National Geographic : 1968 May
Lit up for a spring night, the heart of Helsinki welcomes after-work shoppers. On broad Mannerheimintie, the capital's main thoroughfare, twin neon streaks and rooftop tower identify Stockmann's Department Store. Bright and busy, inhabited by a tal ented, sophisticated people, this free world city shines in the shadow of the Communist-ruled Baltic states. "Like a modern supermarket perched at the edge of a tired old neighborhood," commented one visiting journalist. Garden city of Tapiola, four miles west of Helsinki, has won acclaim as one of the world's finest planned communities. Twelve Finnish architects pooled talents for this city of 20,000, which welcomed its first residents only 15 years ago. Foun tains spurt in a pool mirroring Tapion torni, the town hall. "At first," the President said, "that policy aroused suspicion. But gradually, the world has come to recognize a simple fact-Finland is hiding nothing and seeks only to cooperate with everyone. "Independence," he added, "has its limits, even for a big country. We in Finland respect our own limits, and the world has learned to respect them, too." Logic Deserts a Communist Argument Not every Finn shares President Kek konen's sentiments, as I learned afterward at the Eduskunta, Finland's parliament. I spoke with one of the leaders among the Com munist deputies, a heavy-set, somber man. Finland's Communists today represent the country's third largest party, with 42 of the Eduskunta's 200 seats. Political polls, how ever, suggest trouble ahead for the party: Among young Finns soon to reach voting age, only 5 percent appear to favor Communism. I asked the deputy why. "Those are only samplings," he said, with a certain logic. "It is votes in the ballot box that count. Many young Finns support our do mestic policies, and in fact"-his voice took on an aggrieved note-"some of the other parties have stolen our best ideas. No wonder they have been successful." Turning to foreign policy, I asked if it was true that the Finnish Communists favored closer ties with the Soviet Union. The deputy nodded emphatically. "We have urged that all along." But, I said, in view of Finland's historic troubles with Russia-both tsarist and Soviet - wasn't there some risk of domination by Moscow? Logic abruptly vanished from the conversation. "The question of domination does not arise," he said sternly. "Those who fear such a thing are not reasonable people, they are merely stubborn-and above all, prejudiced." In Communist eyes, Armi Ratia is preju diced; in almost any others, she is a genius. Armi is the founder and inspiration behind Marimekko, an internationally known Finn ish house of textile and fashion design. Wher ever one sees Finnish women, or women familiar with Finland, the view is apt to be enlivened by Marimekko design, with its explosions of color. I met Armi in her studio above Marimekko's printing lofts in downtown Helsinki. Accord ing to her friends, Armi is not a person, but a myrsky-a storm. I remarked that some of her designs struck me the same way.