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History & Background

Until the early twentieth century, Finland was part of Sweden or Russia. In 1155, the first missionaries arrived in Finland from Sweden. Sweden ruled Finland from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries. Russia ruled Finland from 1809 to 1917, when Finland finally won its independence.

The political and social character of the Finnish people has been shaped by their relationships with Sweden, Russia, and, in the twentieth century, the Soviet Union and the West. Under Swedish rule, the Swedish language was the official language, and much of the administration of the country was directed from Sweden and carried out by Swedes. Finland moved from Swedish to Russian control as a part of a deal struck between Napoleon of France and Czar Alexander I of Russia in an effort to complete Napoleon's blockage of England (1809). In the process, Russian troops occupied Finland (Jakobson 1998).

In an important way, this was the beginning of Finnish independence. As a Grand Duchy of the Czar, Finland was given its own administration headed by a senate. "As grand duke of Finland, the Russian Czar, an autocrat with absolute power in the rest of his empire, accepted the role of constitutional monarch" in Finland (Jakobson 1998). Thus began Finnish self-rule.

Along with self-rule, the Finnish language became the language of the government, furthering a sense of Finish identity. In 1835, Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, was published. This collection of Finnish folk poems, compiled and edited by Elias Lönnrot, played an important role in the development of the Finnish language and, more generally, of Finnish culture. This epic poem brought a small, unknown people to the attention of other Europeans. Within the Grand Duchy of Finland, the Kalevala bolstered self-confidence. These factors furthered faith in the possibility of an independent Finland, complete with a Finnish language and culture.

Finland declared its independence from Russia on December 6, 1917, though there were Russian troops in Finland. At the end of December 1917, Lenin recognized Finnish independence. The new state was also recognized by France, Germany, and Sweden. Thus began a long period of a complex and sometimes stormy relationship with the USSR.

With the encouragement of the Bolsheviks, a group of Finns broke from the "Red Guard" and engaged the "White Army" led by General Mannerhein. About 30,000 Finns lost their lives on both sides of the civil war that lasted from January to May 1918. The White Army forces won the day. In 1919 the present constitution was adopted, and Finland became a republic with a president as head of state. The legislative branch of government has a unicameral parliament or Eduskunta of 200 seats; members are elected by popular vote on a proportional basis to serve 4 year terms. A supreme court or Korkein Oikeus heads the judicial branch. The president appoints the Korkein Oikeus judges.

In the winter of 1939-1940, the Soviet Union attacked Finland, and the Winter War was fought. While the Finns did not defeat the USSR, they managed to hold them off and won wide respect in Europe and the world for their efforts. It is not exactly correct to say that Finland was the only country to fight on both sides during the Second World War. Finland was a co-belligerent with Germany against the USSR. Finland signed a peace agreement with the Soviet Union in the summer of 1944, and ceded some territory to the Soviet Union, but was never occupied by Soviet troops. Finnish independence and sovereignty were preserved.

After the war, the government of Finland walked a fine line between the two camps of the "Cold War." On the one hand, Finland refused to accept an American offer to participate in the Marshall plan, developed a trade relationship with the Soviet Union, and paid off its war debt to the USSR. On the other hand, Finland worked towards becoming a member of the European Union, succeeding in 1995.

Political, Social, & Cultural Bases: Finland's official name is Republic of Finland (Suomen Tasavalta). Its short local form is Suomi. The population of Finland is approximately 5.2 million. It is the sixth largest country in Europe in area, with a low population density of 17 persons per square kilometer. Most Finns, some 65 percent of the population, now live in urban areas, while 35 percent of Finns live in a rural environment. Metropolitan Helsinki is composed of three cities: Helsinki, the capital, with a population 551,000; Espoo, with a population of 210,000; and Vantaa, with a population of 176,000. These urban centers are home to roughly one-sixth of the country's total population. Other important cities include Tampere (193,000), Turku (172,000), and Oulu (118,000).

The Finnish language is a member of the Finno-Ugric linguistic family that includes, in one branch, Finnish, Estonian, and a number of other Finnic tongues; and, in the other, Hungarian, by far the biggest language of the Ugric group. An indigenous minority language is Sami, spoken by the Sami people (also known as Lapps) of Lapland.

The number of foreign citizens living permanently in Finland was about 85,000 in 1999. The biggest groups were from the neighboring countries of Russia, Estonia, and Sweden. The Finnish currency is the markka.

Lutherans constitute 86 percent of the population, with 1 percent of the population professing the Finnish Orthodox religion. Sweden, Norway, and Russia border Finland. Forests cover 68 percent of Finland, while 10 percent is water (188,000 lakes). Cultivated land constitutes 8 percent of Finnish territory with 14 percent listed as "other." The official languages of the country are Finnish (92.6 percent), Swedish (5.7 percent), and other (1.7 percent). This latter figure is consistent with the percentage of foreign residents in Finland (1.7 percent in 1999). There are 2.5 million workers in the labor force (53 percent male and 47 percent female). The service industry comprises 64 percent of the labor force, with industry and construction making up 28 percent, and agriculture and farming making up the final 8 percent. Finnish exports are led by metal and engineering (43 percent), followed by paper (39 percent), with chemical, textiles, and clothing making up the final 18 percent. Finland's main trading partners are Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. (Havén 1999)

Since 1917 Finland has been a sovereign parliamentary republic with a separately elected president. The president's term is six years. Two hundred members of parliament are elected for four-year terms. The voting age is 18 and is universal. The major political parties in Finland are the Social Democrats, Center Party of Finland, National Coalition Party, Left Alliance, Green League, Swedish People's Party of Finland, and Christian League of Finland. As of the March 1999 election, women held 37 percent of the seats in parliament, the largest female percentage in the European Union. For administrative purposes the country is divided into six provinces (laanit): Aland, Etela-Suomen Laani, Ita-Suomen Laani, Lansi-Suomen Laani, Lappi, and Oulun Laani.

Geographically, Finland is in the far north of Europe. This means that the southern tip of Finland has 19 hours of sun in the summer and 6 hours of sun in the winter. In the northernmost parts of the country, on the other hand, the sun does not rise for about six weeks in winter and does not set for about two months in summer. Despite its northern location, the Baltic Sea warms the south of the country so that both summer and winter temperatures are moderate.

Health care in Finland is under the guidance of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. While the ministry sets board guidelines and supervises the implementation of programs, the delivery of health services lies with the approximately 450 local municipal authorities. These authorities provide services independently or in cooperation with neighboring municipalities in joint municipal boards set up in a joint health center. Health services are funded with national and local taxes with around 10 percent of costs covered by the patient. Life expectancy at birth is 77.41 years for the total population. For males it is 73.74 years, while females have a life expectancy of 81.2 years.

There are 56 weekly newspapers (published 4 to 7 times a week) and 158 weekly newspapers (published from 1 to 3 times a week). The total circulation of all newspapers is 3.3 million. The Finnish Broadcasting Company, Oy Yleiradio Ab (YLE), is the biggest national radio and television provider. YLE is a noncommercial public service broadcaster that operates two television channels with full national coverage. There are 2 privately owned TV channels with national coverage and some 30 local TV stations. The only radio broadcaster with full nationwide coverage is YLE. The importance of electronic media is growing fast. Internet connections per capita in Finland were the highest in the world in 1999 with 25 Internet users per 100 inhabitants.

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