On Wednesday my friend, Anders, called me to enjoy a friendly chat and to give me an idea for a bluejayblog post. He thought about my interest in holidays as he was decorating his home with blue and white colors for Independence Day.
Anders mentioned that some of his fellow Finns, including himself, have been worried about their border with Russia, lately.There are still a few old Finns who remember the Russian invasion of their country during World War Two. Many of them became worried after finding out that Russian leader Vladimir Putin says that he “protects what belongs to him and his predecessors”. Historically, what “belonged” to his predecessors includes the Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and Finland.
I said that I’ve also been thinking about nations that border the Russian Republic, ever since the increasing tensions in Crimea began building up.
Because the Russian Air Force and military have been conducting drills near their border with Finland and ever since the conflict in the Ukraine, the old Finns, like Anders’ father, say that Helsinki should worry.
Anders says that the concerns are legitimate because of Finland’s and Russia’s historical relationship with each other. Finnish Independence Day marks a very poignant time in that relationship. Anders told me to take notes, because he was going to indulge me with some history of his country.
Finnish pride and nationalism began growing into a patriotic movement during the 1800s. The Finnish language was increasingly promoted among the Finns. There was a small renaissance of Finnish literature and culture. The Finns were about to awaken from their long hibernation.
At the same time, the Russian czars also were the grand dukes of Finland. They allowed the Grand Duchy of Finland some measure of freedom and even returned some of the Finnish territory that Russia had earlier claimed. In 1812, the capital was changed from the city of Turku to Helsinki. This coincided with a fledgling democratic structure. The Finnish Senate was led by a Russian appointed Governor-General who voiced the desires of the Russian czar.
In 1899, Czar Nicholas II clamped down on the budding nationalist movement in Finland with a harsh “Russification” reaction campaign. This suppression of Finnish patriotism triggered counter measures by some Finns. The Governor-General was assassinated in 1904. The next year saw a massive, general strike by the Finns. Some concessions were granted in 1906, including universal voting rights and the founding of a Unicameral Parliament. Due to growing unrest in Moscow, in the years just prior to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, less attention was afforded to territories like Finland.
Czar of Russia/Grand Duke of Finland, Nicholas II abdicated the throne in March of 1917. Because Nicholas was no longer present, the personal ties between Finland and Russia
meant there was no legal basis for Russia to rule Finland. An interim Russian-Finnish government was set up. Following negotiations, the parliament accepted the Interim Government with a major condition. The senators rewrote the proposal into the “Power Act”. They believed that a vote on the Interim Government would dissolve that structure. However, the act was not approved, so Parliament was dissolved, instead.
The new elections turned the parliamentary defeat around. In November of 1917, Parliament claimed supreme power on the basis of the old, pre-Russian Finnish Constitution. On November 15th, the Russian Bolsheviks in Moscow proclaimed the
general right of self-determination for the peoples of Russia. The proclamation included the right of total secession.
Early the next month, the new parliament’s appointed government reported to the assembly with a proposal for a democratic-republic form of government. The proposal’s introductory document became the Declaration of Independence.
On December 6, 1917 the Finnish Parliament voted to accept the Declaration of Independence. The nation had asserted its rights to self governance and determination. The Russian Soviet government voted on its own decree to recognize the independence of Finland on December 22nd. The vote was approved by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. Later, the Finnish Government declared December 6th as Itsenäisyyspäivä (Finland Independence Day).
The first celebrations of Itsenäisyyspäivä were serious occasions. There were remembrances of breakaway from Russia, with patriotic and nationalistic gatherings and speeches. Two candles are lit in the windows of Finnish homes.
Anders told me the legend of the two candles. In the days of Finnish resistance against the Czar’s oppression, the two candles were a secret sign of solidarity with the freedom fighters. The candles were placed in the windows as a sign for young men, en-route to Sweden and Germany to become light infantry. They intended to join the German efforts to defeat Russia in the Great War. Two candles in the windows showed that the house was a safe haven to keep the volunteers hidden from the Czarist Russian authorities.
Anders says that modern Finns celebrate Itsenäisyyspäivä in a more light-hearted way. There are popular music and rock concerts in many cities. His family enjoys a special feast on that day. They maker sure there are plenty of pastries, decorated with the traditional white and blue frosting, to enjoy.
Anders reminded me that December 6th only led to more struggles for the newly independent nation. He didn’t have time to tell me about the Finnish Civil War in the early months of 1918 and its aftermath. He also encouraged me to investigate the Finnish history of the World War Two era and how Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union enmeshed Finland in that war. Russia again forced major concessions upon the Finns.
As we concluded our conversation, and my history lesson, Anders said he hoped he had made me more curious about modern-day Finland and its place in Scandinavia and the world. He mentioned that Helsinki has been instrumental in many peace agreements during the postwar period.
I assured him that I have every intention of following up on his introduction to modern Finnish history.