Ovi -
we cover every issue
worldwide creative inspiration  
Ovi Bookshop - Free Ebook
worldwide creative inspiration
Ovi Language
George Kalatzis - A Family Story 1924-1967
Stop violence against women
Tony Zuvela - Cartoons, Illustrations
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
BBC News :   - 
iBite :   - 
Finland 90 Years Ago, Kingdom Come...Not
by Hank W.
2007-12-06 10:32:44
Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author
DeliciousRedditFacebookDigg! StumbleUpon

Meine lieben Leser, Willkommen zur wechselnden Wirklichkeit des Königreiches von Finnland. Heute feiern wir die Wahl von Friedrich Karl Ludwig Konstantin von Hessen-Kassel, Prinz und Landgraf zu Hessen zum König…

… what do you mean you can’t understand the official language of the country? OK, so let's return to the current reality then. Where Finland is a Republic, but have you ever wondered if the tides of history had kept the German Empire intact for a while longer - we’d have a picture of the King of Finland and Karelia, Duke of Åland, Grand Prince of Lapland, Lord of Kaleva and the North hanging in every school and we’d be blogging in German as Finland actually *was* a Kingdom for a brief moment in 1918.

We must travel back in time probably to 1809 to understand the whole situation. In the turmoils of the Napoleonic wars the ancient enemies Russia and Sweden had their final war, with Swedes fighting to the last Finn. After invading Finland Czar Alexander I annexed the “East Land” of the Swedish Kingdom to the Russian Empire as an Autonomous Grand Duchy. The Emperor ruled as the Grand Duke of Finland and was represented in Finland by the Governor-General of Finland. The Senate of Finland was the highest governing body of the Grand Duchy.

In St. Petersburg Finnish matters were represented by the Finnish Minister Secretary of State. At one point Finland had its own tax system, money, stamps, relatively free press, and people from the other parts of the Russian Empire had to obtain a visa and a residence permit to settle into Finland. From 1863 onwards the Diet of Finland convened regularly. After the Revolution of 1905 along with the reforms in Russia the Diet with its hereditary representation was dissolved and the modern Parliament of Finland was established in 1906. For the first time in the world, universal suffrage and eligibility was implemented, including both women and landless people and a record of 19 women were elected into parliament.

However by 1912 the situation was different again. As a knee-jerk to the reforms and the aspirations of the nations in the Russian Empire for independence, the so-called “Russification Policies” had been implemented. The first “oppression” starting in 1899 and while the 1905 reforms in Russia were aimed to change the political system, this didn’t make a stop to the policy of Russian hegemony that got re-implemented in 1910-1912. Finns had been loyal subjects of the Empire, Finnish troops for example used suppressing the uprisings of Poland before getting disbanded 1901-1905. (Even the Finish formation were disbanded there were several career officers in the Imperial Russian army, such as one Imperial Bodyguard cavalry officer named Mannerheim who got his first frontline command in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905.)

People had got quite upset over the “Gracious Manifesto” and the oppressive measures in Finland were constantly intensified. Finnish activists who were referring to the Constitution, the so-called “Constitutionalists” opposed the manifesto as they saw it being illegal. Activists formed the “Kagal” - a secret society originally not promoting independence as such but maintaining the old autonomy. The oppressive measures met mostly with passive resistance that had been the mode since the beginning of the century, such as dodging the draft to the Russian army, as the separate Finnish troops had been disbanded, and university students passing their obligatory Russian with just a mark above fail. Even though Eugen Schaumann did shoot the Governor-General Bobrikoff in 1904 it still was one of the rare political assassinations in Finland. However the peaceful resistance would erupt into full blown violence and political murders by 1917.

The outbreak of the Great War, later to be known as the First World War, with the massive pouring of Russian troops into Finland and later in 1914 leaked information about plans to annihilate the Finnish autonomy completely led to a new thinking in the resistance movement among university students. They were “young hotheads” as described by the “Constitutionalists” who didn’t believe in armed revolt. The first student activist meetings in 1914 established a committee aimed to separate Finland from Russia by using the new situation created by the Great War. The establishment of a military leadership was seen as a prerequisite for this. The only possible assistance in making these plans come true was thought to come from Germany. This also suited the German political interests even though the Germans were quite reluctant to jump in with full support, rather have something up their sleeve “just in case”.

The first training course planned only to last a few months began in February 1915 at Lockstedt camp, now, Hohenlockstedt in Holstein near Hamburg, with a total of 189 students. To hide the real nature of the course it was called a Pfadfinder (Boyscout) course. The trainers were German officers and ncos. Jägers, as they later were called, wanted more military training and wished to prolong the course widening its scope. In August 1915 a decision was made to raise the number of the trainees to 2,000 men and to make this a strengthened battalion called Lockstedt Training Corps. The battalion was later given the name of the 27th Royal Prussian Jäger Battalion. At home, a new country-wide recruiting intensified.

At this stage senior influential patriots, who previously had doubts about the potential of the Jäger movement, also joined the activity. Volunteers of all ages and from all social groups secretly left the country to joint the Jägers, a few needed to be turned down, like a man served for three days before they figured out he had a wooden leg. The Jägers were later on deployed on the Oder-Miesse front before the political situation made it profitable for the Germans to let them return to Finland as a troop.

Meanwhile in Russia the unrest increased, and in February the Revolution started. In 1917 the feelings in Helsinki were tense.

"We need, it seemed to me, some other sort of freedom than the Russian svoboda could give to us. It should be built on a Teutonic foundation without any dependency to Slavic bursts of sentiments." - Professor, Honorary Councillor of State Edv. Hjelt (Source here)

The Kerenski Government tried to keep the Finnish Senate and Parliament happy by cancelling the oppressive manifestos and appointing a new Governor-General. However Kerenskis government didn’t last for long; the Bolsheviks took over in the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War started on earnest. Meanwhile in Finland the Senate seized the moment and declared independence, and sent a delegation which returned with a piece of paper with impressive signatures…

The Soviet of People’s Commissars.
Dec. 18, 1917.
No. 101

As the answer to the appeal of the Finnish Government to recognise the independence of the Republic of Finland, the Soviet of People’s Commissars, in full accordance with the principle of nations’ right to self-determination, HAS DECIDED:
To propose to the Central Executive Committee that:

a/ The independence of the Republic of Finland as a country is recognised,


b/ A special Commission, in agreement with the Finnish Government, comprising members of both parties, should be instituted to elaborate those practical

measures that follow from the partition of Finland from Russia.

Chairman of the Soviet of People’s Commissars
Vl. Ulianov (Lenin)

People’s Commissars:
L. Trotski
G. Petrovski
J. Stalin
I. Steinberg
V. Karelin
A. Schlichter
The Chief of Bureau Vlad. Bonch-Bruevich Secretary of the Soviet N. Gorbunov

And all hell broke loose in Finland: The Finnish Civil War started in January 1918.

The Social Democrats on the left and conservatives on the right had competed for the leadership of the Finnish state, which shifted from the left to the right in 1917. Both groups collaborating with the corresponding political forces in Russia, deepening the split in the nation. As there were no generally accepted police nor army forces to keep order in Finland after March 1917, the left and right began building security groups of their own, leading to the emergence of two independent armed military troops, the White and Red Guards. An atmosphere of political violence and fear grew among the Finns. Fighting broke out during January 1918 due to the acts of both the Reds and Whites, in a spiral of military and political escalation.

The German Empire finally intervened in the Finnish Civil War on the side of the White Army in March 1918. The activists had been seeking German aid but the Germans did not want to prejudice their armistice and peace negotiations with Russia. The German stance altered radically when Trotsky called the negotiations off, hoping revolutions would break out in the German Empire and change everything. The German government promptly decided to teach Russia a lesson and, as a pretext for aggression, invited “requests for help” from the smaller countries west of Russia. On March 5, a German Naval squadron landed on the Åland Islands in the southwestern archipelago of Finland, where a Swedish military expedition had been protecting Swedish interests and the Swedish-speaking population since mid-February.

On 3 April 1918, the 10,000-strong Baltic Sea Division led by Rüdiger von der Goltz struck west of Helsinki at Hanko, and on 7 April, the 3,000-strong Detachment Brandenstein overran the town of Loviisa on the south-eastern coast. The main German formations then advanced rapidly eastwards from Hanko and took Helsinki on 13 April. The Finnish Civil War ended on 14–15 May 1918 when the last Russian troops retreated over the border along with the remnants of the Red government.

The toll of the five months was high. Almost 37,000 people perished, 5,900 of whom (16% of the total) were between 14 and 20 years old (population of Finland was around 3 million at the time). A notable feature of the war was that only about 10,000 of these casualties occurred on the battlefields; most of the deaths resulted from the terror campaigns, summary executions and from the appalling conditions in the prison camps. (Those Russians fighting on the “Red” side were shot on site, in Helsinki Taivallahti Military Cemetery there is a memorial for 4 unfortunate Polish soldiers that were actually on the “White” side trying to repatriate to Poland, but due to their… linguistical challenge and uniforms were shot near St.Henry’s church in the night after the invasion of Helsinki. ) The military archives have published a list of casualties 1914-1922 In addition, the war left about 20,000 children orphaned - probably a big reason why the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare was established in 1920.

Finland was in mid-1918 more or less comfortably included in the German sphere of influence and quickly becoming a German protectorate. A new conservative Senate, with a monarchist majority, was formed by J.K. Paasikivi. All members of parliament who had taken part in the revolt were removed from office. This left only one social democrat later to be joined by two more. There was no Social Democrat opposition in the Parliament to object to making the ties even tighter. At the end of May the Senate asked the Germans to remain in the country. The agreements signed with Germany in return for military support had bound Finland politically, economically, and militarily to the German Empire. The Germans proposed a further military pact in summer 1918 as a part of their plan to secure raw materials for German industry from Eastern Europe and tighten their control over Russia.

Already in April 1918 the press, Hufvudstadsbladet and the conservative Uusi Suometar had been promoting the idea of a king for Finland. After all, the Finnish Constitution was still based on the Swedish laws, including the Förenings- och säkerhetsakten of 1789 with a king as a head of the state, so the idea was not as proposterous then as it would seem today. Of course, there was opposition even among the conservatives, but old republicans like Svinhufvud changed coats to supporting the royalists during 1918. But the question is, who to elect as the king? Of course, the German Empire is conveniently full of Princes. How about Kaiser Wilhelm II’s son Otto?

Wilhelm says no to Otto, but another… slightly remote relative might be OK. How about the Kaiser’s brother-in-law Friedrich Karl, the Prince of Hessen-Kassel. Not exactly your Teutonic hero, but close enough to the inner circle, even though slightly reluctant. Of course there was someone who wanted to become King of Finland - the former Governor of the model German Colony of Togoland, Adolf Friedrich zu Mecklenburg - who for obvious reasons had lost his job controlling restless natives after the restless British and French invaded in 1914.

As with all job applications, the Finns didn’t appreciate someone selling themselves like that. So on 9. October 1918 Prince Friedrich Karl of Hessen-Kassel was elected King by the Parliament of Finland. Now if you think Finland was somehow unique in wanting a German Prince as a King - it was a fashionable thing to do around the Baltic Sea. Lithuania had already taken a similar step in July 1918, electing Wilhelm Karl, Duke of Urach, Count of Württemberg as King Mindove II of Lithuania. For Latvia and Estonia, a “General Provincial Assembly” consisting of Baltic-German aristocrats, had called upon the German Kaiser Wilhelm to recognize the Baltic provinces as a joint monarchy and a German protectorate. Consequently our friend Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was nominated Duke of “the United Baltic Duchy” by the Germans. (Seems in those days they couldn’t have a son without “Wilhelm” “Friedrich” or “Karl” in the name… )

However the situation of Germany and the collapse of the Central Powers in the latter half of the 1918 changed all this. One by one, Bulgaria, Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary signed armistices and a revolution broke out in Germany forcing Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate in November and flee to the Netherlands.

Politicians in Finland and the Baltics went “oops”. And started switching coats.

In light of his German birth, and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II ending all monarchies in Germany, the arrangement of being King of Finland was considered a bad move by the Senate, and by Friederich himself. Friedrich Karl renounced the Finnish throne on 14 December 1918, without ever arriving in the country, much less taking up his position. Finland had new parliamentary elections - now including Social Democrats - and a republican constitution was adapted in 1919. The “Kingdom of Finland” was effectively forgotten. Only in the 1980’s an interesting find was done in the National Archives - the planning sketches for the Crown of Finland. (This is one made in 1988 according to the plans as a display item for the Kemi Gemstone Museum.)

Due to the political turmoil in the country, a “strong man in lead” was however seen as necessary. Hence the Constitution of 1919 invested quite much power to the President following the French model of the 3rd Republic, instead of the Prime Minister as in many other countries. It can be seen that some of the “powers of the King” were invested on the President as well, namely the right to pardon criminals and appoint high officials. Some traditions remain like the Presidents Ball and the “knighthoods” of the decorations. The Constitution also has a peculiarity there is no independent Constitutional Court as such, but a parliamentary constitutional committee. The Finnish President was in power to guarantee the foreign relations and could effect the government and dissolve the Parliament, which especially happened in the later years with Paasikivi and Kekkonen. In the new Constitution of 2000, the President was stripped of some of the authoritative powers in favor of the Prime Minister, reflecting the less polarized situation in the modern world.

But now as we “celebrate” (now you might get the idea why it is such a solemn occasion) the 90 years of Finnish independence on the 6th of December (slightly arbitrary date) we can reflect upon how the tides of history can make kings for a day… or a couple of months. And how fast the politicians can switch from republicans to royalists and back. Finland managed to survive the 1920’s and emerge into the 1930’s as a strong parliamentary democracy with more of a lean towards France and the UK than the now weak Weimar Republic.

BTW it was a Family Feud that Great War. Eighteen days after his own birth, the baby Frederick’s first cousin, the then Tsesarevna Maria Fyodorovna of Russia, daughter of his aunt Queen Louise of Denmark, gave birth in Saint Petersburg to Nicholas II of Russia, who would become Frederick Charles’ predecessor as the monarch of Finland (1894–1917).

Unless someone keeled over of the history lesson, there's an interesting site of “Documents of Finnish History” as well as “Pictures From Wars During Finland´s Independence that have some rare treats. I also warmly recommend reading on the United Baltic Duchy and the three Baltic States’ struggle for independence.

Originally published on Finland for Thought.



Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author

Get it off your chest
 (comments policy)

Simon2007-12-06 11:13:04
Thanks for that history lesson. Very enlightening.

Hank W.2007-12-12 15:50:52
Hrmpf... I'm surprised anyone could stand to read it through.

It is a very interesting time in history, and because of the "right" and as the "winners wrote the history" its always been black&white depending on the viewpoint. But if you really go into there a bit deeper its shades of grey you can't really but wonder of it all.

Hank W.2007-12-12 15:59:11
Not to mention of its traumatic memories and the culture of silence.

My grandmother was... 16 in 1917. She never ever spoke anything about those times. Once she blurted out: "Your grandfather puked and shat himself simultaneously when he came back from the camp..." And clammed up after that.

Only deductions from that and a photo of grandma and granddad in a group of railroad foundry workers' in the 1920's equates that

a) granddad was a "Red"
b) he was sent home to die from a prison camp when the dysentry outbreak got out of hand

But there are things that were not spoken about.

DumptruckMotorcade2008-07-23 19:27:31
Hey Hank,

You still eating peanut butter and wearing that baseball cap?

biggus_typerys2011-04-14 15:28:38
Hi Hank,
If you look a bit deeper you would see that all finnish history written by swedes and about swedes. People without roots are quite quick to rewrite someone's history.

© Copyright CHAMELEON PROJECT Tmi 2005-2008  -  Sitemap  -  Add to favourites  -  Link to Ovi
Privacy Policy  -  Contact  -  RSS Feeds  -  Search  -  Submissions  -  Subscribe  -  About Ovi