Decoding Finland's Independence from Russia: A Historical Perspective

History's Checkmate: Finland's Independence over Russia's Grip

Over 106 years ago, on December 6, 1917, Finland officially declared independence from Russia. The Senate, Finland’s highest governing body, signed the Declaration of Independence on December 4, which was later adopted by the Finnish Parliament just two days afterward. The groundwork for independence began in March 1917 following the abdication of the Russian tsar. Finland's independence was formally recognized by Soviet Russia on January 2, 1918.

The first countries to acknowledge Finland's Independence were Sweden, France, and Germany. However, soon after gaining international recognition, Finland plunged into a civil war that lasted into the early months of 1918, ultimately stabilizing with the establishment of a government in May 1918. The country's inaugural constitution was signed in July 1919.

This article delves into the circumstances surrounding Finland's independence, the struggles faced by the Finnish people, and the consequences of this momentous event on the nation's path and identity.

💻 Table of Contents:

  1. Sami Heritage & Finnish Ancestry: Tracing the Migration from the Uralic Region
  2. The Shifting Tides: Finland's Transition from Swedish to Russian Rule
  3. The Complex Chessboard: Geopolitical Forces in Finland's Independence Saga
  4. German Influence in Law of Supreme Power: Weakening Russia's Grip on Finland
  5. Government of Russia during the Recognition
  6. Balancing Powers in World War II

Helsinki, Finland

Sami Heritage & Finnish Ancestry: Tracing the Migration from the Uralic Region

The indigenous people of Finland are called the Saami, also known as Sami. The Saami have inhabited the northern regions of Finland for thousands of years. They are the only recognized indigenous people in Finland and have a distinct language, culture, and way of life. The roots of the Sami people remain obscure; certain scholars classify them within the Paleo-Siberian peoples, while others argue for an alpine origin, suggesting migration from central Europe.

The prevailing theory suggests that the ancestors of the Finnish people migrated to the region of present-day Finland from the east, likely from what is now the Uralic region of Russia. Basically, two ideas help us understand where the ancestors of the Finns might have come from. One thought is that they evolved near the Baltic Sea or in places where Finnic peoples later appeared in recorded history.

The other idea suggests migration, meaning they spread out from the East, possibly from beyond the Ural Mountains. The majority of the Finnish population identifies as ethnic Finns. Ethnic Finns are considered Finno-Ugric people and are part of the Fenno-Scandinavian ethnic group. They have historically inhabited the region of Finland and are the largest ethnic group in the country.

The Finnish population has a history of being influenced by neighboring cultures such as Sweden and Russia. Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917 and has since developed its own unique national identity.

Europe Countries Map

The Shifting Tides: Finland's Transition from Swedish to Russian Rule

Finland was in union with Sweden for approximately 700 years, from 1150 until 1809. And that time, Finnish history is Swedish history. From the 1600s until the 1700s, Finland adhered to a Swedish law based on Magnus Erikssons Landslag, originally established by King Magnus IV around 1341 to replace provincial laws throughout the country.

In 1734, a new Swedish legal code became applicable in Finland. After the Finnish War (1808–1809) and subsequent Swedish losses to Russia, Finland became a part of the Russian Empire from 1808-1809 until its declaration of independence in 1917.

In 1907, while still under Russian rule, Finland made history in Europe by electing nineteen women to the National Assembly, becoming the first country to grant women both the right to vote and run for political office in 1906. Post-independence in December 1917, the Finnish Parliament passed legislation enabling Jews ("Mosaic Confessors") to attain Finnish citizenship. Under the previous Swedish law in the territory, Jewish settlement in Finland had been prohibited.

Finnish nationalism started gaining momentum in the late 19th century, culminating in a desire for greater autonomy. The early 20th century witnessed the decline of the Russian Empire amidst the turmoil of World War I and the Russian Revolution, setting the stage for Finland's bid for independence.

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The Complex Chessboard: Geopolitical Forces in Finland's Independence Saga

Finland declared its independence from Russia on December 6, 1917, amid the backdrop of the Russian Revolution and the collapse of the Russian Empire. The road to Finnish independence involved several key developments. Russia formally recognized Finland as an independent republic early on due to a combination of factors linked to the tumultuous events of the time, particularly the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the First World War.

Finnish Anti Tank Gun

February Revolution (1917): The February Revolution in Russia led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the establishment of a Provisional Government. This change in leadership created a power vacuum and set the stage for various nationalities within the Russian Empire to seek greater autonomy.

March Manifesto (1917): In March 1917, the Russian Provisional Government issued the "March Manifesto," which granted Finland extensive autonomy within the Russian state. This move was an attempt to satisfy Finnish demands for self-determination.

German Influence in Law of Supreme Power: Weakening Russia's Grip on Finland

The Law of Supreme Power, issued by Finland's Parliament (Eduskunta) in July 1917, played a crucial role in establishing the country's semi-independence during a time of power struggles within Russia. Led by the Social Democrats, the Parliament limited the control of the Russian Provisional Government to only foreign and military policy.

However, the events surrounding the Law of Supreme Power were not isolated from external influences. Germany, engaged in World War I and occupying parts of Russia, sought to weaken the Russian war effort by fostering divisions within the country. Some factions within Finland's political landscape, including the Social Democrats, sought support from Germany to strengthen their position. Germany, recognizing an opportunity, provided financial and logistical support to Finnish groups such as the White Guards, who opposed the Social Democrats' Red Guards. During the Finish Civil War 1918, Approximately 1,200 Finnish Jägers, anti-Russian activists trained by the German Army.

Finnish Democratic Republic

This German influence played a significant role in shaping the political dynamics in Finland, ultimately leading to the passage of the Law of Supreme Power and establishing semi-independence. It is essential to understand these events in the broader context of Germany's strategy during World War I and the complex geopolitics of the time. It is notable that Finnish volunteers, known as the Jäger Movement, trained in Germany during World War I to create a sovereign Finland, supported by Germany's aim to weaken Russia and prompt the loss of its western territories.

Bolshevik Government's Policies: The recognition of Finland's independence was influenced by the policies of the Bolshevik government, which came to power in Russia after the October Revolution in 1917. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, were pursuing a policy of self-determination for various nationalities within the former Russian Empire.

Strategic Considerations: Russia was grappling with the challenges of the First World War, and recognizing Finland's independence allowed the Bolshevik government to focus on internal matters and consolidate power. It also removed Finland from the list of territories that required military attention and resources.

Domestic Pressures: The collapse of the tsarist regime and the subsequent turmoil in Russia created a power vacuum. Recognizing Finland's independence could be seen as a pragmatic move to address domestic issues and stabilize the political situation.

International Developments: The First World War had placed considerable strain on Russia, and recognizing Finland's independence might have been influenced by a desire to ease tensions and focus on internal reforms.

Government of Russia during the Recognition:

At the time of recognizing Finland's independence, the government of Russia was under the control of the Bolsheviks, who formed the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). The Bolshevik government, led by Vladimir Lenin, had established itself as the ruling authority after the October Revolution of 1917. Key figures in the government included people like Leon Trotsky, who played a crucial role in foreign affairs.

Summer Night in Northern Finland

Balancing Powers in World War II:

Furthermore, Finland's ability to navigate between great power influences and maintain its neutrality played a crucial role in its survival during World War II. Even though the Soviet Union put pressure on Finland, the country held onto its independence, although it had to make some compromises, such as The Moscow Peace Treaty” on 13 March 1940 to end “The Winter War” between Finland and Soviet Union.

During World War II, the Soviet Union launched a second invasion of Finland in 1944, known as the Continuation War. Finland, recognizing the overwhelming strength of the Soviet forces, sought assistance from Germany, which had its own strategic interests in the region. The Germans provided military support to Finland, helping them defend against the Soviet invasion and ultimately enabling Finland to maintain its independence. However, despite the assistance, Finland carefully navigated a delicate balance between Germany and the Soviet Union to preserve its sovereignty.


One of the noteworthy legacies of Finland's independence is its commitment to democracy, human rights, and social welfare. Finland became a parliamentary democracy, and its political system emphasized equality, inclusivity, and social cohesion. Education and healthcare reforms were prioritized, leading to the development of a well-educated and healthy population.

Finland's independence also had regional implications. It inspired nationalist movements in other parts of the Russian Empire and contributed to the unraveling of the imperial structure. The establishment of an independent Finland influenced the outcomes of subsequent regional conflicts and negotiations.