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News, 07/04/2011

Foreign Office volume sheds light into crucial years of UK-Nordic relations

The latest volume in Foreign Office’s Documents on British Policy Overseas series focuses on Britain’s relations with the five Nordic countries in the crucial years leading up to Cold War. The volume was launched in London in a seminar that brought together FCO historians and experts from all Nordic countries. “Collectively, the Nordic countries were more important to British foreign policy in the late 1940s that at any other time”, Patrick Salmon, Chief Historian at Foreign Office said at the launch.

The Nordic Countries: From War to Cold War, 1944-1951, the latest publication by the FCO historians, is a collection of diplomatic documents describing the development of British relations with the Nordic countries between the end of the Second World War and the defeat of the Labour Government in 1951. Edited by Patrick Salmon and Tony Insall, the volume documents Foreign Office concerns about the range of problems, both multilateral and bilateral, which still remained to be resolved in the Nordic area after the war. Some documents not previously in the public domain have been declassified for the volume. 

"Many of the interests the UK and Nordic countries shared 60 years ago are as relevant in today’s world as they were then", HMA Matthew Lodge said. (c) FCO "Many of the interests the UK and Nordic countries shared 60 years ago are as relevant in today’s world as they were then", HMA Matthew Lodge said. (c) FCO

To celebrate the launch of the volume, Foreign Office organised a seminar in Lancaster House in London on April 1. The seminar brought together FCO historians and experts on Cold War history from all Nordic countries, former and current Ambassadors, researchers and other friends of Norden.

Representing Finland in the panel sessions were Juhana Aunesluoma, Adjunct Professor in Political History at the University of Helsinki and Kimmo Rentola, Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Turku. Addressing the audience were both the current Ambassador, HMA Matthew Lodge, and a former Ambassador to Finland, Alyson J.K. Bailes, who served in Helsinki from 2000 to 2002.

"In 1944 or 1945, few people would have bet good money for the chance that Finland would in the future belong to the Nordic countries", professor Kimmo Rentola estimated. (c) FCO"In 1944 or 1945, few people would have bet good money for the chance that Finland would in the future belong to the Nordic countries", professor Kimmo Rentola estimated. (c) FCO

“Obviously the choice of topic for this volume played to our particular research interests and strengths”, Salmon explained the focus on the Nordic countries. “But it also filled a genuine gap in the DBPO series. Collectively, the Nordic countries were more important to British foreign and security policies in the late 1940s than at any other time, before or since.” 

In his opening remarks, HMA Matthew Lodge described the volume as a fascinating insight into the crucial years of UK-Nordic relations – but reminded the audience how the current UK government also has a high priority for the Nordic countries. Links between the UK and Nordics are strong and the countries still have much in common and much to learn from each other, as was demonstrated by the calling together of UK Nordic Baltic Summit in London earlier this year. 

“Finland always a hard country to categorize and understand”

The two panel sessions brought together experts of history from all five Nordic countries to discuss the respective issues in bilateral relations as well as the perceptions of the Soviet challenge. As was noted in the seminar, the circumstances in Finland after the Second World War were completely different from the rest of the Nordic countries, which raises the question of whether Finland can be considered to have been a Nordic country at all.   

Seminar was held in Lancaster House in London. (c) FCOSeminar was held in Lancaster House in London. (c) FCO

Whereas Dr Aunesluoma described Finland in the late 1940s as a “Nordic country with East European problems”, Bailes pointed out that the reports by the British Embassy in Helsinki portrayed Finland very much as a member of the Nordic family throughout the period of 1944-1951. “The reports show many references of Norden”, Bailes explained. “The five UK Ambassadors were sensible to the closeness of the Nordic community – and are aware of it today.” 

The documents that were selected to the volume, nearly 220 in all, provide snapshots describing many of the key aspects of the most significant policy debates throughout this time. FCO historians also thought it important to provide some idea of the atmosphere of the time and the circumstances in which these developments were taking place. 

“Hence the description in the volume of the elk hunt attended by Frank Shepherd [British Ambassador to Finland from 1944 to 1947] who stood with several Finnish ministers in a freezing forest for the best part of a couple of days, without apparently ever seeing an elk”, Tony Insall described. “There are a few other documents which provide some similar colour.”

Text by Tiina Heinilä, Embassy of Finland
Photos by courtesy of Foreign Office

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Updated 13/04/2011


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