Finland - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Finland: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Finland, country in northwestern Europe on the Baltic Sea. Finland is one of Europe’s most northerly countries, with about one-third of its area lying north of the Arctic Circle. Finland is a land of vast green forests and sparkling lakes, of ultramodern buildings and old, walled castles. Its woodlands, which are its most important natural resource, are often referred to as Finland’s “green gold.” Helsinki is the capital and largest city of Finland.

Finland is generally a low-lying country. Great sheets of ice covered Finland until a few thousand years ago. The movement of the ice sheets ground down the terrain, leaving a landscape dotted with thousands of lakes. The country’s official name is the Republic of Finland, but the Finns call their country Suomi—a word that means “land of lakes and marshes.”

Finland is landlocked to the north, where it borders Norway, and to the east, where it borders Russia. To the south lies the Gulf of Finland and to the west lies the Gulf of Bothnia. Thousands of small, rocky islands fringe Finland’s southwestern coast. Few of the islands are inhabited. The most important island group is an extensive archipelago called Ahvenanmaa, (Åland Islands), located at the mouth of the Gulf of Bothnia.

In Finland’s Arctic region, there is almost continuous daylight from May through July. During these months of “midnight sun,” Finland’s scenic coastal areas draw thousands of boaters. In the interior, Finland’s large tracts of unspoiled wilderness attract hikers from around the world.

Finland is sometimes grouped with the countries of Scandinavia, with which it maintains close ties. However, for centuries, Finland was a border zone between the rival powers of Sweden and Russia. After 700 years of Swedish domination, Finland fell to Russia in 1809. It first became an independent state in 1917, after the Russian Revolution. From the end of World War II to 1991, Finland was bound to the Soviet Union by strong economic ties and by a treaty of friendship and cooperation signed in 1948. After 1991, Finland moved toward closer relations with Europe and became a full member of the European Union (EU) in 1995.

Although Finland is one of the youngest nations in Europe, it is renowned for its distinct cultural traditions. Finland is especially noted for its contributions to modern architecture and industrial design. The sauna, or Finnish steam bath, is world-famous and part of the Finnish way of life.


The area of Finland, which includes 33,551 sq km (12,954 sq mi) of inland water, totals 338,145 sq km (130,559 sq mi)—an area slightly smaller than the state of Montana. Most of Finland is flat. Low hills that rise across the central and southern interior rarely exceed 300 m (1,000 ft). Finland’s highest elevations are in the northwest. Haltiatunturi, a peak in the far northwest near the border with Norway, rises to a height of 1,328 m (4,357 ft). The northernmost regions of Finland, which lie within the Arctic Circle, make up a part of Saamiland.

Finland’s coastline is low, rocky, and deeply indented by small bays and inlets. Most of Finland’s major cities and cultivated land lie along the nation’s coastal plain. Projecting southwest into the Baltic Sea is the Ahvenanmaa archipelago (Landskapet Åland in Swedish), which consists of some 6,500 islands. Only about 80 of the islands are inhabited.

Finland’s interior is heavily forested, and its surface is a tangle of lakes, rivers, swamps, and bogs. Glacial deposits called eskers, composed of sand, gravel, and boulders, form low ridges that crisscross the land. The stony ridges have long served as transportation routes through the thousands of lakes that cover the country. The deposits also dammed many of Finland’s ancient valleys and disrupted river drainages. These disruptions created many of the waterfalls and rapids that give Finland rich waterpower resources.

Geographers estimate that Finland has more than 60,000 lakes. Most of the lakes lie in central and southern Finland in an area called the Lake District. Within the Lake District, about half the total area is covered by water. Rivers and natural channels link the lakes together in intricate chains. Among the most important lakes is Lake Saimaa, part of an extensive lake system in the southeast. This system forms a drainage that is very important for floating timber to mills and transporting goods to areas not served by rail or roads. Other major lakes include Inarijärvi and Päijänne. Among the principal rivers are the Torneälven (Tornio), Muonio, Kemijoki, and Oulu. Only the Oulu is navigable by large craft.

Plants and Animals in Finland

Thick forests cover about 67 percent of Finland. The forests are chiefly coniferous, dominated by spruce and pine trees, except in the far south where aspen, alder, maple, and elm trees are found. Finland has nearly 1,200 species of plants and ferns and some 1,000 varieties of lichens.

Wildlife includes bear, wolf, lynx, and arctic fox. All live mainly in the less populated northern regions. Reindeer, domesticated by the Saami people for use as a food source and means of transportation, are nearly extinct in the wild. Wild goose, swan, ptarmigan, snow bunting, and golden plover nest throughout northern Finland. Freshwater fish include perch, salmon, trout, and pike. The leading saltwater fish are cod, herring, and haddock. Seals are found along the coast.

Soils in Finland

Finland’s soils are of generally poor quality. Gray mountain soils predominate in inland regions. Peat bogs cover the northern third of Finland. The most fertile soils are on the southern coastal plains, which are composed of marine clay.

Climate in Finland

Because Finland lies above the 60th parallel, summer days are long and cool and winter days are short and cold. During summer, daylight lasts as long as 19 hours a day in the far south. In the Arctic areas of the far north, there is continuous daylight for 73 days, making Finland one of the lands of the “midnight sun.” In winter, the sun does not rise above the horizon for 51 days.

In the south, the climate is moderated by the proximity of the sea. The average July temperature along the southern coast is 16°C (60°F); in February the average is about -9°C (about 16°F). Precipitation (including snow and rain) averages about 460 mm (about 18 in) in the north and 710 mm (28 in) in the south. Light snow covers the ground for four or five months of the year in the south and seven or eight months in the north. Throughout the year, however, the weather is subject to sudden changes from day to day, and frosts are a hazard to farming, even in summer.

Natural Resources of Finland

Productive forestland is the most valuable natural resource of Finland. Spruce, pine, and silver birch are the principal trees used to manufacture wood and pulp and paper products.

Finland lacks coal and petroleum resources and is a net importer of energy resources. However, Finland does have significant deposits of peat, which is cut from the numerous peat bogs that cover much of the north. Peat is an important heat source for homes, and it provides about 7 percent of Finland’s electricity needs. In addition, Finland’s many watersheds endow the country with significant waterpower resources. In 2006, 15 percent of Finland’s annual electric-power production was supplied by hydroelectric plants.

Finland also has several rich deposits of metallic ores from which copper, zinc, iron, and nickel are extracted. Lead, vanadium, silver, and gold are also mined commercially. Granite and limestone are the most abundant nonmetallic minerals.

Environmental Issues in Finland

Acid rain, which damages buildings, soils, forests, and fish and other wildlife, is one of the major environmental issues facing Finland. The country’s sulfur dioxide (see sulfur) emissions fell steadily in the late 20th century after the implementation of the United Nations (UN) Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) Sulfur Protocols. However, Finland continues to receive acid-rain-causing pollutants from beyond its borders.

Air quality in Finland is better than in most other European countries. However, substantial problems do exist as a result of emissions from motor vehicles and industrial sources. The vast majority of the population—and, consequently, the sources of air pollution—is concentrated in urban areas in the southwest part of the country.

Forest covers 72 percent of the country, making Finland the most densely forested European country. The government regulates the timber industry to maintain the country’s valuable forest resources, and Finland sustains a remarkably low rate of deforestation each year.

With more than 60,000 lakes, Finland has vast areas of wetlands, which provide critical habitat for many bird and animal species. During the 20th century, Finland’s wetlands diminished considerably, in part as a result of peat mining and of draining for agriculture. Most of Finland’s lakes are shallow, making them particularly susceptible to damage from acid rain.


Ethnic Finns constitute about 93 percent of the population. People of Swedish descent make up about 6 percent. About 2,500 Saami inhabit the Arctic lands of the far north. Other minority groups, including Russians, make up less than 1 percent of Finland’s population. Immigration to Finland increased significantly beginning in the 1990s. Nevertheless, foreign-born residents constitute only about 2 percent of the total population, making Finland the most ethnically homogenous country in the European Union (EU).

The Finns are a people of unknown geographic origin. They have lived in Finland and in neighboring parts of Russia, Estonia, and Latvia for several thousand years. The Saami, a formerly nomadic people, occupy Saamiland—an area encompassing the northernmost portions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia.

The Swedes, a Scandinavian people who controlled Finland from the 13th century until the early 19th century, greatly influenced the development of Finnish culture and traditions. In the Ahvenanmaa archipelago and in some areas along the southwestern coast the people are still of mainly Swedish ancestry. Throughout the rest of the country, Finns and Swedes have intermingled and are generally indistinguishable.

The population of Finland is 5,250,275 (2009 estimate). A density of 17 persons per sq km (45 per sq mi) makes Finland one of the most sparsely inhabited countries in Europe. Some 61 percent of the population is urban. More than two-thirds of the population resides in the southern third of the country. Oulu, in west central Finland, is the only city with a population exceeding 100,000 that is not located in the south.

Language and Religion in Finland

Finnish and Swedish are both official languages in Finland. About 93 percent of the population speaks Finnish, a Finno-Ugric language (see Finnish Language). About 6 percent of the people speak Swedish (see Swedish Language). The Saami speak Saami, a dialect of Finnish.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is the principal national church. Its members make up 86 percent of the population. A small and declining minority of Finns (about 1 percent) belong to the Finnish Orthodox Church, still a national church (see Orthodox Church). Freedom of worship is guaranteed to all faiths.

Principal Cities of Finland

There are many small cities and towns in Finland but only five with populations exceeding 100,000. Helsinki, (Helsingfors in Swedish) is the largest, with a population of 564,521 (2006 estimate). Located on the southern coast, it is the national capital and the political, commercial, educational, and cultural center of Finland. It is an important industrial city and port.

The next three largest cities are Espoo (227,472), Tampere (Tammerfors in Swedish) (202,932), and Turku (Åbo in Swedish) (174,824). Turku is an education center and major port, and it served as Finland’s capital city until 1812. Tampere is a major manufacturing city and a center of Finland’s important telecommunications and information technology industries.

Education in Finland

Schooling is free and compulsory in Finland between the ages of 7 and 16. Virtually all citizens are literate. In addition to regular primary and secondary schools, Finland has an extensive adult education program consisting of folk high schools, folk academies, and workers’ institutes. The adult education schools are operated privately or by municipalities or provinces and receive state subsidies.

Elementary and Secondary Schools in Finland

Compulsory education consists of six years of primary schooling and three years of secondary schooling. In the 2006 school year 372,100 children attended 3,851 primary schools, and 432,600 students went to secondary schools. Finland maintains a system of secondary vocational education with schools of commerce, arts and crafts, domestic science, trade, agriculture, and technology.

Universities and Colleges in Finland

The Finnish institutes of higher learning include 13 universities and several colleges and teacher-training schools. The largest of the universities is the University of Helsinki. Originally established at Åbo in 1640, the university was moved to Helsinki in 1828. Among the other major institutions of higher learning are the University of Turku (1920), the Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration (1911), the University of Tampere (1966), and the University of Oulu (1958).

Culture of Finland

For centuries, Finns sang their traditional epic poems to the accompaniment of the zither-like kantele. They decorated traditional handicrafts such as wood carvings and rugs with spirals, swastikas (an ancient symbol), and other simple, geometric designs. After the conquest of the Finnish tribes by Sweden beginning in the 12th century, the indigenous culture was largely dominated by Swedish influences, although the ancient folk traditions continued. Among the educated, Swedish culture predominated. Swedish was spoken and, with rare exceptions, was the language of literature and government administration.

Because the styles of Swedish art and architecture were largely derivative, many Finnish buildings and works of art reflected Italian, Flemish, German, and other European influences. In the 19th century, however, educated Finns began to revive the folk traditions of their country. At the same time, a national literature in the Finnish language emerged, and Finnish styles appeared increasingly in art and architecture. The sauna, a steam bath produced by pouring water over heated rocks, is a Finnish invention.

Libraries and Museums in Finland

The Finns are a book-loving people, and libraries and museums are an integral part of their culture. The Helsinki City Library (1860) holds more than 2 million volumes. The Helsinki University Library, with nearly 3 million volumes, serves as a national library. Altogether Finland has more than 1,500 libraries and more than 300 museums throughout the country. The National Museum of Finland (1893), at Helsinki, contains Finnish, Finno-Ugrian, and comparative ethnographical collections, as well as an archaeological department. Other museums include the Mannerheim, the Municipal, and the Athenaeum at Helsinki and the Art Museum at Åbo.

Literature in Finland

See Finnish Literature.

Music in Finland

Finland possesses a wealth of folk music and a large body of church music, the former amassed since ancient times and the latter developed since the acceptance of Christianity by the Finns in the 12th century. During the Reformation, Gregorian chant and other existing vocal church music, previously composed to Latin texts, was adapted to the Finnish language.

The cultivation of secular music began in the 17th century. An amateur orchestra was formed in the former Finnish capital, Turku, and in the mid-17th century music was made part of the curriculum of the university at Åbo.

The development of Finnish art music began about the middle of the 19th century, mainly as a result of the works and teaching of two German-born musicians, composer Fredrik Pacius and conductor and collector of Finnish folk songs Richard Friedrich Faltin. Martin Wegelius, the first important native-born composer, also significantly influenced the development of Finnish art music as director of the Helsinki Conservatory. His contemporary, the Finnish composer Robert Kajanus, introduced Finnish music to Western European audiences as conductor of the Helsinki Municipal Orchestra.

Until the late 19th century the dominant influence on Finnish composers was that of German music. Pacius, Faltin, Wegelius, and Kajanus all cultivated Finnish folk music in their work, but it was Jean Sibelius, the student of Kajanus, who created a truly national musical style and won international recognition for Finnish music. One of the most famous compositions of Sibelius, Finlandia (1899; revised 1900), is based on the Kalevala, a national epic poem of Finland. The Russian rulers of Finland banned the composition because it aroused Finnish patriotism.

The Finnish National Opera House in Helsinki is the home of the Finnish National Opera and the Finnish National Ballet. Finland has produced many operas of distinction in recent years by composers such as Aulis Sallinen, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Erik Bergman, and Joonas Kookonen. After Finland became independent in 1917, modern Finnish composers grew increasingly interested in a variety of modern trends. See also Folk Music.

Visual Arts in Finland

In the visual arts, the Finns have made notable contributions to handicrafts and industrial design. Finland’s best-known sculptor of the 20th century was Wäinö Aaltonen, noted for his monumental sculptures and busts. Finnish architecture is famous around the world. Among 20th century architects to win international recognition are Eliel Saarinen, who designed the celebrated railroad station in Helsinki and many other public works, and Alvar Aalto, who helped bring the functionalist style to Finland.


Finland has a highly industrialized economy based on abundant forest resources, metalworking and engineering, and high technology, especially the large telecommunications sector. Finns enjoy a high standard of living, and the nation’s business climate is considered highly competitive. Trade is central to Finland’s economy. Major exports, including wood products, metals, and electronic goods, account for about one-third of Finland’s gross domestic product (GDP). Apart from timber and some minerals, Finland is highly dependent on imports of raw materials and energy.

Finland voided its longstanding friendship treaty with the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, following the collapse of that country. In 1992 Finland applied for membership in the European Community (EC, a predecessor of the European Union, or EU), becoming a full member in 1995. Finns have readily embraced closer integration with Europe, setting them somewhat apart from Denmark and Sweden, the other Nordic EU member states. In 2002 Finland replaced its national currency with the euro, the single currency of the EU. In doing so, Finland became the only Nordic country to adopt the euro.

Agriculture of Finland

Climactic conditions and the lack of good soils greatly limit the amount of land available for cultivation. Nearly all land suitable for farming is found in the fertile coastal regions of the southwest. Only 7 percent of the total land area of Finland is under cultivation. The large majority of the farms are less than 20 hectares (49 acres) in size.

Dairy farming is the principal agricultural activity. Hay and other fodder crops are grown to feed dairy cattle, beef cattle, sheep, and other livestock. The principal food crops are wheat (grown mainly in the Ahvenanmaa archipelago), rye, barley, oats, potatoes, and sugar beets. In colder northern regions, the land is used mainly for grazing sheep and cattle.

Forestry and Fishing in Finland

Forests, which cover more than 70 percent of Finland, have long provided a major source of materials for Finland’s wood and wood products industries. The most productive and accessible forests lie in the central and southeastern parts of the country. A majority of the forest lands are owned by private individuals, rather than by large corporations or the government. Throughout much of Finland, timber is cut during the winter months, and in the spring it is floated down rivers and lakes to sawmills.

Fishing, although important for domestic consumption, accounts for a small share of foreign trade. More than one-third of the total catch typically comes from inland waters.

Mining in Finland

Finland’s mineral resources are used mainly to supply the nation’s metalworking industry. Finland holds significant deposits of copper and produced 15,500 metric tons in 2004. Zinc production was 35,700 metric tons. Silver mines yielded 50 metric tons. Chromite, lead, nickel, and gold are also mined.

Manufacturing in Finland

The pulp, paper, and woodworking industries account for a significant share of the Finnish manufacturing output. Other manufactured goods include heavy machinery and transportation equipment, metals, engineering products (including computers, software, electronic components, and telecommunications equipment), printed goods, food products and beverages, textiles and clothing, chemicals, and glass and ceramics. The Finnish company Nokia is one of the world’s largest telecommunications manufacturer, producing mobile telephones, digital networking hardware, and other equipment.

Currency and Banking of Finland

The monetary unit of Finland is the single currency of the European Union (EU), the euro (0.70 euros equal U.S. $1; 2007 average). The euro was introduced on January 1, 1999, for electronic transfers and accounting purposes only, and Finland’s national currency, the markka, was used for other purposes. On January 1, 2002, euro-denominated coins and bills went into circulation, and the markka ceased to be legal tender.

As a participant in the single currency, Finland must follow economic policies established by the European Central Bank (ECB). The ECB is located in Frankfurt, Germany, and is responsible for all EU monetary policies, which include setting interest rates and regulating the money supply. On January 1, 1999, control over Finnish monetary policy was transferred from the Bank of Finland to the ECB. After the transfer, the Bank of Finland joined the national banks of the other EU countries that adopted the euro as part of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB).

Transportation in Finland

A system of canals, connecting Finland’s lakes with one another and with the Gulf of Finland, provides cheap and efficient transport for the forest industry; about 6,600 km (about 4,100 mi) of inland waterways are navigable. Railroad lines have a combined length of 5,899 km (3,665 mi), owned and operated by the state. Finland has about 78,158 km (48,565 mi) of roads, 65 percent of them paved. Finnair, Finland’s biggest carrier and national airline, provides domestic and international flights.

Communications in Finland

The government controls domestic telegraph services and operates the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yleisradio) which broadcasts most of the radio and television programs of Finland. Two privately owned television stations offer programming that is available to most Finnish households.

Finland is home to one of the world’s most advanced telecommunications sectors. Finland’s dense network of telephone lines is entirely digital. In 1998 Finland became the first nation in the world in which mobile cellular telephone subscriptions outnumbered fixed-line telephone connections. Newspapers are privately owned and reflect a broad spectrum of opinion. Daily newspapers number about 53.


Finland is a democratic republic. It has a parliamentary form of government that divides executive power between the president and the prime minister. Finland is governed under a constitution adopted on March 1, 2000. The previous constitution was adopted on July 17, 1919, shortly after Finland’s declaration of independence from Russia. All citizens who have reached 18 years of age can vote.

Executive of Finland

The president of Finland, who is elected to a six-year term by direct popular vote, is the head of state. Under the 1919 constitution, the president was responsible for national security and foreign affairs and also appointed the Council of State (cabinet) and the prime minister; the prime minister and cabinet were responsible for domestic policy making. The present constitution, adopted in March 2000, reduced the power of the president and gave more authority to the prime minister and cabinet. Today, the parliament elects the prime minister, who is then officially appointed by the president. The prime minister nominates cabinet members for appointment.

The new constitution also requires the president to work more closely with the prime minister and cabinet on foreign policy issues. The prime minister’s responsibility for Finland’s relations with the European Union (EU) is a significant example of this.

Legislature of Finland

The Finnish parliament is a unicameral body known as the Eduskunta (Riksdag in Swedish). Its 200 members are popularly elected on a proportional basis for a term of up to four years. Members of the Eduskunta may initiate legislation, override presidential vetoes, or bring about the resignation of the cabinet and prime minister. The president may dissolve the Eduskunta and call for new elections at the request of the prime minister.

Political Parties of Finland

Finland’s system of proportional representation encourages the formation of many small political parties. Nearly all governments are coalition governments. Historically, the most important political parties are the Finnish Social Democratic Party (SDP, formed in 1899), advocating state ownership of certain essential industries; the Center Party (KESK, 1906), which has traditionally derived its support from rural interests and advocates free enterprise; the Left Alliance (LA, 1990), formed by the 1990 merger of the Finnish People’s Democratic League (1944) and the Communist Party of Finland (1918); the National Coalition Party (KOK, 1918), an advocate of private enterprise; the Swedish People’s Party (SFP, 1906), representing the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland; and the Green League, an environmentalist party.

Local Government of Finland

Finland is divided into five mainland provinces and the island province of Åland (Ahvenanmaa), which enjoys home-rule and keeps its own, distinct flag. Residents of Åland province are nearly all Swedish-speaking. The mainland provinces are Eastern Finland (Itä-Suomi), Western Finland (Länsi-Suomi), Southern Finland (Etelä-Suomi), Oulu, and Lappi. Each mainland province is administered by a governor who is appointed by the president. Åland is administered by a provincial council that is directly elected by residents; the council shares governing power with the governor.

Below the provincial level are cities, townships, and communes. Each is administered by municipal or communal councils elected by proportional representation.

Judiciary in Finland

The local court system of Finland is divided into municipal courts in towns and district courts in rural areas. Appellate courts are located in Åbo, Vaasa, Kuopio, Kuovila, Rovaniemi, and Helsinki. The supreme court, which sits at Helsinki, is the final court of appeal for all civil and criminal cases.

Health and Welfare in Finland

The Finnish social-welfare system provides unemployment, sickness, disability, and old-age insurance; family and child allowances; and war-invalid compensation. The National Health Act of 1972 provided for the establishment of health centers in all municipalities, and also provided for the elimination of doctor’s fees.

Defense of Finland

Military service for up to 12 months is compulsory for all males 17 years of age or over. Since 1995, women have been allowed to serve as volunteers. Finland has an army, a navy, and an air force, but the armed forces are restricted by the Paris peace treaty of 1947 to maximum personnel of 41,900; in 2006 about 29,300 people were in the armed services. Reserves total about 400,000. In 1994 Finland joined the Partnership for Peace program as a first step toward full membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).


The earliest traces of human habitation in Finland date from about 8000 BC, when the most recent of the Ice Ages was retreating. These ancient hunters and gatherers probably arrived from the east. Pottery making characterized another type of Stone Age culture (starting 3000? BC) known as the Comb-Ceramic; its practitioners were of a different origin. The succeeding Battle-Ax culture (1800-1600 BC) may have been brought to Finland by an Indo-European people from a more southerly Baltic region. These people were able navigators and also introduced agriculture. A merger of the Battle-Ax people and the previous dwellers resulted in the so-called Kiukainen culture (1600-1200 BC).

The Bronze Age began in Finland about 1300 BC. During the first part of the pre-Christian era and the following centuries, people speaking one of the Finno-Ugric languages migrated in from the east and from Estonia in the south. This period marks the introduction of the Iron Age in Finland.

The Viking Age

During the age of the Vikings the Finns became exposed to both eastern and western influences. Vikings from Sweden colonized the Åland Islands (Ahvenanmaa in Finnish) in the 6th century AD as a base for their journeys of pillage and trade into Russia as far south as the Black Sea. Although they did not actually participate in these Viking expeditions, the Finns benefited by the growing contact and the establishment of trading colonies in their country by merchants from Sweden and the island of Gotland. At the end of the 11th century three Finnish tribes had spread as far north as the 62nd parallel: the Finns proper in the southwest, the Tavastians in the interior lake district, and the Karelians to the east. The Saami were also living in the wilderness to the north. No unified government or state existed.

The Swedish Conquest

The conversion of the Finnish tribes to Christianity was initiated by both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches of Sweden. It proceeded for more than two centuries, from 1050 to about 1300. The Saami became Christians at an even later date.

According to tradition, Nicholas Breakspear, an English cardinal who became Pope Adrian IV, encouraged the Swedish king Eric to cross the Baltic with a strong force in 1155. His goal was not only to convert the heathen but also to gain economic and political ends. King Eric defeated the Finnish tribes but was not able to make his conquest permanent. An English clergyman, Henry, who had been bishop of Uppsala in Sweden, remained in Finland. He was slain within the year and subsequently became the patron saint of the city of Åbo (Turku in Finnish) and of all the Finns.

A papal bull of 1172 (or 1171) proposed that the Swedes hold Finland in subjection by building fortresses with permanent garrisons; in time, the Swedes subdued the Finns and the Tavastians, achieved control of Finland’s foreign trade, and established the Christian religion. The church was placed on a firm foundation when an episcopal see was established at Åbo in 1209 (a monastery of the Dominicans was founded there in 1249). In 1216 the pope confirmed Swedish title to those parts of Finland that were already conquered and also to mission territories in the east and north. A solid basis for Swedish rule was laid by the Earl Birger, who dispatched a “crusade” in 1249 and built a fortress in Tavastia in central Finland as a protection against Russian incursions. When the ruler of Novgorod in Russia invaded Tavastia again in 1292, the Swedes sent a force into Karelia as far as the Neva River. A treaty of 1323 divided Karelia between Sweden and Novgorod.

In 1362 the Finnish people were given the same rights within the monarchy as the people of Sweden. When Queen Margaret I established the Kalmar Union in 1397, Finland was drawn into the dynastic politics of the Scandinavian countries. All during the 15th and 16th centuries most of Finland was administered as fiefs by Swedish noblemen, who levied heavy taxes on the people. Numerous Swedish farmers, fishers, and merchants settled in Finland at this time.

A Swedish Duchy

King Gustav I Vasa attempted to institute economic and administrative reforms. At the Diet of Västerås in 1527 the Swedes essentially broke with Rome, although they did not formally accept the doctrines of Martin Luther until several years later. During this time much land and property in Finland was taken over by the Crown. During a war (1555-1557) against Ivan of Russia, Finland was made a Swedish duchy and given as a fief to the future John III. In the 25 years between 1570 and 1595 Finland was involved in constant warfare between Sweden and Russia.

Under Charles IX the entire administration of Finland was concentrated in Stockholm, and a basis was laid for further material progress. Under Charles’s successor, Gustav II Adolph, protracted wars were fought against Denmark, Poland, and Russia. War with Russia ended with the Peace of Stolbova (1617), which pushed Finnish boundaries farther east into Ingria.

Great numbers of Finnish soldiers fought for the Swedes in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which also resulted in heavy taxation on the populace. Another war with Russia (1656-1661) exacted great suffering but ended with a territorial status quo. The “reduction” (reversion to the Crown of lands that had been given to nobles as compensation for services rendered) of Charles XI benefited Finnish farmers to some extent, but crop failures in 1695 through 1697 caused the death of one-fourth of the population. This was followed by the tragic years of the Great Northern War (1700-1721), during which the Russians occupied Finland; at the Peace of Nystadt (1721) it lost large areas in the east. During another war with Russia (1741-1743) more territory was ceded; yet one more conflict in 1788 to 1790 left the situation unchanged. The idea of Finnish independence from Sweden, however, began to take hold.

Russian Rule, 1809 to 1917

A year after his agreement with French emperor Napoleon I at Tilsit (see Tilsit, Treaty of) in 1807, Tsar Alexander I attacked and occupied Finland. In March 1809 he proclaimed it a grand duchy of the Russian Empire but granted his new subjects all their old rights and privileges. In the Peace of Hamina (Swedish Fredrikshamn) in September, Sweden formally ceded all Finland and the Åland Islands to Russia; at the same time, however, the Karelian areas ceded to Russia before 1809 were returned to Finland.

The country was henceforth ruled by a Russian governor-general, with a so-called senate, which sat in the new capital of Helsinki, acting as a cabinet. In spite of despotic rule by some governors-general, much economic and cultural progress was made during the middle decades of the century. After 1820 a nationalist awakening took place among the population, centered mainly on a resurgence of the Finnish language. In 1863 the Lantdag (parliament), which had not met since 1809, was reconstituted, and in the same year the Finnish language was granted equal status with Swedish.

Toward the end of the century a shift in Russian policy was manifest. In 1894 the use of the Russian language was introduced in some aspects of government administration, and five years later all legislation was placed in Russian hands. During the following years the citizens of Finland lost many of their constitutional rights. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 slowed the process of Russification somewhat. In 1906 a new parliamentary system was adopted, a one-chamber Eduskunta (parliament) created, and the right to vote given to all men and women over the age of 25. Another wave of Russification swept Finland in 1908, culminating in the Equal Rights Law of 1912, which gave Russians the same rights in Finland as the country’s own population.

Finland was not directly involved in World War I (1914-1918), although Russian troops were garrisoned in the country. During the turmoil of the Russian Revolution in 1917, a newly elected Finnish parliament took advantage of the situation and on November 15 assumed “all powers formerly held by the Tsar-Grand Duke.” Three weeks later, on December 6, it voted in favor of an independent republic. The nascent Soviet government had no choice but to recognize Finnish sovereignty.

Independence, Civil War, and the Interwar Period

Many problems faced the new republic, among them famine, widespread unemployment, and a stagnant economy. Moreover, the population was now sharply polarized between the radical socialists and the liberals and other groups. Meanwhile, two armies—the Red Guards and the White Guards—were forming in the country.

The mounting friction soon erupted in violence. On January 28, 1918, the Red Guards, reacting to a government order to expel all Russian troops, spread a “Red revolution” across Finland, plundering and killing civilians. The government fled to Vaasa, and resistance to the Reds was organized by General Carl G. Mannerheim. He headed the White Guards, who, assisted by German troops, captured Helsinki and, in turn, instituted a wave of terror against the Red revolutionaries. After the country had been pacified, the parliament in July 1919 adopted a new republican constitution. Kaarlo J. Ståhlberg, a liberal, was elected first president of Finland.

Various coalition cabinets made up of nonsocialist parties ruled during the 1920s and 1930s. The Communist Party was declared illegal, but Social Democrats made some progress. A nonaggression treaty was concluded with the Soviet Union in 1932, and after 1935 the Scandinavian orientation of Finnish foreign policy was apparent.

The Winter and Continuation Wars

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Finland declared its neutrality. The Soviet Union, however, anxious to secure the approaches to Leningrad, demanded that Finland cede certain territory in return for parts of Soviet-controlled Karelia. When the Finns refused, Soviet armies invaded Finland on November 30, 1939, initiating the Winter War. The Finns, under Mannerheim, fiercely resisted and won some astonishing victories. But superior Soviet power was decisive, and the Finns were forced to concede. See Russo-Finnish War. The peace terms imposed on Finland gave 10 percent of Finnish territory, including the Karelian Isthmus, to the Soviets.

When Germany attacked the USSR in June 1941, the Finns again proclaimed their neutrality, although 75,000 German troops were based in northern Finland. German use of Finnish territory led the Russians to bomb Finnish cities. Finland then declared war against the USSR, emphasizing that the Finns were not allies of Germany but merely co-belligerents. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom declared war on Finland in December 1941, and the United States broke relations. After a prolonged standstill, Marshal Mannerheim was installed as president in August 1944, with a mandate to secure peace. An armistice was signed on September 19, 1944. Finland ceded the Petsamo area in the north and was forced to lease its Porkkala Peninsula in the Gulf of Finland to the USSR. Reparations were set at $300 million.

Postwar Period

Finland signed its final peace treaty with the USSR in 1947. Reparations, in the form of goods and raw materials, were fully paid by 1952. In 1956 gave up its lease on the Porkkala Peninsula and returned it to Finland. The new relationship with the USSR led Finland to legalize the Communist Party and enter a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance (1948; voided in January 1992).

Finland experienced serious hardship in the immediate aftermath of the war. It had lost productive territories, its economy was in shambles, and it had to resettle about 450,000 refugees from the lands ceded to the USSR. However, within a short time, Finland’s government reorganized the industrial sector to meet the heavy burden of war reparations. Housing was built for the refugees, many of whom went to work in factories. Wetlands were drained to make available new farmland, and many existing farms were subdivided.

Foreign Policy

The main thrust of Finnish foreign policy until the collapse of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s was strict international neutrality and friendly relations with the USSR. At the same time, Finland maintained its independent status. This policy, the so-called Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line, was named for the postwar president Juho K. Paasikivi, who initiated it, and his successor, Urho Kekkonen, who broadened it.

Perhaps more than any other person, Urho Kekkonen put his stamp on Finnish postwar politics. As prime minister from 1950 to 1956 (with two brief intervals) and president from 1956 to 1981, he eased Soviet fears of an unfriendly Finland and displayed a finely tuned sensitivity to Soviet wishes that Finns refrain from activities deemed detrimental to Soviet interests. At the same time, Finland remained firmly oriented toward Scandinavia and the West. Still, many Western observers remained uneasy with Finland’s friendliness toward the USSR, using the derogatory term “Finlandization” to describe it.

In 1961 Finland became an associate member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and in 1967 it joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Additional trade agreements continued to strengthen Finland’s economic relations with the West.

Internal Politics

None of Finland’s political parties enjoys majority support, and coalition governments are therefore the rule. Most postwar cabinets have been headed by Social Democratic Party (SDP) or Center Party leaders. In January 1982 Mauno Koivisto, a Social Democrat, was elected to succeed Urho Kekkonen as president. The SDP scored gains in 1983 parliamentary voting, but the elections of March 1987 brought to power a coalition government made up of Conservatives and the SDP. It was the first time Conservatives found themselves in government in more than 20 years. Conservative leader Harry Holkeri became prime minister. President Koivisto easily won reelection in February 1988 to a second six-year term.

Holkeri’s coalition suffered losses at the polls in the March 1991 elections, when the Center Party edged out the SDP as the single largest party in the 200-seat Eduskunta. The SDP chose to go into opposition, and Center Party leader Esko Aho formed a majority nonsocialist coalition government.

European Relations

After the collapse of the USSR, Finland restructured its economic policies to build relationships with the former Soviet republics and a stronger orientation toward Europe. In March 1992 Finland formally applied for membership in the European Community (now called the European Union, or EU). In February 1994 Martti Ahtisaari of the SDP was elected president. In May the European Parliament endorsed Finland for EU membership and in November Finnish voters approved their country’s inclusion in the EU. Also in May, Finland joined the Partnership for Peace program as a first step toward full membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), abandoning a longtime policy of strict neutrality. In January 1995 Finland, along with Austria and Sweden, officially joined the EU.

In elections in March 1995 the SDP emerged as the strongest party in the Eduskunta, winning 63 seats. The SDP then formed a coalition with four other parties, and SDP chairman Paavo Lipponen was named premier. Finland took another step toward integration with Europe in May 1998, when it officially agreed to replace its national currency, the markka, with a new single European currency, the euro. The euro was introduced in 1999 and entirely replaced the Finnish currency in January 2002.

Recent Events

In national elections in March 1999 the ruling coalition headed by Lipponen and the SDP was returned to power, despite a poor showing by the SDP that substantially reduced the coalition’s majority in parliament. In February 2000 Social Democrat Tarja Halonen was elected Finland’s first female president. In a close election that was decided in a runoff, Halonen defeated former prime minister Esko Aho of the Center Party. Halonen replaced Martti Ahtisaari, who did not seek reelection.

In the March 2003 national elections the Center Party emerged as the largest party in the Eduskunta with 55 seats. The following month the Center Party reached an agreement with the SDP, which won 53 seats, and the small Swedish People’s Party, to form a coalition government. Center Party leader Anneli Jäätteenmäki succeeded Lipponen as prime minister and in so doing became Finland’s first female to hold the post. The new coalition government was dubbed the “red-earth” alliance to reflect the SDP’s labor background and the Center Party’s agrarian roots.

In June 2003, within months of coming to power, Jäätteenmäki resigned following allegations that she had used classified documents—purported to reveal her predecessor’s sympathy for the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq—during the election campaign. Matti Vanhanen, defense minister and the Center Party’s deputy leader, replaced Jäätteenmäki as prime minister. In early 2006 Halonen narrowly won reelection as president. Parliamentary elections in March 2007 gave the Center Party 51 seats, only 1 more than its rival, the conservative National Coalition Party. The SDP was reduced to 45 seats. Vanhanen faced difficult talks on forming a new coalition government.

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