18:03 GMT +315 October 2018
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    Finns Less Afraid of Russia, Less Keen on NATO

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    For the first time in the past years, the majority of Finns don't regard their vast eastern neighbor as a threat, despite assurances of the contrary by mainstream media. What's more, the percentage of public support for NATO continues to shrink.

    A clear majority of Finns believe their country should remain non-aligned, while less than one fifth consider that Finland should join NATO, the latest poll commissioned by national broadcaster Yle shows.

    More than half of the respondents, 53 percent, argued against NATO membership, pollster Taloustutkimus reported, whereas only 19 percent supported the alliance, the lowest figure in recent years. Previously, the percentage of NATO supporters shrank from 26 percent in 2014 to 21 percent at the beginning of 2017.

    When asked whether Finland should join too, if its Nordic neighbor Sweden were to become a NATO member, a prospect seen as increasingly realistic due to a surge of pro-NATO rhetoric, 50 percent of Finns said their country should still remain outside the alliance. Only 30 percent argued Finland should follow suit.

    Conversely, support for a referendum on NATO membership has declined from 63 percent in 2015 to 54 percent in the latest poll. The support of the referendum was highest among supporters of the Social Democratic Party, the Center Party and the Finns Party.

    Incumbent President Sauli Niinistö, who also happens to be leading the polls with a wide margin ahead of the upcoming election, expressed the view that a decision on possible Finnish NATO membership would require a referendum.

    "If parliament were to decide on this issue, then Finland would be split in two deeper than it was 100 years ago," President Sauli Niinistö told the Turun Sanomat daily, referring to the civil war that tore the Nordic country apart in 1918. Niinistö insisted that in democracies, such as Finland, the issue of joining military alliances should be resolved by the popular vote. Neither the president, no parliament shall single-handedly decide on this matter, he assured.

    In the Finnish Civil War, the parliamentary White Guard, heavily supported by the German Empire as well as Swedish and Estonian volunteers, ultimately defeated the paramilitary Red Guard, supported by early Soviet Russia. The war was a catastrophe for Finland, which lost around 36,000 people or 1.2 percent of the nation's total population. In the aftermath of the war, thousands of Reds were executed and thrown into prison camps, dying of hunger and diseases, which left a lasting wound on the national psyche.

    ​In a related poll by Taloustutkimus, more than half of Finns, a solid 51 percent, are not afraid of Russia. At the beginning of 2017, the corresponding figure did not exceed 47 percent, Yle reported.

    Shadows cast on a wall decorated with the NATO logo and flags of NATO countries
    © AFP 2018 / Jean-Christophe Verhaegen
    By contrast, only 40 percent of Finns regard Russia or the political processes happening inside it as a threat, as opposed to 56 percent who did so in 2014, after Crimea's re-unification with Russia that many Finnish politicians portrayed as annexation on Moscow's part.

    The number of Finns who have yet to form an opinion about Russia did not change this year and is still fixed at around 10 percent.

    Related:

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    Tags:
    non-aligned status, NATO, Sauli Niinistö, Sweden, Scandinavia, Russia, Finland
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