the european declaration of independence

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December 6th 1917: Finnish independence

On this day in 1917, Finland formally declared its independence from Russia. Located in-between Sweden and Russia, Finland had long been the object of these two major powers’ imperial machinations. In 1809, Sweden ceded Finland to Russia, with Finland’s nominally automonous government now subject to final approval by the tsar. The first years of Russian rule were relatively peaceful, with the Finns accepting Russian initiatives such as the relocation of the capital to Helsinki. However, there was evidence of an incipient Finnish nationalism, though this did not reach the mainstream until Finland was dragged into the Crimean War on Russia’s side. The Finnish government became increasingly assertive, issuing its own currency and introducing universal suffrage, making Finland the first European country to grant full political rights to women. Popular grumblings against Russian rule found a convenient outlet when Russia was rocked by communist revolution in October 1917. Seizing on the tumult in Russia, and inspired by the Bolsheviks’ professed support for self-determination, Finland formally declared independence on December 6th, 1917. The new Bolshevik government of Vladimir Lenin soon recognised the nation’s independence, though the path to autonomy was not entirely peaceful, as a year later Finland descended into a bloody civil war. The war was fought between the working class Reds, who desired a socialist revolution like Russia’s, and the conservative, nationalist Whites. Aided by Germany, the Whites were victorious, and swiftly established a monarchy led by a German prince. However, Germany’s defeat in the First World War led Finland to embrace a republican system of government. This anniversary, celebrated in Finland as Independence Day, marks a pivotal moment in Finnish history, beginning the process towards the free and independent Finland of today.

“The century-old desire for freedom awaits fulfilment now; Finland’s people step forward as a free nation among the other nations in the world”
- Finnish Declaration of Independence