A curious chain of events has unfolded in Finland that makes one wonder about the country’s newly formed anti-NATO political party, its founder, and his discomforting relationships with some shadowy characters.
Paavo Väyrynen is a veteran politician of the first order. Representing Finland’s primarily rural Center Party, he has been a candidate for president three times. And, he has also served at one time or other as foreign minister, labor minister, minister for foreign trade and international development, minister of trade, as well as an MP and now an MEP. Earlier this month, as the country begins to debate NATO membership, Väyrynen announced that he’s launching a new party, the Citizens’ Party, which he says will fight to maintain Finland’s military non-allied status. That is, he wants to keep Finland out of NATO.
Finish public opinion is divided about the benefits of NATO membership. However, there’s no such division of opinion in Finland’s large neighbor to the East, which opposes NATO’s expansion in no uncertain terms. To no one’s surprise, Russia’s most vocal Finnish supporter, Johan Bäckman, leaped at the opportunity to congratulate Väyrynen and his new party declaring that it would receive 10 percent of Finnish votes from the get-go. Bäckman makes no secret of his pro-Russian allegiances, identifying himself on Facebook as a representative of the Donetsk separatists. And Bäckman posted his comments in January, before Väyrynen announced his new Russia-friendly, NATO-opposing political party. He would appear to be in the know.
Another group of full-throated Väyrynen supporters and enthusiasts can apparently be found among the Russian nationalists at NOD (National Liberation Movement). According to a recent report in the Finnish newspaper Ilta Sanomat, NOD awarded him the ribbon of St. George last August. The ribbon, which lauds the Soviet victory in WWII and has been popularized under Vladimir Putin, was presented by NOD’s Finnish coordinator Olga Tshizhik-Kinnunen. Apparently the presentation was sufficiently awkward for Mr. Väyrynen that when asked about it by Ilta Sanomat, Väyrynen reportedly said that he had no idea if he’d ever received the ribbon. Väyrynen said that if he had indeed received it, he had thrown it in the trash. However, the NOD website posted news of Mr. Väyrynen’s speech at its event, along with several photos of the presentation.
It remains to be seen whether the new Citizens’ Party will be able to captivate meaningful support in Finland. Last week former President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari suggested that Väyrynen should leave politics altogether. Alas, that will likely be left to the Finnish voter.