Relations between Finland and Bulgaria have been good throughout history. In 1877-78 a Finnish batallion took part in the Russo-Turkish War. Twenty two guardsmen were killed in the battle of Gorni Dubnik. When illness are taken into acount more than two hundred Finnish soldiers were killed in the campaign. Bulgaria still remembers fallen Finnish men. Every year Bulgaria's President praises the Finnish soldiers in his speech on 3 March, Bulgarian National Day. In 1880-81 Finnish General Johan Casimir Ehrnrooth served as Bulgaria's Minister of Defense, the Interior, Foreign Affairs and ultimately as Prime Minister. Bulgarians also remember that the European Union (EU) decided to start Bulgaria's membership negotiations during Finland's EU Presidency in December 1999. The country joined the EU on 1 January 2007, just after the end of second Finnish EU Presidency on 31 December 2006.
When the Finnish Parliament voted the Declaration of independence on 6 December 1917, Finnish delegations carried the proclamation to a selection of major states, asking for recognition of Finland's independence. The delegation to Bulgaria and Turkey was comprised of Jalo Kalima and J.J. Mikkola, the latter being an expert in Slavic languages and Bulgaria. The trip to Sofia via Tornio, Stockholm and Berlin took three weeks.
In his report to President Svinhufvud, Mikkola wrote that Minister Peshev had "friendly words about our country" and that the announcement on Finland's declaration of independence "was received with applause".
At a formal dinner in Sofia King Ferdinand "read with a ceremonious voice the Bulgarian Government's message to the Finnish Government". In this speech, Bulgaria declared it "wishes to live in peace and friendship with Finland, and even looked forward to a warmer relationship". King Ferdinand proposed a toast to Finland and said in Finnish: "Long live the free and independent Finnish nation!"
The peace treaty between Finland and Bulgaria, signed in May 1918 in Berlin, stated that there was no war between the two countries and "from now on they are willing to live in permanent peace and friendship". At the same time, separate agreements on consular affairs, as well as post and telegraph communications, were concluded. Trade and shipping were placed under the position of "the most favoured country". A similar bilateral peace agreement was signed only with Turkey.
Finland's representative in Bucharest, Väinö Tanner, a namesake of the well-known Finnish politician, was also appointed as representative to Sofia, Ankara and Athens in October 1920. But the arrangements for his trip to Sofia encountered some unfortunate complications. In the Bulgarian Ministry, it seems nobody knew about Tanner's agrément (formal approval of his appointment). When Tanner tried to confirm the agrément dates from Finland, it became clear that a telegraph communication link simply did not exist between Finland and Bulgaria. Luckily the agrément problem wasn't an issue, as Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Stambolinsky's adviser knew Tanner from Bucharest. Tanner and Stambolinsky discussed the trade policy problems caused by Russia's collapse and the possibilities to develop bilateral trade. Specifically, Tanner made a point of advertising the good quality of Finnish pulp and matches. In Geneva, Stambolinsky had found a book on Finland with which he was delighted about, and he even wanted it to be translated. Stambolinsky ordered that a similar book about Bulgaria be published.
The courtesy visit to King Boris III was carried out in a friendly atmosphere. He had very good basic information about Finland. Discussions centered on Finland's current social and economic state, and the relationship with the Soviet Union. The meeting with Trade Minister Dascaloff was very positive. In addition to paper for newspapers, cigarettes and office paper, Bulgaria was interested in importing tractors and other agriculture machinery. Grain, pelt, wool and tobacco were offered as export products to Finland. Both parties agreed that active and direct trade would be the best way for Bulgaria and Finland to develop closer contacts.
The Embassy of Finland in Bucharest was closed in 1923 by order of President Ståhlberg, as a consequence of the Finnish Parliament no longer allocating any funds for the Embassy. This also meant that there was no Finnish representation to Bulgaria. In the same year, there was a coup in Bulgaria. Social disorders continued, and the relations between Bulgaria and Finland were interrupted for nine years.
Relations were established again in 1933, when the Ambassador of Finland in Rome, Pontus Artti, presented his credentials to King Boris. During this ceremony, Artti perceived the King as "warm and intelligent". King Boris delighted Finland's new Ambassador by saying, very clearly, "Long live the free and independent Finnish nation!" This was exactly the same Finnish slogan, which his father had ordered him to search for, on the occasion of the visit of the first Finnish delegation in 1918.
In his report, Artti noted, in poetic terms, that the Bulgarian people deserved "pity and empathy". They have "suffered a lot, and Bulgarians are brave, hard-working and decent people". At the same time, poverty and the poor condition of Bulgaria's economy were quite apparent in the streets of Sofia.
In 1934, the Finnish representation in Sofia was entrusted to the Embassy in Budapest, under the new Ambassador, Onni Talas. He came to Sofia in February 1935 in order to present his letters of credence. When Talas was picked up from his hotel in Sofia, many people turned out on the streets to greet the horse-drawn carriage. During the courtesy meeting, the King was once again friendly, showed interest in Finland's current situation and pronounced, once again, the now-familiar Finnish slogan.
Succeeding Talas as the new Ambassador in Budapest, Aarne Wuorimaa assumed his post in 1940. During their conversation, King Boris wanted to show his admiration for the Winter War's "historic battle" and praise Marshal Mannerheim's strategic skills. The "battle against Bolshevism in Finland" interested the King, not least because of domestic reasons in Bulgaria, where Communists enjoyed strong popular support.
In January 1944 the Allies accelerated their bombings and E.O. Raustila, then Chargé d’affaires of Finland, had to evacuate the representation. Working in a partly destroyed and depopulated city was possible only from time to time. In accordance with the truce agreement, diplomatic relationships with “satellite” countries were severed. The Embassy of Finland in Budapest was closed in November 1944.
When the removal goods arrived in Finland, there was one package bearing the label "Raustila's coat", but its owner was still in Sofia. In fact, the travel permit was granted by the Bulgarian authorities only in the summer of 1945, when Raustila travelled home to Helsinki via Moscow.
Diplomatic relations between Finland and Bulgaria were re-established in 1948, when Bulgarian Ambassador Stefan Simon-Petkov was accredited to Helsinki. The initiative for resuming the official relations came from the Finnish side, even though the Minister for Foreign Affairs was keen to give a different image to the public. Bulgarians maintained that, on their side, the relationship had never been severed.
Finland's Ambassador in Belgrade, Ville Niskanen, was accredited also to Sofia in 1948. Niskanen described how, during his first visit, he was received in a friendly and helpful manner. Niskanen was amazed by the “leader cult” shown towards Stalin and Prime Minister Dimitrov. The hosts were keen to give advice to the new Ambassador on how to convert Members of the Finnish Parliament, especially from the "agrarian" party, to supporting the idea of adapting large-scale industries to the socialist model.
After the war, re-construction of Sofia's city centre proceeded quickly. Several parks were well-kept and citizens were "cleanly dressed". The Bulgarian youth in the streets of Sofia made an impression on Niskanen: "they were joyful and singing. Never before have I seen, all together, so many beautiful and energetic people."
Finland’s Honorary consul general, Mr. Karakachov, was mainly responsible for Finland's representation in Sofia, because the Ambassador visited Sofia only briefly. Contacts were scant, as Niskanen noted in 1949: "How is the relationship between Bulgaria and Finland evolving? It can be said that it has not gotten any worse."
In the 1950s, people referred to the "Finnish Embassy", although the Honorary consul general's office there were no Finns. The honorary consul general was used to representing Finland in discussions with the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Helsinki this procedure caused lot of confusion, because the honorary consul general, a Bulgarian citizen, acted as if he were a Finnish diplomat. Ambassador Niskanen suggested that honorary consul general's son could also be hired in the "Finnish Embassy", but in Helsinki there was no enthusiasm for that. That same year, the situation was finally clarified when the representation to Bulgaria was entrusted to the Embassy of Finland in Moscow. Niskanen was informed that communicating with Karakachov was no longer suitable after this transfer.
In the period from 1956 to 1964, the Embassy of Finland in Warsaw also covered Bulgaria, until Wilhelm Schreck became the the first Ambassador of Finland in Bulgaria. Bulgaria had opened its Embassy in Finland already in 1956.
There has been a some exchange of high level diplomatic visits between the two countries; Presidents have visited each other in 2003 and in 2004. In 2004 there were visits of Bulgarian Minister of European Affairs Meglena Kuneva to Finland and of Finnish Development Minister Paula Lehtomäki to Bulgaria. In 2007 Finnish Minister of Trade and Development Paavo Väyrynen visited Bulgaria and Minister of Europe Astrid Thors in spring 2011.
During the Finnish EU presidency in 2006 Prime Minister Sergei Stanislev, Administration Minister Nikolai Vasiljev, Europa Minister Meglena Kuneva and Minister for Foreign Affairs Ivailo Kalfin visited Finland. In February 2010 Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikolay Mladenov paid a visit to Finland. In November 2011 the Minister of Interior Tzvetanov made an official visit to Finland.
Cooperation in justice and home affairs has got closer. It is especially important for crime prevention and reforming the Bulgarian judiciary.
During Bulgaria's EU accession process Finland has become widely known as a country which has successfully combined information society and social welfare. Our success in fighting corruption, in competitiveness and education has been attracting more and more interest.
At the Sofia University it is possible to study Finnish language and culture at the Department of Nordic Studies. In 2013, approximately 50 Finns lived permanently in Bulgaria, mainly in Sofia. The same year over 800 Bulgarians lived in Finland.
Text: Sami Heino/ MFA Unit for Information and Documentation