Finlandia Hall in Helsinki

By Kaarle Nordenstreng

Finland is a small country by population – 5.5 million inhabitants – but large by its geographical size: 338,000 square kilometres, which is much more than the UK (242,000) and a little less than Germany (357,000). Located in the north-eastern corner of the European Union (Member State since 1995), it has a 1,300-kilometre long border with the Russian Federation.

For over six centuries until 1809, Finland was as a province of the Kingdom of Sweden, then for one century until 1917 an autonomous Grand Duchy of Czarist Russia, after which it became independent in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Actually, Vladimir Lenin arrived from Finland to lead the revolution in St. Petersburg. He also stayed in Finland in 1905 and 1906 when arranging clandestine congresses of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party – in Tampere, which hosts the only Lenin Museum outside Russia. In the first years of the 20th century Finland spearheaded demands for political reforms in this autonomous part of Russia, leading in 1906 to universal suffrage including women – as the first country in Europe to do so.

After a bloody Civil War following independence in early 1918, Finland distanced itself from the eastern neighbour, Soviet Union, and went to war against it in winter 1939- 40. Finnish army held out against the massive Red Army and a total occupation of Finland was prevented, but a vital part of the south-eastern territory, Karelia, was ceded to the USSR, with its population displaced and resettled elsewhere in Finland. After a short period of peace, the war against the Soviet Union broke out again in mid-1941, now as part of World War II and in alliance with Hitler’s Germany. Finland came out of the war in 1944 with greater loss of life and territory than after the Winter War, but her independence was retained.
After WWII Finland adopted a new foreign policy based on a Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation with the Soviet Union adopted by the Parliament in 1948. The country refused to accept Marshall Plan assistance, did not join NATO and tried to remain neutral in the Cold War conflicts. Finland was one of the first countries to grant diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China in early 1950. In the 1970s Finland promoted détente between East and West, hosting the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which culminated in its Final Act signed at a summit in the Finlandia Hall, Helsinki on 1 August 1975.

The history of Finland adds many unusual aspects to European history. One central to media and communication scholars is the world’s first freedom of information law passed in the Kingdom of Sweden in 1766. Among its prime movers were Finnish liberals in the Diet and its concept was developed by a Finnish born intellectual – see The Legacy of Peter Forsskål, which also provides a history of the development of press freedom in Finland. This historical legacy has supported Finland nowadays to reach top positions in the World Press Freedom Index.

Finland is listed as the number one country in the World Happiness Report 2020, for the third time in succession. Although critical scholars may be skeptical of such rankings – like those of democracy, press freedom, etc. – this is a notable aspect of Finnish society, in fact paradoxical since Finns are widely seen to be quiet and reserved people with a predisposition to melancholy.

Concise information on Finland is available at This is Finland and Information about Finland.