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Mass Tourists, Groups and Delegates: Travel from Finland to the Soviet Union from 1950 to 19801

Auvo Kostiainen

The Soviet and Russian historians have been quite interested in the study of travel within the boundaries of their own country. However, very few notes have been presented on the history of the travel of foreigners. Mostly the studies deal with the organisation of the leisure and vacations in the Soviet period. Some interest has been directed to the earlier forms of travel during the Russian Empire. Even rarer are the studies on the history of the Soviet citizens" travel abroad. It should be noted, however, that the Soviet Union as well as present-day Russia are internationally seen as important tourist countries, both in the terms of internal and international travel. For example, in 1976 3.9 million tourists arrived in the Soviet Union from other countries. Because of her international position, the Soviet Union attracted most of the tourists from the socialist bloc, but from the non-socialist countries, too. Its northwestern neighbour, Finland was, according to the Soviet Statistics, around 1976 the second biggest touristsending country with a share of 14.8 % of a total 3.9 million foreign tourists. Only Poland was ahead of Finland with the share of 24.0 %. However, there is a strong disagreement between the Soviet and Finnish statistics of this period. The Soviet side claims more than 600,000 Finnish tourists, while the Finns are satisfied with about 200,000 tourists.2

The relations between Finland and her powerful neighbour were at this period marked with certain specific features. Following the Second World War, the Finnish-Soviet confrontation in the Winter War 1930-1940 and the War of Continuation 1941-1944 with heavy war reparations paid by the Finns to the Soviet Union, the countries tried to "normalise" their relationship. Cooperation between the countries was now developed in political, cultural and economic sense. The Soviet Union exerted strong influence on Finland and the communist-minded parties were influential in Finnish politics. When the Finnish economy recovered quite rapidly from the strain of the war years and the economic life advanced in general, there came opportunities for travel. An important prerequisite was the rising living standards of the Finns and the expansion of holiday legislation. Tourism grew heavily and simultaneously from Finland to the Mediterranean countries with chartered flights and jumbo aeroplanes, to the Leningrad area by land, sea and air, and to Sweden by the ferries. Thus the Finns participated in the boom of growing international tourism of the western world. Geographically the Soviet Union was close and it attracted large crowds of Finnish tourists. In the 1950s only a few thousands of Finns were able to travel to the Soviet Union annually, but during the 1960s the figures rose to tens of thousands, reaching in the late 1960s 50-60,000 per year. During the next decade the figures rose towards 200,000, and in the middle of the 1980s close to 300,000. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the number fell to just over 100,000.3 The sharp decline was caused by many factors. However, now independent Estonia became the most important short distance foreign travel target for the Finns, only a few hours away from Helsinki via modem ferries.

The tradition of travelling to the Soviet Union included certain patterns and traditions from the interwar years. At that time quite a few thousands of Westerners had annually visited the Soviet Union, in many cases because of the idealisation of its "new society" or curiosity. These people included idealists, party sympathisers, newspaper reporters as well as western businessmen and specialists with their family members, who stayed in the country for some time.4 Tourism to the Soviet Union was regulated by the heavy bureaucratic organisation of tourism. This feature was affected strongly by the suspicious attitudes of the Soviet Union towards foreigners. This tradition was carried from the 1920s by Intourist, which handled mostly the foreign tourists. International tourism was seen as a part of the Soviet image making. A foreigner in the country was a potential propagandist after returning home. This idea persisted strongly in the tourist organisation after the Second World War, too. In the case of the Finnish tourism to the Soviet Union, we find similarities in the Intourist early policies, which is mainly visible through the concepts of control and "manipulation", and in practical guidance of the travellers.

What kind of travellers headed from Finland to the Soviet Union after the Second World War? Basically, they may be classified into several types of travellers and tourists. When the numbers were rising into thousands and tens of thousands, the overwhelming majority consisted of a type of mass tourist. They travelled from Finland to the neighbouring country, at first mainly by ships, but from the middle of the 1960s increasingly by trains, buses and even private cars. It may be estimated that 90-95 % included this major type of tourists who participated in planned, standardised tourist routes, programs and sightseeing. The mass tourists travelling to the East had usually bought their travel package from a certain travel agency in order to visit Leningrad or some other location for one to three days, or even longer. The package included bus transportation from Finland to Leningrad and staying overnight in a modest hotel. Special programs were designed for each day including attractions like the Hermitage, the fortress of Peter and Paul, the Circus, the summer residence of the royal family, an evening in a concert, ballet, theatre etc. A part of the members in the Finnish tourist groups became known as the "vodka tourists" because of the many kinds of trouble they caused. The vodka tourists attracted wide negative publicity in the news media in the Soviet Union as well as in Finland. According to certain estimates, more than one per cent of the mass tourists misused alcohol and caused problems.5 In principle, this kind of behaviour is the same as seen within tourism of many nationalities outside the borders of their own country. In this paper, however, these problems are not discussed in detail.

However, there were also other types of travellers, which differed quite a lot from the 'standardised" tourist types. Naturally, certain people were individualistic tourists, who acquired their tickets and made reservations according to their special interests and needs but most often through the Intourist services at the Soviet end. The other types of individualists were perhaps scholars, students, businessmen, sportsmen, artists or media personnel, who had special needs and whose programs were often planned in advance to include residence, meetings, performances and other activities.

The most interesting part of the Finnish tourists consisted of the official and semi-official tourists, individuals and groups, who were treated in a special way and sent by the agencies of the Finnish government, such as the Ministry of Education or various organisations working for a mutual cooperation and friendship. These people amounted perhaps from one to a few thousands per year including various kinds of delegations and special tourist groups as well as important politicians, various kinds of artists, teachers, professionals, trade union representatives, etc. They even included many Soviet sympathisers, although not everybody was of that type. The number of the participants in the delegations appears to have remained quite static, while the number of the mass tourists rose significantly after the middle of the 1960s.

There were delegations and special groups travelling to the East. The term 'special group" refers particularly to professional people, e.g., farmers, teachers and various trade union groups. This term came into use in the late 1960s. Apparently this category was needed to separate the "interested" groups from the more official delegation. The size of the delegations and special groups varied a lot, although as a rule the delegations used to be smaller than special groups. There were small delegations, the size of which varied from two to three up to dozens of people. At the other extreme were large delegations with even hundreds of members, as in the case of the "celebrity young people's trains", the first one of which may have passed the border in 1963. Quite a few of the special groups reported about their travel experiences even in the public, mostly with positive tendencies.6

One of the most active organisers of Soviet trips was the Finnish Soviet Friendship Society, better known under the title SNS (Suomi-Neuvostoliitto-Seura or Finland-the Soviet Union Friendship Society), which helped in organising both the special trips for groups, official and semi-official delegations, individual and mass tourism trips. This is reflected in the number of trips organised by the society, in 1977 a total of 769 trips with 24,550 people7. Many commercial travel agencies participated in the organisation of the trips to the East, such as Lomamatkat and Finn Sov Tours. The share of the travellers to the Soviet Union via the SNS organisation was high in the beginning. However, while more organisers participated in the organisation activities, its share became smaller. In 1977 approximately 12 % of the total tourist traffic from Finland to the Soviet Union was organised by SNS.

Tourism reflected the efforts for intercourse and "active" relationship between the people of the Soviet Union and Finland. During 1950-1980 travelling increased and its forms became quite established. But travel was abundant even from the Soviet Union to Finland. It was partly organised as a kind of "exchange" of the Finnish travel to the Soviet Union. It should be remembered that even commercial relations between the countries were based on "exchange" or reciprocal agreements. This was the ruling system between the countries for trade and many other parts of the society, and the tourists were considered exchangeable trading targets. According to the information available for the moment, it seems that travel from the Soviet Union to Finland was about one third of the amount of the tourist traffic to the Soviet Union at the time when tourism was rising in the 1960s and 1970s. SNS helped to organise the travel of Soviet citizens to Finland.

The semi-official and official travel included many inside curiosities. Naturally, there were elements of "normal tourist" activity and curiosity. Apparently the "exchange" idea was present within the Soviet bloc travel as a whole. But there were also features of "political travel". This may be a special kind of travel form in the relationships within the Soviet bloc. But the pattern was even applied to the relations between the Soviet bloc and the outside world.

In 1974 a major Finnish-Soviet treaty on travel affairs was published. It was said that it was designed to make visa obtaining easier and to develop various forms of tourism. When the treaty was publicised, ministers from the Finnish side, Jermu Laine, and S. S. Nikitin from the Soviet side celebrated its signing. It was also told that the Finnish-Soviet treaty was designed in the same way as the treaties between the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc countries. Outside the bloc the same kind of treaties existed between the Soviet Union and Iraq and Italy. Because the structure of the tourist industry was underdeveloped, limitations had to be made on the number of tourists, claimed Nikitin. Laine also presented a plan that there should be developed packages for foreigners coming to Finland in order to be able to continue easily to the Soviet Union. It was claimed that foreigners' interest for coming to Finland would be increased this way, too8. Actually, during the following years these designs were widely put into practice.

There were interested Soviet sympathisers in Finland who wanted to make use of the close co-operation with the Soviet Union. Therefore we may even consider that in the Finnish-Soviet tourism relationships existed the same problem of relationships and dependencies as has been referred to in recent years by several scholars and authors in Finland. Basically, it meant the strong influence of the Soviet Union on Finland. But was it too strong and was it necessary? The concept used here is that of being "rähmällään" or "bowing too deep for the Soviet Union". In international discussion the term Finiandization, launched by Walter Laqueur, has been used in this context. Laqueur calls it Finland's "self-censorship". The new wave of discussion has been going on in Finland already for several years.9

Thus travel from Finland to the Soviet Union included certain specific features. It was split into several types of travel, which were then made available to various kinds of people who would be interested in going to the Soviet Union. The first group consisted of individual tourists. The second group composed the large majority of the travellers from the 1960s onward, the so-called mass tourists. They were offered mass tourist trips by various travel organisers and controlled within the application procedure of the visas, border control, customs and certainly through the guidance of the Intourist.

The third type consisted of delegates and special tourist members. They were under stricter control. The participants of these groups were often openly pro-Soviet, which must have had an effect on the programs they were offered. However, it has not been studied yet what kind of reports and surveillance was practised. Apparently this was the type of travel practised widely within the Soviet bloc and even in the contacts outside the bloc. The number of mass tourists grew swiftly and steadily in the 1960s and 1970s till the disappearance of the Soviet Union. The other types of travel were relatively steady in numbers compared to mass tourism.

The delegations and special groups travelling from Finland to the Soviet Union may tie compared to a number of phenomena. forms and practices of travel. In one way these trips to the Soviet Union were package tourist trips just like the bus trips, but in another way they were also individual trips: they were planned for each group or delegation separately, according to the needs of the party. They were distinct from many other group tours in the sense that they were under more control and connected with official relations of the countries, the problems of foreign policy, cultural policy and even economic relations. In order to find out the special features and more exact conclusions on the mass tourism phenomenon and the delegation and special group tourism, more research will be needed. Certainly, we can find that kind of features in tourist relations of several countries except the Soviet Union.


1 This research has been supported by the Academy of Finland, project for the history of mass tourism.

2 See, SSSR zarubezhnye a strany 1989 - staticticheskii sbomik. Moskva 1990, p. 313. Cf. Kai-Veikko Vuoristo, Tourism Patterns in Eastern Europe: development and regional patterns. -Fennia 159:1 (1981), esp. appendix I-II, pp. 245-247. According to his figures, in 1975 there were 3.7 million foreign tourists in the SU. The statistical problem has arisen probably due to the differences in counting the individual tourists. The Soviet figure may be that of tourist nights. For the Finnish statistics, see footnote 3.

3 The numbers referred to in the following are compiled mainly from the statistical yearbook of Finland, SVT (Helsinki) for the years 1942-1991, esp. 1972, table 224; as well as from the publications of the MEK (Matkailun edistämiskeskus, the Bureau for promoting travel into Finland, travel statistics in the series A:4 (1976). A:55 (1986); A:68 (1990); A:79 (1991): A:80 (1992) A:85, 86 (1993); A:89 (1994).

4 E.g., Sylvia Margulies, The Pilgrimage to Russia. The Soviet Union and the Treatment of Foreigners, 1924-1937. Madison, WI 1968.

5 The problem was quite heated already in 1970, when 44,000 Finns were reported to have visited Leningrad. The Consul General of Finland in the city, Olli Bergman, estimated that about 1.5 % of the Finnish tourists misbehaved and got into trouble. Negotiations were taken in Helsinki between the Foreign Ministry, travel agency representatives and others to liquidate the problems. See, "700 häiriömatkailijaa...", Helsingin Sanomat, April 17, 1970.

6 Eg., Suomalaisten matkavaikutelmia Moskovan radiossa. Maakansa July 1, 1959. It was a lengthy report in the leading Agrarian league -newspaper in Finland. A series of speeches or statements in a radio Moscow program were inducted. Quite typically, this high status delegation was just as astounded about the scholarly level of agricultural and forestry development as about the friendliness of the people they met.

7 See, the Report of activities by the SNS Society, 1977. Class 21. SNS archives, National Archives of Finland, Helsinki.

8 See, Neuvostoliiton-Suomen matkailusopimus: helpotusta viisumeihin ja kehitysyhteistyötä. Helsingin Sanomat 27.4.1974.

9 The discussion started to explode particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Finland I was taken to the fore by the book of Timo Vihavainen, a historian, Kansakunta rähmällään. Suomettumisen lyhyt historia. Helsinki 1991. (A Nation Bowing Deep. A Short History of the Fnlandization). Especially many Finnish important leaders of the 1960s and 1970s aroused their voices for explanation. Cf. Walter Laquer's overall analysis of Finland's position, Walter Laqueur, Europe in Our Time. A History 1945-1992. Penguin Books ed. New York 1992, pp. 501-502.

Published in Trends in Russian Research on Tourism. International Forum for Tourism Research N:o 3. Savonlinna, Finland 2-3 June 1997. 1998, p. 46-50.

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