Eurofile: Finns hope Russia will return land

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The Independent Online
FINLAND'S membership of the European Union is eagerly awaited by those working for the return of Finnish territory originally seized by Stalin's forces in 1940.

Finland lost 12.5 per cent of its territory, including the Karelia isthmus and several islands in the Gulf of Finland. Some 400,000 Finns were also sent over the border to be resettled in Finland. The 1947 Treaty of Paris approved the losses and threw in Petsamo in the north for good measure.

The Karelian Finns and their descendants now hope that when the EU wakes up to the fact that it is acquiring an 800-mile border with Russia the movement to recover the lost lands will grow. They point to Russia's admission that annexation of the three Baltic states was wrong. Last month President Yeltsin told Finland's President Martti Ahtisaari that the lands were taken as a result of Stalin's totalitarian policies. He hinted that the economically depressed region might be returned under the right circumstances.

Jouko Heinonen, of the Tartu Peace movement, says that EU membership will strengthen the country's hand in negotiations.

'We have been living alone next to the Russian bear and now that we have the opportunity of joining the European Union and its defence arm, the Western European Union, we must not miss it,' he said. 'Finnish politicians have been far too soft on these issues up till now.'

Europe Express (on Channel 4 this Friday) went to the annual Karelian summer festival 10 days ago and then crossed the border with five busloads of Finns on the 50th anniversary of the annexation of the territory.

FRANCE has never been much of a country for religion by radio, unlike some of its more Protestant neighbours. On Sunday, however, as the various services of the state Radio France broadcast a Mass from Rwanda - live, as its correspondent, Raymond Poincare, noted - the gentle harmonics of the Tutsis in the Nyarushishi refugee camp gave religious broadcasting a new poignancy.

Last week, when French troops were sent to Rwanda on what was depicted domestically as a last- chance humanitarian effort and, abroad, as the French up to their neo-colonialist tricks in Africa again, there was scarcely a taxi- driver or hairdresser in Paris who did not purse his lips and ask whether his country was not a little too adventurous.

The correspondents on the spot had access to the most modern communications, allowing Radio France to relay the Mass to the homeland. Since then, hardly a whisper of dissent can be heard.

Whatever the foreign speculation or domestic misgivings, the chances are that the final French decision to go in came more from a political tug-of-war - with the Socialist President Francois Mitterrand goading the conservative government of Edouard Balladur into action and Mr Balladur taking the bait - than from some grand imperialist design.

THE Netherlands is still without a new government nearly two months after the general election after talks between right- and left- wing parties broke down yesterday.

Labour, which emerged as the biggest party from general elections on 3 May, has been trying to form a coalition with the conservative Liberals and the centre-left D66. The so-called 'purple' alliance of three different hues would have been the first three-way coalition in 12 years. However, the talks collapsed over Liberal demands for deep cuts in social welfare spending.

Labour, which won 37 seats in the 150-seat parliament, wanted a broad coalition with the Liberals and D66 to keep the Christian Democrats (CDA) in opposition for the first time in 80 years. The CDA, the party of the outgoing Prime Minister, Ruud Lubbers, won only 34 seats in the election, down from 54.

Now they may be asked to step in as the second biggest party and attempt to form a new coalition with the Liberals and D66, leaving Labour out in the cold. The coalition negotiations have exposed fundamental differences between Labour and Liberals, especially on social welfare reforms where the Liberals sought deep spending cuts. But the Dutch are a patient people: in 1977 it took a record 207 days to form a new coalition government.