How did Finland become independent?

100 years agoWhen the Finns became independent

There weren't too many words to begin the new chapter in Finland's history.

"Our desire for freedom, which has remained unnoticed for so long, must now be fulfilled. The Finnish people must be allowed to exist as an independent nation alongside the other peoples of the world."

This was the essence of the declaration that Parliament passed in Helsinki on December 6, 1917. It was a first in two ways. For the first time in European history there should be an independent Finland. The country had previously been part of Sweden for six centuries and had been under the rule of the Russian Tsar as an autonomous grand duchy from 1809. At the same time, Finland was the first of several new European states that emerged from the upheavals of the First World War. Until recently, hardly anyone wanted to believe in independence, says the historian and Finland expert Manfred Menger:

"This idea of ​​Finland's detachment from Russia had already spread around the turn of the century, albeit only among a very small group of people, the so-called activists. For a long time, however, it was considered completely unrealistic."

Finland in the 19th century was a conservative society. The elite spoke Swedish, the majority of the population spoke Finnish, which began to enjoy a gradual social appreciation from around 1840. An assembly of estates and its own government, the Senate, safeguarded the interests of the country.

"It was not entirely unusual in the tsarist empire that the peripheral areas had certain special rights, but they were particularly pronounced in Finland. In any case, this grand duchy was able to develop independently and ultimately into a country with a pronounced national identity."

World War I reshuffles the cards

With the beginning of the First World War in August 1914, the cards were also reshuffled in Finland. The activists, who had hoped for a state of their own a decade earlier, smelled the morning breeze. They relied on the German Empire, whose troops on the Eastern Front had been pushing the Russian army back ever since the end of 1914. The Prussian Jägerbataillon 27, which took part in the advance in the Baltic States in 1917, was formed from 2,000 Finnish volunteers.

"The decisive initiative came initially from a group of students in Helsinki who were looking for military training in order to be militarily active against Russia in their own country. And this initiative was very gladly taken up and promoted by the German side. The German So hope was a Finnish uprising against the Russians. "

Revolution in 1917 brought the turning point

However, it did not come to that. The turning point was not brought about until the revolutionary year of 1917. After the fall of the tsar in March, power in Russia fell to a bourgeois-dominated Provisional Government, which initially blocked the wish of all factions in the Finnish parliament for more autonomy. The idea of ​​completely severing ties with Russia gradually found support among Finnish politicians, even outside the circle of activists.

When the Provisional Government was overthrown by the Bolshevik coup in November, the declaration of independence in Helsinki could no longer go fast enough. Russia was now considered the source of infection for the revolution.

With the peace of Brest-Litovsk, which they dictated to the Soviet government in February 1918, the Germans brought the western areas of the former tsarist empire under their control. Finland also became a satellite state of the Empire. German troops took part in the suppression of a socialist uprising there in the spring of 1918 - and stayed in the country.

“The army was under German command, the economy and foreign trade were subject to German control, and politically everything was geared towards a permanent alliance with Germany Finnish King in early October 1918. "

Rescue with and from German help

His accession to the throne ended with the German surrender on the western front a month later. According to historians Marijalisa and Seppo Hentilä, Finland was saved twice in 1918: with the uprising of the "Reds" in the spring with German help, but with the victory of the Allies in late autumn from German help.