of the landscape: he controlled the liturgy of finno-soviet friendship, played the lecturing uncle when the Finns tried to emphasize “neutrality” above “good relations with the USSR”, acted as a reassuring in-betweener in case of concrete problems, and kept everybody civil, for fear of ending on the receiving end of Komissarov’s editorials. After his retirement, he continued to comment Finland’s history, and the country’s international position – for example, the prospect of NATO-membership for the country.

The links of these diplomats with Finland brings forward the question of ambassadors or diplomatic representatives “going native”: should an ambassador understand too much of his country of residency? Is an ambassador who understands and sympathizes too much with the “locals” still a good ambassador, able to staunchly defend the interest of his country even in a crisis with the country of residency?

One finds in Franco-Finnish relations several examples of the contrary: French ambassadors and diplomats nominated for short periods, and who mostly hovered above Finnish realities, blissfully ignorant, stuck in those Helsinki circles where people would have the good manners to speak French. Diplomats, after all, showcase the infatuations and prejudices of their times and cast: for most of French ambassadors in a small country at the time, a local speaking French would look more interesting. Amongst the diplomats I studied for my PhD, few would show some interest for local realities. The most involved would be Maurice de Coppet, who alongside his wife Yseult forged personal, academic, cultural links with the country they lived in. More recently, Jean-Jacques Subrenat was another example of academic diplomats with a knowledge not only of the country but also of the region and its languages.

To conclude a slightly rambling post, one can take Deryabin, Collingsworth and Wahlbäck as examples to suggest the riches hidden in the study of diplomatic envoys for students of international history. All three had fascinating lives in their own rights – my personal favorite being Collingsworth, both for his activities in multilateral diplomacy and because I would like to hear more about being a homosexual republican in the 1970s-1980s United States. But diplomats, and besides them the vast galaxy of envoys, in-betweens, attaches and the like, both at multilateral and bilateral levels, offer more than just biographical anecdotes. In the archives, it is often their voice that we hear, their prejudices and conceptions that we witness. They inform decisions, act as links, sometimes lead the way. Their role can be important in punctual decision-making, at dramatic moments. But it is even more important on the long run, in creating links, spreading information and notions, preparing the ground – or messing things up. One should hope diplomats and other envoys will be rediscovered as essential parts of the mechanics of international relations, by researchers armed with the tools of social, cultural, or transnational history forged in the last 50 years.



* The Finnish branch of YFU has recently been the subject of a fascinating research and archive project conducted within Finland’s National Archives. In the context of Cold War Finland, organizations such as YFU were in the crossfire of political and intellectual debates. Their exchange programs were considered as ” windows to the West” by the US authorities, who were eager to use cultural and academic exchanges as a way to reach out to the Finns, and by some groups in Finland eager to see a wider world, beyond relations with the USSR and Scandinavia.

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