The historian of the future will have to note its ethical importance in a far wider sphere as well: the greatest of social problems have found a peaceable solution in Russia, thanks to the conditions of its political organization.
Russia Absorbs Finland, featuring a series of excerpts selected from sundry observers and participants writing in the 1910’s. This segment is by Baron Von Plehve, Russia’s Interior Minister who controlled Finland during this time.
Previously in Finland Absorbed by Russia. Now we continue.
In criticizing Russian policy in Finland a distinction should be made between its fundamental principles – i.e., the ends which it is meant to attain, and its outward expression, which depends upon circumstances.
The former, – i.e., the aims and principles, remain unalterable; the latter, – i.e., the way in which this policy finds expression – is of an incidental and temporary character, and does not always depend on the Russian authority alone. This is what should be taken into consideration by Russia’s western friends when estimating the value of the information which reaches them from Finland.
As to the program of the Russian Government in the Finland question, it is substantially as follows:
The fundamental problem of every supreme authority – the happiness and prosperity of the governed – can be solved only by the mutual cooperation of the government and the people. The requirements presented to the partners in this common task are, on the one hand, that the people should recognize the unity of state principle and policy and the binding character of its aims; and, on the other, that the Government should acknowledge the benefit accruing to the state from the public activity, along the lines of individual development, of its component elements.
Such are the grounds on which the government and the people should unite in the performance of their common task. The combination of imperial unity with local autonomy, of autocracy with self-government, forms the principle which must be taken into consideration in judging the action of the Russian Government in the Grand Duchy of Finland. The manifesto of February 3-15, 1899, is not a negation of such a peaceful cooperation, but a confirmation of the aforesaid leading principle of our Government in its full development. It decides that the issue of imperial laws, common both to Russia and Finland, must not depend altogether on the consent of the members of the Finland Diet, but is the prerogative of the Imperial Council of State, with the participation on such occasions of members of the Finland Senate. There is nothing in this manifesto to shake the belief of Russia’s friends in the compatibility of the principles of autocracy with a large measure of local self-government and civic liberty. The development of the spiritual and material powers of the population by its gradual introduction to participation in the conscious public life of the state, as a healthy, conservative principle of government, has always entered into the plans of the sovereign leaders of the life of Russia as a state. These intentions were announced afresh from the throne by the manifesto of February 26, 1903. In our country this process takes place in accordance with the historical basis of the empire, with the national peculiarities of its population.
The result is that in Russia we have the organization of local institutions which give self-government in the narrow sense of the word – i.e., the right of the people to see to the satisfaction of their local economic needs. In Finland the idea of local autonomy was developed far earlier and in a far wider manner. Its present scope, which has grown and developed under Russian rule, embraces all sides, not only of the economic, but of the civil, life of the land. Russian autocracy has thus given irrefragable proof of its constructive powers in the sphere of civic development. The historian of the future will have to note its ethical importance in a far wider sphere as well: the greatest of social problems have found a peaceable solution in Russia, thanks to the conditions of its political organization.
For a full comprehension, however, of the manifesto of 1899, it must be regarded as one of the phases in the development of Finland’s relations to Russia. It will then become evident that as a legacy of the past it is the outcome of the natural course of events which sooner or later must have led up to it. The initiation of Finland into the historical destinies of the Russian Empire was bound to lead to the rise of questions calling for a general solution common both to the empire and to Finland. Naturally, in view of the subordinate status of the latter, such questions could be solved only in the order appointed for imperial legislation. At the same time, neither the fundamental laws of the Swedish period of rule in Finland, which were completely incompatible with its new status, nor the Statutes of the Diet, introduced by Alexander II., and determining the order of issue of local laws, touched, or could touch, the question of the issue of general imperial laws. This question arose in the course of the legislative work on the systematization of the fundamental laws of Finland. This task, undertaken by order of the Emperor Alexander II. for the more precise determination of the status of Finland as an indivisible part of our state, was continued during the reign of his august successor, the Emperor Alexander III., and led to the question of determining the order of issue of general imperial laws. The rules drafted for this purpose in 1893 formed the contents of the manifesto of 1899. Thus we see that during six years they remained without application, there being no practical necessity for their publication. When, however, this necessity arose, owing to the lapse of the former military law, the manifesto was issued. It was, therefore, the finishing touch to the labor of many years at the determination of the manner in which the principle of a united empire was to find expression within the limits of Finland, and remained substantially true to the traditions which for a century had reigned in the relations between Russia and Finland. It presented a combination of the principle of autocracy with that of local self-government without any serious limitations of the rights of the latter. Moreover, while preserving the historical principle of Russian empire-building, this law determined the form of the expression of the autocratic power within the limits of the Grand Duchy in a manner so much in accord with the conditions of life in Finland that it did not touch the organization of a single one of the national local institutions of the duchy.
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