Independence Day – Finland 99 years as an independent state! – Part Three: The first decades of independence

December 6th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I started a series of blogs to celebrate the 99th Independence Day of Finland. The first post gave a brief overview of the time before independence and the second post discussed the process of nation-building and of making Finnish language a national language. In the third post I will try to give an overview on the struggle for independence and on the first decades of independence with the multitude of experiences made by the young nation.

The periods of oppression and resistance (1900 – 1916)

As I have mentioned in my previous posts, Finland had got a special status as an autonomous Grand Duchy under the Russian rule. This was topped up with the reforms that gave Finland its own currency (the Finnish Mark) and its own language rule (recognition of Finnish and Swedish as equal domestic languages). In the beginning the of the 20th century the new Czar Nikolai II was pushed by the pan-slavist movement of Russia to try to to abolish this autonomous status and the specific legislation inherited from Swedish era. These attempts are known in the Finnish history as the first and the second period of oppression (led by the General governors Bobrikoff and Seyn). The interventions of the Czar and the General governors met massive protests – petitions, demonstrations and campaigns for solidarity in Europe. Finally, the bigger events worked in favour of the small nation. In 1905 Russia lost the war against Japan and this led to a turmoil. As a concession, Czar Nikolai had to give up. Russia got its parliament – the Duma – and Finland got its own one-chambered parliament with equal voting rights for men and women (irrespective of social status).

Finland – with its newly elected parliament – was being consolidated as a nation state but the panslavists pushing the Czar did not give up. New attempts were made to withdraw the concessions and to stop the parliament working by dissolving it time and again. However, the times had changes. Already during the years of turmoil (1905-1906) bourgeois parties and the labour movement had started to set up their own armed forces to protect themselves from Russian police forces. And when the World War I broke out, many things changed. Firstly, Russia brought into Finland its own soldiers and refrained from calling Finns to military service. Secondly, part of the protest movement took steps towards armed resistance and sought cooperation with Germany. Thus, nearly 2000 young Finns travelled illegally to Germany to get military training there – and subsequently fought against Russia during the war.

The declaration of independence in 1917 and the civil war in 1918

The collapse of the czarist regime in 1917 led to a new situation. The Finnish (socialist-led) parliament took the course towards independence. The provisional government in Russia (led by Kerenski) blocked this and dissolved the parliament – once again (and this was supported by some bourgeois parties in Finland). When the new parliament was elected and constituted, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia changed the situation once more. Now, all parties were ready to take the step to full independence. The declaration of independence was approved in the Finnish parliament on the 6th of December 1917.

However, the newly declared independence did not remove the tensions. In January 1918 a civil war broke out between the armed forces of the bourgeois parties (the White guard) and of the radical labour movement (the Red guard).  The young nation was divided – socially and geographically. A bitter civil war with atrocities on both sides was fought and finally, the White guard was winning. At that time the returners from military training in Germany came back with contingents of German troops and gave their ‘helping hand’ in conquering Helsinki from the Reds.

So, in the beginning of the period of independence the country was split – part of the elected parliament was either jailed or exiled. The bourgeois majority took initiative to set up a kingdom with a German royal house. But then Germany lost the war and the German troops left Finland. So, the time was ripe to start as a republic with a democratic constitution (originally drafted by the first president Ståhlberg) and to to try to bring the nation together again.

The years of reconstruction, unrest and recovery (the 1920s and 1930s)

The first years of the young republic were characterised by post-war reconstruction and by rebuilding the nation with its own institutions and modes of governance. Education, healthcare and public transport were reorganised. The economy started to recover and foreign trade started to boom – the forestry sector was in the lead. A major factor in good and bad was the struggle with the prohibition law – smuggle and distribution of illegal alcohol created powerful commercial networks. But – the end of the prohibition law led them to legal business rather than criminal networks.

In politics the country remained divided. When the economic development turned towards depression, the political life was polarised. The country was shaken by a fascist-like mass movement that terrorised left-wing politicians and bourgeois liberals and was about to start a military coup d’état. The bold measures of the conservative president Svinhufvud (one of the leaders of the earlier independence movement) stopped these attempts and paved the way for years of appeasement. Thus, the latter half of the 1930s was characterised by economic recovery, political cooperation between the social democrats and the agrarian party (the centre party). And these years are also remembered because of long and hot summers.

The three wars during the World War II (1939 – 1945)

Once again, bigger events intervened into the destiny of the small country. By the end of the 1930s the expansive and aggressive policies of Nazi-Germany gave clear signs of the coming war. But the crucial strike for Finland was the Hitler-Stalin agreement and their secret agreements on zones of interest (regarding countries between Germany and Soviet Union. Accordingly, Soviet Union made a proposal that Finland should give away an area at the Karelian isthmus and get as compensation another area from the Soviet Karelia (further north). Finland did not accept the proposal and a war broke out. In this “Winter war” 1939-1940 Finland was fighting alone against Soviet army. However, the Finns had a powerful ally – the coldest winter of the century. The Finnish troops were better used to the climate whilst the Soviet troops were badly equipped and were not prepared for hard resistance. After 100 days of fighting and major losses on both sides a ceasefire was agreed and the peace treaty of Moscow was negotiated. Although Finland had been able to defend its territory, the defense had reached its limits and therefore the terms were hard – the Karelian isthmus and the municipalities around the Ladoga lake, the Petsamo (Petshenga) mining area in Lapland and some smaller areas were given away. In addition, the Soviet Union got the the right to have a military base in Hanko (near Helsinki, opposite Tallinn) as a ‘tenant’.

The following period (1940-1941) was already at that time called the ‘interim peace’ and the the bigger picture moved to that direction. When Nazi-Germany with its allies attached the Soviet Union, it declared Finland as one of the allies. Although there was no written agreement between the governments, preparations had already been made for a second war – counting on being on the same side as the Germans. I would like to emphasise that Finland was not ruled by Nazi-minded puppet government (like Quisling in Norway) but by coalitions that would have preferred to side with Western allies. But that was not on the cards. So, when the Germans attacked, war broke out between Finland and Soviet Union as well. This time the Soviet army was retreating and the Finnish army was conquering back old Finnish territory – and continued to those parts of Karealia that was never part of Finland. Then, for quite a while the fronts were stable. But in 1944 there was a massive offensive of the Soviet forces – and the Finns had to retreat. The final defense battles were fought on the ‘old’ and ‘newer’ borderlines – and the defense held. At that time the Soviets were more keen to get rid of this minor battlefield and move their troops further – to reach Germany and Berlin before their Western allies. So, in summer a separate interim peace was reached between Finland and Soviet Union and the new borders were drawn (on the basis of the 1940 peace treaty). And now, instead of Hanko, the Soviets wanted a military base from Porkkala (closer to Helsinki and Tallinn), again as a ‘tenant’. This was the end of the ‘Continuation war’ (1941 – 1944) as the Finns call it.

Once again, the lost areas from Karelia were to be emptied from Finnish inhabitants (if they had not already been evacuated) and other terms of the interim peace had to be respected (see more in the next post). But the most important obligation led to the third war in which the Finns fought during the World War II – the War of Lapland (1944 – 1945).

The background of this war dates back to the years 1940-1941. At that time Germany had occupied Norway and had agreed transit rights for German troops (going on holidays and returning) via Finnish territory to the Northern part of Norway. In 1941 when Germany attacked Soviet Union, it sent several contingents of such ‘transiters’ to Northern Finland. And in a short while a mutual agreement was reached that these contingents will be based in Lapland and they will be in charge of the Northern fronts (next to the Petsamo/Petshenga mining area). Now, when Finland got its separate peace agreement, the Finnish government got a strict deadline to chase the German troops out of its territory – peacefully or with arms. The Germans had no intent to go quickly nor quietly, so another period of war was fought – and the retreating Germans burned down all towns and villages before they left. By April 1945 the last German contingents had left Finland. The mission was completed – and the Soviet troops had entered the Finnish territory – ‘to give a helping hand’. Finland had fulfilled its obligations and was trying to return to the new normality.

– – –

I think this is enough of the first decades of the Finnish independence and the hard ride of the young nation alongside the European turmoils. As the musical theme I add “Evakon laulu” – the song of a family evacuated from Karelia. The pictures of that period give a clear impression on, what kind of story the lyrics tell.

 

In my final post I will continue the story of Finnish independence with the post-war decades.

More blogs to come ...

Independence Day – Finland 99 years as an independent state! – Part Two: Building the Finnish nation

December 6th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I started a series of blogs to celebrate the 99th Independence Day of Finland. The first post gave a brief overview of the time before independence – the long centuries under the Swedish rule and the one century under Russian rule. In this second post I will take a look at the process of nation-building and of making Finnish language a national language. Here again, we have two different periods – the slow development under Swedish rule and the ‘hatching period’ under Russian rule.

The ‘invisible’ Finland and Finnish people under Swedish rule

In my previous post I mentioned that when the Swedes conquered Finland, there was no geographic nor national entity that now is called ‘Finland’ (or – to precise: others call it that we, for us, the nake of our country is ‘Suomi’). And even that name refers only to ‘land’s end’ – the final outposts before the dark wilderness. Neither had the Finns of that time a perception of national identity – they were scattered ‘tribes’ speaking local dialects that were understandable to each other. But that was it. The Swedish rule brought stability and defence against Russians (with whom there was a constant struggle, who gets the uninhabited areas that were in no-man’s-land beyond the vaguely defined borderlines.

This all changed due to the Lutheran Reformation. Young priests travelled from all parts of Scandinavia to Wittenberg study theology in the new spirit. And already in Wittenberg these young pioneers started to translate the New Testament to their national languages. And please note that the young Finnish priests of that time – Mikael Agricola in the lead – translated the New Testament into Finnish (the first major book to appear after the Finnish ABC-book and the Psalmbook). So, that was the start of the Finnish language to make ist way to a written language and to a national language.

This was the start and with the help of the basic books for religious teaching the whole Finnish population was shepherded to the Lutheran state church. The priests took care of bringing the elementary reading skills to the people – who were to demonstrate on regular basis in public events that they can read from the books and that they know by heart their prayers. That was the level of literacy  needed in Finnish language. The ones to get school-based education and higher education had it in Swedish. At the end of the 18th century there was an initiative to start a Finnish newspaper but it was very short-lived (yet, the effort to go ahead was already there).

The emergent Finnish nation and the emancipation of Finnish language under Russian rule

When Finland got under Russian rule, the educated people had an identity crisis, which led them to look for a new perspective: “We are no longer Swedes, we don’t want to become Russians, let us be Finns!” 

In this spirit the young intellectuals started a movement to revitalise the Finnish language and the Finnish culture. Some of them (like J.L. Runeberg and Z. Topelius) wrote poems and novels of the glorious past of the Finnish people – in Swedish, but with Finnish spirit. Elias Lönnrothcollected old folklore and sagas from rural areas and composed the national epos ‘Kalevala’. The philosopher J.V.Snellman had a great influence – not so much with his highly respectable academic work as a Hegelian intellectual – but more with his work to start the Finnish press (in both Finnish and in Swedish) and then as a politician. During czar Alexander II he was a senator (read: prime minister) and managed to push through the new language rule, the currency reform, the start of the Finnish railways etc.

The above mentioned language rule was an important cultural concession of the liberal young czar to the autonomous Grand-Duchy of Finland. Instead of imposing Russian as the official language, it recognised Finnish and Swedish as two equal ‘domestic’ languages. And it obliged all public civil servants to obtain and demonstrate their command of both languages. Please note that this language rule is still in force in independent Finland. The Russian rulers expected that such a concession would help to distance Finland from the old ‘motherland’ Sweden and to become loyal vis-à-vis the czar and his Empire. For the Finnish national movement this was a great boost forward – the Finnish public education (in Finnish language) started to spread all over the country, the Finnish press got an upswing and the Finnish literature started to take off. The first novel in Finnish – the “Seven brothers”  of A. Kivi – appeared to the contemporaries far too rustical but afterwards it became beloved by the whole nation. Also, many artists in music and in fine arts with inspiration from the national movement made career – not only in Finland, but in the wide Europe in which they travelled and got engaged with different influences. Jean Sibelius – the most famous of this generation – became world famous already before Finnish independence and even more after that had been achieved.

Obviously, not all Russian rulers were pleased with these developments taking off. By the end of the 19th century pan-slavistic movements gained more power and put (among other things) the special status of Finland under question. In the beginning of the 20th century czar Nikolai II started twice a campaign to get rid of the autonomous rule of Finland. But these were stopped by bigger events of world history – firstly Russia lost the war against Japan and got into turmoil in 1905. Secondly, the World War I broke out and the Russian Empire needed to keep the border province Finland (next to the capital St. Petersburg) in peace and quiet.

– – –

I think this is enough of the story of the nation-building and of the emancipation of our language and culture.  As a musical  theme, let us listen to Sibelius’ Karelia Intermezzo and view the landscapes of Finnish Karelia and the Karelia lost in the World War II (see my next blog).

In my next blog I will give insights into the struggles for independence and developments in independent Finland.

More blogs to come …

Independence Day – Finland 99 years as an independent state! – Part One: Time before independence

December 6th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

Quite some time I have started all my blogs with reference to the ongoing project. Now that I have said goodbye to the project work (after my contract came to an end) I have felt puzzled – what will I be blogging about after the active engagement in a long-term project. Today I have a clear answer, what to start with – the Finnish Independence Day.

Countries with long history as independent nation states do not necessarily have a concept of ‘independence day’. Their histories are not characterised by being under the rule of a bigger nation. Instead, they have constituted their nation states by processes of unification or dissolution of major empires. But there is no clear point of becoming independent from a ruling power. And the constitution of the nation has been a long process – national language having become written language, ruling language and cultural language. For most countries that is old history.

Therefore, my non-Finnish friends may ask: “What is so great about national independence and of Independence Day?” I will tray to answer it with three blog posts. With the first one I try to sketch the time before independence . With the second one I discuss the emergence of the Finnish nation. With the third one I sketch a picture of 99 years of independence.

The long centuries under Swedish rule

The history of Finland is different from the ones of bigger nations – characterised by long periods under foreign rule. When the Swedish vikings conquered Finland centuries ago, there was no concept of ‘Finland’ (Suomi – as we say it) as a national entity. The name ‘Finland’ comes from Latin and refers to ‘land’s end’ before uninhabited tundra. Then, Finland became the border country between the expansive Swedish kingdom and emerging Russian empire. At a certain point the Swedes promoted Finland into Grand Duchy (one of the Swedish princes being the Duke). But the legislation was that of Sweden and the centre of administration was in Stockholm (and a province governor in Turku on the other side of the Botnic bay).

During those centuries Finland was considered as a periphery, as a border province to be expanded to keep the Russians out. Also, when Sweden was expanding during central European wars, Finland sent soldiers to Swedish armies. Finnish forests provided wood and tar for ship-building. But not much more was thought on the province. The ruling Lutheran church was keeping the ordinary people in discipline with religious teaching and preaching in Finnish. But the language of education and culture was Swedish. And if things would have continued this way, it would have been more likely that the Finnish language would have disappeared rather than emancipated as a national language.

The one century under Russian rule

Things changed due to the bigger picture of European politics. Napoleon Bonaparte had become Emperor of France and was isolating Great Britain with his continental blockade. He had got the Russian czar Alexander I to join the blockade (after a war) and wanted to get Sweden (ally of Great Britain) to join in as well. Therefore, he pushed Russia to start a war against Sweden – and promised Finland to Russia after the war. The war was fought in 1808-1809. Sweden lost, the Swedish king was sent to exile and the new royal house – the Bernadottes – were imported from France. And, indeed, Russia got Finland as its new border province in the north.

The Russian czar was not so greatly interested of the new province – although it was in the immediate vicinity of the Russian capital – St. Petersburg. So, the the representatives of the Finnish upper class saw their opportunity. Already during the war (when major part of the Finnish territory was conquered by Russians) they negotiated a deal with czar that as a reward of their loyalty vis-à-vis the new ruler they could keep the status of Grand Duchy and old Swedish legislation -adjusted to the new circumstances. The czar would be recognised as the Grand Duke of Finland and he would have his General Governor and regional governors in Finland. But mainly the administration would rely on the Finnish senate and civil servants (using Swedish as their ordinary working language but Russian with their new rulers).

This special status of Finland was topped up during the rule of czar Alexander II when Finland got its own currency – the Finnish Mark. For many reasons Finland – in the vicinity of the Russian capital – had become an interesting economic zone with rapid industrialisation and good infrastructure due to good railway connections and many channels that connected inland lakes to routes towards St. Petersburg. So, quite a lot of foreign capital was invested into this special economic zone (before that concept was invented) and foreign industrialists themselves came to start the new industries. Thus, Finland was becoming more and more self-governing and self-reliant – with many export articles traded with its own currency. But – not to forget – this economic growth was not a steady progress to prosperity. Finland still mostly agrarian country in a rough Nordic climate zone and these periods were also characterised by several years of crops lost and people in the countryside suffering of famine. Yet, with the economic development things appeared to be getting better. However, once again the big picture of European politics changed to a new direction.

– – –

I guess this is enough for the starters – the time before independence.Let us add the musical theme of the awakening of the national history with the old instrumental piece with modern interpretation and landscape photos and ‘historical video – The band Piirpauke and the melody ‘Church bells of Konevitsa monastery’ (at lake Ladoga):

In my next post I will discuss the nation-building and issues on Finnish language and culture.

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

 

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