conflict & communication online, Vol. 3, No. 1 & 2, 2004
ISSN 1618-0747




Heikki Luostarinen & Risto Suikkanen
Illusions of Friendship? The Soviet Union and Russia in the Finnish Press

The image of the Soviet Union and Russia has changed dramatically in the press in Finland after the World War II. This article is based on a frequency analysis in which mentions of certain countries, groups of states and international organizations were coded (like the Soviet Union/Russia, United States, NATO, UN etc.). To make the analysis more revealing and interesting, a distinction was made whether the mention was made in the context of (1) alliance, friendship and cooperation, or in the context of (2) distance, restriction and enemy image, or (3) both in a positive and in a negative context. The time frame was from 1945 till the end of the century, and the newspapers chosen for the study represented the whole political spectrum of the Finnish media. The selection criteria of the material emphasized national celebration days.
The study proves clearly what has been the main object of Finnish foreign policy after the WW II: in all coded press material, the Soviet Union/Russia was mentioned 222 times which makes 37.5% of all mentions. Other important states or groups have been the United States (5.3 %), EC/EU/WEU/West-Europe (12.6 %), United Nations (9.0 %) and Nordic council/Nordic co-operation (11.2 %). With very few exceptions, all mentions concerning the UN and Nordic co-operation are positive. The Soviet Union has also been described rather positively (77.5 %). The share of negative mentions is 8.1% and mixture of negative and positive mentions 14.4%. Images of the United States and the European alliances are most contradictory. In the case of USA, 54.8 % of the mentions are positive and 45.2% negative. Concerning EC/EU etc. 54.1 % of mentions are positive, 28.4 % negative and 17.6 % mixtures of positive and negative references.
Changes in attitudes towards the Soviet Union in different time spots are remarkable. The share of negative mentions of the Soviet Union was very low, except in 1995 (30 %) when Finland already was a member of the EU. However, the number of cases in which the Soviet Union was referred to both in a positive and in a negative way, was rather high in 1945 and 1948 (27 % and 22 %). The visibility of the Soviet Union/Russia was on its highest level in 1945, in 1948 and in 1989. Decrease on mentions from 1989 (when the Soviet Union was near the brink) to 1993 is very clear. It is interesting that the prominence of the Soviet Union was on a very low level in 1968 (occupation of Czechoslovakia); one could guess that there was nothing positive to say but no courage to write negatively either. As long as the Soviet Union existed and Finland had to live in its shadow, the press did not rock the boat. In the contemporary press discourse the grim heritage of the Cold War can be seen in cynical attitude towards rhetoric of friendship and cooperation.


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On the authors: Heikki Luostarinen, since 1999 Professor of Journalism Studies at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Special areas of interest: war reporting, propaganda studies, journalism criticism, nationalism and the media. Publications, inter alia: Minorities in Finnish Publicity (with Sari Pietikäinen), Nordicom-Information 4/1997; ´The Quiet Finn´. National Stereotypes, Politics and the Media in a Small Country, Scottish Affairs, Summer 1997; Journalism and the New World Order Vol 2. Studying War and the Media (ed. with Wilhelm Kempf), Göteborg, Nordicom 2002.
Risto Suikkanen, since 1996 Researcher at the Journalism Research and Development Centre, University of Tampere, Finland. Special areas of interest: quantitative and qualitative research methods in media studies. Publication: Latent Class Analysis: Wandering in Latent Space (with Esa Reunanen). Diskussionsbeiträge der Projektgruppe Friedenforschung Konstanz, Nr 44, 1999.

Addresses: Heikki Luostarinen, Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä (, PO 35, 40014 University of Jyväskylä, Finland. eMail:
Risto Suikkanen, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Tampere (; 33014 University of Tampere, Finland. eMail: