“The concept of Finnish national identity was born under Russian rule”

Dr Hannu Vuori in Benalmádena.
Dr Hannu Vuori in Benalmádena. / A. M. S.
  • Dr Hannu Vuori President of the Council of Finnish Communities on the Costa del Sol

Hannu Vuori is the president of the Council of Finnish Communities on the Costa del Sol, the largest in Spain. A doctor of international prestige, Vuori has lived on the Costa del Sol for more than ten years. A lover of Finnish glass, his private collection was on exhibition in Torremolinos last month. Now, 100 years after Finland gained independence from Russia, Dr Vuori speaks to SUR about the turbulent history of his country in the first half of the 20th century.

Hannu, how did the story of Finland's independence begin?

The establishment of the [Russian] republic in 1917 [after the abdication of Grand Duke Nicholas II] was a significant impetus for the establishment of Finland's independence. On 28 November 1917 the Parliament of Finland took over supreme power in the country and a new government was formed. On 4 December, the chairman of the Senate, Mr Svinhuvud, addressed the authorities of foreign states, in particular to the constituent assembly of Russia, with a request to recognise the political independence and sovereignty of Finland.

Later it was called the “declaration of independence of Finland”.

Correct. On 6 December 1917, the Finnish Parliament approved that statement by voting - 100 against 88. The day became a national holiday - Independence Day.

Let's go back to the period of dependence...

Until 1809, we were one of the provinces of the Kingdom of Sweden. The transition of Finland under the rule of Russia in history is in many ways regarded as a progressive era, particularly in the area of economic development. Industrialisation had begun. Railroads, ports, canals were built. In those years also the concept of “Finnish national identity” was born because, as a Finnish statesman said, “We are not Swedes, we don't want to become Russians, let's therefore be Finnish.” Important contributions were made by Finnish writers, poets, musicians. It should be noted that Finland had a special status in the Russian Empire. The head of the Grand Duchy of Finland was a grand duke. And indeed, he was a Russian tsar himself. It is important to note that in Russia, the tsar was an absolute ruler; in Finland a constitutional monarch. By the way, I think that if Finland had been part of Sweden, then that would still be the case.

Raising the flag in 1917.

Raising the flag in 1917. / SUR

If everything was so good with Russia, why then did you need to proclaim independence?

Because towards the end to the Russian era, all those good and liberal beginnings stopped. The subsequent tsars, including the last monarch Nicholas II, pursued the policy of Russification of possessions. This affected the Poles and Finns. For example, Finland had always used its own postage stamps. Then suddenly they were substituted by Russian ones. In addition, there was a great push to increase the use Russian language. The Finns did not like it. So the rights of indigenous people were infringed. In general, the national question took some steps back.

And then the October Revolution came to the rescue and, especially, Lenin ...

It has to be said that the Finns first helped Lenin, when he had to hide from the Russian police. In Tampere, the house where he was hiding, was converted into a museum to Lenin. They say that Lenin agreed to accept Finland's independence as a kind of gratitude for the hospitality of the Finns. Many historians do, however, believe that the reason was much more pragmatic. At that time of Troubles, Soviet Russia hardly managed to defend itself from “White” generals, both in the Far East and in the south. So to have another front near Petrograd could hardly be afforded. Therefore, Finland's separation at that period for the new government seemed to be a remarkable solution.

Finns in 1917.

Finns in 1917. / SUR

Here, in the context of the latest developments with Catalonia, the following question arises: in the declaration of independence, was Russia's opinion (recognition) really important?

Of course. After all, the essence of independence does not lie in self-recognition. It is essential to get recognition from the countries that have importance. For example, both Sweden and France were ready to recognise Finland as a new sovereign state only if Russia recognised it. Therefore, the Finnish government turned to Lenin. Thus, on 18 December (31, N. S. - New Style date), 1917, the independence of the Republic of Finland was recognised by the government of the Russian Soviet Republic, and on 23 December, 1917 (5 January, 1918 N. S.) by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviet Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. By the way, during the first week of 1918, Finland's independence was recognised by seven countries.

But why is there no monument to Lenin in Finland after all he did?

Because of subsequent bloody events that did not take long to unfold. At the end of January, civil war broke out in Finland between the so called “Reds”, the radical left, led by the Council of People's Commissioners of Finland; and the “Whites”, bourgeois-democratic forces of the Finnish senate. It was a terrible time for the country. Finland was on the verge of starvation because of the constant shortage of food. At the same time, both sides of the confrontation resorted to extrajudicial executions and terror. The “Reds” were supported by the Russian Soviet Republic, while the “Whites” received military support from the German Empire. Antipathy to Russia stemmed from the fact that in the end the national character of the war of liberation against Russia and the “Reds” was emphasised. The victorious “Whites” did not forget the support Russia had given to the “Reds”.

And then also the so-called Finnish War with the USSR ...

There is a Soviet version and Finnish version of the origin of that war. I will say only one thing. Most Finns are of the opinion that the Soviet Union somehow regretted “granting” independence to Finland and that's why tried to “return” it. By the way, they thought that this would be done in three days, but everything lasted much longer, because the Finnish Communists did not support the Soviets. After the war, the USSR took 11 per cent of the territory of Finland with the second largest city of Vyborg. According to the data, Finland had to resettle 430,000 Finnish residents who were forced to leave the areas ceded to Russia.