This series has ten easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Russia Over Finland.
Introduction to our series of excerpts selected from sundry observers and participants writing in the 1910’s:
While most histories of the pre-war years give priority to German militarism and Russia’s slide to Revolution, we pay attention to Russian expansionism was hitting neighbors in central Asia and Scandinavia. A previous series detailed Russia’s invasion of Persia while this series discusses the de-facto takeover of Finland. It is told through the eyes of contemporaries.
And now to the far north in the early 20th. century. This segment is by John Jackol, a Finn contemporary writing from America.
“Russia is the rock against which the sigh for freedom breaks,” said Kossuth, the great statesman and patriot of Hungary. Although fifty years have passed, and sigh after sigh has broken against it, the rock still stands like a colossal monument of bygone ages. It is pointing toward the northern star, as if to remind one of the all-enduring fixity. Other stars may go round as they will; there is one fixed in its place, and under that star the shadow of despotism hopes to endure forever.
While yet in Finland I used to fancy Russia as a giant devil-fish, whose arms extended from the Baltic to the Pacific, from the Black Sea to the Arctic Ocean. Then I would think of my native land as a beautiful mermaid, about whom the giant’s cold, chilly arms were slowly creeping, and I feared that some day those arms would crush her. That day has come. The helpless mermaid lies prostrate in the clutch of the octopus. Not that the constitution of Finland has been annulled, as has been so often erroneously stated, and quite generally believed. The Russian Government has made only a few inroads upon it. The great grievance of the Finns is not with what has been absolutely done in opposition to their ancient rights and privileges, nor in the number of their rights which have in reality been curtailed, but with the fact that they have henceforth no security. The real grievance of the Finns is that the welfare of their country no longer rests upon an inviolable constitution, but upon the caprice of the ministers.
In 1898 the reactionists succeeded in getting one of their tools appointed as Governor-General. No sooner had General Bobrikoff taken his high office than he declared that the Finnish right to separate political existence was an illusion; that there was no substantial foundation for it in any of the acts or words of Alexander I. The people were amazed, appalled. But this was not all. Pobiedonostseff, the Procurator of the Holy Synod, and other men as reactionary as he, discovered the fact, or gave birth to the idea, that the fundamental rights of Finland could be interfered with if these fundamental rights interfered with the welfare of the Russian Empire. In other words, they discovered a loophole which they termed legal, on the principle that the parts should suffer for the whole, and that this principle was an integral part of the plan of Russian government.
The abrogation of maintenance of Finland’s ancient rights would seem by this decision to rest on the arbitrary interpretation on the part of Russia as to whether or not they interfered with the welfare of the empire. It is possible that, according to the individual opinions of Russian autocrats, they might all interfere with the standard of welfare which certain individuals have arbitrarily established to fit the occasion.
In justice to the Russian Government it should be stated, however, that the joy of persecution was not the motive which led to the arbitrary acts. During the time that Finland was under Swedish control, the Finns had learned to dislike everything Russian. These anti-Russian tendencies were accentuated, after Finland became an appanage of the Russian crown, by the restrictive and often reactionary policy of the Imperial Government. Such a form of government was repugnant to the Finns, who had learned to be governed by good laws well administered, and by an enlightened public opinion. At the same time, owing to their larger liberties, their higher culture, and their susceptibility to western ideals, the Finns exerted an attractive influence over the peoples of the Baltic provinces, and even of Russia proper. A Finn would very seldom become Russianized, while many Russians became Finnicized. Unlike his Russian brother, the Finn enjoyed the privileges of free conscience, free speech, and free press.
To the average Russian such a life was enchanting, and many were so fascinated that they became citizens of Finland. In order to do so, however, they were obliged to go through the formality of changing their nationality and becoming subjects of the Grand Duchy. Doubtless this was distasteful to the Russians, but so many and so great were the advantages accruing from such a change that not a few renounced their nationality.
Such a state of affairs seemed unnatural and antagonistic to the propaganda of the Panslavistic party. Instead of Russian ideals pervading the province, provincial ideals, manners, and customs were gradually spreading into the empire. But there seemed to be no honorable way of checking the progress of the rapidly growing Finnish nationality. The Finns maintained that their rights and privileges and their laws rested upon an inviolable constitution, which could be changed only by a vote of the four estates of the Landtag. That body would never yield.
It was at this juncture that the Procurator of the Holy Synod conceived the idea that the fundamental rights of the Finns can be curtailed in so far as they interfere with those of the empire. Acting according to this new idea the Imperial Government in 1899 took for its pretext the army service of the Finns. Heretofore, according to a hereditary privilege, the Finns had not been called upon to serve in the Russian Army, and their army service had been only three years to the Russian’s five. The officers of the Finnish Army were to be Finns, and this army could not be called upon to serve outside of the Grand Duchy. This was the first fundamental right of the Finns to be attacked by the Russian Government. In some mysterious way the very insignificant army of Finland “interfered with the general welfare of the Russian Empire.”
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