Government Watch / History & Culture / National Security / Politics

Freedom – On the Streets of Helsinki

Chancellor of Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) Helmut Schmidt, Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) Erich Honecker, US president Gerald Ford, and Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky.

Walking the streets of Helsinki, Finland yesterday, history washed over me. Not far from the northern European or Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, Finland borders Russia. Finland’s history reinforces a reality: America’s defense of liberty is not momentary, not just a beacon. It is vital, timeless, and urgent.

Finland is a complicated place – with a complicated history. Once part of Sweden, then Russia, independent after Russia’ revolution of 1917, it lost land to the Soviets in 1940, allied with Germany, got bombed by the Soviets, protected Jews.

Most famously, it hosted the 1975 summit between Soviet-dominated and Western nations, Warsaw Pact and NATO.  That summit produced “The Helsinki Accords.” 

These recognized the universal importance of “human rights” – but immediately became controversial. Like so much of diplomacy, they were too ambiguous.

The West wanted to use them as a hammer – pounding Soviet violations of human rights across Eastern Europe. The Soviets wanted them to legitimize domination.

US President Gerald Ford, facing reelection, blundered.  Trying to be all things to all, he signed the document.  He was pounded from left and right, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan both making clear that Eastern Europe was not free.

Ford, the ultimate “moderate,” never nimble on feet or with words, tried to clarify – only to dig deeper. During debates he tried to justify signing the accords.

In time, the document would be used by conservatives and Soviet dissidents to make Ford’s exact point, systematic Soviet violation of every human right. But in 1976, Ford made a dog’s breakfast of it all.

Ford implied Eastern Europe was not already stripped of freedoms and human rights by the Soviets.  It was a blunder from which he would not recover. Communism has no defense – not when it crushed Russia and Eastern Europe, not today as it crushes freedom and human rights in Communist China. 

Carter won in 1976, only to up the ante, out-blundering Ford in foreign policy, economics, and energy policy, just the way bulls wreck China shops. Only Joe Biden’s emergence has restored to Carter some dignity – by making deeper mistakes in Afghanistan, handling China, Russia, economics, and energy.

But Helsinki, Finland is today again important – for another reason. Helsinki reminds us of timeless truths.

At a time when autocratic Russia, run by a former Soviet operative, continues to kill civilians and rewrite history, we remember Communism leaves a dark mark. Even when freedom drives the communist devil out, society’s fabric is stained.

Another truth: Democracy is delicate, always vulnerable internally and externally to forces that would replace individual liberty and self-rule with centralized power – using a convenient ideology, maybe fascism, communism, socialism, or political violence whipped by hysteria over something like class, race, money, climate.

Representative democracy – which depends on moral behavior, more listening, thinking, reasoning, and reckoning than violence – is not sexy.  It is not about starting a revolution, but fidelity to ideas, prosperity built on good laws, evolution. 

Democracy is not about finding things to hate but finding reasons to relate. It is not about fanning differences into angry flame but celebrating how we are the same. It is not about inflicting uncommon indignities but creating uncommon opportunities.

There is one last thing – what democracies need, these special countries that celebrate individual liberty, giving everyone a shot at prosperity, chance to walk free streets. Democracies need each other – and the resolve to defend each other. Together, they are the bulwark against what defies freedom and defiles humanity.

In short, history is made – and will be made again – by people of real courage saying inhumanity and suppression of rights is not the future. It was not in 1975, when Communists crushed human rights, triggering the Helsinki Accords. It is not today, as Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea crush those same rights.  The streets of Helsinki echo with that message. Standing for freedom, standing together for it, defending it – matters. Defense of liberty is vital, timeless, urgent.

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7 months ago

Finland -the land, people, and language–are Suomi in that tongue. They have Finnish mythology–nor Norse mythology–Finnish mythology/ they are an independent minded people, with no real connection to the people of Russian except as neighbors. We need to help them maintain freedom and independence.

7 months ago

Well stated, thank you.

7 months ago

Ah, a look back at the glorious 1970s. A decade best forgotten for the ineptitude of our political leadership of the time. From the odd / even gasoline lines to double-digit inflation to the 444 days of the Iran hostage crisis to grinding stagflation. Those were the “good old days” of feckless and misguided U.S. Presidents making a total hash of things, but they were “moderates” all. Something so many seem to long for now. The glory days of it didn’t matter who was running things, as both parties essentially only varied by the degree they followed the same disastrous policies. How I hope we don’t end up returning to times like that. One would hope that Americans had learned something lasting from that lost decade. Maybe. Maybe not. It seems it is a coin toss at this point.

Freedom and liberty are universal values that all societies strive for. No man or woman is born desiring to be shackled by an oppressive government into a life of servitude. What gets in the way of people retaining their freedom and liberty is frequently is the ham-handed efforts of some politicians, that tend to muck up the works from time to time.

7 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

How well i recall Reagans answer to Ford and Carter and Nixon before them. The latter had enunciated the doctrine of detante. The wise old foreign policy men taught this as the only way forward. To deviate from that course meant nuclear war, for sure. Reagan chose to confront the evil of communism, an evil that the west had gradually grown comfortable with. How well i recall the insane, unhinged reactions to simply describing communism accurately. Now i hope to live to see someone, whether trump or his successor, explain clearly to the American people how weve been sold to china. Today the problem is more complex. In the seventies we debated selling grain to the sovs. Now our leaders have shared dna with the ccp.

7 months ago
Reply to  Morbious

We have no leaders. If we had any the left would immediately destroy them and we would allow it just as we allowed our last leader to be beaten down. .

7 months ago
Reply to  Morbious

Yes, that is one of the many reasons why the Republican leadership at the time fought so hard against Reagan being the Presidential nominee. They wanted to preserve the status quo of everything at all costs. The RNC and GOP leadership at the time desparately wanted G.H.W. Bush to be the nominee, as he would tow the official party line without question. Once it bacame clear the American people wouldn’t just accept yet another status quo offering from the Republicans, the party reluctantly agreed to let Reagan be the GOP nominee with the proviso that he accept papa Bush as his V.P..

The Democrat leadership didn’t want Reagan as the oppostion candidate, because he offered too sharp a contrast between the two parties on all the important issues of the day. They wanted a Republican that was weak and would cave to them, as papa Bush ultimately did when he was finally elected POTUS after Reagan’s two terms.

Today we face many more issues because after Reagan and before Trump, we really didn’t have what I would call a real Repubican President in the up-front and in your face style of Reagan, that was willing to address issues outside the box. Someone more concerned with getting the right things done, than being fixated on the inside the beltway political BS that dominates Washington, D.C..

As for China, the political greed and incompetence of the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations transformed a starving Marxist communist country barely able to feed its own people into the second most power economic and political force on the planet. Whoever becomes the next Republican President will have to have a real spine and will to deal with that threat. President Trump saw the problem clearly and tried to deal with it as best as he could given he was opposed on nearly all fronts by both parties in Congress, the MSM which is simply the mouthpiece for the Democrats and sell-out organizations like the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce, that all simply wanted to continue with “business as usual” as we transferred several hundreds of billions a year from the United States to the CCP. Anyone elected on the Republican side, that really wants to take up that battle, will face that exact same wall of opposition when it comes to China.

anna hubert
7 months ago

Would it not be nice if same could be done in Washington swamp

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