Finland and the Baltic Provinces
FINLAND AND THE BALTIC PROVINCESethnicity and nationalism
russification and the tsarist state
the revolution of 1905 and its aftermath
For the peoples of the tsarist Russian territories of the Grand Duchy of Finland and the three Baltic provinces of Estonia, Livonia (Livland), and Courland (Kurland), the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed the development of the modern Finnish, Estonian, and Latvian nations, which in the late eighteenth century seemed unlikely candidates for nationhood. This corner of northeast Europe was overwhelmingly agrarian in the late eighteenth century, with small urban populations. By the early twentieth century, however, the societies of the Baltic were undergoing industrialization and urbanization, and the region included one of the largest metropolises in the Russian Empire, the important port city of Riga.
The constitutional position of the Baltic provinces on the one hand, and Finland on the other, differed significantly. The formerly Swedish-held provinces of Estonia and Livonia, annexed by the Russian Empire in 1710 in the course of the Great Northern War (1700–1721) between Sweden and Russia, and the Polish-held Duchy of Courland, part of the Russian state after the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, were all made provinces of the Russian state. The Baltic German rural and urban corporative elites never saw themselves as "Russian"; rather, they held to the understanding that the traditional rights and privileges of the corporations of nobility and the urban magistrates were confirmed in exchange for their loyalty to the ruling Romanov dynasty.
The idea of Finnish independence from Sweden germinated among a group of rebellious Swedish officers from Finland in the 1780s, who were inclined to cooperate with Russia to attain their goal. In 1808 Russian troops attacked the Swedish crown by invading Finland, in fulfillment of the terms of the 1807 Treaties of Tilsit between France and Russia. Thus, in 1809, Finland came under Russian control. That year, the Russian tsar, Alexander I (r. 1801–1825), convened the Diet of the Estates, where he made Finland an autonomous grand duchy within the empire, giving the country separate administrative status for the first time in its history. In 1812 the Russian state attached to the grand duchy a borderland strip in southern and western Karelia ("Old Finland"). Finland kept these geographical boundaries until 1944.
In the Baltic provinces, a Russian-appointed governor was the highest local authority (a single governor-general administered the Baltic provinces from 1775 to 1876); he oversaw the activities of the central tsarist ministries, whose personnel were often themselves Baltic Germans, and later in the nineteenth century, Estonians and Latvians. Administration of local affairs was controlled by Baltic German elites—the corporations of nobility in the countryside and magistrates in urban areas.
Though a constituent part of the Russian Empire, Finland was not subject to central tsarist administration, but had its own council of government (soon renamed the Senate), which was composed of privileged, Swedish-speaking Finns. A governor-general, always a Russian military officer, with a staff primarily from Russia, was the highest local representative of the tsarist state and formally was chairman of the Senate. These separate lines of authority resulted in a degree of administrative dualism, although attempts to limit Finland's autonomy came only late in the century. Contributing to Finland's distinctive status within the empire was the creation of the position of state secretary of Finland, located in St. Petersburg, and occupied generally by a Finn; directives of the Russian state had to clear this office before they could be enacted in Finland.
There were, however, similarities in the relationship of the Baltic provinces and Finland with the tsarist state. On both sides of the Gulf of Finland the Russian state left local elites in place, granting them control of local administrative and judicial matters. In Finland, these were for the most part Swedish speakers, in the Baltic provinces, Baltic Germans. The tsarist state never intended to alter significantly the composition of Baltic and Finnish societies or to absorb them into the broader Russian population. Rather, it was more interested in these lands as buffer zones between Russia proper and western Europe.
Self-consciously national Finnish, Estonian, and Latvian cultures were formed in the nineteenth century under Russian rule. On the whole, the Russian state was favorably disposed to this development, and often even encouraged it, seeing these cultures as counterbalances to the power of the Baltic German elites in the Baltic provinces and the Swedish-speaking elites in Finland.
As throughout much of central and eastern Europe, ethnolinguistic differences in the Baltic region paralleled differences in social and economic status. The peasants of Estonia and northern Livonia were Estonians, whereas the countryside of southern Livonia and Courland was Latvian-dominated. Latvian areas were somewhat more urbanized than Estonian ones; in 1862 nearly 15 percent of the residents of southern Livonia and Courland lived in towns and cities, whereas under 9 percent of the population in northern Livonia and Estonia were urban. Baltic Germans formed a majority, if not a plurality, in all towns and cities in the eighteenth century. By the mid-nineteenth century, Estonians began displacing them as the numerically dominant group in Estonia and northern Livonia; however, urbanization of Latvians in southern Livonia and Courland proceeded somewhat more slowly. Estonians made up a majority of the population of Tallinn by 1871. In Riga, however, Latvians never held a majority in the tsarist period; by 1897 Latvians made up a plurality, though not a majority, of the city's population at 41.6 percent. Russians formed a significant urban minority, composed largely of old merchant families from pre-tsarist times, military officers, and, later in the century, Russian bureaucrats. In Riga and in the towns of Courland, Jews also had a notable presence. A small number of Swedes were found on islands off the west coast of Estonia. And the coast of the Gulf of Riga was home to a few surviving Livs, a people related to the Finns and Estonians.
In Finland, the correlation between ethnicity and native language on the one hand, and socioeconomic status on the other, was strong, though not as striking as it was in the Baltic provinces. Finnish speakers, who made up the bulk of the population, tended to be farmers and laborers. Swedish speakers, nearly 14 percent of the population in 1865, composed the majority of the urban and intellectual elite, but Swedish speakers also formed the bulk of the population in the coastal areas of southern and western Finland. Small Russian and German minorities could be found in several cities.
In the Baltic provinces, noble elites dominated in both town and countryside for most of the nineteenth century. These nobles were German speakers, descendants of medieval crusaders and traders, along with some more recent immigrants from German lands, most prominently, schoolteachers
and clergy. Finland's nobles—Swedish speaking (including some Swedicized Finns)—were much less powerful in relative terms than their Baltic German counterparts. Many Baltic Germans rose to positions of great prominence in the Russian military and civil service, including Field Marshal Prince Mikhail (or Michael) Barclay de Tolly (1761–1818); Alexander von Benckendorff (1781–1844), secret police chief under Nicholas I (r. 1825–1855); explorer Baron Ferdinand Wrangel (1796–1870); Finance Minister Count Mikhail Reitern (Michael Reutern; 1820–1890); and Justice Minister Konstantin von der Pahlen (1830–1912). State service was also attractive to Finns, and by midcentury over a fifth of the country's small nobility was in Russian state service, both in Finland and Russia proper. The most prominent figure in Finland in the twentieth century, Swedish-speaking nobleman Carl Gustaf Mannerheim (1867–1951), began his career in the Russian cavalry, becoming a lieutenant general and corps commander before the collapse of the tsarist regime.
Though serfdom was ended in the Baltic provinces in the second decade of the nineteenth century (1816 in Estonia, 1817 in Courland, and 1819 in Livonia), Baltic German landowners maintained control of the land and thus, to a great degree, over the lives of the peasants. Municipal power remained in the hands of the Baltic German and Swedish-speaking elites, and wealthy merchants dominated city life. Finland did not experience serfdom, but Finnish-speaking Finns, overwhelmingly peasants, had little input into government. Upwardly mobile urban Estonians, Latvians, and Finns, such as skilled artisans and the occasional professional, experienced near universal Germanization or, in Finland, Swedization. Despite the growth of nationalist movements in the second half of the century, this trend was not halted until the early twentieth century.
The consolidation of a Finnish, Estonian, and Latvian national identity began in the late eighteenth century and continued in the first half of the nineteenth century with the work of folklorists, ethnographers, and philologists, who studied the culture and language of the Finnish, Estonian, and Latvian common people. Inspired by Enlightenment ideals and Herderian notions of the primordial nature and ontological separateness of each nation (Volk), these German- and Swedish-speaking scholars published works that helped define the contours of the Finnish, Estonian, and Latvian national culture. By the 1840s, individual educated Estonians, Latvians, and Finns began to identify themselves publicly by these national appellations—commonly regarded in educated circles as synonyms for "peasants"—despite their primary fluency in German or Swedish. These intellectuals also cultivated the idea of a golden age of cultural and spiritual purity supposed to have existed before the arrival of Western crusaders and conquerors to the Baltic region in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.
In Finland, the spread of national sentiment at midcentury centered on the issue of language. Members of the "Fennoman" movement, led by Johan Wilhelm Snellman (1806–1881), advocated that Finnish replace Swedish in public life. Beginning in the 1840s, some educated, Swedish-speaking Finns abandoned their accustomed language for what they held to be their true mother tongue—Finnish. By the 1860s, the language conflict became heated. The majority within the educated class, however, championed the "Svecoman" view set out by the philologist Axel Olof Freudenthal (1836–1911), favoring a language-based Swedish nationality in Finland.
Published works that combined the worlds of scholarship and belles lettres contributed to the emergence of nationalism both in Finland and the Baltic provinces. Most important is the Finnish epic Kalevala (1835, enlarged in 1849) compiled by the physician-folklorist Elias Lönnrot (1802–1884) from oral poetry he collected among Finns living in Russia's Kola Peninsula. Inspired by Lönnrot's achievement, the Estonian folklorist and physician Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1803–1882) used elements of Estonian folk poetry to create his Kalevipoeg (The son of Kalevi; 1857–1861). Latvians' rich folk songs, first collected systematically in the 1880s, provided the impetus, if not the actual material, contained in the Latvian epic Lāčplēsis (The bear slayer), published by Andrejs Pumpurs in 1888.
Nationalist sentiment began to spread to wider sections of the population in the Baltic provinces in the 1860s. There was no single movement nor unified ideological or cultural program among those who began openly to espouse a self-consciously Latvian or Estonian identity. This was largely attributable to a lack of agreement on views toward the growing confrontation between the Russian state and the Baltic Germans. Among the small number of Estonian intellectuals and professionals, the journalist Johann Voldemar Jannsen (1819–1890) and the philologist-clergyman Jakob Hurt (1839–1907) held a moderate view toward the Baltic Germans. The more radical Estonian activists, who sought help from the Russian state in strengthening Estonian identity, were led by the journalist Carl Robert Jakobson (1841–1882). The foremost Latvian national activists of the 1860s, Krišjānis Valdemārs (1825–1891) and Krišjānis Barons (1835–1923), edited a Latvian-language newspaper in St. Petersburg. Also Russophiles, they criticized the dominance of the Baltic German nobility and called for Latvians and the Latvian language to play a greater public role. The wider propagation of Estonian- and Latvian-language newspapers beginning in the 1860s was crucial in the spread of nationalist feeling and the creation of Estonian and Latvian public opinion.
Voluntary associations were important in the consolidation and development of Estonian, Latvian, and Finnish nations. Associational activity in the Baltic provinces was strongest among the Baltic Germans, who formed scholarly societies in the early decades of the nineteenth century, but associational life was particularly crucial to the spread of national identity to wider numbers of Estonians and Latvians, who formed their own societies beginning in the 1860s. Music, agricultural, and temperance societies were especially popular. The most influential society among Latvians was the Riga Latvian Association, founded in 1868. Key
for the Estonians were the Vanemuine Society in Tartu and the Estonia Society in Tallinn, both founded in 1865. These two Estonian music associations and the Riga Latvian Association organized a number of Estonian and Latvian song festivals throughout the remainder of the tsarist period, which were important in the development of Estonian and Latvian self-expression and group identity. In Finland, voluntary associations also helped Finnish speakers create a modern society out of a socially unorganized peasant society.
The tsarist state undertook a series of reforms in the Baltic provinces beginning in the mid-1860s aimed at reducing Baltic particularism in local governance and administration. Most Baltic Germans opposed the measures, which entailed the weakening of Baltic German influence upon the peasant townships, the replacement of Baltic German estate-based city magistrates with elected city councils, and the replacement of Baltic German police and judicial institutions with Russian ones. Educational reform beginning in the mid-1880s introduced Russian as the sole language of instruction in primary schools. The state also intensified proselytism of Orthodoxy among the Estonians and Latvians, who were mostly Lutheran. Tensions eased some with the death of the Russian nationalist emperor Alexander III in 1894, who was succeeded by his son, the less confrontational Nicholas II.
When Finland refrained from any sympathy protest in reaction to unrest in Poland in 1863, a grateful Alexander II responded with the first convening of the Finnish Diet since 1809 (which thereafter met regularly) and the granting of a promise to abide by constitutional principles in matters regarding the grand duchy. The reactivated Diet, elected on a restricted franchise, developed a wide-ranging legislative program. Finland acquired its own monetary system in 1865, and the legal framework for a Finnish army was passed in 1878. Much energy, however, was spent on a renewed battle on the language issue. A significant victim in the struggle was the Liberal Party, which in its emphasis on constitutional rights instead of language difference had attempted to find a path between the nationalist Finnish (Fennoman) and Swedish (Svecoman) parties.
In the 1880s and 1890s, some in the Baltic provinces and Finland began to see social problems, not the linguistic and national struggle, as the central concern facing their societies. In Finland, the Young Finnish Party emerged in opposition to the socially conservative Finnish Party; by the turn of the century its energies were subsumed into the Finnish labor movement. Among Latvians, the members of the New Current voiced cultural discontents with the older nationalist generation and were Marxist in orientation. The Young Estonia movement that emerged after 1905, socialist though not Marxist in political orientation, was aimed primarily at founding a modern Estonian culture based in urban, not rural, culture.
Confidence had grown in Finland beginning in the 1860s that the relationship with Russia was fundamentally constitutional, not imperial, in nature and that Finland had developed from being a Swedish province to a state only allied with Russia. While deep social and class differences remained in Finland into the twentieth century, a shared Finnish political self-awareness spread widely; speakers of Finnish and Swedish alike saw themselves as Finns. Few recognized the seriousness of the pressure in the 1890s from nationalists and pan-Slavists within the Russian government and from Russian public opinion for the diminution of Finland's special status within the empire. Like the Baltic Germans, Finns emphasized their relationship with the Russian sovereign as protector of their special rights. But on 15 February (3 February, old style) 1899, Russian Emperor Nicholas II asserted in a public manifesto the right to bypass the Finnish Diet in enacting laws he felt were in the interest of the Russian state. Though the conservative Finnish nationalist leaders counseled acquiescence, nearly half of Finland's adult population signed petitions opposing the move. When conscription of Finnish soldiers into the tsar's army was announced in 1901, resistance was widespread, and in 1904 the governor-general, Nikolai Bobrikov, was assassinated in Helsinki.
In the Baltic provinces, Latvians and Estonians were more concerned with ending political and economic domination by Baltic Germans and continued to see the Russian state as an ally. On the whole, Baltic Germans maintained their loyalty to the house of the Romanovs, even though Baltic German claims to a constitutional relationship between the tsarist state and Baltic German corporate elites—and thus, they claimed, to the entire Baltic region—became untenable after the reforms of the 1870s and 1880s. After 1905, some Baltic German leaders were increasingly attracted to the German Reich as a source of economic, and, potentially, political support, but nothing came of this. Latvian and Estonian leaders also called for autonomy for the Baltic region. Because Baltic German opposition to reform continued to be near universal, cooperation between them and Latvians and Estonians never developed. Thus unlike the Finns, residents of the Baltic provinces never developed a shared political identity.
The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a central event on both sides of the Gulf of Finland. The events of this year wrought a political awakening among large numbers of Estonians, Latvians, and Finns who previously had not been involved in the public discussion of political and social issues. By the early twentieth century, all three groups had a property-owning middle class, strong in number if not in wealth, and a growing urban intelligentsia. Cities in the region had become increasingly industrialized in the last decades of the nineteenth century, with large numbers of Finnish, Estonian, and Latvian peasants arriving to work in factories. Mass revolutionary action and violence marked all three Baltic provinces in 1905, particularly areas of Latvian settlement. In urban areas of Livonia, workers went on strike on average nearly five times in 1905, the highest frequency rate in the tsarist empire. Peasants wrecked and burned Baltic German manor houses throughout the region. In southern Livonia and Courland, some 38 percent of manor houses (412 total) were completely or partially destroyed. The revolution also offered opportunities for the emergence of open political debate and the formation of legal political parties in the Baltic provinces, and Latvian and Estonian leaders called for political and cultural autonomy within the framework of a democratic Russian state. Violence and illegal political activity (the banned Social Democrats were particularly strong in Latvian areas) was halted in December 1905 and early 1906 by punitive expeditions of tsarist troops combined with private Baltic German forces, which together killed at least one thousand people and by some estimates, many more.
When the general strike in St. Petersburg in mid-October 1905 coerced Nicholas II into granting Russia civil rights and a legislative assembly, Finns responded with their own weeklong national strike in late October and early November. The Russian state responded with the granting of a new unicameral parliament (the Eduskunta), with equal and universal suffrage. In the first elections, held in 1907, the Social Democrats, not banned in Finland and strengthened by political mobilization of the impoverished rural poor of southern Finland, received the largest number of votes. The Russian state, however, soon prevented the parliament from functioning as a real legislature, and Finnish affairs were decided by the tsarist government in St. Petersburg. Unlike the Balts, the Finns refused to elect representatives to the all-Russian parliament, or Duma, in St. Petersburg.
The lack of meaningful public political life either in Finland or the Baltic provinces in the last ten years of tsarist rule made it impossible for residents to come to an agreement on the principles by which they could amicably share the lands they all called home. On the one hand there was a great deal of peaceful, productive development, and features of civil society began to take shape. Estonians, Latvians, and Finns continued to develop modern cultures, associational life flourished, and economies continued to grow. On the other hand, new pressures were developing in the Baltic provinces. While the old estate structure of society was crumbling, divisions along national lines were proving tenacious, and new tensions of a class nature, which crossed national lines, were forming. Baltic Germans, a minority declining in numbers, faced perhaps the greatest political challenge
as neither democratic reforms nor cooperation with an increasingly nationalist Russian state offered the political and social prominence they now felt slipping away. In Finland, the socialists rejected the principles upon which constitutionalists envisioned Finland's development. With the added chaos of World War I and the collapse of tsarist power in 1917, these unresolved tensions would break out in civil conflict, with particularly devastating vehemence in Finland and Latvia.
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