Today, on Independence Day (Itsenäisyyspäivä), Finland celebrates its 99th birthday!
Sweden started to colonize Finland in the 12th and 13th centuries, and until the beginning of the 19th century, Swedish was the official language of the country. From this era, Finland kept Swedish as its second official language, and 5% of the population still speaks Swedish natively. Under the Swedish rule, Finns suffered from the many wars Sweden and Russia waged on their territory, and a “spirit of Finnishness” started to grow. “We are not Swedes, we do not want to become Russians, let us therefore be Finns”, Adolf Ivar Arwidsson (1791–1858) said.
In 1809, Finland became a Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire, and enjoyed some autonomy, along with economic and political progress. Unrest in Russia during World War 1 gave the opportunity to Finland to gain independence, but the country was strongly divided between the Red, working class socialists (Social Democratic Party) and the White, conservative peasants and nobility (right-wing). The right-wing government declared independence on December 6th 1917.
On January 27th 1918, the first shots of the civil war were fired, and both the Red, backed up by the young Soviet Union, and the White, supported by the German Empire, engaged in military actions and political terror. The battles of Tampere and Viipuri, won by the White, sealed the deal, and Finland moved from the Russian sphere of influence to the German one. In the aftermath, soldiers from the Red army were interned in prison camps, where they slowly died from executions, malnutrition or disease. The civil war left the country torn in two, and memories from this time are still visible nowadays. In this moving article, the national broadcast company, Yle, decrypts the influence this time had on today’s Finns, based on testimonials collected earlier this year.
Independence Day is a vacation day in Finland, and it has its own rituals. The movie The Unknown Soldier, who tells the story of Finnish soldiers during the Continuation War with Russia (1941-1944), is broadcast on TV every year. Released first in 1955 in a divided country, it embodied the collaboration and the resistance of all the people against the enemy. It had now become a classic, much like the Linnanjuhlat, the reception organized at the Presidential Palace and watched on TV by 2 million Finns (out of 5.5 million). That makes it the most viewed programme of the year! People gossip about the guests and their dresses, often invinting friends to enjoy the show together… crazy, right?
Most of the facts in this article were taken from Wikipedia, but an excellent feature from Yle provided some good insights into Independence Day celebrations. This was but a short intro to Finland’s independence, but I hoped it sparked some interest nonetheless. As for now, I will simply kick-off my own celebrations by watching some pictures from my adopting country.
This week-end, we’re taking a walk in Manchester, so stayed tuned 😉