The speed with which the Soviet Union disintegrated was a surprise to many Finns. In the rush of events, the three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – also restored their independence.
In his recent publication, Andres Perendi shows that the disintegration of the Soviet Union and developments in the Baltic states were possible to examine on the basis of Finnish newspaper data as well. The publication is entitled The dominoes rise: Official and unofficial foreign policies of Finland with regard to the restoration of independence of the Baltic States.
The analyses presented in the publication are based on the author’s collection of Finnish newspaper texts from the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“In essence, this study deals with the predictability of the restoration of independence for the Baltic countries in light of these newspaper articles”, Perendi states.
The whole political spectrum of Finnish newspapers at that time is represented in the data. These include, for example, the right-wing newspapers Uusi Suomi and Aamulehti, which were close to the National Coalition Party; politically independent centrist newspapers Keskisuomalainen and Savon Sanomat; and Tiedonantaja from the extreme left. Similarly, articles from tabloids are included in the study.
Journalists pursued unofficial foreign policy
In Finland, there was a clear distinction between the official and unofficial policies regarding the Baltic states. The press encouraged independence, whereas the official policy can be described as indifferent.
“We can see from the data that the eventual result could be predicted”, Perendi says.
“The restoration of independence for the Baltic countries was inevitable. By means of holistic data analysis, it is possible to detect large developmental trends. There is no prior research on this topic with an equivalent timeline.”
“The Finnish press played such a significant role in restoring the independence of the Baltic countries that it deserves national level recognition in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania”, Perendi says.
Turning point in 1991
Perendi remembers well his own reaction when he heard about the attempted coup led by Gennady Yanayev on 19 August 1991. Led by Yanayev, conservative communists sought to reverse the Soviet Union’s disintegration and undo Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms.
“I was at choir practice, where others were asking me how the events were proceeding now. I remember that I answered very confidently that the coup will not succeed. I realised then that this answer could also be seen in my research data.”
And indeed, the coup ended two days later. The influence of Gorbachev’s reform was such that people did not accept the conservative coup. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania each then declared to restore their independence in September 1991, and in the same month the Soviet Union recognised their independence.
“The dominoes rose”, says Perendi of the three Baltic countries. The Soviet Union disintegrated and was officially abolished in December 1991.
In his work, Perendi applies text linguistics to the field of social sciences. He feels that in the early 1990s he was moving somewhere between many fields of study. Building on linguistics, he found support from history and related seminars as well as in informal discussion forums. His research eventually found a home in social and public policy.
His data collection started in 1988. The data soon accumulated and provided material for two master’s theses as well.
“I was like a thesis godfather then”, says Perendi of his role.
Nonetheless, he started to work on his own research as well. His publication came out at the end of 2021 and provides a summary of his findings.
Perendi shifted to a part-time pension in 1994 from the Language Centre of the University of Jyväskylä, where he worked as a full-time teacher. He started in his first teaching post at JYU in 1976.
From Finland it was possible to follow developments in Estonia
Perendi’s personal background partly explains his interest in the position of the Baltic countries. Together with his Estonian parents, he emigrated as a child to Australia, and moved from there to Finland in the 1970s. He still holds dual Australian and Estonian citizenship.
His move to Finland was influenced by his parents’ strong emphasis on Estonian culture. Because he could not settle in Estonia in the 1970s, he chose Finland as plan B instead of Estonia. From here he could follow the developments in his home country on the opposite side of the Gulf of Finland.
Perendi says that in the current security policy crisis between Russia and the Western countries there is at least one change in comparison to the situation thirty years ago. Now the rest of the world is looking at things more closely:
“There should be a new 1991 in order to make things change in Russia. It is sad that Russia is not aware of its own way of thinking.”
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