Molded Finnish Nationalism Essay, Research Paper
In a period when the emergence of nationalism across Europe was following a traditional pattern, Finland experienced a unique and far more passive movement. Shaping its growing nationhood around its historic ties to Sweden and the ancient Finish language, Finish nationalism grew slowly and essentially peacefully out of the control of its Russian ruler.
To fully understand the origin of the Finish nation and its patriotism, it is essential to comprehend its history and cultural descent. Since the Middle Ages, 1154, Finland had been a part of the Swedish state. This was a peaceful political dominance, which saw Swedish law and political administration in Finland. The language of the upper class and administration was also Swedish, although Finnish was spoken by the rest of the population. However, this did not create animosity on the part of the people because religious texts and laws were written in Finnish. The people also shared the common worship of Lutheranism. These beliefs were greatly embedded in Finnish society since King John III’s Church Ordinance of 1571 . Therefore, most of the cultural identity which Finland has sustained was of early Swedish origin. The two nations did not diverge in this area until the nineteenth century. There were a few political characteristics which permeated Finland due to its geographic links to the east that didn’t reach Sweden. However, Finland’s only consistent divergence from Swedish culture was its distinct language.
This only became important to the evolution of Finish culture when their nation fell under Russian rule in 1809. Sweden and the Swedish dominated ruling class of Finland realized they would not win the war against Russia and subsequently ceded Finland to Russia. However this passivity did not exist among the peasant class, who were fearful of falling subject to Russian culture, religion and society. However dreaded, Russian influence did not penetrate society in this way. Emperor Alexander I decided to make Finland a Grand Duchy, which retained much of its political autonomy. He thus declared himself a constitutional monarch working with the Finish Diet, of Swedish form. Also much of the Swedish legal and religious traditions were left untouched . This leniency with regards to the people, cultural identity and government of Finland would prove to be a deciding force in the birth of a national identity and spirit in this now Russian dominated nation.
It was at this point where a distinct Finish culture emerged. Strangely enough it was not depicted by changes in Finnish society but in their mother country. While Finland continued to identify with the old Swedish identity, the now much smaller Sweden began many cultural and political reforms. Through the rise of the revolutionary Bernadottes, their new constitution, the affects of Romanticism and industrialization, the Swedish identity found itself separating from that of Finland, whose social and cultural roots were still embedded in its historical Swedish origin .
The existence of the Finish nation in 1809, inside the realm of Russian rule, was thus based on the continuing Swedish nature of political administration, religious practices and civil law. This view, presented by Finish historian Matti Klinge, stresses the idea that separate Finish identity was not based on linguistic distinction. Although Finish had been a consistent component of the nation’s history, Klinge does not view it to be of significance to Finland’s sense of nationhood at this time. Although the language was spoken by over ninety percent of the population, Swedish remained the language of the upper class and the political class.
Over the ensuing half century Finish culture developed and strengthened as a separate nation. It took this time period for a sense of nationhood to develop that was strong enough to imply a sense of nationalism. During this period the importance of the Finish language, literature and poetry, education and pride would emerge. One of the first catalysts for this evolution was Alexander I’s reformation of Finland’s university. In 1811 he transformed it into the Imperial Alexander University in Finland and granted it a monopoly in all levels of education. The role of the University became essential in the formation of the Finish identity. It became the center for the growth of the arts, press and even economic thought .
In 1835 Elias Lonnrot put together the Kalevala, which has become a source of national pride and identity for the Finns. This national epic is a collection of folklore that provides the people with stories of their ancient ancestors. What this did was to distinguish Finnish history from that of Sweden and Russia, thus giving the Finns a sense of national history. This event is referred to by Theodore Stoddard, author of Area Handbook for Finland, “As an event that sparked first thoughts of a Finnish nationalist movement…” . In contrast to Stoddard, Klinge does not recognize the significance of the Kalevala in terms of the emergence of nationalism. This seems like an important omission due to its legacy in terms of the nationalist movement. For the first time the Finnish rural population had been included in the development of literature, which was primarily left to the upper, Swedish speaking class. This was also relevant because it encouraged the development of literature in Finland’s mother tongue.
The form of nationalism, which Lonnrot had launched, was far different from any traditional emergence characteristic in Europe. During the nineteenth century nationalist movements across Europe were creating revolutions and uprisings. Finland, on the other hand, saw a more passive nationalism emerge. Russia was concerned that Finland might follow a similar path to that of the Western revolutionary ideas but Finland’s reaction to movements across Europe was simply to strengthen the Finish component of the national ideology. This meant that although the nation itself was stronger as a cultural entity, it did not reach the extreme boundary of revolution.
An example of the unusual passivity of the Finish nationalists can be seen in 1848, a time when revolution swept across mainland Europe. In striking contrast to this a large group of Finnish students took part in a massive celebration near Helsinki. A Finish flag was used for the first time and a national anthem, written by the University professor and nationalist poet J.L. Runeberg, was introduced . This was all carried out in a manner loyal to the Emperor, Bureaucracy and the Fatherland. This characterized the way in which the relationship between the Finns and their Russian rulers was for the first half century. The government actually promoted the use of the Finnish language in the educated and administrative classes. This benefited both parties: the government wished to severe political ties with Sweden and the nationalists wanted to increase the power of their ‘mother tongue’.
The Russian government, wary of revolutionary ideology, prohibited the printing of Finnish political writings during the revolutionary period of 1848-50. However in the decade following, Finnish publications, both through the press and general literature, became far more common. Also as a result of rising timber prices the peasant class found themselves more able to educate themselves and thus Finnish written publications became more important. The promotion of the Finnish language was largely supported by the Fennomens, who were a pro-Finnish political group led by John Snellman. They encouraged political conservatism as well as social mobility through education and the use of Finnish in administration .
Surprisingly the Finnish nationalist spirit was given a great deal of room to develop under the rule of the Tsar. The Russian desire to transform the Swedish dominated politics of Finland out of the hands of the Swedes, gave the Finns far more social mobility. High offices, which had been held only by Swedes previously, were now opened up to the Finns. Furthermore Alexander I, while denying them the institution of conscription, did grant the Finns a national Finnish Army . Relations between Russia and Finland were everything but hostile in the middle of the nineteenth century. Nicholas I once commented to his wife after returning from Helsinki: “If the public temper everywhere were as good as in Finland, one might calmly look forward to the future.” The Russians recognized that patriotism and nationalism was growing in Finland, but due to Finnish consistent loyalty to the throne of Russia, the Tsar tolerated such patriotic sentiment. When Runeberg published his ‘Tales of Ensign Stal’, he attempted to portray the Swedish-Russian power struggle as a Finnish fight for national freedom. His poetry was designed to inspire a patriotic spirit and yet it faced very little censorship at the hands of the Tsar .
In 1858, Finnish was declared the language of local self-government in the areas in which it was the dominant language. This was just the beginning to a surge of nationalist gains for Finland. In 1863, Snellman, convinced the Tsar to sign a language edict, signifying a huge step for the Fennomen. “It is and will continue to be a cornerstone of the future of the Finnish people,” Snellman stated after the signing. In the same year Finland attained its own currency, along with a new parliamentary life, and the separation of schools from the Church.
By the latter part of the nineteenth century Finland enjoyed a new strong sense of identity along with a nationalist spirit. It was Russia’s leniency which had allowed this spirit to develop in such a manner. However near the turn of the century Russia changed their attitude towards the Finns drastically. In the last decade of the century Russian Government underwent a process intended to destroy Finland’s autonomous status. Russification came as a result of pressure from Russian adherents of pan-slavism, who resented Finland being treated differently from the rest of the Russian Empire. The first step for Nicholas II was to abolish the independent postal service of Finland in the 1890 Postal Manifesto. In 1899 the Finish minister-secretary of state was replaced by a Russian, Finland’s army was abolished, and the Estates-General lost all power except on those issues of local concern. Probably most devastating and insulting to the national spirit of the nation was the forceful imposition of the Russian language on society.
Finland subsequently unified in outrage against their oppressors. The nationalist spirit, which had been growing in a peaceful manner, now had an enemy. The Finnish response was a to collect over half a million signatures in petition. Politically the three parties in Finland united in opposition to the Russian oppression and called for independence. Finally the peace by which the Finnish nationalist movement had embodied crumbled when the Governor General Bobrikov, who had been the author of the russification conscription laws, was assassinated. Soon after, the Russian minister of Finnish affairs was also murdered . Evidently Russia was far better off before they attempted to ‘Russify’ Finland. Their hegemonic goals were greatly hurt by their attempts to re-enforce their dominance in Finland and only spurred dangerous and possibly avoidable nationalistic fever.
Through the examination of several historical works, viewpoints on the factors which molded Finnish nationalism tend to have discrepancies between them. Although the basic factors are the same, the emphasis placed on the different conditions varies. It seems as though Klinge neglected to accentuate the importance of the Kalevela and of Russification. It is clear that these were the two primary motivators of the nationalist movement. The Kalevela giving birth the nationalist spirit and Russification transforming passive spirit to aggressive nationalism. In general the birth of nationalism in Finland was surprisingly passive. Stemming from its historic ties to Swedish culture and tradition, Finland evolved its own national identity and nationalistic spirit. The key element to the molding of Finnish nationalism through the various factors was the inconsistent attitude and governing style of Russia. Shifted from leniency to severe oppression in their rule of Finland was as if Russia was fueling the fire that they had ignited.
Jutikkala, Eino. A History of Finland. Translated by Kauko Pirinen. London: Thames and Hudson, 1962.
Karner, Tracy. Finnish Move to Independence, 1809-1918 (Ethnic and Racial Studies ed. Anthony D. Smith, vol. 14). Routledge.
Klinge, Matti. A Brief History of Finland, Otava, 1982
Klinge Matti. Finland: From Napoleonic Legacy to Nordic Co-operation. In The National Question In Europe In Historical Context, ed M. Teich & R. Porter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Stoddard, Theodore L. et al. Area Handbook for Finland. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1974.