History of Finland

Before traveling to Finland and Helsinki, it is useful to know about the country`s past. Finland was first settled after the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago. The settlers came from the east, from what is now Russia, and from the south via the present Baltic States. There has been a Swedish-speaking population in Finland for more than 800 years. Settlers mainly from central Sweden moved to Finland in the 13th and 14th centuries and brought with them the Swedish dialects of the period.
By 1120 Christian missionaries were operating there. The Swedish king Eric led a crusade in 1157. An Englishman, Bishop Henry of Uppsala, assisted him. The Swedes subjugated the Finns by permanently manning fortresses in Finland, but the Swedes had rivals in Finland. The Danes invaded Finland twice, in 1191 and in 1202. Furthermore the Novgorodians hoped to control Finland and convert the people to the Eastern Orthodox Church. They fought the Swedes at the River Neva in 1240 and won a decisive victory. However the Swedes returned in 1249. Earl Birger led this second crusade. He succeeded in conquering Hame and built a castle at Hameelinna. Finally in 1291 a native Finn was made Bishop of Turku.
However the Swedes were keen to conquer Karelia in 1293. The two sides made peace in 1323. Karelia remained in Novgorodian hands.
Meanwhile Swedish colonists migrated to Finland in large numbers and after 1323 Finland became a province of Sweden Swedish law came to apply in Finland. In 1362 the Swedes allowed the Finns to participate in the election of a Swedish king. Then, in 1397, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Finland merged in the Kalmar Union, which broke up in 1523.
Finland was part of Sweden for over 600 years – from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the 19th century. During this time, Sweden and Russia fought over Finland on several occasions.
Helsinki was founded in 1550. The reformation in Finland was led by Mikael Agricola who became Bishop of Turku in 1554. When he died in 1557 Finland was firmly Lutheran. Then in 1581 Finland was made a Grand Duchy.
In 1596-97 Finnish peasants rose in rebellion in the Club War. The nobles ruthlessly suppressed the rebellion. Afterwards the peasants condition did not improve but Finland became an integral part of Sweden.
Then came the Great Northern War of 1709-21 between the Russians and the Swedish-Finnish army. In 1721 peace was made but Charles XII had to surrender the south-eastern part of Finland to Russia.
War broke out again between Sweden-Finland and Russia in 1741. This war ended in 1743 and left the status quo without changes except that Russia took a small part of Finland.
Finland was finally detached from Sweden in 1809. The Russians invaded Finland on 21 February 1808. During Russian rule, Finland enjoyed the position of an autonomous Grand Duchy, whose administration was left in the hands of Finland’s own government, the Senate, but whose Grand Duke was the Emperor of Russia. During the Russian reign, Finland had its own currency and, for a long time, the Russian army included a separate Finnish unit.
The Finns used their autonomous position cleverly to their advantage, promoting their own interests. The Finnish language, Finnish culture and the Finnish economy strengthened considerably during this period. In the early 20th century, however, the relationship between the Finns and the Russian rulers soured, as Russia launched a policy of Russification which the Finns did not accept.
On 6 December 1917, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Finnish Parliament passed a declaration of independence, which separated Finland from Russia.
In early 1918, Finland experienced a brief but bitter civil war between “the reds”, a force mostly made up of landless rural and industrial workers, and “the whites”, representing the interests of the bourgeoisie and wealthy peasantry. The war ended in May 1918, once the whites had overcome the reds.
The newly independent Finland became a republic, which instead of a king and an emperor has a president, elected on a six-yearly basis by the Finnish nation, and whose laws are made by a parliament elected by the nation.
The Soviet Union launched an attack on Finland on 30 November 1939, marking the beginning of the Winter War. During the Second World War, Finland fought the Soviet Union twice: in the Winter War in 1939-1940 and again in the Continuation War in 1941-1944. As a result of the wars, Finland had to concede Karelia and a few other territories to the Soviet Union.
The wars left Finland in a state of uncertainty. At first, there were fears that the Soviet Union would try to turn Finland into a communist country as it had done with the other European neighbours of the Soviet Union after the war. Nevertheless, Finland managed to build up a good relationship with the Soviet Union, to retain its democratic social structure and to increase trading with the Western world. Regardless of all this, the country had to balance its foreign policy between the Soviet Union and the West for a long time.
After the wars, Finland’s economy developed extremely favourably. Finland was exporting paper and other forestry products, in particular, and earning money to increase the nation’s welfare. Public services were developed through the creation of public education, healthcare and social security systems, which turned Finland into a modern welfare state.
After the Cold War ended in Europe at the end of the 1980s, Finland was able to revise its foreign policy. In 1995, Finland became a member of the European Union. In 2002, Finland was amongst the first EU member states to adopt the common European currency the euro.

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