. . .neither general insurrections against Russia’s dominions, nor political plots, nor the tumults of an ignorant rabble – such as our cholera riots, workmen’s outbreaks, Jewish pogroms, and other like disturbances – have ever occurred in Finland; and when disorders of that kind broke out in other parts of the empire or alarming tidings from abroad came in they never evoked the slightest dangerous echo there . . . .
Russia Absorbs Finland, featuring a series of excerpts selected from sundry observers and participants writing in the 1910’s. This installment is by Baron Sergius Witte, Prime Minister of Russia at this time.
Previously in Finland Absorbed by Russia. Now we continue.
When we talk of the means requisite for assimilating Finland we can not help reckoning, first and foremost, with this fact, that by the will of Russian emperors that country has lived its own particular life for nearly a century and governed itself in quite a special manner. Another consideration that should be taken to heart is this: the administration of the conquered country on lines which differed from the organization of other territories forming part of the empire, and which gave to Finland the semblance of a separate state, was shaped by serious causes, and did good service in the political history of the Russian Empire. One is hardly justified, therefore, in blaming this work of Alexander I., as is now so often done . . . . The annexation of Finland, poor by nature and at that time utterly ruined by protracted wars, was of moment to Russia, not so much from an economic or financial as from a strategical point of view. And what in those days was important was not its Russification, but solely the military position which it afforded. Besides, the incorporation of Finland took place at a calamitous juncture – for Russia. On the political horizon of Europe the clouds were growing denser and blacker, and there was a general foreboding of the coming events of the year 1812. If, at that time, Czar Alexander I. had applied to Finland the methods of administration which are wont to be employed in conquered countries, Finland would have become a millstone round Russia’s neck during the critical period of her struggle with Napoleon, which demanded the utmost tension of our national forces. Fear of insurrections and risings would have compelled Russia to maintain a large army there and to spend considerable sums in administering the country. But Alexander I. struck out a different course. His Majesty recognized the necessity of “bestowing upon the people, by means of internal organization, incomparably more advantages than it had had under the sway of Sweden.” And the Emperor held that an effective means of achieving this would be to give the nation such a status “that it should be accounted not enthralled by Russia, but attached to her in virtue of its own manifest interests.” “This valiant and trusty people,” said Czar Alexander I., when winding up the Diet of Borgo, “will bless Providence for establishing the present order of things. And I shall garner in the best fruits of my solicitude when I shall see this people tranquil from without, free within, devoting itself to agriculture and industry under the protection of the laws and their own good conduct, and by its very prosperity rendering justice in my intentions and blessing its destiny.”
Subsequent history justified the rosiest hopes of the Emperor. The immediate consequence of the policy he adopted toward Finland was that the country quickly became calmed and settled after the fierce war that had been waged there, and that in this way Russia was enabled to concentrate all her forces upon the contest with Napoleon. According to the words of Alexander I. himself, the annexation of Finland “was of the greatest advantage to Russia; without it, in 1812, we might not, perhaps, have won success, because Napoleon had in Bernadotte his steward, who, being within five days’ march of our capital, would have been inevitably compelled to join his forces with those of Napoleon. Bernadotte himself told me so several times, and added that he had Napoleon’s order to declare war against Russia.” And afterward, during almost a century, Finland never occasioned any worries, political or economic, to the Russian Government, and did not require special sacrifices or special solicitude on its part.
If we may judge, not by the speeches and articles of particular Separatists, but by overt acts, during that long period of time the Finnish people never failed in their duty as loyal subjects of their monarch or citizens of the common fatherland, Russia. The successors of the conqueror of Finland spoke many times from the height of the throne “of the numerous proofs of unalterable attachment and gratitude which the citizens of this country have given their monarchs.” And in effect, neither general insurrections against Russia’s dominions, nor political plots, nor the tumults of an ignorant rabble – such as our cholera riots, workmen’s outbreaks, Jewish pogroms, and other like disturbances – have ever occurred in Finland; and when disorders of that kind broke out in other parts of the empire or alarming tidings from abroad came in they never evoked the slightest dangerous echo there. It is a most remarkable fact that during the trying time the Russian Government had when the Polish insurrection was going on, and later, in the equally difficult period through which we passed at the close of the seventies, Finland remained perfectly calm; and in the long list of political criminals sprung from the various nationalities of Russia, we do not find a single Finlander.
In like manner fear of Finland’s aspirations toward independence, of her inordinate demands in the matter of military legislation, of her turning her population into an armed nation; in a word, all the apprehensions felt that Finland may break loose from Russia are, down to the present moment, devoid of foundation in fact.
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