Finland between East and West – Part 1

Finnish skiers won the gold over swedish and russian

Finland has often been referred as a bridge between East and West. Our land in the Middle, had particularly important role in 1975, when Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) was held in Helsinki. This conference was a big effort to calm things down in the Middle of the Cold War. In the Conference, the Western European countries signed up for Economic and Humanitarian cooperation with the Communist East. After this international event Finland become a neutral ground for several meetings with Western and Soviet leaders.

Being sandwiched in the Middle of two competing major powers goes back to beginning of history for us. These major powers, in various times, being Sweden, Russia and Germany.

Our long road to independence

Recorded history of Finland begins with the introduction of Christianity by the Kingdom of Sweden between 13th and 14th  Century. Swedes conquered land from the pagan Finns in many crusades and forced the new religion on us. As soon as the army of Swedes left, we went back to our old ways worshipping trees, bears and moose. Then they came back and the process continued for the next hundred years.

The first part of the Swedish rule is a bit obscure, but the end has solid date: 17th of September in 1809. That is when the Swedish Empire lost the War of Finland to Russia.

War of Finland 1809
The Russian Cavalry beating the Swedish-Finnish troops in the war of Finland in 1809.








For the next following century we were a part of Russian empire. Russians just wanted to have Finland as a buffer zone to protect their Empire from the Swedes hence they didn’t have much interest in governing us. Russians decided to grant us autonomy so we could rule the country yourself. Russian grip on as had different stages during the following century. In the beginning of the 1900s Russians were taking measures to make us a solid part the Empire which lead to restlessness riots and strikes. Once we felt pressure from Russia, the Nationalist movement gained momentum and we were seeking support for independence process. This was just before the First World War and our important trade partner Germany showed interest in helping us. In 1914 a group of young Finnish activists created a jaeger –movement. Principal activity of the movement was to send Finnish men to get high military education to Germany so they could lead the troops in case breaking free of Russian rule would result in armed conflict.

In the end, jaegers where not needed to fight the man. It was the internal collapse of Russian Empire that leading to communist revolution that ultimately cut us from the Russian rule. Once the Bolsheviks seemed to have secured power in Russia, the Finnish senate made a Declaration of Independence on the 6th of December. We asked the key nations to recognize our independence, but it no country was willing to do it before the former motherland, Russia would approve. On December 1917 we sent to representative to St. Petersburg to ask Lenin to recognize our nation. He signed the paper on last day of the year and once the word got out, the other nations soon recognized us as well.









Why did Lenin and the Bolsheviks simply let us go? They were planning to support the communist movement in Finland to rise and revolt. Lenin figured that once the communist take power in Finland they will want to join the communist alliance free willingly. Lenin was both right and wrong: The Civil War of Finland started in 27th of January in 1918, however the end result was something unexpected. The history continues in part 2.

As a reference , there is more detailed story of pre-independent Finland on the this site:

Written by Jouko Väärälä

River, Sea and Suomenlinna

helsinki history suomenlinna

Helsinki was founded by Swedish king Vasa in 1550 to the river mouth of Vantaa river. It was suppose to challenge Tallin as a city of commerce on the Baltic sea, but the City grew slow. One of the reason for the stagnant growth was a long and difficult route for the cargo ships to the Harbor of Helsinki. In 1700’s the Swedish empire grew uneasy about the rise of Russia and they wanted to add fortifications to the Baltic. They chose island in front of Helsinki to form Suomenlinna Seafortress. It is nowadays a Unesco World Heritage -site and the most visited attraction of Helsinki. Only 20 minute ferry ride from the Central Market Square. The building of the Fortress was a big effort and the town of Helsinki was relocated to the current location to support the construction of the Fortress.

Swedish had high hopes for the Suomenlinna Castle, but it didn’t really help once the Russians won the war in 1809 against the Swedish and took control of Finland as part of the peace treaty. The Tsar Alexander 1st declared Finland a Grand Duchy – a semi-autonomous state, entitled to rule itself. Few years later, in 1812 Helsinki was announced the Capital of Finland. This started massive development and building projects in Helsinki which in 1812 was tiny. It had only about 3500 inhabitants. The German architect C.L. Engel took the job of creating the new nordic capital and now the history is visible in center of Helsinki.