April 24, 1903, was a black day in the history of Finland. It witnessed the inauguration of a reign of terror which, by the ordinance of April 2d and the rescript of April 9th, General Bobrikoff had been authorized to establish.
Russia Absorbs Finland, featuring a series of excerpts selected from sundry observers and participants writing in the 1910’s. This continues an essay by John Jackol, a Finn contemporary writing from America.
Previously in Finland Absorbed by Russia. Now we continue.
Immediately following the Czar’s startling proposal for a disarmament conference in 1899 came his call for a special session of the Finnish Landtag to extend the laws of conscription and the time of regular service from three to five years. Furthermore, the new law provided that instead of serving in their own country, the Finnish soldiers were to be scattered among the various troops of the empire. By this means it was hoped to Russianize them.
The representatives of the people had no time to consider the measure before the Czar’s decree was issued, February 17, 1899, declaring that thenceforth the laws governing the Grand Duchy be made in the same manner as those of the empire.
It is not necessary to dwell upon the deep feeling of indignation and grief that pervaded the country. It has found a freer expression outside of the Grand Duchy than within its boundaries. Wherever the human heart is beating in sympathetic harmony with universal progress, the oppressed Finnish people have found moral support. In spite of this, one by one the Finns have been deprived of their hereditary rights and privileges. To the Finns this new order of things seems appalling. It is like the drawing of the veil of the dark ages over their beloved country. They have lost everything that is dear to the human heart: their language, their religion, and their independence. They can do nothing but mourn in silence and mortification, for a strict Russian censorship prevents the expression of their just indignation and grief.
The present condition of Finland is apathetic. Last fall the loss of crops was almost complete, and pestilence and famine are devastating the country, which has been drained of its vitality by an excessive migration and military conscription. The young men of Finland are forced to serve five years in the Russian Army, and the country is suffering from a lack of men to till the soil. The credit of the country has been mined, and panic is spreading rapidly. Wholesale migration of the more thrifty has made the already difficult problem of readjustment more complicated. Those who remain behind are literally suffering from physical, intellectual, and moral starvation. There is left nothing to refresh, fertilize, and energize the nation’s vitality. The Finns are utterly helpless. In this sad extremity of their people the best men of Finland are exerting their utmost in the endeavor to alleviate suffering and infuse hope and inspiration among the masses. The young Finnish party has become exasperated by the humiliation that has been heaped upon the long-suffering people of their native land, and its leaders have advised active resistance. The old Finnish party has adopted the policy of passive resistance and protest. But the inroads upon the constitution of Finland, in the form of imperial decrees, rules, and regulations by the Governor-General and his subordinates, have been so many and so sweeping in their character that even the most conservative are beginning to lose patience. As long as the unconstitutional acts affected only the political life of the people, many were able to bear it, but when the new rules attacked the time-honored social institutions and customs, indignation could no longer be suppressed. For instance, the order to open private mail caused a general protest. The postal director and his secretary refused to sign the order and resigned. No less obnoxious was the order forbidding public meetings and directing the governors of the different provinces of Finland to appoint only such men to fill municipal rural offices as will be subservient to the Governor-General. The governor of the province of Ulrasborg resigned, while several other provinces were already governed by pliant tools of General Bobrikoff.
The long-suppressed anxiety of the people has changed into a heartrending sigh of anguish. These words of a national poet express the general sentiment, “Better far than servitude a death upon the gallows.” A vicious circle has been established. The high-handed measures cause indignation, and the Governor-General is determined to suppress its expression. There is no safety in Finland for honest and patriotic men. The judiciary has been made subservient to General Bobrikoff. Latest advices are ominous. April 24, 1903, was a black day in the history of Finland. It witnessed the inauguration of a reign of terror which, by the ordinance of April 2d and the rescript of April 9th, General Bobrikoff had been authorized to establish.
Bobrikoff returned to Finland with authority, if necessary, to close hotels, stores, and factories, to forbid general meetings, to dissolve clubs and societies, and to banish without legal process any one whose presence in the country he considered objectionable. For 700 years Finns have been free men; now they have become Russian serfs, and it is well to make closer connections between the Finnish railway system and the trans-Siberian road. Finns are long-suffering and patient, but who could endure all this?
While the expression of indignation is suppressed in Finland, outside of the Grand Duchy, especially in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, Russia’s relentless tyranny has made the highest officers of state as resentful as the man in the street. Indeed entire Scandinavia is aflame with indignation and apprehension. The leading journals are warning Scandinavians “that the fate of Finland implies other tragedies of similar character, unless Pan-Scandinavia becomes something more than a political dream.”
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