A Very Brief History of Finland
Human tribes, hunters and gatherers, started populating Finland shortly after the last ice age – about 8000 BC. They came from the Kunda area to the south of the Gulf of Finland. The language is from the southeast and the ancient tribal Finns (Suomi as they called themselves) learned to speak a Urlaic language of the Baltic sea area as these people moved in about the time of the iron age – 1st century AD. As time went on they learned farming techniques and to make bronze and iron tools, but they were very remote.
Finns like to speak of themselves as Suomi (land?). They were first described to the Western world in about 98 AD by Tacitus of Rome who called the people in the broad area around the Gulf of Finland the Fenni The Suomi had their own form of polytheistic paganism.
The Kalevala is based on oral tradition from all parts of Finland, especially the eastern part, Karelia. A good map displaying Karelia is HERE. It is very near St. Petersburg so what follows regarding the wars with Russia is understandable.
During the Reformation the old stories were banned by the clergy but they were remembered – especially in East Finland – Karelia – where the Russian Orthodox church prevailed.
Between 1831 and 1835 they were finally collected and put together in written format by Elias Lönnrot, a doctor for 4000 or so people most of whom lived in small rural communities scattered across the district. He made about 11 trips to Karelia to hear the stories. He was also an expert in the Finnish language.
Lönnrot’s aim was to arrange the mythological and other poems into a single volume, comparable to the Icelandic Edda, and tell about the past heroes like Homer did in Iliad and Odyssey. The Kalevala itself is based principally on poems collected from the Finnish-speaking regions beyond the eastern frontier of Finland.
Finland was introduced to Christianity in the 11th century and it was firmly established by the 13th century. Pagan rites and stories were forbidden by the clergy during the Reformation (16th century). European standards also caused a significant reduction in the use of traditional folk songs and singers. Nevertheless, the tradition has never been totally erased.
The chronology of this oral tradition is uncertain. The oldest themes (the origin of Earth) have been interpreted to have their roots in distant, unrecorded history and could be as old as 3,000 years. The newest events (e.g. the arrival of Christianity) seem to be from the Iron Age. Finnish folklorist Kaarle Krohn proposes that 20 of the 45 poems of The Kalevala are of possible Ancient Estonian origin or they at least deal with a motif of Estonian origin (of the remainder, two are Ingrian and 23 are Western Finnish).
Akseli Gallen-Kallela is a contemporary Finnish Artist inspired by the Kalevala.
Sweden lost control of Finland to Russia in 1809 – and Tsar Alexander I established a Grand Duchy which was basically left alone although that was never really formally established. In 1899 Tsar Nicholas II reversed the trend toward more and more autonomy and decreed that since Finland was Russian they should speak Russian, adopt the Russian Orthodox faith, have no separate Parliament and serve in the Russian military. This ended the era of good feelings with Russia. Many Finns emigrated to the US and elsewhere during this time.
During WWI Finland had to fight on the side of Russia but after the Russian Revolution Helsinki felt that all bonds were broken and quickly declared their independence. Lenin approved it thinking that might trigger the revolution there – wrong.
Instead of revolution Lenin hoped for, Finland had a truly horrendous Civil War between the Reds (socialists / labor/ southern cities) and the Whites (conservative/ peasants / middle class / northern towns). The Whites received assistance from the German Empire helping them to win only to fall into the German “sphere of power.” After Germany lost WWI Finland was an independent democratic republic with moderate leaders who were willing to compromise and work together.
But then WWII came along. In 1939 Russian armies entered Eastern Finland starting the “Winter War.” The Russians were incredibly more powerful than the Finns.
The President of the Republic has appointed me on 30 November 1939 as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the country. Brave soldiers of Finland! I enter on this task at a time when our hereditary enemy is once again attacking our country. Confidence in one’s commander is the first condition for success. You know me and I know you and know that everyone in the ranks is ready to do his duty even to death. This war is nothing other than the continuation and final act of our War of Independence. We are fighting for our homes, our faith, and our country.
The Finns were forced to accept assistance from the Germans (because Great Britain refused to help) and became Nazi allies against the Soviets during the war. Finland signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which made Finland an ally with Germany in the war against the Soviet Union. But, unlike all other Axis states, Finland never signed the Tripartite Pact and so Finland never was de jure an Axis nation.
The Russians sued for peace with the provision that they get about 11% of Finnish territory (- the eastern part) and 30% of its assets. Also the Russians gained protection from the Germans who were unable to get through to Northern Russia via Finland. Finland, otoh, which would have lost per the plan of the Russians, maintained their autonomy.
Finland managed to defend its democracy, contrary to most other countries within the Soviet sphere of influence, and suffered comparably limited losses in terms of civilian lives and property. It was, however, punished harsher than other German co-belligerents and allies, having to pay large reparations and resettle an eighth of its population after having lost an eighth of the territory including one of its industrial heartlands and the second-largest city of Viipuri. After the war, the Soviet government settled these gained territories with people from many different regions of the USSR, for instance from Ukraine.
The Finnish government did not participate in the systematic killing of Jews, although the country remained a “co-belligrent”, a de facto ally of Germany until 1944. In total, eight German Jewish refugees were handed over to the German authorities.