Fifteenth-century Olavinlinna Fortress in Savonlinna
THE SIGNAL ACHIEVEMENT OF FINLAND has been its survival
great odds--against a harsh climate, physical and cultural
isolation, and international dangers. Finland lies at
latitudes than any other country in the world, and the
northern climate has complicated life there considerably.
Geographically, Finland is on the remote northern
from the mass of Europe, yet near two larger states,
Russia--later the Soviet Union, which have drawn it into
innumerable wars and have dominated its development
(see Finland -
At the beginning of its recorded history, in the
century A.D., Finland was conquered by its powerful
Sweden. Christianization and more than 600 years of
(c. 1150-1809) made the Finns an essentially West European
people, integrated into the religion, culture, economics,
politics of European civilization. The Finns have,
maintained their own language, which is complex and is not
related to most other European languages.
The centuries of Swedish rule witnessed Finland's
involvement in European politics, particularly when the
served as a battleground between Sweden on the west and
the east. Over the centuries, Russia has exerted an
persistent and powerful pressure on Finland. Many wars
fought between Swedes and Finns on the one side and
the other. Eventually, Russia conquered Finland and
it into the Russian Empire, where it remained for more
century, from 1809 to 1917.
Until the nineteenth century, the Finns were, like many
peoples of Europe, a subject nation seemingly without a
or a history of their own. The national awakening of the
nineteenth century brought recognition of the uniqueness
Finnish people and their culture, and led to Finland's
independence in 1917. Complicating the emergence of the
people into national consciousness, however, was the split
between the majority of Finnish speakers and a powerful
influential minority of Swedish speakers. Only during the
twentieth century was this conflict gradually resolved.
In 1987 Finland celebrated the seventieth anniversary
national independence, which was a hard-won achievement.
Independence was threatened at the start in a bloody civil
1918 between Finnish leftists (Reds) and rightists
victory by the Reds might have resulted in Finland's
absorption by the Soviet Union. One legacy of the war was
a longlasting political division between working class Reds and
middleclass Whites during the first two decades of independence.
result, political extremism, as represented by communism
fascism was stronger in Finland than it was in many other
democracies; it was eventually neutralized, however, and
time Finnish democracy became strongly rooted.
The most serious challenges to Finland's independence
during World War II, when the Finns twice faced attack by
overwhelming Soviet forces. They fought heroically, but
defeated both times, and the Soviets were narrowly
occupying and absorbing Finland. Since World War II, the
Union's status as a superpower has meant that it could at
time end Finland's existence as a separate state.
this, the Finns have sought and achieved reconciliation
Soviets, and they have tenaciously pursued a policy of
neutrality, avoiding entanglement in superpower conflicts.
The long era of peace after World War II made possible
blossoming of Finland as a modern, industrialized,
democracy. By the 1980s, the intense social conflicts of
decades were largely reconciled, and the country's
with other nations were apparently stable.
Data as of December 1988