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Finland's Borders

Finland's eastern border was drawn for the first time between Sweden and Novgorod in 1323 in the Treaty of Nöteborg. It cut through the present Finnish territory from northwest to southeast, from Pyhäjoki in northern Ostrobothnia to the Karelian Isthmus. The areas to the south and west of the border, including Vyborg, belonged to Sweden, while the areas north and east of the border, including the northern parts of Finland, were Russian territory. For centuries, the border drawn in the Treaty would separate two cultures, religions and languages, and its impacts are still felt today. Finnish dialects can be roughly classified into eastern and western variants in accordance with this ancient divide.

Resurgent Sweden and Russia clashed a number of times during the ensuing centuries and most of the battles were fought on Finnish soil. The Treaty of Teusina, concluded in 1595, ended a bloody guerrilla war between the two countries (known as the Long Wrath) that had been raging for 25 years. Under the Treaty, the northern section of Finland's eastern border made a great leap eastwards, reaching the Arctic Ocean. Those drawing the new border recognised the fact that Finnish tribes had already spread towards the east. The next redrawing came two decades later. Russia had been weakened by succession disputes and Sweden managed to occupy large areas of Russia located to the southeast of Finland, which were ceded to it in the Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617. As a result of its territorial gains, Sweden became one of the largest countries in Europe. For Karelians living in the areas now under Swedish rule, the redrawing of the border meant major changes. Sweden started to convert members of the Orthodox Church to the Protestant faith and imposed heavy taxes on them. As a result, a large number of Karelians moved to Russia and the westernmost Finnish tribes started settling in the areas conquered by Sweden.

Some one hundred years later, in a war known as the Great Wrath, Tsar Peter the Great reconquered the areas Russia had ceded to Sweden in the 17th century. Under the Treaty of Uusikaupunki, which brought the conflict to a close, Finland's eastern border was moved to more or less where it is today. Two decades later, Russians invaded Finland again. The occupation, known as the Little Wrath, ended with the Treaty of Turku under which the areas east of the Kymijoki River and those around Savonlinna were ceded to Russia.

Under the Treaty of Hamina in 1809, which ended the war between Sweden and Russia fought in 1808-1809, Finland was incorporated into Russia. Finland was granted autonomy, its pre-war administrative bodies remained in place, Protestantism remained the country's religion, and the laws passed under the Swedish rule remained in force. In 1812, the parts of Karelia around Vyborg and to the north of Lake Ladoga were incorporated into the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. As a result, Finland's eastern border now followed the course laid down in the Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617.

Finland declared itself independent in December 1917. A state of war existed between Finland and Soviet Russia even though no major battles were fought. Russia recognised Finland's independence and concluded a peace treaty with its northwestern neighbour. Under the treaty, signed in the Estonian town of Tartu in 1920, the northern area of Petsamo was incorporated into Finland, while Finland ceded the Karelian districts of Repola and Porajärvi to Russia.

Finland's eastern border was redrawn for the last time during the Second World War following conflicts between Finland and the Soviet Union. Under an interim peace treaty in 1944, Finland again had to cede to the Soviet Union the areas around Vyborg and to the north of Lake Ladoga, the Petsamo area, and parts of the northern municipalities of Salla and Kuusamo. Almost the entire population of these areas, some 400,000 people, were resettled in different parts of Finland.

The more extreme Finnish nationalists hoped for the establishment of a Greater Finland (Suur-Suomi) that would unite the Finnic peoples of Northern Europe within boundaries, running from the Gulf of Bothnia to the White Sea and from Estonia to the Arctic Ocean, that included Eastern Karelia. Eastern Karelia was the area, located roughly between Finland and the White Sea, that was inhabited by Finnic-speaking people who, centuries before, had been brought under Russian rule and had been converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Since the nineteenth century, romantic Finnish nationalists had sought to reunite the Karelians with Finland.

The main body of the Finnish people lived in Finland, an extensive, thinly settled country with the area of New Mexico (125,000 square miles) and the population of the Boroughs of Manhattan and Queens (2,800,000 souls). Down to the Russian Revolution of 1917, Finland lay groaning under the Czarist yoke. Russia's collapse gave Finland the chance to declare its independence. Soon afterward another people of Finnish blood - the Esths of Esthonia, the northern-most of the Baltic Provinces, likewise proclaimed their freedom. The two peoples, separated only by the narrow waters of the Gulf of Finland, were acting in close association, Finnish troops having played a great part in clearing Esthonia of the Russian Bolshevik invasion. Among both peoples there was a strong tendency to form a permanent political union and to attempt in common the drawing of the whole Finnish people into a "Greater Finland." For there were many Finns outside the historic boundaries of Finland and Esthonia.

Eastward of both these countries lay a wide band of territory which, though politically classed as Russian, was largely inhabited by people of Finnish blood. In fact, Russia's capital, Petrograd, was built on Finnish soil, being historically a recent intrusion, the artificial creation of Czar Peter the Great two centuries ago. Another object of Pan-Finnish aspirations was the Norwegian province of Finmark, lying north of Finland proper along the Arctic Ocean, and inhabited, as its name implies, largely by Finns.

The most prominent organization advancing the Greater Finland idea was the Academic Karelia Society (Akateeminen Karjala-Seura- -AKS), which was founded in 1922 by Finnish students who had fought in Eastern Karelia against Soviet rule during the winter of 1921 to 1922. In the 1920s, the AKS became the dominant group among Finnish university students. Its members often retained their membership after their student days, and the AKS was strongly represented among civil servants, teachers, lawyers, physicians, and clergymen. Most Lutheran clergymen had been strongly pro-White during the civil war, and many of them were also active in the AKS and in the even more radical anti- communist Lapua movement. Thus the AKS created a worldview among an entire generation of educated Finns that was relentlessly anti-Soviet and expansionistic. The Eastern Karelians were eventually assimilated into Russian culture through a deliberate Soviet policy of denationalization, aimed at removing any possibility of their being attracted to Finland.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:56:55 ZULU