Finland and Russia, 1809-1919

July 22 2015

with a note on Russian Baltic ports

Most of Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the thirteenth century to 1809, when the Finnish-speaking areas of Sweden were ceded to the Russian Empire and became the Grand Duchy of Finland. The Grand Dukes were the Russian Tsars.

Finland broke away in 1917. The passage below was published in 1915. My interjections are not summaries of omitted passages.

Finland, from its Swedish background, is Lutheran. Finnish nationalism emerged in the nineteenth century, based on Finnish cultural traditions and the Finnish language. The Fennoman movement met a Swedish cultural resistance in the Svecoman movement.

Finnish, like Estonian, Livonian, Hungarian and some northwest Siberian languages, is part of the Finno-Ugric family.

Between [Norway] and the Russian frontier a broad barrier was interposed by Finland, so long as she remained a Swedish province, but the settlement of 1814 endorsed an accomplished fact by bringing Finland within the Russian Empire as a self-governing national state under the Imperial crown, with much the same status as the constitutional kingdom of Poland. During the whole century that has elapsed, there has been a silent contest on Russia’s part to press her way over Finland’s carcase to a Norwegian port on the open Atlantic, and on the part of the Scandinavian powers, backed by Great Britain, to maintain the existing arrangement of constitutions and frontiers.

To fortify the Scandinavian peninsula against Russian encroachment, the Vienna Congress linked its two discordant nationalities [Sweden and Norway] together by a personal union [old post]. This experiment had a more successful history than the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which the same Congress welded together as a bulwark against France [and which split into Belgium and Holland]; but it collapsed finally, none the less, nine years ago, [footnote: In 1905.] while on the other side Russia has been levelling her path by a systematic attempt to crush Finnish nationality out of existence.

Two countries, whether in a union or not, lay between Russia and the Atlantic: Sweden and Norway. But the Norwegian ports to which Russia wanted access were, according to this passage, in the far north, where Norway bordered directly on Russian Finland.

Wikipedia (edited here) summarises the period of the Grand Duchy thus:

1809-62: fifty years of consolidation, during which the Finnish authorities succeeded in convincing the Russian court not only of their own loyalty, but of that of all Finns.

1863-98: thirty-five years of increased independence, including the re-establishment of the Diet of Finland and the elevation of Finnish from a language for the common people to a national language (1863) equal to Swedish (1883). The catastrophic Finnish famine of 1866-68 was followed by eased economic regulations and extensive emigration: yet another nineteenth-century diaspora.

1899-1917: twenty years of attempted russification, ultimately unsuccessful and detrimental for Finland’s relationship with the Russian Empire (and the Soviet Union that was formed shortly afterwards).

In their politics and social life the Finns are one of the most highly-civilised nations of Europe. The smallness of their population [footnote: The census taken in 1901 showed a total of 2,713,000, including 2,353,000 Finns, 350,000 Swedes, 10,000 others.] and the unindustrialised character of their economics have simplified the problems set them to solve, but within their modest dimensions they have solved them to perfection. The tradition of their culture, and their Lutheran religion, both come from Sweden, and the townspeople on the coast are still largely Swedish in race and language; but since the political connection with Sweden has been broken, the native Finnish speech, which belongs to a non-Indo-European family, though enriched with many primitive Teutonic loan words, has raised its head and proved itself to possess enough vitality to become the vehicle of national development.

With Russia Finland has no inward bonds of union whatsoever, neither of religion nor of language nor of tradition nor even of geography, for she lies away in a corner, and her sea-board, besides fronting merely upon the Baltic, is much less accessible from the Russian hinterland than are the outlets upon the Baltic, White Sea and Black Sea which Russia possesses elsewhere.

Finland has simply been the victim of Russia’s ambition for an open port on the Norwegian coast, because the eventual railway to that port must run through her territory. It is a precise repetition of the relations between the Magyars and Croatia. A small nationality has been inalienably endowed by Geography with the fatal function of standing between a powerful nation and a sea-board to which she ardently desires access: the stronger power has been so stupid and barbarous as to imagine no better means of satisfying her wants than the destruction of the little nation that stands in the way of their realisation; and the latter, fighting desperately for life, is looking round for some strong helper who will bring the oppressor to his knees, set her free from all connection with him, and shatter for ever his projects, for which she has suffered so terribly.

There would be poetical justice in such a consummation, for it would be the natural outcome of the bullying power’s behaviour; but it would not solve the problem at issue, but only bring forth evil from evil, reversing instead of eliminating the injustice and sowing the seeds of future war.

We have seen that if we win this war, and the Dual Monarchy collapses, Croatia will probably achieve complete political freedom from Magyar tyranny [she did, within a southern Slavic federation], but that she must not, in such an event, be allowed to use her advantage merely to take the offensive in the racial feud: she must give Hungary facilities for realising all her legitimate political desires by entering into economic co-operation with her. But the same issue of the war, for which we hope, will not effect the forcible liberation of Finland, and this imposes all the more urgently upon us the duty of securing that, when the settlement comes, Finland shall obtain as much and more from the justice, good sense and liberalism of our victorious ally Russia, as she would have obtained from her compulsory resignation in the event of defeat.

[…]

What was the Atlantic port to which Russia wanted access?

[We must include] in the European settlement some such terms as follows:

(i.) The perpetual integrity and independence of both Norway and Sweden shall be guaranteed by Europe.

(ii.) In return for this, Norway shall allow Russia to lead a railway of Russian gauge across Finland and up the left bank of the Tornea River to some perennially open port on her North-West coast, either Tromsö or Hammerfest or both, according to the lie of the land, without interposing a customs-barrier at any point along this route between the Russian frontier and the open sea.

In 1915, the need to use a port usually led to a desire to control the intervening land.

Russia has always been obsessed with gaining ports, in the Atlantic, Baltic, Sea of Azov, Black Sea, Aegean, Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Sea of Japan, Sea of Okhotsk. I assume that the railway was never built. The discussions were presumably forgotten in the cataclysm of 1917.

But would Tromsø or Hammerfest have been any use to it?

The answer is that they were genuine warm-water ports, ice-free throughout the year, thanks to the Gulf Stream and despite Hammerfest being the most northerly full-scale town in the world. And they offered an Atlantic outlet, which made them seem important while Germany was threatening the Baltic. Ports much further south – some on the Baltic, for example, or Okhotsk, on the Sea of Othotsk – are not always ice-free. (Vladivostock, on the Sea of Japan, is.)

[…]

We must trust the future of Finland to Russia’s good faith and good sense. In opening to her a free railway across Finland to a free port on the Norwegian coast, we eliminate her chief motive for trampling the Finnish nation to death, and this is all that we can do. We have already convinced ourselves that the ultimate solution of the national questions of Europe, and therewith the establishment of European peace, depends not upon mechanical adjustments, but upon a change of heart in the nations themselves. If we cannot obtain a reversal of Russia’s attitude towards Finland by negotiating her Atlantic railway, we cannot artificially produce the desired result by forcing her to submit to a guarantee [with Europe as the guarantor].

[…]

So he wants European guarantees for Norway and Sweden, but feels that a European guarantee will not suffice to force it to change its policy towards Finland.

He imagines a critic saying that

“Russia, if she is compelled once and for all to resign to Germany the naval command of the Baltic, will not submit to the lack of any naval sally-port whatsoever upon the Western seas, but will attempt to repeat on her railway to the Norwegian coast the policy she devised at the beginning of the century in Manchuria. She will seek to turn her free port into a fortified naval base, and the danger of Tromsö or Hammerfest developing into an Atlantic Port Arthur may finally wreck the good understanding between Russia and Great Britain, and involve the latter power in a war for the stronghold’s destruction as costly as the sieges of Sebastopol and of Port Arthur itself. Such may be the consequences of indecision now. In the question of the Baltic the future peace of all the European powers is at stake.”

His answers are part of an argument about how to allow Russia what she needs in the Baltic without unduly humiliating Germany: a more important question, in his opinion, than that of her access to the Atlantic.

Russia had become a Baltic power when Peter the Great defeated Charles XII of Sweden in the Great Northern War. By 1920 it had only St Petersburg.

In 1917, Finland declared independence: she did not have to wait for the peace settlement. A civil war between Finnish Red Guards (bolsheviks) and White Guards followed, with the Whites, supported by Germany (and some young Swedish, Estonian and Polish volunteers), gaining the upper hand during the spring of 1918.

On April 13 1918 German troops captured Helsinki (Helsingfors in Swedish). The plan was to erect a German monarchy (YouTube has its proposed anthem), with Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse as king. But Germany collapsed and on July 17 1919 Finland became a republic.

___

Russian Baltic ports

St Petersburg was Russian from its foundation in 1703

Reval (Tallinn) and Riga were Russian from 1710 (captured from Sweden), part of independent Estonia and Latvia (the territories north of Lithuania used to be called Livonia) from 1918, with Russia again from 1940, in independent states again from 1991

Lithuania’s largest port, Memel (Klaipėda), did not have a long Russian history; it was in the northernmost corner of East Prussia; it passed into Allied hands in 1919 and then, in 1923, to newly-independent Lithuania; was reclaimed by Germany in 1939 and was part of Soviet Lithuania from 1945 to 1991

Vyborg, in Karelia, a minor port, was Russian from 1710 (captured from Sweden), part of independent Finland from 1918 to 1940, was fought over during Finland’s war with Russia, and has been Russian since 1944

Kaliningrad, like Memel, was an East Prussian city (Königsberg), port area Baltiysk (Pillau); it was captured by the Red Army in 1945 and has been a Russian enclave, between Poland and Lithuania, ever since.

___

Helsingfors 1918

About 37,000 people died in the short Finnish Civil War, most of them Reds; this may be a White victory march

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

3 Responses to “Finland and Russia, 1809-1919”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    What a typical Great War image that is: a line of soldiers marching through a town with bayonets. Often in rain.


  2. […] Finland and Russia, 1809-1919 […]

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Finland had one ice-free harbour in the Arctic between the wars: Petsamo. It reverted to Russia in the Winter War of 1939-40.


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