Being a teenager back in Finland in the 1980s, I recall seeing the film White Nights, starring Isabella Rossellini and the ex-Soviet ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. Strictly speaking, not great art, actually rather a bad movie. But what I can still vividly remember is the ambiguous impression the film made on me. Here we have Baryshnikov, a Soviet expatriate who has landed back in the Soviet Union due to a plane crash, now strolling along the streets of Leningrad. Actually the film was shot right here in Helsinki, my home town!
The same was true for many other Hollywood films of the Cold War era. Lacking access to Soviet cities, Hollywood film producers used Helsinki as a substitute. A red star on the top of the National Museum – the Kremlin, of course. Cyrillic street signs on the streets of Katajanokka – Moscow city center. The prefab neighborhood of Itä-Pasila – a typical, depressing Soviet-style suburb. And a big portrait of Lenin painted on the wall of a Kaisaniemi building – an (almost) exact image of the Gorky Park!
Apart from films, Helsinki was the scene of many other exciting events. The Olympic Games in 1952 brought Coca-Cola to Finland but another important debut was made as well: the Soviet team participated in the Olympics for the first time in history. The CSCE – President Urho Kekkonen’s tour de force – brought another kind of Soviet team to Helsinki in 1975, led by the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev.
The COLD WAR HELSINKI TRAM TOUR on Thursday 27th at 11 and 14.30 will lead you through Helsinki’s exciting Cold War past, based on the manuscript by a young historian Suvi Kansikas from the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki. We hope to give the WCSJ2013 participants fresh insights into recent Finnish history, not forgetting entertainment as the theatre company Ylioppilasteatteri will dramatize important events. We hope you will join us – who knows, perhaps it is Mr. Brezhnev himself whom you will meet during the tour.
A limited amount of tickets are available from the University of Helsinki’s THINK CORNER – a place in itself really worth a visit! Don’t miss this opportunity to get a totally new angle to Helsinki.
On behalf of the whole team, I wish you a warm welcome to (post) Cold War Helsinki!
Anna-Maria Salmi, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki
PS. Prepare yourself for the ride with this article: An interview with historian Sari Autio-Sarasmo, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, including her tips on Helsinki of the Cold War era