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The current relationships between Finland and Russia are peaceful. The relationship between the two nations facilitates the trading of basic goods, like fuel, as well as a wide range of manufactured goods. Finland and Russia value their diplomatic relationship so much that, in addition to the embassies in each other’s capitals, there are a number of consulates in other major cities. Finland had been incorporated in the Russian Empire between 1809 and 1917. Before the annexing, the Finnish territory had been under control of the Swedish authorities. The period under the Russian rule was marked with a lot of discontent, a scenario which prompted the urge for national identity among the Finns.
The onset of the First World War worsened the relationship between the Russian colonizers and the Finns. By the end of the war, the Russians had lost Finland. This resulted from the Finns taking advantage of the Russian withdrawal from war, as well as the internal power struggles within Russia. In the period that followed the October Revolution, most Finns believed that the Russians were out to spread communism towards Europe. By then, there was official hostility towards communism. This hostility worsened relationship between Finland and Russia in the period between the two World Wars. During this time, the Russians militarized Karelia in an operation that was commanded by General Asikainen. Angered by the situation, activists organized a series of expeditions to Karelia. These missions prompted the signing of the Treaty of Tartu between the USSR and Finland. However, the Russians refused to abide by the treaty. Citing threats to their national security, they blockaded Finland, and seized a number of Finnish naval vessels.
Tension between Finland and Russia had continued for a number of years; and by 1939, the Soviets had launched an all-out-war against Finland. The Finns were drawn into the Winter War, as well as the Continuation War. During the two wars, Finns fought aggressively in defense of their territory. Indeed, they managed to inflict severe casualties on the Soviets, in a scale that Soviets had not witnessed in most of their foreign military engagements. Despite the earlier gains, Finland lost over 10 percent of its territory to the Russians, and this included the important city of Vyborg. This resulted into Finland siding with the Soviets during the rest of the war, despite having declared their neutrality.
Although the two nations have normalized their relations, there are contemporary issues that need to be resolved. They include the unnecessary border controls. Critics argue that these controls cause persistent queues at the border points between the two nations, a situation that hurts their economic engagements. Other issues include the violations of the Finnish airspace, as well as the pollution of the Baltic Sea, and other water bodies by the Russians. Moreover, Finns express concerns on the high duties and tariffs that the Russian authorities impose on the wood, being exported for the paper and pulp industry in Finland. This paper addresses the incorporation of the Finns’ territory into the Soviet Empire, life of Finns under Russian Rule, and life in the post-Soviet period.
The Grand Duchy of Finland, 1809-1917
The Russians initially planned to annex Finland in a manner that was intended to make it one of their provinces. However, citing the Finns’ possible discontent with his rule, Tsar Alexander I offered a different solution. The Tsar resolved to join Finland to the Russian Empire in a manner that enabled the former to retain autonomy, and its inherited traditions. As such, Finland was to become a Grand Duchy, with the duke or duchess being directly answerable to the Tsar. The Tsar, therefore, had to allow the Constitution of Finland to remain intact. He only assumed the position that had been held by the Swedish king, i.e. the sovereign of Finland.
Finland had inherited an autocratic form of government from Sweden, and as such, the Tsar felt that his position was favoring, and there was no urgency in altering the situation. Nevertheless, the Tsar loathed the comprehensive code that assured individual rights. However, having promised to retain the rights and the Constitution of Finland, he was compelled to encode his promises in two decrees in 1809. The two decrees were expected to form the basis of the Russo-Finnish relationship for the rest of their joint venture. As a show of magnanimity, the Tsar restituted the Finnish territory, which had been annexed by Russia in the 18th century. The conciliatory measures, taken by the Tsar, proved to be effective. They prompted the Finns to retain their royalty to the Russians for a greater part of their engagement.
The Finnish legislative assembly assured the Tsar that the government of their country would remain under his control. Under the terms of agreement, the Tsar was to appoint an advisor of his own choice. To enhance royalty, the Tsar ensured that all his appointees were Russians, apart from the first one, who was Swedish-Finn. On behalf of the Tsar, a Government Council ruled over the grand duchy, in accordance with the legislations passed by the Diet. The council was composed of 14 Finns, all of whom used to be Tsar’s Appointees. In St. Petersburg, the Tsar had constituted a committee to be in charge of the Finnish Affairs. Since the committee was obliged with presenting the Finnish requests to the sovereign, it was entirely composed of Finns.
The Tsar rarely interfered with the Finnish civil service. He, however, had a way of containing the Diet. For instance, despite being the formal lawmaking body, the Diet was not authorized to initiate legislations. The only channel was for them to petition the Tsar in an endeavor to prompt him into introducing legislations. Additionally, the Tsar had power to summon and dismiss the Senate without consulting the Diet. The Tsar had, however, allowed an independent judiciary, and a customs system. In fact, taxes that were collected in Finland were utilized in Finland. As a precautionary measure, the Tsar was careful to exempt the Finns from the Russian army.
Most Finns, however, complained of the Tsar’s autocracy. Their complaints resulted into the dismissal of the Diet for demonstrating hostility, towards the Tsar’s rule. This meant that the authorities in the grand duchy had to balance the Russian autocracy, and the Finnish self-government. To a large extent, the Finns remained accommodative, since the Russians managed to retain the balance. Furthermore, the Finns found the prevailing peace attractive, and they did not wish for anything that could lead to war.
Finnish Nationalism under the Russians
During the 18th century, Finland witnessed a remarkable rise of nationalism. This nationalism originated as an academic-based movement, whose doctrines were incorporated in folklore, history, and linguistics. It helped the Finns establish their national identity. Among the leading figures in the movement was Professor Henrik G. Porthan of Turku University. People, like Porthan, expressed their dissatisfaction with the Swedish rule, and their work prefigured the Finnish nationalism of the 19th century. In the 19th century, Finland experienced the rise of two nationalist movements; the Swedish-language nationalism, and the Finnish-language nationalism. The creation of the Finnish state is widely attributable to the two movements.
The Finnish nationalism began in the 19th century, as a reaction to the superiority of the Swedish culture and political structures in Finland. The ethnic consciousness was boosted by the Tsar’s 1809 conquest of Finland, and this was because by ending their relationship with Sweden, Finns were compelled to identify themselves with the Russians. During the initial stages of their relationship, the Russians supported the Finnish nationalism. They saw it as the best method of alienating the Swedes from the Finnish society, and a preclusion of reintegration movements. This prompted the Russians to facilitate the relocation of the Finland’s administrative capital from Turku to Helsinki. The 1812 relocation brought the Finnish government closer to the Russian administration in St. Petersburg. Later, the massive fire that destroyed the University of Turku forced its relocation to Helsinki. Soon, the University of Helsinki became the focus of the Finnish nationalism.
The Finnish nationalism became a powerful force in the 19th century, a force that defined Finland’s political and cultural practices. Johan Snellman, the Finnish nationalism spokesman, hailed the importance of fostering nationhood as Finland was associated with Russia. Nevertheless, apart from religious texts, little was published in Finnish before the 19th century. In 1835, the void was filled by the publication of the Finnish folk narrative, named Kalevala. Kalevala survived the odds, and by the end of the 20th century, it had remained as the most captivating piece of Finnish literature. The author of the piece was Doctor Elias Lonnrot. Dr. Lonnrot worked along the country’s eastern border, a location that provided a haven away from the Swedish sympathizers in the western part of the country. He compiled a lot of folk songs, which he later compiled into an epic piece with over 22.000 lines.
The publication of Kalevala inspired the composition and publication of numerous Finnish pieces. The pieces included those by Johan Runeberg; an author who prepared a number of works entitled the Tales of Ensign. His initial poem, Our Land, was later composed into a song, and the song was adopted as the Finnish national anthem. With the growth of Fennoman, a militant movement, Swedish speaking Finns felt threatened. These Finns resolved to counter this through the formation of Svecoman. Svecoman was equally militant, and its goal was to preserve the Swedish culture and language in Finland. Though small, Svecoman had the backing of most Swedish-speakers, a scenario that made it a powerful organization.
The Russians allowed room for a third faction, called the Liberal Party. Although the party was short-lived, it managed to air its objectives. The party called for the reformation of Finland, so as to facilitate the press freedom, enhance self-governance, and increase economic freedom. Following leadership wrangles, and language controversy, the party was split, and this lead to the assimilation of the members into the Svecoman and Fennoman. Debates by the educated Finns enabled the movements to reach wider circles among the Finns. The Russian defeat in the Crimean War facilitated reforms in the entire empire. For instance, in 1858, Russia allowed the use of the Finnish language as an official language in the districts, where the inhabitants were mainly Finnish speakers.
In 1863, the Poles staged massive resistance to the Russian rule. For all this period, Finns have opted to remain calm. As recompense, the Russian government granted the Finns two imperial edicts. The first edict summoned the Diet, for the first time in about 50 years. Though appreciated, the summoning was counter-productive. Firstly, the new Diet passed legislations that established an independent monetary system. A second legislation facilitated the creation of a separate Finnish army. Subsequent Diet’s meetings enabled the Finns to gain experience in legislative politics. The other edict, also called the Language Ordinance, gave the Finnish language a status, which was equal to that of Swedish. This enhanced the use of Finnish in official matters; the situation boosted its expansion in the local school system. Eventually, the second audit resulted in emerging of a class of educated Finnish speakers, who were then able to articulate support for the Finns nationalism.
Russia’s Indoctrination of Finland
In the later part of the 19th century, the Russian Empire was afflicted by numerous challenges, most of which resulted from the society’s general backwardness. Moreover, Russians were becoming ethnocentric, and their authoritarian nationalism was rising. This scenario was manifested in their belligerent foreign policy, as well as in the intolerance towards the minorities, who lived in the Russian Empire. In this regard, the government began to implement policies, aimed at indoctrinating the minorities, who lived under their control. The first step was to impose the Russian language into the official administration, as well as in schools; a program was commonly referred to as Russification. The aim of the government was to assimilate the minorities into the cultural practices of the Russians, a situation which would then help to enhance political control. Poles were the most aggrieved by the Russification exercises. Later, most ethnic non-Russians began to experience the pressure.
For most Russian nationalists, the autonomous status of Finland was an anomaly that should not have been allowed. They lobbied for its unification into the autocratic state of Russia. In the 1890s other reasons for the Russification of Finland emerged. The Russian nationalists were suspicious about the Finnish nationalism. Additionally, in the 1880s, the Finns began to present commercial competition to the Russians. Thirdly, the nationalists became skeptical of Germany. They regarded the Swedish influence on Finland as a potential chance for Germany to stage a base in the Finnish territory, a step which would then make the invasion of Russia easy to accomplish. The Russian government expressed concern that St. Petersburg would then be in reach of the Germans.
Fourth, the Russian nationalists expressed their desire to conscript the Finnish youths into the army, as retribution for the protection that Finland had enjoyed from the Russian army. The military considerations proved to be decisive in facilitating the implementation of the Russification strategy. In this regard, the Russian government appointed officer Nikolai I. Bobrikov as a Governor-General and implementer of the strategy.
The initial step in the Russification process was termed as the February Manifesto of 1899. Under the manifesto, an imperial decree affirmed that the Tsar had power to govern Finland without having to consult the Diet, or the Finnish Senate. The Finns responded swiftly, and in overwhelming numbers. Petitions for protests were circulated quickly throughout Finland. The petitions gathered over half a million signatures. Following the petitions, the organizers followed what they called “The Great Address” to the Tsar. The Tsar, with the support of the nationalists, chose to ignore the petitions. He, instead, issued the Language Manifesto of 1900, making it mandatory for the government offices to regard Russian as the principle administrative language of Finland.
In spite of the unanimity in signing the petitions, most Finns were indifferent on how to respond to the Russification process. The Finns demonstrated divided opinions towards Russification. Constitutionalists lobbied for adherence to the Finnish culture and traditions, and they also wanted the Russian government to respect that position. Constitutionalists were mainly the Finnish speakers with political connections to the Young Finns, as well as the majority of the Swedish speakers. The other group was composed of Finnish speakers, who were referred to as the Old Finns. The Old Finns were ready to comply with Russification for two reasons: they saw this as an opportunity to undermine the Swedes, and the Swedish speaking Finns in Finland, besides, they were powerless. By 1910, however, the number of individuals in the Old Finns party had declined considerably. This was attributable to the unreasonable demands of the Tsarist government, a situation which made them consider the Tsar to be unrealistic.
Following the promulgation of the conscription law in July 1901, the Finns resolved to engage in mass protests. The Tsar, citing the February Manifesto, enacted legislation that led to a dramatic alteration of the Finnish army. He altered the initial mission of the Finnish army, making it an integral part of the Russian military. As such, the enlisted Finns were available for battle at any location, directed by the Russian government. This was followed by campaigns of resistance, a part of which was an Army Strike. The Russians recognized that the Finns could not be relied on for military service. They opted to release them from service in return for extra taxation. The extra tax was to be paid to the imperial government in St. Petersburg.
The Russians continued to expand censorship on the Finns. In 1903, the Tsar granted Governor-General Bobrikov enough power to act expeditiously in enforcing the demands of the Russian government. Following a year of active resistance, the Finns succeeded in killing the Governor-General; the act reduced pressure on Finland. Following the 1905 Revolution in Russia, the government resolved to halt its strategic Russification as a strategy of reducing the impact of the rebellion at home. Later, the Tsar promised to carry out reforms in all parts of the Russian empire.
By 1908, the Tsar regime had regained its confidence to a level that would facilitate the resumption of the Russification program. In 1910, the Russian Prime Minister, Pyotr Stolypin, was able to persuade the parliament to abolish the Finnish autonomy. This resulted into a weakened constitution, a situation which enabled Finland to be governed from St. Petersburg, incidentally making it a province of the empire.
The outbreak of the First World War did not have a direct impact on the Finns. Nevertheless, the country did suffer in a number of ways. Firstly, it lost its overseas markets, a situation which resulted into severe declines in the country’s main industries. By 1917, food shortages had become so severe that Finns could not held it any longer. They unified their positions, and vowed to fight for independence from Russia. As luck would have it, a revolution in Russia forced the Tsar to abdicate his throne. This scenario caused rebellion in Finland, a situation that lead to the country’s gaining independence.
Life in Free Finland
Following its independence, Finland faced a lot of challenges, including famine, a stagnant economy, and massive unemployment. Furthermore, the population was highly polarized; there were habitual disagreements between the liberals and the radical socialists. In the mean time, Finland was facing a new danger; two opposing armies, the White and Red Guards, were being raised in the country. Soon, the mounting friction between the two forces resulted into violence.
In 1918, the government ordered the expulsion of the Russian troops from Finland. Reacting to this, the Red Guards staged a “Red Revolution” in all portions of the country where they plundered and killed civilians. The Finnish government left Helsinki for Vaasa. The White Guards, under the leadership of General Carl Mannerheim, staged a resistance to the Red Guards. General Mannerheim, who was assisted by the German troops, was able to conquer Helsinki. After the situation had cooled down, the Finnish legislature adopted a new constitution, and this facilitated elections, which brought Kaarlo Stahlberg to power.
Later elections were indecisive. As a result, the country witnessed a series of coalition governments, most of which were composed of non-socialist political parties. These forms of governments continued throughout the 1920s and 30s. In 1932, Finland and the USSR signed a non-aggression treaty, which guaranteed peace and cooperation between the two nations. Nevertheless, the Finns’ orientation towards the Scandinavian policies worried the USSR. The outbreak of the Second World War complicated the matters. The USSR demanded that Finland cede some of its territory to the Russians, as a measure to secure Leningrad.
Worries heightened when the Germans stationed troops into northern Finland, prompting the Soviets to bomb Finnish cities. Tension between the two nations persisted throughout the war. Nevertheless, the situation improved with signing the final peace treaty in 1947. The Finnish foreign policy has improved since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both Russia and Finland have been able to establish a relationship of mutual understanding, a fact that has been reflected with their diversified diplomatic relations.