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Finnish nationalism

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Title: Finnish nationalism  
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Subject: Politics of Finland, History of Finland, Ethnic nationalism, Acholi nationalism, Algerian nationalism
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Finnish nationalism

The Flag of Finland, a sea-blue Nordic cross on white field

Nationalism was a central force in the History of Finland for the last two centuries. The Finnish national awakening in the mid-19th century was the result of members of the Swedish-speaking upper classes deliberately choosing to promote Finnish culture and language as a means of nation building, i.e. to establish a feeling of unity between all people in Finland including (and not of least importance) between the ruling elite and the ruled peasantry. The publication in 1835 of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, a collection of traditional myths and legends which is the folklore common to the Finns and to the Karelian people (the Finnic Russian Orthodox people who inhabit the Lake Ladoga-region of eastern Finland and present-day NW Russia), stirred the nationalism that later led to Finland's independence from Russia.

Nationalism was contested by the pro-Russian element and by the internationalism of the labor movement. The result was a tendency to class conflict over nationalism, but the early 1900s the working classes split into the Valpas (class struggle emphasis) and Mäkelin (nationalist emphasis).[1]


Particularly following Finland's incorporation into the Swedish central administration during the 16th and 17th centuries, Swedish was spoken by about 15% of the population, especially the upper and middle classes. Swedish was the language of administration, public institutions, education and cultural life. Only the peasants spoke Finnish. The emergence of Finnish to predominance resulted from a 19th-century surge of Finnish nationalism, aided by Russian bureaucrats attempting to separate Finns from Sweden and to ensure the Finns' loyalty.[2]

In 1863, the Finnish language gained an official position in administration. The language issue overlapped both liberalism and nationalism, and showed some a class conflict as well, with the peasants pitted against the conservative Swedish-speaking landowners and nobles. As complications, the Finnish activists divided into "old" (no compromise on the language question and conservative nationalism) and "young" (liberation from Russia) Finns. The leading liberals were Swedish-speaking intellectuals who called for more democracy; they became the radical leaders after 1880. The liberals organized for social democracy, labor unions, farmer cooperatives, and women's rights.[3]

In 1892 Finnish finally became an equal official language and gained a status comparable to that of Swedish. Nevertheless, the Swedish language continued to be the language of culture, arts and business all the way to 1920s. Legislation since 1922 gives Finnish and Swedish equal official status.[4] By 2000 about 6% of the population spoke Swedish as their first language, or 300,000 people. However since the late 20th century there has been a steady migration of older, better educated Swedish speakers to Sweden.[5]

Social movements

Movements toward Finnish national pride, as well as liberalism in politics and economics involved ethnic and class dimensions. The nationalist movement against Russia began with the Fennoman movement led by Hegelian philosopher Johan Vilhelm Snellman in the 1830s. Snellman sought to apply philosophy to social action and moved the basis of Finnish nationalism to establishment of the language in the schools, while remaining loyal to the czar. Fennomania became the Finnish Party in the 1860s.[6]

Paavo Ruotsalainen, a layman, led pietistic revivals

Liberalism was the central issue of the 1860s to 1880s.

Educating the Finns in national identity


Under Russian rule there was a strong grass-roots informal people's enlightenment, based on the Society for the Advancement of Popular Education, run by Swedish elites. It promoted folk high schools teaching in Finnish and youth movements with lessons centered around patriotic and nationalist themes.[7] The Swedish elites after 1850 also promoted public festivals with patriotic themes, hoping to both inculcate nationalism and draw the Finnish-speaking peasants and workers away from socialist movements that downplayed nationalism. Team sports and rowing competitions became favorite attractions, and all the festivals began with speeches.[8]

When independence came the schools were redesigned to inculcate Finnish nationalism.[9] Jokela and Linkola (2013) examined the photographs in Finnish geography textbooks and tourist guides in the 1920s and conclude they were an integral part of the everyday inculcation of nationalism. Finnish writers, intellectuals and academics saw themselves as part of the authoritative system or "state idea" that represented the entire national territory.[10]


In the days of Russian rule, music and opera became vehicles for the expression of nationalism.[11] Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) especially used traditional Finnish folk tunes as the basis of nationalistic compositions.[12][13]

Independent Finland used its postage stamps to help construct national narrative, a collective memory, and its self-image. Everyone used stamps routinely so it was an inexpensive way to reach the entire population with a popular heroic version of the national story. The stamps provided a simplified visual history of the evolution of the Finnish state, nation, and society.[14][15]


  1. ^ Osmo Jussila, "Nationalism and Revolution: Political Dividing Lines in the Grand Duchy of Finland during the Last Years of Russian Rule," Scandinavian Journal of History (1977) 2#4 pp 289-309.
  2. ^ Michael C. Coleman, "'You Might All Be Speaking Swedish Today': language change in 19th-century Finland and Ireland," Scandinavian Journal of History, March 2010, Vol. 35 Issue 1, pp. 44–64,
  3. ^ Mikko Juva, "Nationalism, Liberalism Och Demokrati Under Språkstridens Första Skede i Finlan" ['Nationalism, liberalism and democracy during the first period of the language conflict in Finland'] Historisk Tidskrift, 1961, Issue 4, pp. 357–368
  4. ^ Sirkku Latomaa and Pirkko Nuolijärvi, "The language situation in Finland." Current Issues in Language Planning (2002) 3#2 pp: 95-202.
  5. ^ Charlotta Hedberg and Kaisa Kepsu, "Migration as a mode of cultural expression? The case of the Finland‐Swedish minority's migration to Sweden." Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography (2003) 85#2: 67-84 online
  6. ^ Jason Lavery, The history of Finland (2006) pp. 58-60
  7. ^ Kari Kantasalmi and Barry J. Hake. "Popular adult education in Finland 1890‐1939: a critical reinterpretation of the ‘people's enlightenment project’" History of Education (1997) 26#4 pp: 353-374 online.
  8. ^ Lauri Keskinen, "Pre-modern games in a modern world: A case of public festivals as rational recreation in 19th century Finland," Kasvatus & Aika 6 (2012) pp 4+ (2012). online
  9. ^ Merja Paksuniemi, Satu Uusiautti, And Kaarina Määttä, "Teacher Education in Finland during the War Years, 1939-45," War & Society (Feb 2014) 38#1 pp 12-25
  10. ^ Jokela, Salla; Linkola, Hannu. "'State idea' in the photographs of geography and tourism in Finland in the 1920s," National Identities (2013) 15#3 pp 257-275.
  11. ^ William A. Everett, "National Opera in Croatia and Finland, 1846-1899," Opera Quarterly (2002) 18#2 pp 183-200
  12. ^ Matti Huttunen, "The national composer and the idea of Finnishness: Sibelius and the formation of Finnish musical style." in The Cambridge Companion to Sibelius (2004) pp: 7-21. online
  13. ^ Glenda Dawn Goss, Sibelius: A Composer's Life and the Awakening of Finland (2009)
  14. ^ Pauliina Raento and Stanley D. Brunn, "Picturing a nation: Finland on postage stamps, 1917-2000," National Identities (2008) 10#1 pp 49-75. online
  15. ^ Pauliina Raento, "Communicating geopolitics through postage stamps: the case of Finland." Geopolitics (2006) 11#4 pp: 601-629.

Further reading

  • Alapuro, Risto. "Nineteenth century nationalism in Finland: a comparative perspective." Scandinavian Political Studies (1979) 2#1 pp: 19-29. online
  • Coleman, Michael C. "'You Might All Be Speaking Swedish Today': language change in 19th-century Finland and Ireland." Scandinavian Journal of History (2010) 35#1 pp: 44-64.
  • Kissane, Bill. "Nineteenth-century Nationalism in Finland and Ireland: A Comparative Analysis," Nationalism & Ethnic Politics (2000) 6#2 pp 25–42; covers 1820 to 1910.
  • Kissane, Bill. The nation as a zone of civil war in Finland and Ireland (Brill, 2011).
  • Liikanen, Ilkka. "Light to our people: Educational organization and the mobilization of fennomania in the 1870s." Scandinavian Journal of History (1988) 13#4 pp: 421-438.
  • McRae, Kenneth D. Conflict and compromise in multilingual societies: Finland (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 1997)
  • Paasi, Anssi. Territories, boundaries, and consciousness: The changing geographies of the Finnish-Russian boundary (New York: J. Wiley & sons, 1996)
  • Wilson, William Albert. Folklore and nationalism in modern Finland (Indiana University Press, 1976)
  • Wuorinen, John Henry. Nationalism in modern Finland (Columbia University Press, 1931)
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