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Last updated : Nov 2009
Finland History
Finland History - TravelPuppy.com
During the first millennium BC, various peoples settled in Finland, including the nomadic Saami who lived the north of the country and the Tavastians from central Europe. A notable feature of this migration was that the settlers spoke a language belonging to the Finno-Ugric group which also includes Hungarian and Estonian, and is quite distinct from the Indo-European languages spoken throughout most of the rest of Europe.

In the Viking Age, between the eighth and 11th centuries, Finland – an area larger than the present country, extending as far east as the Karel peninsula, now part of the Russian Federation – provided the backdrop for expanding trade and occasional wars between the Swedes, Russians and Germans. The Swedes predominated until 1240, when they were defeated by a force from the Russian province of Novgorod. The Swedes were not wholly expelled from the region, however, and at the Treaty of Pähkinäsaari in 1323, Finland was divided into Russian and Swedish spheres of influence.

The Swedish part, which roughly coincides with modern-day Finland, was granted the full rights of a Swedish province during 1362. As such, it became part of the Danish-led Kalmar Union and, when Sweden broke away from the Union, remained under Swedish control. The Russians continued to covet the territory and as Swedish influence in Europe waned at the start of the 18th century, and Finland was briefly occupied by the Russians. The tug-of-war between Finland’s two powerful neighbours continued for the next 200 years.

In 1917, Finland was an autonomous region within the Russian Empire and in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, Finland declared independence, which the new Soviet government accepted after brief efforts to re-assert control. Fighting between the two took place on the fringes of World War II, between 1939 and 1941. Under a formal peace treaty signed during 1947, the Finns agreed to cede territory to the then USSR and pay reparation.

The existence of a Pact of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance between the countries has led to the term ‘Finlandisation’. Bilateral relations improved after the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev at the Kremlin and the 2 countries signed a 10-year treaty in 1992. Since joining the European Union in 1995, given the Russian Federation’s preoccupation with its own situation and reduced international clout, the focus in Helsinki has not only principally switched to Europe but also towards the development of relations with the newly independent Baltic states of the former USSR, with whom there are cultural and linguistic links.

Finland’s appreciation of Moscow’s sensitivity remains acute, nonetheless, typified by its refusal to countenance future membership of NATO, which also remains deeply unpopular among many of the electorate. During the last few decades, domestic politics have been dominated by the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Centre Party (known as ‘Kesk’), which have led a long series of coalition governments and presided over the evolution of a centrist consensus in the Finnish political life.

In recent years, the main change in the political landscape has been caused by the emergence of the right-wing National Coalition Party (Kokoomus, referred to as ‘Kok’). Finland’s long-serving President, Mauno Koivisto, the architect of its delicate balancing act between the East and West, stood down in 1993, after 2 terms. He was replaced by the SDP candidate, former senior UN official Martti Ahtisaari. He was succeeded in turn by another Social Democrat, Tarja Halonen, the first woman to hold the post, at the beginning of 2000.

The SDP has dominated successive coalition governments. Paavo Lipponen, the leader of the SDP, assumed the post of Prime Minister following the general election of March 1995. Lipponen survived the 1999 general election, and finally ceded office following the most recent poll during March 2003. This was won by the Centre Party, whose leader Anneli Jaatteenmaki took over as premier, although the Social Democrats were brought into the new coalition government along with the Swedish People’s party, which represents Finland’s ethnic Swedish population. Jaatteenmaki’s tenure was short-lived and brought down by a political scandal, he was replaced in June 2003 by Martti Vanhanen.