Finland Station….through the letterbox

Posted: February 7, 2012 in Finland, photo essay, Russia, Scandinavia

I have just finished reading Outrage by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason [review to follow in the next few days] and just started a non-Nordic book as part of my plan to balance my reading in 2012 when Harri Nykanen’s Nights of Awe dropped through my letterbox. This is another book from Bitter Lemon Press, a thriller  set in Helsinki with an eccentric hero Inspector Ariel Kafka of the Violent Crimes Unit, and involves possible international terrorism, Finnish Security Police and Mossad. Very tempting but I am going to stick to my plan and put this one on my to-be -read shelf for the time being. But it does give me an excuse to post some photos of Finland. They were taken some twenty years ago as my son in the red cagoule is now married! 

Finland Station is of course not in Finland, but in St Petersburg, Russia. But the photos are taken on the waterfront in Helsinki, at the railway station, and somewhere north of Helsinki that was very very cold. At the time of our visit the far right charismatic Russian politician Vladimir Zhironovsky was making long speeches, and waving his arms around in a threatening manner. Everyday streams of large black limousines would pull up outside Finnish department stores, the food halls of which were full of caviar and sides of salmon making Harrods look like something out of the Third World, and deposited on the snowy pavements their cargo of short old balding KGB men, accompanied by tall young blonde women. 

It was in our hotel’s sauna that some younger Russians mentioned that the only place they had visited in England was “your beautiful English city of Portsmouth.” Our reaction was that they were probably Russian Naval Intelligence if Portsmouth was the only place in England they had bothered to visit. [I haven’t forgotten that those great ships HMS Victory and HMS Warrior are well worth a visit to Portsmouth.] 

The book I have started is The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming, a spy thriller, which made me think about Russia and her tortuous journey from Soviet superstate to Putin’s version of a democratic country. Gulp… I have to thank my great grandmother for her refusal to allow her son- in- law to accept the Tsar’s invitation to spend twenty five years in the Imperial Russian Army for my soft life.

Why on earth do British people from privileged backgrounds embrace these ideologies that produce nothing but misery for ordinary people?

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – What a profound point! So much to think about. And it’s not really just British people either. Lots of Americans from privileged backgrounds do exactly the same thing, unfortunately. Thanks also for the ‘photos.
    I look forward to your review of Outrage, and I hope you’ll enjoy your delivery.

  2. Great photos, especially the last one.

    I have just come back from a journey to Finland, actually, in the company of Matti Joensuu. Maxine very kindly sent me her copy of a fine crime story. I´ll post a bit about it later, perhaps in the weekend.

  3. Maxine says:

    Your last point is very apt, Norman.

  4. kathy d. says:

    Yes, good question of why do people, including from the U.S., too, embrace ideologies that harm regular people. I’m asking that as my Jewish grandparents fled Russia-occupied Poland, due to the czar’s army’s repression. This was in 1907. When they signed the 1910 U.S. census, they wrote that they were from a town in Russia. That was really a town in Poland, which in 1918, went back to being part of Poland, as did the rest of the country.
    I don’t read about Russian czars, as I surely don’t want to read anything that glorifies their reigns or them as people. The treatment of the Jewish people, who were so badly discriminated against by Imperial Russia, pushed out of towns and villages, only allowed to live in certain places and earn a living only in certain jobs, yet were forced to be in the army is astounding. And the poverty!

  5. Norman says:

    Thanks Dorte I am trying to mount a challenge to your Swedish photos. 😉

    Margot and Maxine, when I think back to my student days and the admiration felt by some for Mao’s Red China and other regimes that treated their populations like slave labour I cringe.
    They went on and on about Vietnam and Suez, yet they ignored the Soviet’s treatment of Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Mao’s mass murder and the Khmer Rouge. Some in our media were too busy praising the sporting achievements of the German Democratic Republic GDR [an oxymoron if ever there was one] to notice the Stasi and the drug abuse.

    Kathy, I agree Imperial Russia treated the Jews terribly, the only consolation being those trades they were forced into allowed them to thrive when they reached the democracies. My grandfather said England was the Golden Land; no Cossacks, no Tsar, and your neighbours did not burn you out in the night. It wasn’t all sweetness and light, but it was a lot lot better than Russian Poland.

  6. kathy d. says:

    The U.S. was definitely better for my grandparents in comparison to Imperial Russia. They had hard lives though. My grandmother worked in the garment industry where working conditions were terrible. In fact, she worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, but was ill on March 15, 1911, on the day of the fire which kill 146 workers, mainly women and girls. She lost many friends. But she persevered. She was feisty. My grandfather was a cigar maker in 1910. They went through a lot, but weren’t subjected to what they had lived through under the czar.

  7. Philip Amos says:

    Norman, your last question was one I addressed many years ago in a broadcast on CBC Radio, after the revelation of Anthony Blunt, as cold-blooded a fish as was ever plucked from a Scottish river. I said then and still think that the answer is idealism, but an ice-cold idealism adhered to by people lacking in sympathy or empathy. In some cases, there may even be indications of sociopathy, and, of course, in others unconscious motivations to boot. I am thinking now not of early fellow-travellers immediately after the Soviet revolution, those who were already disenchanted by 1930 or thereabouts, but those in the Cambridge ring and others who, quite ludicrously, tore up their membership cards in 1956, though the Great Famine, the Stalinist purges and continuing murderous activities after 1945 had not induced them to do so, and those who remained die-hard Soviet communists even then. I can hardly expatiate on this here, so I’ll just zoom in on one grotesque example: George Bernard Shaw. Freda Utley, a distinguished American journalist, was herself an adherent and went to live in the Soviet Union c. 1930, and there married a Russian engineer. She was already disenchanted when her husband was imprisoned in an early stage of the purges, and she left for England, where she had lived for some years and had significant friends. She started a campaign to free her husband, asking ‘the great and the good’ to write on his behalf, and one such was Shaw. I’ve read that correspondence, and Shaw’s reply to her is as clear an illustration of what I’ve said above as you could wish for. He expressed no sympathy, but said brutally that if her husband had been imprisoned, there must be a good reason and she should accept it. She reported this to Bertrand Russell, early a fellow-traveller and early disenchanted, who was trying to help Utley and her husband, and he commented that this was typical Shaw. One could say that if Shaw truly believed what he wrote, he was at least in a sense better than those who knew the truth of the show trials and deaths yet continued to defend them as necessary, like the Great Famine, for the good of the State.

  8. Norman says:

    Thanks Philip.
    The reluctance of some fellow travelers to visit Eastern Europe could be explained by the fact they did not want to be disillusioned.

  9. Philip Amos says:

    An excellent point, Norman. One thinks of the man who sees what he thinks is the most beautiful woman in the world, but is afraid to approach her for fear of disillusion. Shaw did visit the S.U. in the 1931, met Stalin, and was an apologist for the regime thereafter. It seems odd that Shaw was a Fabian, a movement that had gradualism at its heart. But they were also a cold-blooded, middle- class bunch, much influenced by Nietzsche, enamoured of eugenics, and far removed from the working class. Shaw spoke to a Fabian meeting in 1910 of the need for a method of killing those unfit to live by gassing. In the 30s, he wrote of the need to root out trouble-makers and those who don’t pull their weight, and so justified the activities of the Cheka and then Ogpu. What he made very clear though was that the killing should be done humanely. This is grotesque, and it is perilously close to Nazism. It is not a thing well-known, but documents on policy and rules and regulations re treatment of the Jews and others bound for the camps clearly state that beating or otherwise causing the death of victims on the part of the troops was forbidden and punishable. And there were instances of soldiers being shot for so doing, especially on occasions when officers of the regular Wehrmacht were at hand. Quite right too, but we are still in a grotesque world in which Nazis think that cramming men, women and children into gas chambers is humane killing, and Shaw thinks it right for the Cheka and Ogpu to root out and kill the lazy and the disruptive as long as the method of murder is humane. I have always thought Shaw’s play utterly abstract in their scenarios and phoney in their sympathies, but his thought overall I think perverted idealism, as was that of the Cambridge ring and so many others. Philby, just in passing, I think was a psychopath.

  10. Norman says:

    Philip “far removed from the working class” is the very problem we have today with all three political parties lead by people who have never worked outside politics and the media. By “working class” I think we can include middle class professionals and all those who actually go out to work. The very real concerns of the working classes such as keeping law and order, the family, care for victims of crime, longer sentences for child molesters, immigration, hospitals, public transport, and education are regarded as populist right wing nonsense by the ruling establishment.
    They would rather give aid to India than provide weekly rubbish collections.

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