Short History of Finland


Short Synopsis of the History of Finland

Finland is a republic which became independent in 1917. The head of state is the president. Ultimate political power is vested in the 200-member unicameral parliament. The semi-autonomous province of the Åland Islands occupies a special position because it has been declared a demilitarised area under international law. The population of Finland today is a little over 5 million. Finland is rightly known as a land of forests: they cover roughly three quarters of the countryís surface area of 338,000 sq. km. Other outstanding features of Finlandís scenery are its myriad lakes and islands. Lakes and other bodies of water cover 10% of the national territory. The principal archipelagoes is off the southwest coast while the main lake district, centered on Lake Saimaa, is in the east.

Finland is situated in Northern Europe between the 60th and 70th parallels of latitude. A quarter of its total area lies north of the Arctic Circle. Finlandís neighboring countries are Sweden to the west, Norway to the north, Russia to the east and Estonia to the South, across the Gulf of Finland.

The climate in Finland is milder than in many other areas of the same latitude and it is marked by cold winters and warm summers but temperatures in winter are moderated by the influence of the Baltic Sea and west winds from the Atlantic warmed by the Gulf Stream. The mean annual temperature in the capital, Helsinki is 5.3 degrees Celsius. The highest daytime temperature in Southern Finland during the summer occasionally rises close to 30 Celsius. During the winter months, particularly in January and February, temperatures of minus 20 Celsius are not uncommon. In the far north, beyond the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set for about 73 days, producing the white nights of summer. In the same region, during the dark winter period, the sun remains below the horizon for 51 days, creating the polar night known in Finnish as kaamos. The population of Finland is approximately 5,132,000. Population density is a modest 16 persons per square kilometer (40 per square mile).

The Finnish language is a member of the Finno-Ugric linguistic family that includes, in one branch, Finnish, Estonian and number of other Finnic tongues and, in the other, Hungarian, by far the biggest language of the Ugric group. The official languages of Finland are Finnish and Swedish, the latter now spoken as a mother-tongue by about 6% of the people.

Some important dates in the history of Finland:

The first missionaries arrive in Finland from Sweden. Finland becomes part of the Swedish realm.
Sweden surrenders Finland to Russia. The Czar declares Finland a semi-autonomous Grand Duchy with himself as constitutional monarch represented by a governor general.
Finland declares independence from Russia on December 6. The new state is first recognized by the Soviet union, France, Germany and Sweden.
The present constitution is adopted and Finland becomes a republic with a president as head of state.
The Soviet Union attacks Finland and the Winter War is fought.
Fighting between Finnish and Russian forces resumes in the campaign known as the Continuation War. A massive offensive by Soviet forces in summer 1944 forces the Finns to sue for peace. Some territory was ceded to the Soviet Union but Finland was never occupied and preserved its independence and sovereignty.
Finland joins the United Nations.
Finland becomes a member of the European Union.


The Swedish Reign

Until the middle of the 12th century, the geographical area that is now Finland was a political vacuum, and interesting to both its western neighbor Sweden and the Catholic Church there, and its eastern neighbor Novgorod ( Russia) and its Greek Orthodox Church. Sweden came out on top, as the peace treaty of 1323 between Sweden and Novgorod assigned only eastern Finland to Novgorod. The western and southern parts of Finland were tied to Sweden and the Western European cultural sphere, while eastern Finland, i.e. Karelia, became part of the Russo-Byzantine world.

As a consequence of Swedish domination, the Swedish legal and social systems took root in Finland. Feudalism was not part of this system and the Finnish peasants were never serfs; they always retained their personal freedom. Finland's most important center was the town of Turku, founded in the middle of the 13th century. It was also the Bishop's seat. In 1362, Finns were given the right to send representatives to the election of the king in Sweden, and in the 16th century this right was extended to include representation in the Swedish Diet.

The Reformation started by Luther in the early 16th century also reached Sweden and Finland, and the Catholic Church consequently lost out to the Lutheran faith.

The Reformation set in motion a great rise in Finnish-language culture. The New Testament was translated into Finnish in 1548 by the Bishop of Turku, Mikael Agricola (1510-1557), who brought the Reformation to Finland and created written Finnish. The entire Bible appeared in Finnish in 1642.

During its period as a great power (1617-1721), Sweden extended its realm around the Baltic and managed, due to the weakness of Russia, to push the Finnish border further east. With consolidation of the administration in Stockholm, uniform Swedish rule was extended to Finland in the 17th century. Swedes were often appointed to high offices in Finland, which strengthened the position of the Swedish language in Finland.


Finland as a Grand Duchy of Russia (1809-1917)

When Sweden lost its position as a great power in the early 18th century, Russian pressure on Finland increased, and Russia conquered Finland in the 1808-1809 war with Sweden.

During the Swedish period, Finland was merely a group of provinces and not a national entity. Finland was governed from Stockholm, the capital of the Finnish provinces at that time. But when Finland was joined to Russia in 1809 it became an autonomous Grand Duchy. The Grand Duke was the Russian Emperor, whose representative in Finland was the Governor General .

Finland's highest governing body was the Senate, whose members were Finns. Matters pertaining to Finland were presented to the Emperor in St. Petersburg by the Finnish Minister Secretary of State. This meant that the administration of Finland was handled directly by the Emperor and the Russian authorities were therefore unable to interfere.

The enlightened Russian Emperor Alexander I, who was Grand Duke of Finland in 1809-1825, gave Finland extensive autonomy thereby creating the Finnish state. The Lutheran Church retained its position in Finland, and so did Swedish as the official language of the country. In 1812, Helsinki was made the capital of Finland, and the University, which had been founded in Turku in 1640, was moved to Helsinki in 1828.

The Finnish national movement gained momentum du ring the Russian period. The Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, created by Elias Lönnrot, was published in 1835. J.V. Snellman (1806-1881), who was a senator and professor at the University of Helsinki during the reign of Alexander II in 1855-1881, worked to promote the Finnish language and to make it an official language alongside Swedish.

The Language Decree issued in 1863 by Alexander II marked the beginning of the process through which Finnish became an official administrative language. Although only one seventh of the Finnish population spoke Swedish as its first language, Swedish retained its dominant position until the beginning of the 20th century.

The Finnish Diet was convened in 1863 after a break of more than half a century. From then on, the Diet met regularly, and active legislative work in Finland began. The Conscription Act of 1878 gave Finland an army of its own.

During the reign of Alexander Ill (1881-1894) and particularly of Nicholas II (1894-1917), nationalist circles in Russia gained increased influence. The Grand Duchy of Finland, part of the Russian Empire but enjoying extensive privileges had long been a sore point to Russian chauvinists. Finland was a state within a state, with its own Senate and its own Diet, its own local officials, legislation, army, money (the mark) and postage stamps. And to top it all off, Finland was separated from the Empire by an official border.

The obliteration of 'Finnish separatism', a policy also known as Russification, started during the 'first era of oppression' (1899-1905) and continued during the second era (1909-1917). The 1905 Revolution in Russia gave Finland a short breathing spell, while a new legislative body to replace the old Estates was created in 1906. At that time this was the most radical parliamentary reform in Europe, because Finland moved in one bound from a four estate diet to a unicameral parliament and universal suffrage. Finnish women were the first in Europe to gain the right to vote in parliamentary elections.


The Independent Republic

On December 6, 1917, Parliament approved the Declaration of Independence drawn up by the Senate under the leadership of P.E Svinhufvud (1861-1944).

At the same time, the breach between the parties of the left and the right had become irreconcilable. At the end of January 1918, the leftwing parties staged a coup, and the government was forced to flee Helsinki. The ensuing Civil War ended in May with victory for the government troops, led by General Gustaf Mannerheim (1867-1951). Finland became a republic in the summer of 1919, and K.J. Ståhlberg (1865-1952) was elected the first president.

An independent republic developed briskly during the 1920s. The wounds sustained in the Civil War were alleviated by conciliatory measures such as including the Social Democrats in the government; in 1926-1927 they formed a minority government on their own. In 1929, the Lapua Movement, which had taken its cue from Italian fascism, demanded a ban on communist activities, and such a ban was indeed put into effect by the "communist laws" of 1930. In 1932, the Lapua Movement also tried armed revolt against the government, but had to back down.

Although Finland first pursued a foreign policy based on cooperation with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the League of Nations was already the cornerstone of Finnish security policy in the 1920s. When the inability of the League of Nations to safeguard world peace became evident in the 1930s, Parliament approved a Scandinavian orientation in 1935.

In August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non aggression pact, which included a secret protocol relegating Finland to the Soviet sphere of interest. When Finland refused to allow the Soviet Union to build military bases on its territory, the latter revoked the nonaggression pact of 1932 and attacked Finland on November 30, 1939. The Winter War ended in a peace treaty drawn up in Moscow on March 13, 1940, giving southeastern Finland to the Soviet Union.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Finland entered the war as a cobelligerent with Germany. The 'Continuation War' ended in armistice in September 1944. In addition to the areas already lost to Russia, Finland also ceded Petsamo on the Arctic Ocean. The terms of the armistice were confirmed in the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947.

Marshal Mannerheim was made president of the republic towards the end of the war. He was followed in 1946 by J. K. Paasikivi (1870-1956), whose aim was to improve relations with the Soviet Union. The Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance concluded between the countries in 1948 provided the foundation of what is known as the Paasikivi Line'. In subsequent years, Finland's international position grew stronger. The Olympics were held in Helsinki in 1952, and in 1955 Finland joined both the United Nations and the Nordic Council.

Urho Kekkonen, who was elected president in 1956, worked to increase Finland's latitude in foreign policy by pursuing an active policy of neutrality. This was evident for instance in initiatives taken by Finland such as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe held in Helsinki in summer 1975.

When Urho Kekkonen, who had led Finland for a quarter of a century, resigned because of poor health, Mauno Koivisto was elected president in 1982.

In the 1945 parliamentary election, the Communists won a great victory and entered the Government from which they were forced to resign following defeat in the 1948 election. The following governments were coalitions of the Social Democrats and the Agrarian Party, until the former were forced to relinquish their position in 1958 due to distrust on the part of the Soviet Union. Major gains by the left in the 1966 parliamentary elections allowed the Communists and the Social democrats who had long been in opposition to return to the government. The political right (the National Coalition Party) was subsequently in opposition for some two decades.

Spring 1987 marked another turning point when the conservative National Coalition Party and the Social Democrats formed a majority government which remained in power until 1991. After the 1991 election, the Social Democrats were left in opposition, and a new government was formed by the Conservatives and the Center Party (formerly the Agrarian Party).

The government headed by Esko Aho was in office until spring 1995.

In Finland the upheaval in great power politics that took place at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s - the end of the division of Europe, the collapse of the communist system and the dissolution of the Soviet Union - was evident in both a liberalized intellectual atmosphere and in greater latitude in foreign policy.

Finland became a full member of EFTA in 1986 and finally a member of the Council of Europe in 1989. In September 1990 the government issued a declaration in which it stated that the limitations on Finnish sovereignty in the Treaty of Paris (1947) concerning men in arms and amounts of war materiel had become obsolete.

Although there was increasing pressure to amend the Treaty on Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance during 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the same year eliminated any need for changes. Finland recognized Russia's position as the successor to the Soviet Union and a treaty on good relations between the neighboring countries was concluded in January 1992. No military articles were included in the treaty and Finland and Russia confirmed that the Treaty on Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance was null and void.

The process of European integration was also demanding increasing activity on the part of Finland. In May 1992 a treaty concerning the European Economic Area (EEA) was signed by EFTA and the European Community (the EC). The EEA agreement guaranteed the EFTA countries greater access to the EC's internal market.

In Finland the EEA treaty was considered the "final" aim, although both the need and opportunity for Finnish EC membership increased greatly when Sweden submitted its membership application in spring 1991 and the Soviet Union was dissolved at the end of the year. Finland submitted its own application to the EC in March 1992 and the Parliament of the EC (by then the European Union), approved the application in May 1994. In a referendum held in Finland in October 1994, 57% of the voters supported membership and in November 1994 Parliament approved Finnish EU membership as of the beginning of 1995 by a vote of 152-45.

Two factors added considerable interest to the presidential elections of 1994: the announcement by the incumbent president Mauno Koivisto that he would not seek re-election and the new system of direct presidential elections. None of the candidates gained an absolute majority in the first round and the second round in February pitted Martti Ahtisaari, secretary of state at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, against Elisabeth Rehn, Minister of Defense. Martti Ahtisaari was elected the tenth president of the Republic of Finland with 54 per cent of the votes.

In Parliamentary elections held in March 1995 the Finnish Center Party suffered a crushing defeat and Paavo Lipponen, the new chairman of the Social Democratic Party, formed a unique government by Finnish standards. Apart from its backbone, comprising the Social Democrats and the National Coalition, the government includes Greens, the Left-Wing Alliance and the Swedish People's Party.

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