Greetings from Lappeenranta, in eastern Finland. Everyone is talking about the euro crisis, and the divisions between northern and southern Europe. But another European border is more evident here. The frontier between eastern and western Europe has been bitterly contested for centuries.
In the 20th century, argument over the location of that border cost upwards of a 100m lives. Timothy Snyder’s recent book, Bloodlands, recounts the tragedy of the contested areas in horrific detail. From 1948 to 1989, the border was as far west as it has ever reached following Russia’s victory in the Great Patriotic War.
Today the border has shuffled far to the east. America won the cold war and many Soviet satellite states were rapidly welcomed into the EU. But the line remains uneasy. Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia seem fully attached to the western side, while Hungary is regressing towards totalitarianism. Several states further east are still uneasy partners in the new Europe.
The Finnish border is an anomaly. In 1918 the Finns won independence for a state that extended to the gates of St Petersburg. Russia captured territory in the 1939-40 Winter War. Finland then fought on the losing side in the second world war and did not remain neutral in the cold war. So the once thriving Finnish industrial city of Viipuri is today the depressed Russian outpost of Vyborg.