What if your chosen leaders had no political power and found themselves at the mercy of a foreign government that imposed its way of life on the populace at large? That’s what many Finns went through before they declared independence from the Russians. The Soviet government approved Finnish independence, but Finland went through a great deal of internal strife to maintain a cohesive state.

Under the thumb of foreign powers

Finnish nationalism spread like wildfire during the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to a history of foreign occupation. Before Russian domination, Finland had been part of the Swedish crown since the 1200s. Finns had no institutions to call their own and bore the brunt of the wars between the Swedes and Russians.


Determined to escape Swedish governance, Finland agreed to Russian rule under Czar Alexander I in the early 1800s. In return, Finland became a grand duchy under the Russian Empire and enjoyed certain constitutional liberties.

Leadup to independence

The problem was that Russian customs and governance dominated the lives of Finns in the same manner as the Swedish monarchy. Finns held minimal autonomy, and Russian authorities delegitimized their armies and governmental structure.


This culminated in the rise of various nationalist factions that sought full autonomy through political means, while other groups thought violence was the only path to freedom. The Social Democrats were the most prominent group in Finland and played a vital role in forming a government body that included universal rights.

Finland’s big break

Finland was on the brink of a full-scale revolt until the Bolsheviks overthrew the Russian monarchy. Vladimir Lenin’s government accepted Finland’s autonomy petition in 1917, but violence took center stage shortly thereafter as the communists sought to seize power in Finland. A civil war between the conservative government and the communists erupted after the Reds took over the Social Democrats and occupied Helsinki and other areas of Finland.

Library of Congress

When the civil war ended in 1918, Finland transitioned into the modern nation we know today.