Finland

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Map of Finland.
Finland is devil's land.
—Russian proverb.[1]
Finns are enormously proud of their egalitarian tradition. Theirs is the only country in Europe that has never had a king or a homegrown aristocracy. Finland has no private schools or universities, no snooty clubs, no gated communities or compounds where the rich can cut themselves off from everyday life.
—Robert G. Kaiser, Seattle Times.[2]

The Republic of Finland (Finnish: Suomen tasavalta, Swedish: Republiken Finland), or just Finland (Suomi) is a Nordic country in northern Europe, wedged between Sweden and its far less desirable neighbor Russia. Internationally, Finland tends to be best known for its military feats during the Winter WarWikipedia, its many beautiful lakes,[3] and for the fact that it just generally has its shit together. The country has an extensive social democratic welfare state leading to low poverty rates, good healthcare, and high public trust in government.[4] Finland's successful and cost effective public education system has other countries like the United States trying to copy their homework. The country's main language is Finnish, a member of the Uralic language family. Finland is a predominantly Lutheran country, with 69% of Finns belonging to that denomination, while 28% are unaffiliated with any religion.[5] Finland's capital and largest city is Helsinki.

Finland has been inhabited since around 9000 BCE, and its Uralic language seems to have been the result of long-term migration patterns of people migrating west from deep in Siberia and Central Asia.[6] The Finns at this time were a semi-nomadic tribal people who developed extensive contacts with the rest of Europe. Eventually, they came into contact with Vikings from neighboring Sweden. Swedish influence grew there through raiding, and this grew even more after Sweden converted to Christianity. A long series of holy wars followed, first as a blatant excuse for Sweden's territorial expansion, but then as fully-sanctioned Crusades. Sweden successfully conquered Finland, although it had to stop at roughly the modern border due to running into Russia, the immovable object.

Sweden turned Finland into a colonial possession, sending Swedish settlers to rule the region and imposing their language, religion, and culture. Finns converted alongside the Swedes during the Protestant Reformation, leading to both countries becoming heavily Lutheran. Finns fought for Sweden during the bloody Thirty Years War, becoming renowned as brutal and effective cavalrymen. Unfortunately for them, Sweden's rise to great power status after this war precipitated a series of challenging wars from the also rising power of Russia. Finland became a devastated battleground during these wars, lasting many decades until Russia finally annexed Finland in 1809.

The Russian Empire treated Finland relatively well by their standards, and Finnish nationalism grew with relatively few checks. Nicholas II, the last Tsar, began a belated effort to Russify Finland, but this was cut dramatically short with the arrival of World War I. Finland declared independence in the chaos of the October Revolution and then successfully defended its independence during the Russian Civil War. Finland then had to endure a brutal civil war in 1918 and then became a democratic republic. During World War II, Finland successfully defended itself against an overwhelming invasion from the Soviet Union in an event called the Winter War. It lost some territory but preserved its independence. Finland then became a co-belligerent of Nazi Germany while striking back against the Soviets.

After the war, Finland rapidly industrialized while remaining carefully neutral in the Cold War due to its proximity to the Soviets. Amid rapid economic growth, Finland joined its Nordic fellows in constructing their extensive welfare states. Finland joined the European Union in 1995 and then adopted the Euro in 1999. Despite Finland's success, the country isn't without problems. Finland is plagued by high housing costs, difficulty managing some of its programs, and a seemingly perpetual inability to provide for its immigrant population to keep them out of poverty.[4]

History[edit]

Reconstruction of Finnish Stone Age dwellings.

Pagan era[edit]

Archaeological evidence currently holds that Finland was first inhabited sometime around 9000 BCE, when the great glaciers of the last ice age finally receded and allowed the region to become habitable to people migrating in. Based on the Uralic descent of the Finnish language, the Finnish people migrated from the Ural mountains into the southern regions of the Gulf of Finland.[7] From there, they gradually moved north as it became possible to do so without freezing their collective asses off. Interestingly, the Finnish language shares a common ancestry with Hungary's Magyar language, with the two groups originating from nearby locations and then diverging roughly 4,500 years ago.[7]

These early Finnish peoples were hunter-gatherers who lived in fragmented tribes.[8] They were polytheistic, but their principal deity was the thunder/sky god Ukko.[9] Finns revered nature and the spirits of their ancestors, and the foremost sacred animal was the brown bear.[10] You can hardly blame them; bears are cool.

Outside invasions[edit]

Early Viking-era swords found in Finland.

Although technologically on par with their Scandinavian neighbors, the Finns were weakened due to their relative disorganization. This eventually bit them in the ass during the age of the Vikings, who began to raid and loot their way across northern Europe during the Middle Ages. This era began a very warlike period in Finnish history, marked by the presence of various hill forts and walls which were constructed by entire communities for protection against the Scandinavian madmen.[11]

The Viking age started to end with the introduction of the Scandinavians to Christianity, but that religious fervor only put the people Finland under more pressure. By this point, the Finns had been made acquainted with Christianity through Christian missionaries, but they still remained largely pagan. The northern Crusades, which initially targeted pagans in the Baltic region, were eventually co-opted into the Swedish desire for territorial expansion.[12] That often happened with the Crusades, since Jesus might be nice but not as nice as land.

Sensing that conquest was in the winds, Russians also naturally got involved. They had recently converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and hoped to expand their version of the church into Finland.[13] Finland became a battleground between Sweden and Russia through decades of bloody war. In 1323, tired of fighting over a mostly empty land of lakes, the Swedes and Russians signed the Treaty of Nöteborg settling the border between Sweden and the Russian principality of Novgorod.[14]

Swedish rule[edit]

First Catholic clergy in Finland.

Late Middle Ages[edit]

Sweden proceeded to consolidate its rule over Finland by treating it as a colonial province, specifically by sending Swedes to move into the province and then mandating the Swedish language and religion.[13] Although the Swedes never managed to implement serfdom in any great capacity there, Swedish nobles did form an unquestionable ruling class while Finnish farmers had almost no say in how they were governed.[15] That sucked, but the Finnish farmers were also quite busy with the fact that Finland's short growing seasons and not-great soil made farming a real bitch. Farmers tended to supplement their incomes with fishing and fur production.

Despite the Church coming late to the party, they had a great deal of success integrating themselves into Finnish life. Church parishes allied closely with the Swedish ruling regime, becoming not only schools but government offices and trade facilities.[15] The primary seat of the Finnish bishopric, the city of Turku, became Finland's administrative capital under Sweden.

Wars with Denmark and Russia[edit]

Turku Castle, built by the Swedish to defend against Russia.

In 1397, Denmark's shrewd queen and stateswoman Margaret I managed to engineer the Kalmar Union, a system in which the monarch of Denmark would also hold the thrones of Norway and Sweden.[16] With Finland under Swedish rule, this put almost the entire Nordic world under one geopolitical entity.

Sweden almost immediately disagreed with the Union, feeling that Danish attempts at centralization were coming at the expense of Sweden's sovereignty. Like most political disagreements during this time, these differences were to be settled on the battlefield over many bloody decades. The results of this turmoil were felt quite harshly in Finland, where the Swedish government extracted heavier and heavier taxes while the disruption in commerce made those taxes harder to pay.[17]

With Sweden distracted by beating on its southern neighbor, the Great Beast of the East came back for another go at Finland. The various Russian states had consolidated around the power of Moscow, led by Grand Duke Ivan III (known as Ivan the Great, not to be confused with Ivan the Terrible).[18] In 1495, Denmark and Moscow decided to form the "Fuck Sweden Alliance" and launch a double invasion of the country. The Russian armies poured into Finland, where they used their typically brutal tactics to devastate the Finnish countryside and kill huge numbers of people.[17]

Although Sweden preserved its rule over Finland, this didn't make them any less pissed off at Denmark for inciting the whole ordeal. Some decades later in 1523, a Swedish noble named Gustav Vasa managed to win Sweden's independence once and for all.[17] Unfortunately, that did not result in the end of hostilities between the two countries.

Protestant Reformation[edit]

Turku Cathedral, which changed hands from the Catholics to the Lutherans.
See the main article on this topic: Protestant Reformation

The writings of Martin Luther, which kicked off the Reformation in the Holy Roman Empire in 1517 spread quickly throughout northern Europe due to the natural activities of German merchants. The Reformation found fertile ground in Sweden, where its monarch Gustav Vasa eagerly converted the country away from Catholicism in order to give himself an excuse to confiscate church properties and further strengthen the Swedish crown after his still-recent usurpation.[19]

Agricola translates the Bible.

This process threatened to cause conflict in Finland, though. Due to its more recent arrival, the Church had behaved more nicely in Finland in order to win support for itself. As a result, the Church didn't own nearly as much land in Finland and generally used its finances to support education and charity.[19] These savvy political moves made the Church much more popular in Finland than in Sweden or Denmark.

Sweden's new Lutheran government had to move slowly and cautiously in implementing the religious transition in Finland, unlike the rapid reforms which had swept over Sweden. Lutheran churches kept many Catholic doctrines and practices in Finland during the early decades and only carefully expanded.[19] Sweden's Lutheran church wasn't fully established in Finland until 1598, many decades after Sweden had fully converted. Still, it was probably worth the hassle since this method allowed Swedish Finland to avoid any massive religious civil wars like those that had occurred elsewhere in Europe.

Turku Cathedral, which had been built during the early years of Swedish rule to serve as the capital of a Catholic bishop, suffered quite heavily during the later years of the Lutheran transition as the Finnish Catholic clergy found more and more of their funds being funneled away by the Crown. The cathedral fell into disrepair by 1627 to the point where its roof was leaking,[20] until the Lutherans eventually took it over and remodeled it.

One of the most lasting impacts of the Reformation was felt by the Finnish language, as ecclesiastical figure Mikael Agricola translated the Bible into Finnish.[19] This being the first major project in which the Finnish language was written down, Agricola became known as the father of written Finnish.[21] Probably little consolation for the poor man's cramping hands after all that writing.

Swedish imperial age[edit]

Anti-Russian sea fort built near Helsinki.

The Reformation also turned Sweden into a great power, as the Vasa dynasty centralized its governance and reformed the military with help from the religious transformations and the assets they seized from the Catholic Church. Sweden's first great flexing of its muscles came when it intervened on behalf of German Protestants in the Thirty Years War in 1630 under the leadership of its military-minded king Gustavus Adolphus. Finnish troops were conscripted in great numbers into the Swedish army, and Finnish light cavalry units, known as Hakkapeliitta were renowned and feared for their savage raids and skilled reconnaissance.[22] Thanks to the invaluable participation of the Finnish warriors, Sweden annexed big chunks of northern Germany and became a true Baltic empire.

Unfortunately, Sweden's rise in status meant that everybody in the neighborhood came by looking for a fight. More wars ensued with Denmark, which meant more fighting for Finns. However, the worst war during this period began in the year 1700, when Denmark, Poland, and Russia formed a fateful coalition to cut Sweden down to size. Although the so-called Great Northern War (it wasn't so great for Finland) started out well for Sweden, it couldn't last long against the powerful alliance. Russia invaded Finland in 1714, beginning a period called the "Great Hatred", where Russian troops indiscriminately burned Finnish villages, hauled away thousands of Finnish slaves, and raped who-the-fuck-knows how many Finnish women.[23] The war ended in 1721, after just about an entire generation of Finnish men had died terribly.[24]

This basically ended Sweden as a great power. An attempt to restore that status led to an ill-conceived attack on Russia in 1741, causing yet another brutal occupation of Finland and more destruction.[25] Not getting the hint yet, Sweden tried again in 1790. By this point, Finns were getting pretty fucking tired of the rising taxes and constant wars being fought on their homeland due to Swedish stupidity. They were also upset about the fact that Sweden kept handing Finnish land to Swedish nobles in order to maintain their support for the war, naturally coming without any concern for the Finnish people already living there.[25]

Amid decreasing Finnish loyalty and even a few mutinies, Russia finally put an end to Swedish rule in Finland in 1809 by just getting it over with and conquering the whole region.[25]

Russian rule[edit]

Ball in Helsinki to honor Tsar Alexander II, 1864.

Economic development[edit]

Despite the Russian Empire's authoritarianism, Finland finally caught a fucking break due to the simple fact that Russia kept it mostly free from invasion. Politically, the Russians were also a bit nicer in Finland than elsewhere due to the desire to not have a huge revolt in a province so close to the imperial capital of St. Petersburg. Thus, Russia made Finland a semi-autonomous region called the "Grand Duchy" and kept most of the previous Swedish-imposed laws intact.[26] It should be noted, though, that Russia kept the old laws mostly because they were just harsh enough to meet with the Tsar's approval, not due to kindness. Completing the takeover, Russia moved Finland's capital to Helsinki, feeling that the traditional capital at Turku was a bit too close to Sweden.

Finland's economy had, over the last centuries, changed very little due to the constant wars making anything other than farming and fishing impossible.[27] This finally changed under Russian rule, as the Russians noticed that Europe had a greatly rising demand for lumber for construction and that Finland just so happened to have a shitload of trees. The Russian and Finnish governments promoted railroad and waterway construction in order to connect Finland's interior with its coastlines, developments that finally brought Finland into something resembling the modern age.[27] The rise of the lumber industry saw cash flow into Finland for basically the first time ever, allowing for further benefits of the Industrial Revolution.

In 1866 through 1868, Finland suffered from a colossal famine that killed more than 8% of its population.[28] The Finnish and Russian regimes proved totally incompetent in handling it, and this proved to be Europe's last all-naturally caused famine. Afterwards, Finland benefited from the introduction of mechanized agriculture as well as the introduction of the potato from America.[27] Potatoes are good.

Rising nationalism[edit]

Finnish folk singers, 1894.

Finnish nationalism began as a language-based movement, and the Russian government initially supported the trend in order to alienate the Finns from the Swedes.[29] Alienating the Finns from the Swedes was a cause also served by moving the capital to Helsinki, further away from Sweden and closer to Russia.

The Russians eventually started to sour on the concept after leading nationalist figure Johan Vilhelm Snellman made nothing ambiguous in stating that a secondary goal of Finnish nationalism was to avoid assimilating into the Russian Empire.[29] The Kalevala, an epic poem based on pagan Finnish mythology, was published in 1835 and then revised in 1849, becoming a tremendously important work in defining the Finnish spirit.[30]

Alongside Finnish nationalism, Swedish nationalism within Finland also spiked in response. Swedes felt threatened by the increasingly powerful Finnish movement and kicked off their own efforts to protect their own language and culture from encroachments they felt for sure would be coming.[29]

Despite the nationalist upheaval, Finland remained pacified during the Russian Empire's moments of weakness following its humiliating defeat in the Crimean War. Finland remained peaceful during the uprisings in Poland and Belarus, leading a grateful Russian Tsar to grant them the formation of an elected Finnish Diet and a separate Finnish army.[29] Russia also elevated the Finnish language to full status, allowing further development of education in the Finnish language.

Russification[edit]

Assassination of Russian Governor-General Nikolai Ivanovich Bobrikov, 1904.

Nice things could only last so long in Russia, though, and by the 1890s Russian nationalists in the government were increasingly viewing Finland as a threat to the cohesion of the empire. The primary consideration there was military, as Russia's rivalry with the German Empire meant that Finland needed to remain a loyal buffer against the West no matter what.[31] Thus, Russia chose to begin implementing its harsh "Russification" policies in Finland as well as the other minority regions of the empire.

The process began in 1899 with the February Manifesto, in which the Tsar abrogated Finnish autonomy and granted himself the right to rule there by imperial edict while ignoring the Finnish regional government.[32] Despite Finnish outrage, the Tsar continued by making Russian the primary language in Finnish government.

Most infuriating to the Finns was the 1901 conscription law, which placed Finland's military under tsarist control and made Finns liable to be conscripted to die for the empire on any front.[31] Mass protests and resistance to this measure succeeded in temporarily halting the Russification process during the general 1905 unrest in the empire. The Russians instead resorted to even harsher methods to suppress dissent, like purging Finnish government offices, expanding censorship measures to shut down any undesirable publications, and granting the powers of a total dictator to Governor-General Nikolai Ivanovich Bobrikov.[31]

The latter policy convinced Finnish nationalist Eugen Schauman to assassinate Bobrikov in 1904 in a murder-suicide strike.[33] The Russians briefly backed down, and Schauman became a martyr and an icon for Finnish resistance. The pause abruptly ended in 1908 with the resumption of Russification and the total elimination of Finland's remaining government authority.

World War I[edit]

Finnish Jäger troops in action against Russia.
See the main article on this topic: World War I

The Great War caused immediate great misery in Finland due to the ending of its foreign lumber market due to blockade, a problem which resulted in the destruction of much of its economy.[31] Despite the efforts at Russification, Finland still proved to be more of a burden to Russia than an asset. Only 500 Finns volunteered to fight for Russia at the outset of the conflict, while Russia felt the need to deploy 35,000 troops to keep Finland under control.[34]

As Russian rule became even more oppressive in wartime, what remained of Finnish loyalty quickly went bye-bye. Finns started defecting from Russia to fight for Germany, while nationalist and communist paramilitaries began forming for a possible fight for independence.[34] Those Finns who fought for Germany, some 2,000 men in the so-called "Jäger Movement", eventually returned home to form the backbone of the nationalist and anti-communist White forces.[35] By the time the February Revolution struck in 1917, most Finns were adamant that their country needed to sever ties from Russia and become free.

Early independence[edit]

Massacred Reds in Vilkkilä.

Civil war[edit]

After the tsarist regime imploded, an atmosphere of uncertainty settled over Finland that prevented them from taking serious action to prevent the Russian Provisional Government from retaining control there. However, after the October Revolution took out the Provisional Government, then all things were tossed in the air. The Bolshevik coup inspired downtrodden Finnish workers to rise up in their own mass strike movement, while middle and upper class paramilitaries, who had been trained for war by Germany, clashed with them and the Red Guards.[36] In late January, the Red Guards seized control of Helsinki and proclaimed a revolution.

Carl Gustaf Mannerheim.

The Finnish government responded by putting the aristocratic cavalry general Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim in charge of its White forces, hoping that his experience in fighting for Russia would prove to be a decisive factor against the Reds.[37] The front lines solidified, with the Whites in charge of the rural north while the Reds controlled the large southern cities with their working class populations.[38]

Tampere in ruins.

The Whites had fewer men, but Mannerheim proved to be a brilliant strategist, and his forces were aided by a professional corps of ex-Jäger fighters and some trained officers from neighboring Sweden.[38] The Finnish Reds, meanwhile, had little support from the Russian Bolsheviks due to the ongoing Russian Civil War and the fact that Russian White forces stood between the Bolsheviks and Finland. The Finnish Reds also lacked quality leadership, with no Finnish equivalent to Vladimir Lenin or Leon Trotsky.

In spring of 1918, the Whites won their decisive victory in the Battle of Tampere, subjecting the Red stronghold in that city to siege, attempting multiple times to seize the city under machine-gun fire, and finally taking the city and executing a bunch of Red prisoners.[39] Germany also intervened on behalf of the Finnish Whites, launching a naval invasion against Helsinki that crushed the Red capital.[40]

Both sides, like in Russia, committed acts of terror and atrocity upon civilians and prisoners. The White Terror, being conducted with the Whites having the upper hand in the war, featured lawless field court-martials, take-no-prisoners policies, and bloody reprisals, resulting in the murder of some 10,000 people.[36]

The war was a catastrophe for Finland, seeing much of the country's infrastructure destroyed. Even worse, just about every working class urban family had suffered loss at the hands of the Whites, leading to roughly 40% of the Finnish population feeling no loyalty for the independent regime.[38]

Uncertain democracy[edit]

Mannerheim leads an independence parade in Helsinki.

Even after the war, Finnish "volunteers" crossed into Soviet territory and ventured into other countries in order to further aggravate the Red Bear. They participated in actions such as helping Estonia win its independence and launching numerous raids into territories that they felt rightfully belonged to the Finns.[41]

Meanwhile, the Whites were left in control of the government thanks to the civil war, an arrangement they used to attempt to create a Finnish monarchy. They chose their candidate poorly, though, as Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse was able to remain king for less than two months before having to abruptly renounce the throne and return home due to Germany's defeat in the war.[42]

Lapua militants beat a man in Vaasa, 1930.

As the only remaining credible national leader, Mannerheim took control and demanded that Finland hold elections for a democratic government. The social democrats won convincing control of the parliament and then teamed up with Finnish liberals to impose a republican constitution.[43] Content, Mannerheim then resigned and retired from public life, and new elections resulted in the liberal politician K. J. Ståhlberg becoming Finland's first true president. Determined to help his country move past the war, the new president pardoned the Reds for their actions in the war and then adopted some of their demands like giving trade unions more power and redistributing land to the poor.[44]

During this time, Finland had to deal with more challenges, though. The formerly Swedish Åland Islands, which had been seized by Russia to become part of Finland, still had a majority Swedish-speaking population, and this population demanded independence through the League of Nations.[45] The League eventually ruled that Finland would keep the islands, but that their culture and language would have to be protected. This was later confirmed when Finland passed a 1922 law to that effect. Finland also had to deal with the Great Depression and the radicalizing effect it had on the population. The Lapua Movement formed in 1929, inspired by Benito Mussolini and his fascist regime, and it won seats in parliament while launching terrorist attacks across the country aimed at punishing leftists.[46] They murdered various politicians and even kidnapped ex-president Ståhlberg. Luckily, the Finnish government was able to answer the threat by forcing the Lapua fuckheads to disarm and then banning the movement in 1932.

Still, the greatest threat by far came from the Soviet Union. Despite the borders being settled in a treaty, both Finland and the Soviet Union strongly mistrusted each other, and both sides considered war inevitable. Amid the threat, Mannerheim left retirement and returned to military life to oversee the construction of fortifications across southern Finland and the arming of new, modern army divisions.[47]

World War II[edit]

Finnish machine-gun nest during the Winter War.
See the main article on this topic: World War II

Winter War[edit]

In 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which set the stage for the German conquest of Poland by dividing Eastern Europe into spheres of influence.[48] Poor Finland ended up in the Soviet sphere, meaning that the Soviets had a free hand to threaten or attack them without overt German interference. Joseph Stalin considered Finland's proximity to the city of Leningrad to be an unacceptable threat, and he decided to go on a little imperialism venture and bite some chunks out of Finland to push the border back somewhat.[49] If the Soviets could annex the whole thing, then even better. Soviet propaganda also denounced Finland as a fascist lapdog.

Land ceded to the Soviets.

Finland naturally rejected Stalin's demands for land, despite General Mannerheim's pleas that Finland was diplomatically isolated and could expect no help against the Red Beast.[50] Mannerheim resigned in protest, but soon took it back once the Soviets attacked.

Finnish soldiers retreating from Viipuri.

The Finns benefited greatly from the heavy Mannerheim Line fortifications as well as Mannerheim's leadership, while the Soviet forces struggled due to having had much of the Red Army's officer corps purged by Stalin.[51] Thus, the Finns managed to halt the Soviet offensive while the Russians took horrific casualties. The general heroism of Finnish soldiers from all political backgrounds against their common enemy. did much to heal the deep divisions left by the civil war.[50]

Unfortunately, the Soviets soon figured out that something had to change and opened the year 1940 by using massive artillery barrages to demolish the Mannerheim Line and deny the Finns their greatest advantage.[52] Without the fortifications, the Finns were unable to halt the Soviet advance any longer, and they soon agreed to cede Stalin's desired bits of land. Most painful was the loss of Viipuri, which had been Finland's second-largest city.[50] Virtually all of the Finns in those territories chose to leave their homes and move back into Finland, losing their homes and livelihoods to become refugees.

The war had far-reaching consequences. The Soviet Union had been humiliated by its inability to subdue the much smaller Finland, and Adolf Hitler looked upon that failure as confirmation that the USSR would be a pushover in the event of a German invasion.[50] This was a factor causing Nazi Germany to significantly underestimate the Soviets.

Continuation War[edit]

Hitler meeting with Mannerheim and Finnish president Risto Ryti, 1942.

Instead of accepting defeat, Finland began the process of angrily rearming and reintegrating the hundreds of thousands of refugees. Urging them on was the still-recent knowledge that caving to Soviet demands had led to the Baltic States being annexed fully, a fate that Finland feared awaited them now that the Soviet Union had forced them to cede land and destroyed their fortifications. Finnish tenacity had also impressed Hitler, and he struck an agreement with the Finnish government later in 1940 allowing German troops to be stationed in Finland ahead of the planned German invasion.[53] By the spring of 1941, Finland had joined the Germans in planning their offensive against the Soviets, hoping to regain Finnish territory and possibly even expand.

Finland did not join the German attack on the Soviet Union, though, as they preferred not to appear as the aggressor. Instead, they used Soviet strikes against them three days later as pretext to begin their own invasion.[53] The Finnish war was of great benefit to the Axis, as it bottled up the Soviet fleets in the Gulf of Finland, tied down Soviet divisions in the north, and even helped the Germans inflict their horrific siege against Leningrad.[53] In light of this, the UK declared war on Finland, although didn't really do much about it. The United States outright refused. The lack of democratic aggression against Finland was helped by the fact that Finland was itself a democracy as well as the fact that Finland refused to allow Germany to inflict the Holocaust on its Jews.[54]

Ultimately, though, Germany's war effort was an inevitable failure, and so was Finland's. Finland started looking for a way out right after the German defeat at Stalingrad in early 1943, and they suffered a massive Soviet counterattack later in that year.[53] Finland ended up losing even more territory and was forced to pay war reparations.[55] The armistice agreement of 1944 also mandated that Finland force the Germans out of their borders.

Lapland War[edit]

Passive-aggressive German sign: "Thanks for not demonstrating brotherhood in arms!"
Our German brothers-in-arms will forever remain in our hearts. The Germans in Finland were certainly not the representatives of foreign despotism but helpers and brothers-in-arms.
—Carl Gustaf Mannerheim to Adolf Hitler,[56] a passage that surely isn't awkward for Finns today to read.

The Germans weren't ready to quit yet, and although they had plans to leave Finland, they didn't really want to. Under intense pressure from the Soviet Union, Finland outright attacked its former German ally in order to force the withdrawal more quickly, while the furious Germans retaliated by using scorched-earth tactics on Finnish soil.[57] As one last "fuck you", the Germans razed multiple cities, destroying everything but Lutheran churches, and they also tore up roads and railroads behind them in order to make the Finnish pursuit more difficult.[57]

In addition to the property losses, estimated as equivalent to about US$300 million (in 1945 dollars) that the German outrage caused, some 100,000 more Finns became homeless refugees, placing even more of a burden on the government and the country.[58] The Germans also left a shitload of mines buried across northern Finland, some hidden so well that they kept killing civilians well into 1948.[58]

Conflict ultimately ended in late 1944, with the last German troops being expelled in spring of 1945.

In total[edit]

The war had come at an enormous cost to Finland, not just in dollars. Approximately 86,000 Finns died in the war (three times the losses in the civil war), while 500,000 Finns had become homeless refugees.[59] Finland had also lost big chunks of its territory, including one of its most valuable assets in the Petsamo area nickel mines. Finland had preserved its independence, but it was also under close watch by the Soviet Union.

Modern Finland[edit]

Newly-built paper mill in 1949.

Reconstruction and appeasement[edit]

Realizing that antagonizing the Soviets any further would be a bad idea, Finland instead turned towards a policy of appeasement. The hope was that if Finland managed to avoid pissing the Soviet Union off, they would get to keep their democratic and capitalist way of life. Finland faithfully observed the peace agreement with the Soviets by punctually paying the "we're sorry" tax and by putting eight leading Finnish politicians (including former president Ryti) on trial for war crimes.[60] Ryti and six of the accused would be sentenced to prison for plotting an offensive war, a crime against peace.

Finland also had to legalize its communist party, which promptly won a majority in the parliament thanks to the efforts of disaffected sympathizers left over from the civil war.[60] Even though the country's economy was in ruins, Finland also rejected Marshall Plan aid from the United States, also to avoid ticking off the Soviets. This prolonged Finland's economic hardship.

Finland's fear reached a height in 1948 after communists launched a coup that took over Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union also demanded a new peace treaty that was dreadfully similar to the ones it had signed with those states that had been folded into the Eastern Bloc. Luckily, Finland's government managed to make it clear that they weren't going to cave to such a demand without the use of force, a tool the Soviets were unwilling to apply in the atmosphere of the early Cold War and threats of American nuclear weapons. The modified agreement was the "Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance", which obliged Finland to remain neutral and to never again allow its territory to be used as a base from which to attack the Soviets.[61]

Instruction page for Soviet spies on dressing and acting like a Finn.[62]

The reparations payments, meanwhile, turned out to be a long-term blessing in disguise. The Soviets demanded goods rather than money, and the industry that Finland built up to meet those demands became an enormous asset for them.[60] Finland's economy continued to become more and more industrialized, while Finnish-Soviet trade only increased after the end of the reparations. Finland also got to host the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Better there than Munich.

Cold War buffer state[edit]

Finland carefully avoided angering the Soviets or appearing too pro-Western, to the point where governments were dissolved if the communist party didn't get enough seats.[63] In West Germany, this phenomenon was derisively referred to as "Finlandization", criticizing Finland's self-censorship and kowtowing to the Soviet Union.[64] Finnish libraries even banned books deemed too anti-Soviet.[65]

The country was also useful to both the Soviets and the West as a neutral ground for espionage. Soviet and Western spies used Finland to keep an eye on each other, and the Finnish government sometimes covertly passed information to the West or allowed its territory to be used as a smuggling route for Soviet defectors.[66] Soviet spy agencies created extensive materials to instruct their agents on how to act Finnish and blend in with local society.[62]

Rise of the welfare state[edit]

Finnish social security office in Espoo.

Finland's economy further prospered thanks to its government's determination to build trade ties with the US. In doing so, they had to overcome increasingly annoyed Soviet suspicion, but Finland did manage to join the European Economic Community in 1973.[63] The profits from trade helped set the stage for the introduction of Finland's welfare state, which was slowly implemented as a series of policies designed to respond to different problems.

Due to its later industrialization Finland did also come later than its fellow Nordic countries in implementing the characteristic extensive welfare regime. It began with the implementation of a national pension plan in 1957, which was then supplemented with unemployment aid in the 1960s and then the establishment of a comprehensive national health system in the 1970s.[67]

The primary engine of the welfare state's growth came from labor militancy and the rising power of trade unions, to the point where general walkouts and strikes brought down Finnish governments in 1950 and 1956.[68] Those efforts, combined with voting and electoral participation, ensured that the social democrats and the communists had the upper hand in Finnish politics.[68] Many technocrats and nationalists also viewed a welfare regime as being the easiest way to keep the workers in line and keep them working.

In the 1990s, though, Finland saw a major threat after its largest trading partner, the Soviet Union, went the way of the dodo. This combined with a simultaneous banking crisis[69] to create a terrible recession.[70] Finns had to endure a few years of strict austerity measures under the Paavo Lipponen government, but the economy eventually recovered.[71]

Finland today[edit]

Finland joined the European Union in 1995 and adopted the Euro in 1999. The country never joined NATO, the country did orient more strongly to the West while abandoning its formal neutrality.[72] Russia is doing its best to ensure that this remains the status quo by referring to Finland as neutral and making it clear that Finland joining NATO would be a big problem for the Russians.[73]

People[edit]

Finns are considered to be much more introverted than many other groups of people, in large part because Finnish culture doesn't view silence or lapses in conversation as awkward.[74] Instead, silence is considered a nice time for relaxation and introspection.

Despite this apparent shyness, most Finns appear to be satisfied with their lives; indeed, the United Nations’ World Happiness Report ranked Finland the second happiest nation after Denmark— though this is probably related to the Finnish joke "The reason Swedes get pregnant is because they have the Finns to help them out". They leave a large ecological footprint.[75][76]

Government and politics[edit]

Session hall of the Parliament of Finland.

Structure[edit]

Finland is a parliamentary representative republic. Finland's constitution is astoundingly rigid, requiring assent of two-thirds from two consecutive parliaments in order to see passage.[77] Finland's parliament is unicameral, consisting of 200 members. 199 are elected every four years using the D'Hondt methodWikipedia of party-list proportional representation. The Åland islands also elects one member.

The leader of Finland's government is the prime minister, who is elected by the Parliament every four years.[78] The prime minister then forms the government, and the government relies on having a majority share in parliament. Since there are quite a few Finnish political parties, governments tend to be coalitions. Finland also has a president who is directly elected, but the president's powers have substantially decreased since the formation of the office.[79]

Welfare programs[edit]

Public kindergarten school in Oulu.

Finland has a welfare model that is typically extensive compared to its Nordic neighbors. The image of a homogenous "nanny state" enacting nice policies out of national unity is a false one though; instead most Finns tolerate paying high taxes because they get many quality services in return.[80] Finns don't like each other any more than people in other countries. They just realize that nearly a full year of paid parental leave for each child plus free quality education plus free college free graduate school, nearly free world-class universal healthcare, and nice unemployment benefits are good things to have.[80]

Welfare programs include:[81]

  • Child allowances, child care and maintenance allowances, and maternity benefits.
  • Compulsory old-age pension plan.
  • Disability benefits including housing, occupational training, sheltered working environments, and physical rehabilitation.
  • Free child daycare provided by local governments.
  • Services for substance addiction, including clinics, half-way houses, and emergency housing.
  • A decentralized but universal healthcare system.[82]

Public ownership and trade unions[edit]

Commercial street in Helsinki.

Finland might not be socialist, but it certainly isn't a capitalist paradise either. Finland's government owns more than one-third of the country's wealth, while a quarter of Finns are employed in government services like education and healthcare.[83] On top of that, 90% of Finnish workers have a contract with a trade union.

Trade unions have a lot of influence over the Finnish government, being consulted carefully on legislation that would impact Finnish workers. Certain rights enjoyed by workers, including annual vacations, and generous overtime pay exist at the insistence of trade unions.[84]

Education[edit]

Finland is often praised for its high quality education system, and Finnish students are often ranked as the best in the world. Finnish schools do not teach intelligent design, nor do they teach the controversy. Biology books, for one, establish evolution as one of the 8 primary conditions for life and the Big Bang is referenced constantly as the origin of the universe. Religion is taught mostly for the students to understand and tolerate world religions, and Christianity is mostly dealt from a philosophical perspective. Religion is nevertheless a compulsory school subject: members of the Lutheran church attend classes on Lutheranism. There is however a non-denominational option (elämänkatsomustieto), and in some schools other teaching in religions is available.

Åland Islands[edit]

Ferry port in Åland.

The Åland Islands is Finland's sole autonomous region, having its demilitarized status and certain special rights guaranteed under a 1920 agreement that Finland signed with the League of Nations.[85] The Finnish government holds that the agreement still applies, and the treaty was made official under the European Union's laws as well. The islands have this special status because they were originally Swedish before being folded into Finland by the Russian Empire; the islands still have a majority Swedish population today.[86]

Åland is officially demilitarized, meaning that there can be no military presence or fortifications on the islands and that attacking them while in a war with Finland is an illegitimate act (not that any belligerents would probably care).[86] Finland also guarantees to respect the islanders' Swedish culture, language, local customs and system of self-government. This also makes the region exempt from conscription.

The islands region has its own taxation system, its own postage stamps, its own flag and Swedish as its only official language.[87] The Åland Islands are guaranteed representation in the Finnish parliament, to which they elect one representative. Along with that, they have their own parliament, which manages most of the islands' affairs and is elected and run based on the parliamentarian model.

Exports[edit]

Gallery[edit]

External links[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Finland.
  • Actually, "Finland" is a song by Michael Palin of Monty Python. Finland also makes a brief appearance as a village in Monty Python's Spamalot. It was not originally scheduled to have a role in the play, but was pushed onstage due to poor hearing on the part of the backstage crew.
  • Visit Finland! (But don't make eye contact!)

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