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History of Finland

This is the history of Finland. See also the history of Sweden, history of Russia, history of Europe, history of the European Union, and history of present-day nations and states.

Table of contents

Pre-history The origins of the Finnish people are a matter of reinvigorated controversy, some established scholars contend that "their original home" was in what is now west-central Siberia. New approaches from specialities previously considered ancillary to the question, have produced divergent viewpoints to challenge this accepted view. The ancestors of the Finns arrived at their present territory thousands of years ago, in numerous successive waves of immigration coming from east, south and west, establishing a hunting-farming culture and pushing the indigenous hunting-gathering Sámis (Lapps) into the more remote northern regions. Finns were still in late Medieval times known for their slash and burn[?] farming.

Finnish and Sámi (Saami) -- the language of Scandinavia's small indigenous minority -- are both Finno-Ugric languages and are in the Uralic rather than the Indo-European family. The closest related language still widely in use is Estonian.

A part of Sweden Swedish influence on Finland was remarkable even during pre-Christian times -- the Vikings were known to Finns both due to their participation in commerce and plundering. Finland's nearly 700-year association with the Kingdom of Sweden began in 1154 with the introduction of Christianity by Sweden's King Eric (see Swedish monarchs). During the ensuing centuries, the eastern half of the Swedish realm (present-day Finland) played an important role in the political life realm, and Finnish soldiers often predominated in Sweden's armies. Finns also formed a significant proportion of the first Swedish settlers in 17th-century America New Sweden. During the early centuries of Swedish rule, successful commerce with the member cities of famous Hanseatic League were established, resulting in closer contacts to Continental Europe both materially and spiritually.

During the Swedish rule the eastern border moved back and forth due to numerous wars. As a whole, however, it was a period of slow expansion which was ended by The Great Northern War. Thereafter, during the period 1700-1808, Finland was several times occupied by the Russians (partly or wholy), and the south-easternmost part came under Russian control in the early 18th century. In retrospect the possession and loss of the south-easternmost part of the country, containing the important commercial and cultural center of Karelia and the city of Viipuri/Wyborg, has been deemed most significant for the Finnish nation.

Russian Grand Duchy In 1808, Finland was again conquered by the armies of Czar Alexander I. Thereafter Finland remained an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire until the end of 1917, with Karelia handed back to Finland in 1812. During the years of Russian rule the degree of autonomy varied. Also periods of censorship, political prosecution, etc. occurred, but the Finnish peasantry remained free unlike their Russian counterparts as the old Swedish law (including the relevant parts from Gustav III's Constitution of 1772) remained effective. The old four-chamber Parliament was re-activated in the 1860s agreeing to supplementary new legislation concerning internal affairs. Industrialisation begun during the 19th century from forestry industry and machinery and laid the foundation of Finland's current day prosperity, even though agriculture employed a relatively large part of the population until the post-WWII era.


Following Finland's incorporation into Sweden in the 12th century, Swedish had been the dominant language in administration and education, although Finnish recovered its predominance after a 19th-century resurgence of Finnish Nationalism (also working to ensure Russia of the Finns' loyalty).

The publication in 1835 of the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala, a collection of traditional myths and legends, the folklore of the Karelian people (the Finnic Russian Orthodox people who inhabit the Lake Ladoga-region of eastern Finland and present-day NW Russia), first stirred the nationalism that later led to Finland's independence from Russia. The Finnish national awakening in the mid-nineteenth century was the result of members of the Swedish-speaking upper classes deliberatly choosing to promote Finnish culture and language as a means of nation building[?], i.e. to establish a feeling of unity between the people in Finland including, and not the least important, between the ruling elite and the ruled peasantry.

In 1892 Finnish became an official language and gained a status comparable to that of Swedish, and within a generation Finnish clearly dominated in government and society.

(See also: Finland's language strife)


(not yet written)

Independence and Civil War In the aftermath of the February Revolution in Russia, Finland received a new Senate, a coalition-Cabinet with the same power structure as the Finnish Parliament. Based on the general election in 1916, the Social Democrats had a small majority, and the Social Democrat Oskari Tokoi[?] became Prime Minister. The new Senate was willing to cooperate with revolutionary government of Russia, but no agreement was reached. The Finns' view was, basically, that the personal union[?] with Russia was finished after the Czar was dethroned. They expected the Czar's authority to be transferred to Finland's Parliament, which the Provisional government of Russia couldn't accept. For the Finnish Social Democrats it seemed as the Russian Bourgeoisie was an obstacle on Finland's road to independence aswell as on the Proletariat's road to justice. The non-Socialists in Tokoi's Senate were however more confident. They, and most of the non-Socialists in the Parliament, rejected the Social Democrats' proposal on Parliamentarism (the so-called "Power Act") as being too far-reaching and provocative. The act restricted Russia's influence on domestic Finnish matters, but didn't touch the Russian government's power on matters of defence and foreing affairs. For the Russian Provisional government this was however far too radical. As the Parliament had exceeded its authority, it was dissolved.

The minority of the Parliament, and of the Senate, were content. New elections promised a chance to gain majority, which they were convinced would improve the chances to reach an understanding with Russia. The non-Socialists were inclined to cooperate with the Provisional government also because they feared the Socialists' power would grow, resulting in radical reforms, such as equal suffrage in municipal elections, or a land reform. The majority had, of course, the squarly opposite opinion. They didn't accept the provisional government's right to dissolve the Parliament.

The Social Democrats held on to the Power Act and opposed the publication of the decree of dissolution of the Parliament, whereas the non-Socialists voted for publishing it. The disagreement over the Power Act led to the Social Democrats leaving the Senate. When the Parliament met again after the summer recess in August 1917, only the groups supporting the Power Act were present. Russian troops took possession of the chamber, the Parliament was dissolved, and new elections were carried out. The result was a (small) bourgeois majority and a purely non-Socialist Senate. The abolishment of the Power Act, and the cooperation between Finnish bourgeois forces and the oppressive Russia, provoked great bitterness among the Socialists, and dozens of politically motivated terror assaults, including murders.

Successful independence

The Bolshevik Revolution turned Finnish politics upside down. Now the non-Socialist majority of the Parliament felt a great urge for total independence, and the Socialists came gradually to view Russia as an example to follow.

On December 6, 1917, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Finland declared its independence. The independence was acknoledged by Russia's Bolshevik government on January 4, 1918, followed by Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

In 1918, the country experienced a brief but bitter civil war that colored domestic politics and foreign relations for many years (see: Finnish Civil War).

Finland in the inter-war era

(not yet written)

Finland in World War II During World War II, Finland fought the Soviet Union twice: in the Winter War of 1939-1940 (with limited but crucial support from Sweden), resulting in the loss of Karelia, and again in the Continuation War of 1941-1944 (with considerable support from Nazi Germany), leading also to the loss of Finland's only ice-free winter harbour Petsamo[?]. This was followed by the Lapland War of 1944-1945, when Finland fought against the Germans to force them to withdraw their forces from northern Finland.

Finland's friendship with the Soviet Union Finland retained the democratic constitution and free economical structure during the Cold War era. Treaties signed in 1947 and 1948 with the Soviet Union included obligations and restraints on Finland, as well as territorial concessions. Both treaties have been abrogated by Finland since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, however leaving the borders untouched. Even though being a neighbour to mighty Soviet Union sometimes resulted in overmuch caution concerning foreign politics ("Finlandization"), Finland developed closer cooperation with the other Nordic countries and declared her neutrality in regard to superpower politics.

In 1952, Finland and the other countries of the Nordic Council entered into a passport union, allowing their citizens to cross borders without passports and to apply for jobs and claim social security benefits in the other countries. Many from Finland used this opportunity to get better paid jobs in Sweden in the 1950s and 1960s, dominating Sweden's first wave of post-war labor immigration. Although Finnish wages or standard of living could not compete with wealthy Sweden until the 1980s, the Finnish economy rose remarkably well from the ashes of World War II, resulting in the buildup of another Nordic-style welfare state.

Finland in the post-Soviet era On January 1st 1995 Finland joined the European Union along with Austria and Sweden. Before the parliamentary decision to join EU, a consultative referendum had been held April 16th 1994. 56.9% of the votes were in favour of joining. Leading Finland into the EU is held as the main achievement of the Agrarian government of Esko Aho then in power.

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