Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, October 25, 2021

Finland: From the Russian Empire to the EU

Turku Castle—a Center of Power During Swedish Rule

Finland as a part of the Russian Empire 1809–1917

Russia captured the region of Finland from Sweden in 1808–1809. The Emperor of Russia, Alexander I, gave Finland the status of a Grand Duchy. Most of the laws from the time of the Swedish rule remained in force. During the Russian rule, Finland became a special region developed by order of the Emperor. For example, Helsinki city center was built during Russian rule.

Starting from 1899, Russia tightened its grip on the Grand Duchy of Finland. Finland did not take part in World War I, but nationalism also had an influence on the region of Finland. Finland was granted its own parliament in 1906, and the first elections were held in 1907. Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917, and the Bolshevik government that seized power in the October Revolution in Russia recognized Finnish independence on 31 December 1917.

Important events

1812 Helsinki becomes the capital

1827 The old capital Turku is destroyed in a fire, emphasizing Helsinki’s standing

1860 Finland adopts its own currency, the markka

1906 Universal and equal right to vote, also for women

6 December 1917 Finland declares independence

Helsinki When It Was Capital of a Russian Grand Duchy

Early years of independence 1917–1945

In the early years of independence, Finland’s position was fragile. Soon after independence, a bloody civil war broke out in Finland. The war was fought between the Reds or labour movement and the Whites or government troops. The Whites received support from Germany and the Reds from Russia. The war ended in the Whites’ victory.

Finland was strongly in the German sphere of influence because the Soviet Union became the biggest threat to the security of the state. In the 1930s, many right-wing and far-right movements were popular in Finland, as in other parts of Europe.

In August 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreed that Finland belonged in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. During World War II, Finland fought on two occasions against the Soviet Union on the German side. Finland lost both wars, but the Soviet Union never occupied Finland.

Because Finland was able to defend its territory in wars soon after gaining independence, Finland’s wars in the 20th century have been considered as a time where the independence of the State of Finland became established.

Important events

1918 Civil War between the Reds and Whites

1921 Act on compulsory education makes it mandatory to attend six years of elementary school

1939–1940 Finland is thrust into World War II when the Winter War breaks out between Finland and the Soviet Union

1941–1944 World War II continues as Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union


The first government of independent Finland. P. E.
Svinhufvud, the first Prime Minister of Finland,
sitting at the head of the table.

Rebuilding, industrialization and the Cold War 1945–1991

As a defeated party, Finland had to pay the Soviet Union heavy war reparations in the form of goods. The war reparations included, for example, trains, ships, and raw materials. Finland financed the building of the goods with loans and aid. The production of the war reparations helped Finland evolve from an agrarian country into an industrialized country. The industrialization started a migration from the countryside into the cities.

In 1948, Finland and the Soviet Union signed an Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, where the countries promised to defend each other against external treats. In practice, Finland was in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence throughout the Cold War, and the country’s foreign and domestic policy were guided by fear of the Soviet Union.

Important events

1948 Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance between Finland and the Soviet Union

1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki

1968 Finnish comprehensive school institution founded

Part of Europe 1991 onward

The collapse of the Soviet Union and loan-based economic growth in the 1980s caused a recession in Finland in the 1990s. The worst time of the recession was in the early 1990s; many Finnish people were unemployed, companies went bankrupt, and the state had little money.

In about 1995, the Finnish economy started to grow, the most important company being mobile phone company Nokia. Finland joined the EU in 1995 and was one of the first countries to adopt the euro as its currency.  Regarding security matters, Finland is not a member of NATO but works closely with it.  Finland's nuanced relationship with NATO was described in a 30 September news story at

Finland, a close NATO ally, will keep a close eye on the alliance’s development, bearing in mind the possibility of membership, President Sauli Niinistö told a Finnish Insitute for International Affairs seminar. He added that the country could shape the EU into becoming a more powerful global actor in terms of defence and security.

The president also praised his country’s “dense web” of defence and security partnerships with other Nordic countries, the US, and the deepened cooperation with France and the UK.

But Finland will not automatically participate in all initiatives. Aiming at “active stability policy”, the country wishes to improve its “interoperability with chosen partners”, the president added.

Finnish Soldiers Training Recently

Important events

1991 Worst economic crisis in Finnish history

1995 Finland joins the European Union

Sources: Finnish Heritage Society; InfoFinland

1 comment:

  1. One more WWI connection: Lenin stayed in Finland for parts of 1917.