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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“Fewer emotions, more realism”

Finnish journalist Peter LODENIUS on lessons to be learned from the Finnish-Russian experience and his book on Euromaidan
17 June, 2014 - 11:46

His father and grandfather were journalists. So this is a tradition in his family. He has never had a TV set in his life but likes reading the print media. He has always been interested in Eastern Europe, particularly Ukraine. He visited Ukraine in the 1980s. Some time later he came again to Kyiv, Chernivtsi, Lviv, et al. After the Orange Revolution, Peter LODENIUS wrote a book, Ukraine in the Center of Europe, which was published by TigerText. The next one will be printed at Schildts & Soderstroms. Together with the better-known authoress Anna-Lena LAUREN, he is going to publish a book on post-Euromaidan Ukraine. Anna-Lena and Peter will be writing on eastern and western Ukraine, respectively. We asked the author about what aspects he is going to examine and what kind of Ukraine he saw after the Euromaidan.

“As I have already written about Ukraine after the Orange Revolution, I’d like to know what has changed and what social transformations have occurred. I will be also examining political life and trying to understand some mental things,” Peter Lodenius says. “Anna-Lena Lauren will be examining eastern Ukraine and I – western. There are some particularities here – the past on the borderline of different –Polish and Austro-Hungarian – cultures. There are a lot of stereotypes in the informational space about both western and eastern Ukrainians, I wonder to what extent they are true. It will be partly a piece of reportage because Anna-Lena is a reporting journalist. But I want to know more about the background and can afford to reflect, ponder, and analyze more. Anna-Lena will be writing on the Maidan itself, for she has been there – as well as on Crimea because I don’t know the Russian language. My ‘territory’ is western Ukraine only. I would like to examine more in detail the preconditions for and the history of this revolution. But it is difficult to write about Ukraine now because the situation changes every day. It is impossible to foresee or plan anything.”

When and why did you begin to take interest in Ukraine?

“Since 1968, I have been always interested in Eastern Europe which Ukraine is a part of. Whenever I was coming to Ukraine after the Orange Revolution, I was recording the opinions of people about this revolution and its consequences. The book also had a few points about the Jewish literary tradition in Ukraine, particularly, about Bruno Schulz and Joseph Roth. And there was very much there about the political situation.”

How is Ukraine represented in the Finnish media space? How is Finnish society reacting to the Russian propaganda about Ukraine and do you know about any similar instances of the Kremlin’s propaganda against Finland?

“Before the revolution, there was not much information about Ukraine in the Finnish media space – only a few isolated instances. But the Euromaidan set off an explosion. Indeed, all publications and websites are writing about the events in your country. But I have always followed the situation in Ukraine. Of course, there are problems with the ‘big neighbor.’ People are worried very much and afraid of a threat from Russia. In my view, Russia will be doing nothing against Finland now. Yet Helsinki recently hosted a meeting of political figures who support the ‘Eurasian concept.’ They debated on how classy Russia is. There were people like Aleksandr Dugin among the participants. There was also a mother with four children, who spoke about traditional Russian family-oriented policy. Finland has a tiny but very vociferous group of people who are trying to bring Finland as much closer to Russia as possible. But, naturally, they cannot succeed so far. Incidentally, it is very funny that one of these groups calls itself ‘Independent Party.’ The title is opposite to what they are struggling for. This group has not more than 1-percent support. When the Euromaidan began, I think the Finns felt proud of Ukraine. They also began to see through Putin’s new policy and to debate on whether Putin would annex some part of Finland.”

Ukraine began to introduce public television as late as this year. In Finland, if I am not mistaken, it has existed since 1967 and is drawing quite good profits – as of 2007, the aggregate profit of YLE (Yleisradio Oy) was more than 500 million dollars. What role does this television play in the Finnish media space?

“This television was launched as a private channel, but now it has a totally different format and holds sway in the Finnish media space. It is playing a very important role. There are also several commercial TV networks and a lot of newspapers many of which are in the Swedish language. For example, I write in both Swedish and Finnish. It is very good that Ukraine has now the experience of ‘public television.’ This is undoubtedly progress.”

A poll conducted by the Media Research Institute (KMT) in 2014 shows that 50 percent of Finns use all kinds of gadgets to read newspapers and magazines, while reading newspapers on smartphones has almost trebled in the past two years. What has the advent of a digitalization era changed in the work of you personally?

“I am a special user because I have never had a TV set. I want to read the materials that are interesting to me. Watching television, you cannot choose the content you like. I am a print media buff. My father and grandfather were journalists. So this is a tradition, I read printed newspapers, although this may seem strange to many now. Naturally, I am an Internet user, have a Facebook page, etc. This digitalization creates too many problems for many printed publications. They are trying to come out of this situation in some way and get the reader interested with such techniques as ‘Five Stories of the Week’ or something like that.”

Speaking in broad terms, what do you think are the main challenges to contemporary journalism, including that of Finland?

“In my opinion, the main and the most difficult challenge to contemporary journalism is search for the ways to get people interested in reading and paying money for materials. There may also be other problems on other continents. For example, I don’t know how and where from South Africans receive information. But in Finland it is, first of all, a critical economic situation in the media.”

According to Finnish writer Sofi Oksanen, the policy of “Finlandization,” i.e. limited sovereignty in the foreign policy and forced neutrality, will not help Ukraine in its relations with Russia. What do you think about this?

“This was a realistic policy in the 1950s-1960s because Finland did not have a strong international footing at the time. In Germany, for example, the word ‘Finlandization’ has a very negative connotation. People use it in the sense that Finland was too ‘submissive and obedient’ to the Soviet Union. Sofi Oksanen has some ties with Estonia – this is why she is taking this stand. But I don’t think an aggression against Russia is a way out. This will further escalate the crisis.”

What lessons can Ukraine learn from the experience of Finnish-Russian relations?

“Fewer emotions, more realism. There was a debate in Finland on whether to join NATO. Polls show that only about 15 percent of the population endorse this idea [in 2010-11, 70 percent of the Finns opposed Finland’s membership in the NATO military alliance; in early 2014 the number of NATO membership opponents dropped to 59 percent, while the number of advocates rose to 22 percent. – Ed.]. It seems to me that many people are aware that Finland’s accession to NATO will create problems in relations with Russia. Yet the percentage of those who would like Finland to join NATO rose after [the annexation of] Crimea. This is a telltale sign.”

By Olesia YAREMCHUK, The Day