Seven Centuries Under Swedish Rule
In the 12th century, Sweden and the Republic of Novgorod—which ruled vast areas of Russia—battled for rulership over Finland. The first border between these two major powers was drawn in 1323, when most of Finland came under Swedish rule.
The Reformation reached Sweden and Finland in the early 16th century. The Catholic Church was replaced by the Lutheran Church. The Reformation set in motion a great rise in Finnish-language culture. The Bishop of Turku, Mikael Agricola, created written Finnish, and he translated the Christian Greek Scriptures into Finnish in 1548. The entire Bible appeared in Finnish in 1642.
During the centuries, Sweden strengthened its power around the Baltic Sea. To protect the country, Sweden built a sea fortress called Sveaborg (now called Suomenlinna) on a strategically located position in the Gulf of Finland. The fortress was situated in front of what was then a small town named Helsinki.
Under Swedish reign the population was centered in Western Finland, and Turku was the most populated and significant city in Finland. During these centuries Swedish was the main language used by the administration, Finnish nobles, and the wealthy bourgeoisie. The rest of the inhabitants spoke either Finnish or Swedish as their mother tongue.
Autonomous Part of Russia
During the 18th century, Russia and Sweden fought three wars in which Russian troops invaded Finland. In 1809 Sweden eventually ceded Finland to the Russian Empire, an absolute monarchy governed by the Tsar. However, Finland did not become part of Russia but instead became an autonomous Grand Duchy. The Emperor of Russia granted Finland extensive autonomy.
In 1812, the capital of Finland was moved to Helsinki, as the new government felt that Turku (the former capital) was too close to Sweden and its influence.
The authorities were also in favor of elevating the position of the Finnish language to the same level with Swedish, because they believed this would weaken the ties to Sweden. From 1841 onward, the Finnish language became one of the subjects taught in schools. The Russian language never gained any strong position in Finland, even though Finland was under Russian rule for over a hundred years.
Changes During the Last Century
Turbulent times during World War I brought momentous changes to Finland. After two revolutions in Russia, Finland became an independent country in December 1917. The actual declaration of independence took place peacefully. However, shortly after, a brutal civil war broke out between the "Reds" and the "Whites." After three months of fighting, and thousands of casualties, the war ended in the "Whites'" victory. There was a brief attempt to establish a monarchy under a German king, but Finland eventually became a republic.
During World War II, Finland remained an independent country, even though it fought against two major powers—first the Soviet Union and later Germany. After the war, Finland developed at a fast pace and became a parliamentary republic. In 1995, Finland joined the European Union, and in 2002 it changed its currency system to the Euro.
Finland is known for its paper industry. A large part of the paper used to print publications of Jehovah's Witnesses comes from Finnish companies.
Picture credits: Helsinki City Museum/Fredrik Tengstrom/Frans Oskar Liewendal/Hårdh Carl Adolf, Visit Finland/Esko Jämsä