HELSINKI (AFP) – Coming from a small nation in the northeast reaches of the European Union (EU), Finns may be used to outsiders knowing little about their homeland.
Nonetheless, Finnish social media users reacted with derision on Thursday to the claim that United States (US) President Donald Trump questioned whether their country was still a part of neighbouring Russia ahead of his 2018 visit to Helsinki for talks with President Vladimir Putin.
The allegation appears in the forthcoming memoirs of former US national security advisor John Bolton, whose unflattering account of his 17 months in the White House includes the claim that the US President has a tenuous grasp of geography.
Finland, home to 5.5 million people, became independent from neighbouring Russia in 1917, and fought off two attempted Russian invasions during World War II.
“Trump asked if Finland belongs to Russia. Of course this irritates us Finns,” Hussein al-Taee, a Social Democrat MP, tweeted on Thursday.
But, he added, “attracting attention for his bad geography isn’t Trump’s biggest worry.”
Meanwhile, Tuuli Kamppila, political activist for Finland’s Feminist Party, tweeted of the President’s alleged question, “That’s nothing, Putin still thinks Ukraine is part of Russia.”
Referring to the investigation into whether Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election, political science professor Teivo Teivanen wondered, “Trump may have thought he was colluding with Finland as well?”
And added, “For once Finland’s at the heart of global politics, even if it’s just a fantasy.”
“I wouldn’t mind so much, but Trump and (Finnish President Sauli) Niinisto met for the first time about eight months before Bolton started working at the White House”, noted Finnish journalist and podcast host Tuomo Hyttinen.
Other commentators expressed doubt over the veracity of Bolton’s claim given that Trump has visited Finland on multiple occasions, including in 1992 regarding a ship-building deal.
Bolton’s claim is not the first time the US President’s knowledge of Finland has come under scrutiny. In 2018 following the California forest fires, Trump said that Finland, with its vast forests, avoids fires because “they spend a lot of time on raking”.
The comments sparked bafflement among Finnish forestry experts, while social media users were quick to brand the claim “rake news” and began posting pictures of themselves brandishing the garden implement.