History of Finland


More than a century of Russian rule in Finland ended in 1917. The Finns, however, experienced no easy transition to independence, but rather endured a bloody civil war between their own leftist Reds and rightist Whites. Finally, a leftist takeover was averted; Finland's independence was secured; and a parliamentary democracy emerged.

The Finnish Civil War

The Revolution that was underway in Russia by March 8, 1917, spread to Helsinki on March 16, when the Russian fleet in Helsinki mutinied. The Provisional Government promulgated the so- called March Manifesto, which cancelled all previous unconstitutional legislation of the tsarist government regarding Finland. The Finns overwhelmingly favored independence, but the Provisional Government granted them neither independence nor any real political power, except in the realm of administration. As during the Revolution of 1905, most actual power in Finland was wielded by the local strike committees, of which there were usually two: one, middle-class; the other, working-class. Also as before, each of the two factions in Finnish society had its own private army: the middle-class, the Civil Guard; and the workers, the Red Guard. The disintegration of the normal organs of administration and order, especially the police, and their replacement by local strike committees and militias unsettled society and led to a growing sense of unease.

Contention among political factions grew. The SDP first sought to use its parliamentary majority to increase its power at the expense of the Provisional Government. In July 1917, it passed the so-called Power Act, which made the legislature supreme in Finland, and which reserved only matters of foreign affairs and defense for the Provisional Government. The latter thereupon dissolved the Finnish parliament and called for new elections. The campaign for these new elections was bitterly fought between the socialists and the nonsocialists. Violence between elements of the middle class and the working class escalated at this time, and murders were committed by both sides. The nonsocialists won in the election, reducing the socialist contingent in the parliament to 92 of 200 seats, below the threshold of an absolute majority.

Meanwhile, the socialists were becoming disillusioned with parliamentary politics. Their general failure to accomplish anything, using parliamentary action, from 1907 to 1917 contrasted strongly with their successes in the 1905 to 1906 period, using direct action. By autumn 1917, the trend in the SDP was for the rejection of parliamentary means in favor of revolutionary action. The high unemployment and the serious food shortages suffered, in particular, by the Finnish urban workers accelerated the growth of revolutionary fervor. The SDP proposed a comprehensive program of social reform, known as the We Demand (Me vaadimme) in late October 1917, but it was rejected by parliament, now controlled by the middle class. Acts of political violence then became more frequent. Finnish society was gradually dividing into two camps, both armed, and both intent on total victory.

The Bolshevik takeover in Russia in November 1917 heightened emotions in Finland. For the middle classes, the Bolsheviks aroused the specter of living under revolutionary socialism. Workers, however, were inspired by the apparent efficacy of revolutionary action. The success of the Bolsheviks emboldened the Finnish workers to begin a general strike on November 14, 1917, and within forty-eight hours they controlled most of the country. The most radical workers wanted to convert the general strike into a full seizure of power, but they were dissuaded by the SDP leaders, who were still committed to democratic procedures and who helped to bring an end to the strike by November 20. Already there were armed clashes between the Red Guards and the White Guards; during and after the general strike, a number of people were killed.

Following the general strike, the middle and the upper classes were in no mood for compromise, particularly because arms shipments and the return of some jaegers from Germany were transforming the White Guard into a credible fighting force. In November a middle-class government was established under the tough and uncompromising Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, and on December 6, 1917, it declared Finland independent. Since then, December 6 has been celebrated in Finland as Independence Day. True to his April Theses that called for the self-determination of nations, Lenin's Bolshevik government recognized Finland's independence on December 31.

Throughout December 1917 and January 1918, the Svinhufvud government demonstrated that it would make no concessions to the socialists and that it would rule without them. The point of no return probably was passed on January 9, 1918, when the government authorized the White Guard to act as a state security force and to establish law and order in Finland. That decision in turn encouraged the workers to make a preemptive strike, and in the succeeding days, revolutionary elements took over the socialist movement and called for a general uprising to begin on the night of January 27-28, 1918. Meanwhile, the government had appointed a Swedish-speaking Finn and former tsarist general, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867-1951), as the commander of its military forces, soon to be called the Whites. Independently of the Reds, Mannerheim also called for military action to begin on the night of January 27-28. Whether or not the civil war was avoidable has been debated ever since, but both sides must share in the responsibility for its outbreak because of their unwillingness to compromise.

Within a few days of the outbreak of the civil war, the front lines had stabilized. The Whites, whose troops were mostly farmers, controlled the northern and more rural part of the country. The Reds, who drew most of their support from the urban working class, controlled the southern part of the country, as well as the major cities and industrial centers and about one- half of the population. The Red forces numbered 100,000 to 140,000 during the course of the war, whereas the Whites mustered at most about 70,000.

The soldiers of both armies displayed great heroism on the battlefield; nevertheless, the Whites had a number of telling advantages--probably the most important of which was professional leadership--that made them the superior force. Mannerheim, the Whites' military leader, was a professional soldier who was experienced in conducting large-scale operations, and his strategic judgment guided the White cause almost flawlessly. He was aided by the influx of jaegers from Germany, most of whom were allowed to return to Finland in February 1918. The White side also had a number of professional Swedish military officers, who brought military professionalism even to the small-unit level. In addition, beginning in February, the Whites had better equipment, most of which was supplied by Germany. Finally, the Whites had the benefit of more effective foreign intervention on their side. The approximately 40,000 Russian troops remaining in Finland in January 1918 helped the Finnish Reds to a small extent, especially in such technical areas as artillery, but these troops were withdrawn after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918, and thus were gone before fighting reached the crucial stage. On the White side, however, the Germans sent not only the jaegers and military equipment but also a reinforced division of first-rate troops, the Baltic Division, which proved superior to the Reds.

The Red Guards suffered from several major disadvantages: poor leadership, training, and equipment; food shortages; the practice of electing officers democratically, which made discipline lax; and the general unwillingness of the Red troops to go on offensive operations or even to operate outside their local areas. Ultimately, the Reds suffered most from a lack of dynamic leadership. There was no Finnish Lenin to direct the revolution, and there was no Finnish Trotsky to vitalize the Red armed forces. These Red disadvantages became apparent in late March and early April 1918, when the Whites won a decisive victory by reducing the Red stronghold of Tampere, the major inland industrial center. At about the same time, German forces landed along the southern coast, quickly driving all before them, securing Helsinki on April 13 and, in the process, destroying about half of the remaining effective strength of the Red Guards. The last Red strongholds in southeastern Finland were cleared out in late April and early May 1918, and thousands of Finnish Reds, including the Red leadership, escaped into the Soviet Union. On May 16, 1918, General Mannerheim entered Helsinki, formally marking the end of the conflict. Each year thereafter, until World War II, May 16 was celebrated by the Whites as a kind of second independence day.

The tragedy of the civil war was compounded by a reign of terror that was unleashed by each side. In Red-dominated areas, 1,649 people, mostly businessmen, independent farmers, and other members of the middle class were murdered for political reasons. This Red Terror appears not to have been a systematic effort to liquidate class enemies, but rather to have been generally random. The Red Terror was disavowed by the Red leadership and illustrated the extent to which the Red Guard evaded the control of the leadership. More than anything else, the Red Terror helped to alienate the populace from the Red cause; it also harmed the morale of the Reds.

The Red Terror confirmed the belief of the Whites that the Reds were criminals and traitors and were therefore not entitled to the protection of the rules of war. As a consequence, the Whites embarked on their own reign of terror, the White Terror, which proved much more ferocious than the Red Terror. First, there were reprisals against defeated Reds, in the form of mass executions of Red prisoners. These killings were carried on by local White commanders over the opposition of White leadership. At least 8,380 Reds were killed, more than half after the Whites' final victory. Another component of the White Terror was the suffering of the Reds imprisoned after the war. The Whites considered these Reds to be criminals and feared that they might start another insurrection. By May 1918, they had captured about 80,000 Red troops, whom they could neither house nor feed. Placed in a number of detention camps, the prisoners suffered from malnutrition and general neglect, and within a few months an estimated 12,000 of them had died. The third aspect of the White Terror was legal repression. As a result of mass trials, approximately 67,000 Reds were convicted of participating in the war, and of these 265 were executed; the remainder lost their rights of citizenship, although many sentences were later suspended or commuted.

The civil war was a catastrophe for Finland. In only a few months, about 30,000 Finns perished, less than a quarter of them on the battlefield, the rest in summary executions and in detention camps. These deaths amounted to about 1 percent of the total population of Finland. By comparison, the bloodiest war in the history of the United States, the Civil War, cost the lives of about 2 percent of the population, but that loss was spread out over four years.

The memory of the injuries perpetrated during the war divided the society into two camps; victors and vanquished. The working class had suffered the deaths of about 25,000 from battle, execution, or prison, and thousands of others had been imprisoned or had lost their political rights. Almost every working-class family had a direct experience of suffering or death at the hands of the Whites, and perhaps as much as 40 percent of the population was thereby alienated from the system. As a result, for several generations thereafter, a large number of Finns expressed their displeasure with the system by voting communist; and until the 1960s, the communists often won a fifth or more of the vote in Finland's national elections, a higher percentage than they did in most Western democracies.

The divisions in society that resulted from the conflict were so intense that the two sides could not even agree on what it ought to be called. The right gave it the name "War of Independence," thereby stressing the struggle against Russian rule, for they had feared that a Red victory could well lead to the country's becoming a Soviet satellite. Leftists emphasized the domestic dimensions of the conflict, referring to it by the term "Civil War." Their feelings about the course of the hostilities were so intense that, until the late 1930s, Social Democrats refused to march in the Independence Day parade. Today, with the passing of decades, historians have generally come to define the clash as a civil war.

The Establishment of Finnish Democracy

The end of the civil war in May 1918 found the government of Prime Minister Svinhufvud seated again in Helsinki. Many Finns, however, now questioned establishing the republic mentioned in the declaration of independence of December 6, 1917. Monarchist sentiment was widespread among middle-class Finns after the civil war for two reasons: monarchist Germany had helped the Whites to defeat the Reds, and a monarchy seemed capable of providing strong government and, thus, of better protecting the country. Owing to the absence from parliament of most of the socialists, rightists held the majority, through which they sought to establish a monarchal form of government. On May 18, 1918, that is, two days after General Mannerheim's triumphal entry into Helsinki, Svinhufvud was elected the "possessor of supreme authority," and the search for a suitable monarch began. The new prime minister was a prominent White politician, Juho Kusti Paasikivi. Its strongly pro-German mood led the government to offer the crown to a German nobleman, Friedrich Karl, Prince of Hesse, in October 1918. The sudden defeat of Germany in November 1918, however, discredited Svinhufvud's overtly pro-German and monarchal policy and led to his replacement by Mannerheim.

Meanwhile, the SDP was reorganized under Vainö Tanner, a Social Democrat who had not joined in the Red uprising, and this newly formed SDP repudiated the extremism and violence that had led to civil war. In the general parliamentary election of March 1919, the SDP again became the largest single party, winning 80 of 200 parliamentary seats. In conjunction with Finnish liberals, the SDP ensured that Finland would be a republic. On July 17, 1919, the parliament adopted a constitution that established a republican form of government, safeguarded the basic rights of citizens, and created a strong presidency with extensive powers and a six-year term of office. This Constitution was still in effect in 1988. Also in July 1919, the first president of Finland was elected. He was a moderate liberal named Kaarlo Juho StAhlberg, who had been the primary author of the Constitution. White Finland's main leaders, Svinhufvud, Mannerheim, and Paasikivi, retired from public life in 1918 and 1919, but each of the three would later be recalled to serve as president at a crucial moment in Finland's development--in 1931, 1944, and 1946, respectively. It is a tribute to the strength of the democratic tradition in Finland that the country was able to undergo a bloody and bitter civil war and almost immediately afterward recommence the practices of parliamentary democracy.

The achievement of independence and the experience of the civil war helped to bring about a major realignment of the political parties. The Old Finn Party and the Young Finn Party were disbanded, and Finnish speakers were divided into two new parties: conservatives and monarchists formed the National Coalition Party (Kansallinen Kokoomuspuolue--KOK); and liberals and republicans formed the National Progressive Party (Kansallinen Edistyspuolue--ED), the ranks of which included President StAhlberg. The Agrarian Party (Maalaisliitto--ML) took on the interests of farmers, and the Swedish People's Party (Svenska Folkpartiet--SFP), which had been founded in 1906, continued to represent the interests of Swedish speakers. The process of rehabilitating the SDP proceeded so far that in 1926 it was entrusted briefly with forming a government, with Vainö Tanner as prime minister. Of the twenty governments formed from 1919 to 1939, one was headed by the SDP; five by the KOK; six by the ML; and eight by the ED. On the average, there was thus one government a year, but this apparent parliamentary instability was balanced somewhat by the continuity provided by the office of president--in twenty years there were only four presidents.

Another major political party was the Communist Party of Finland (Suomen Kommunistinen Puolue--SKP), which was founded in August 1918 in Moscow by Finnish Reds who had fled to the Soviet Union at the close of the civil war. During the interwar period, the party was headed by Otto Kuusinen, a former minister in the Finnish Red government. Like much of the SKP leadership, he remained in exile in the Soviet Union, from where he directed the party's clandestine activities in Finland. The SKP attracted mainly left-wing militants and embittered survivors of the civil war. In the 1922 election, the SKP, acting under the front organization of the Finnish Socialist Workers' Party (Suomen Sosialistinen Työvaenpuolue--SSTP), received 14.8 percent of the total vote and twenty-seven seats in parliament. The following year the SSTP was declared treasonous and was outlawed. As a result, the communists formed another front organization, and in 1929 they won 13.5 percent of the vote before being outlawed in 1930. Deprived of political access, the communists tried to use strikes to disrupt the country's economic life. They had so far infiltrated the SAJ by 1930 that politically moderate trade unionists formed an entirely new organization, the Confederation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiyhdistysten Keskusliitto-- SAK), which established itself solidly in the coming years.

The competition between Finnish speakers and Swedish speakers was defused by the Language Act of 1922, which declared both Finnish and Swedish to be official national languages. This law enabled the Swedish speaking minority to survive in Finland, although in the course of the twentieth century the Swedish- speakers have been gradually Finnicized, declining from 11 percent of the population in the 1920s to about 6 percent in the 1980s. The unanimity with which both language groups fought together in World War II attested to the success of the national integration.

The enduring domestic political turmoil generated by the civil war led to the rise not only of a large communist party, but also to that of a large radical right-wing movement. The right wing consisted mainly of Finnish nationalists who were unhappy with the 1920 Treaty of Dorpat (Tartu) that had formally ended the conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland and recognized Soviet sovereignty over Eastern Karelia. The more extreme Finnish nationalists hoped for the establishment of a Greater Finland (Suur-Suomi) that would unite the Finnic peoples of Northern Europe within boundaries, running from the Gulf of Bothnia to the White Sea and from Estonia to the Arctic Ocean, that included Eastern Karelia. Eastern Karelia was the area, located roughly between Finland and the White Sea, that was inhabited by Finnic-speaking people who, centuries before, had been brought under Russian rule and had been converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Since the nineteenth century, romantic Finnish nationalists had sought to reunite the Karelians with Finland.

The most prominent organization advancing the Greater Finland idea was the Academic Karelia Society (Akateeminen Karjala-Seura- -AKS), which was founded in 1922 by Finnish students who had fought in Eastern Karelia against Soviet rule during the winter of 1921 to 1922. In the 1920s, the AKS became the dominant group among Finnish university students. Its members often retained their membership after their student days, and the AKS was strongly represented among civil servants, teachers, lawyers, physicians, and clergymen. Most Lutheran clergymen had been strongly pro-White during the civil war, and many of them were also active in the AKS and in the even more radical anti- communist Lapua movement. Thus the AKS created a worldview among an entire generation of educated Finns that was relentlessly anti-Soviet and expansionistic. (The Eastern Karelians were eventually assimilated into Russian culture through a deliberate Soviet policy of denationalization, aimed at removing any possibility of their being attracted to Finland.)

The military muscle for the right wing was provided by the Civil Guard. In the 1920s, the Civil Guard had a strength of about 100,000, and it received arms by parliamentary appropriation; however, Social Democrats, branded as leftists, were not welcome as members. Finally during World War II, the Civil Guard was integrated into the regular army, and peace was made with the Social Democrats. The Civil Guard included a women's auxiliary called Lotta Svard after a female hero of the war of 1808 to 1809. This organization performed important support work, behind the lines during the civil war and later during World War II, thereby releasing many men for service on the front.

The apogee of right-wing nationalism was reached in the Lapua movement, from 1929 to 1932. The emergence of the SKP in the 1920s had contributed to a rightward trend in politics that became evident as early as 1925 when Lauri Kristian Relander, a right-wing Agrarian, was elected president. In November 1929, a rightist mob broke up a communist rally at Lapua, a conservative town in northern Finland. That event inspired a movement dedicated to extirpating communism from Finland by any means, legal or illegal, an imperative that was termed the "Law of Lapua."

Under pressure from the Lapua movement, parliament outlawed communism through a series of laws passed in 1930. Not content, however, the Lapuans embarked on a campaign of terror against communists and others that included beatings, kidnappings, and murders. The Lapuans overreached themselves in 1930, however, when they kidnapped former president StAhlberg, whom they disliked for his alleged softness toward communism. Public revulsion against that act ensured the eventual decline of the Lapua movement.

The final major political success of the Lapuans came in the election to the presidency in 1931 of the former White leader, Svinhufvud, who was sympathetic to them. In February 1932, the Lapuans began calling for a "Finnish Hitler," and in March 1932, they used armed force to take over the town of Mantsala, not far from Helsinki, in what appeared to be the first step toward a rightist coup. Members of the Civil Guard were prominent in this coup attempt. The Lapuans had, however, underestimated President Svinhufvud, who used the Finnish army to isolate the rebellion and to suppress it without bloodshed. The leaders of the Mantsala revolt were tried and were convicted, and, although they were given only nominal sentences, the Lapua movement was outlawed.

The last flowering of right-wing nationalism began the month after the Mantsala revolt, when a number of ex-Lapuans formed the Patriotic People's Movement (Isanmaallinen Kansanliike--IKL). Ideologically, the IKL, calling for a new system to replace parliamentary democracy, picked up where the Lapua movement had left off. Much more than had the Lapua movement, the IKL styled itself a fascist organization, and it borrowed the ideas and trappings of Italian fascism and of German Nazism. Unlike the Lapua movement, the IKL achieved scant respectability among middle-class Finns. A future president of Finland, Urho Kekkonen, who in 1938 was minister of interior, banned the IKL. Like the communists, however, the IKL demanded the protection of the Constitution that it sought to destroy, and the IKL persuaded the Finnish courts to lift the ban.

By the late 1930s, Finland appeared to have surmounted the threat from the extreme right and to have upheld parliamentary democracy. The White hero of the civil war, General Mannerheim, speaking in 1933 at the May 16 parade, called for national reconciliation with the words; "We need no longer ask where the other fellow was fifteen years ago [that is, during the civil war]." In 1937 President Svinhufvud was replaced by a more politically moderate Agrarian Party leader, Kyösti Kallio, who promoted national integration by helping to form a so-called Red- Earth government coalition that included Social Democrats, National Progressives, and Agrarians.

A final factor promoting political integration during the interwar years was the steady growth of material prosperity. The agricultural sector continued to be the backbone of the economy throughout this period; in 1938 well over half of the population was engaged in farming. The main problem with agriculture before 1918 had been tenancy: about three-quarters of the rural families cultivated land under lease arrangements. In order to integrate these tenant farmers more firmly into society, several laws were passed between 1918 and 1922. The most notable was the so-called Lex Kallio (Kallio Law, named after its main proponent, Kyösti Kallio) in 1922; by it, loans and other forms of assistance were provided to help landless farmers obtain farmland. As a result, about 150,000 new independent holdings were created between the wars, so that by 1937 almost 90 percent of the farms were held by independent owners and the problem of tenancy was largely solved. Agriculture was also modernized by the great expansion of a cooperative movement, in which farmers pooled their resources in order to provide such basic services as credit and marketing at reasonable cost. The growth of dairy farming provided Finland with valuable export products. In summary, the agricultural sector of the Finnish economy showed notable progress between the wars.

In addition, Finnish industry recovered quickly from the devastation caused by the civil war, and by 1922 the lumber, paper, pulp, and cellulose industries had returned to their prewar level of production. As before the war, the lumber industry still led the economy, and its success fueled progress in other sectors. By the Treaty of Dorpat in 1920, Finland had gained nickel deposits near the Arctic port of Petsamo. These deposits were the largest in Europe, and production began there in 1939. The success of Finnish products on the world market was indicated by the general rise in exports and by the surplus in the balance of payments. Finnish governments protected economic prosperity by following generally conservative fiscal policies and by avoiding the creation of large domestic deficits or foreign indebtedness.

In the 1920s and the 1930s, Finnish society moved toward greater social integration and progress, mirroring developments in the Nordic region as a whole. Social legislation included protection of child workers; protection of laborers against the dangers of the workplace; compulsory social insurance for accidents, disability, and old age; aid for mothers and young children; aid for the poor, the crippled, the alcoholic, and the mentally deficient; and housing aid. Finland reflected European trends also in the emancipation of women, who gained voting rights in 1906 and full legal equality under the Constitution in 1919. The 1920s and the 1930s witnessed a great increase in the number of women in the work force, including the professions and politics.

Although in many ways Finland was predominantly nationalist and introspective in spirit, it participated increasingly in the outside world, both economically and culturally, a trend that contributed to its gradual integration into the international community.

Finnish Security Policy Between the Wars

The first security policy issue Finland faced upon becoming independent concerned the Aland Islands. Settled by Swedes in about the sixth century A.D., the islands were administered as part of Finland as long as Finland was part of Sweden. In 1809 they were transferred to Russian sovereignty, where they remained until the Russian Revolution. Throughout this period, almost all of the inhabitants of the Aland Islands, the Alanders, continued to be Swedish speakers. During the chaos of the Russian Revolution, the Alanders began negotiations to be united with Sweden, a move that was later supported in a plebiscite by 96 percent of the islands' inhabitants. The Swedish government welcomed this move, and in February 1918 sent troops who disarmed the Russian forces and the Red Guards on the islands. The Finns felt that the Swedish intervention in the Aland Islands represented an unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of Finland. Tension rose as both countries claimed the islands, Sweden emphasizing the principle of national self-determination and Finland pointing to its historical rights and to the need to have the islands in order to defend Finland's southwestern coast. Germany then moved into the islands as part of its intervention in the civil war and forced out the Swedes; later that year, however, Germany handed the islands over to Finland. The Finns arrested the Aland separatist leaders on charges of treason. In 1920 both countries referred the matter to the League of Nations, which ruled the following year in favor of Finland. The Swedes were placated by the demilitarization of the islands as well as by the grant of extensive autonomy to the Alanders, a settlement that still obtained in 1988.

Finland's interwar security policy was dominated by fear of an attack by the Soviet Union. Two of its priorities were to end the conflict between Finland and the Soviet Union--that had continued unofficially since the civil war--and to settle the Soviet-Finnish boundary. Negotiations were held intermittently between 1918 and 1920, leading in October 1920 to the signing of the Treaty of Dorpat. In it, Finland received all of the land it had held under Russian rule plus the Petsamo area, which gave Finland a port on the Arctic Ocean. At this point, Finland controlled more territory than it had at any other time in its history. The Soviet-Finnish border on the Karelian Isthmus was drawn only thirty kilometers from Leningrad (formerly St. Petersburg). The new border caused some Soviet apprehension because it placed the city and the vital naval base at Kronstadt within the range of the Finns' heavy artillery.

Finland's relations with the Soviet Union had been problematic from the beginning, because of the Finns' strong historical distrust for Russia and the inherent incompatibility of the two political systems. The Finns saw themselves as occupying an exposed outpost of Western civilization, an attitude that was well expressed in a poem by Uuno Kailas that included the verse:

Like a chasm runs the border.
In front, Asia, the East;
In back, Europe, the West:
Like a sentry, I stand guard.

The mistrust between the countries had been strengthened by the tsarist policies of Russification, by the Bolsheviks' participation in the Finnish revolution, and by continued Soviet efforts to foster subversion in Finland. From the Soviet viewpoint, the Greater Finland agitation and the blossoming of ideological anti-communism in Finland posed a threat. In 1932 the Soviet Union and Finland signed a ten-year non-aggression pact, which, however, did not mitigate the mutual distrust--illustrated in part by the Soviets' cessation of all trade between the two countries in 1934--that was to culminate in war.

In dealing with the Soviet threat, Finland was unable to find effective outside help. The Finns sought assistance first from the other Baltic states, and in March 1922 an agreement was signed by Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Poland. The Finns soon realized, however, that in a crisis no substantial help would be forthcoming from these countries, and they thereupon sought support through active membership in the League of Nations. The breakdown of collective security in the 1930s led the Finns to seek security through a collective neutrality with the other Nordic states, but that arrangement offered no effective counterweight to the Soviets. The more powerful Britain and France did not take a major interest in the Baltic area.

Throughout this period, the Finnish ruling circles had been strongly pro-German in outlook, in large part as a result of the civil war. For this reason, the Soviets developed the suspicion that Finland would allow Germany to use its territory as a base from which to invade the Soviet Union. Although Soviet fears were unfounded, the Finns did little to allay them. In 1937 a German submarine flotilla visited Helsinki, and it was greeted warmly by the people and by the government. In April and in May 1938, the Finnish government presided over two great celebrations, marking the twentieth anniversary of the entry of German troops into Helsinki and of the entry of Mannerheim's forces into Helsinki, respectively, events that numerous prominent Germans attended. The Finns were also indiscreet in allowing a German naval squadron to visit Helsinki. Soviet suspicions were fuelled again by the visit to Finland in June 1939 of the German army chief of staff, General Franz Halder, who was received by the government in Helsinki and who viewed Finnish army maneuvers on the Karelian Isthmus. In summation, Finnish foreign policy between the wars was genuinely unaggressive in relation to the Soviet Union, but it lacked the appearance of unaggressiveness, a deficiency that Finland since World War II has been at pains to remedy.

With German help, Finland established regular armed forces in 1918 to 1919, using the army of the Whites as a foundation. Beginning in the 1920s, conscription was introduced, and most Finnish males were trained for military service. Finnish military doctrine presumed an essentially defensive war in which Finland's forests, lakes, and other geographical obstacles could be exploited to advantage. The Defense Review Committee, in its report of 1926, called for the establishment of a Finnish army of thirteen divisions, equipped with the most modern arms, as the surest means of deterring a possible Soviet invasion. Because of budget restraints, however, these recommendations were instituted only in part, so that when the Soviet Union did attack in November 1939, Finland had only nine available divisions, and their equipment was generally inadequate. Beginning in 1931, however, General Mannerheim had contributed ably to Finnish military preparations from his position as chairman of the Defense Council, and thousands of citizens spent the summer of 1939, without pay, strengthening the Mannerheim Line of fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus. The line later proved to be the anchor of Finland's defenses in this important area.

Finland History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress