Halonen apologizes for comparing Baltic NATO accession to Soviet Union

Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen.
Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen issued an apology on social media on Thursday afternoon after her comments in an interview with Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) comparing the Baltic countries joining NATO to belonging to the Soviet Union sparked significant criticism.

"The expression I used in yesterday's Yle interview about the historical relationship of the Baltic was wrong, and it has offended many," Halonen wrote in a pair of Finnish-language tweets. "I apologize for my failed expression. The countries occupied by the Soviet Union certainly did not have their own choices and real security before 1991."

"They were used to being part of a collective security system during the Soviet era," Halonen had told Yle in an interview published Thursday morning, commenting on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joining NATO in March 2004.

In comments published by Finnish evening paper Ilta-Sanomat (link in Finnish) on Thursday night, Estonian Ambassador to Finland Sven Sakkov was frank in his criticism of Halonen's comment.

"The inclusion of the Baltic states in the collective security system of the Soviet Union is a misrepresentation," said Sakkov, who previously served as director of the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS). "The occupation of Estonia was brutal and inhumane. The comments of former President Tarja Halonen are very unfortunate."

"Occupation by the Soviet Union means a 'collective security system' as much as 'rape' means marriage," he added.

'It was a prison'

Kristi Raik, director of the ICDS' Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, tweeted that it was sad that an understanding of Estonia stuck in Soviet times has resurfaced in Finland.

"The Soviet Union was not a security system for Estonia, but a prison," Raik recalled.

Sofi Oksanen, a prominent Finnish writer with Estonian roots, tweeted a similar sentiment, writing, "WTF? It was not a security system. It was an occupation."

Former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves shared a tweet by Estonian diplomat Matti Maasikas criticizing Halonen's comment, adding, "Yeah, that traumatic stress all Estonians suffer from, to quote that eminent psychoanalyst-diplomat-security policy analyst, Dr. Halonen."

Mikael Jungner, former Finnish MP and Halonen's former party-mate in the Social Democratic Party, tweeted that if Halonen's inner circle had included a communications consultant, they would have strongly recommended a "no" that day.

Tarja Halonen served as the president of Finland from 2000-2012.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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