and Company, London
38 King Street, London, WC2E 8JT
In 1984 Tuomo Polvinen published his account of Russia's views of Finland as an imperial borderland and the reasons for Governor-General Bobrikov's assault on Finnish autonomy. Views from the Finnish perspective have long been available. Polvinen's analysis was deep and perspicacious and had implications for the administration of the Baltic States. Steven Huxley translated the Finnish edition and Hurst and Co have brought it out in English which has made an important work accessible to a wider audience.
In the early years of the 20th century, Russia had no government in the modern sense. Cabinet meetings were rarely held, instead each minister separately presented matters in his own area to Nicholas II for resolution. Although Finland provided a small percentage of Russia's nationalities, the Grand Duchy occupied a disproportionate amount of time and energy.
Finland and its Grand Duchy status was always in the background of European foreign policy makers. Using the archives of Russia, Sweden, Britain, France, Finland and Austria, Polvinen focused on the battle for supremacy between the major players behind the throne of Nicholas II - Witte, Kuropatkin, and Bobrikov.
While Finland was not the only catspaw of dynastic manoeuvring, the battle for control of the locus of power meant that Russian administration struck with every weapon at hand. Finland, as an imperial borderland, was clearly of first rate significance and an often-used bludgeon. In Witte's view, to guarantee its status as a great power Russia had to combine the maximum acceleration of the tempo of industrialisation, bolstered by protectionism and foreign capital. Kuropatkin believed that once Russia obtained a railway connection between the Pacific Ocean and the Baltic Sea, and sounded out the circumstances of the Bosphorus, the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Russia with its unlimited resources would be able to challenge all the worlds great powers to a great economic competition.
Bobrikov, in his time, was as important as Witte and Kuropatkin. Bobrikov was almost sixty years old when his promotion to Finland's Governor-General was determined by Tsar Nicholas II. Bobrikov had no interests in life except that of office, until one of the Chuknas, as he called the Finns, fired three shots at him. Eugene Shaulman loaded his Browning pistol with nickel-coated bullets which totally wounded Bobrikov in the neck, and in the stomach.
Described by one of his Russian acquaintances as 'an uncivilised and altogether dirty sergeant type', who will remain the tormentor of Finland to its great misfortune, Bobrikov's assassination came too late to stop the complete alienation of Finnish public opinion, but marked instead a stepping stone on the way to independence from Russia in 1917.
From the Russian point of view the security of St Petersburg was the first consideration. In Governor-General Bobrikov's view, the Finns, because of their formal status as a Grand Duchy, had developed a practical autonomy which was pernicious to the unity and defence of the empire. Bobrikov took as his mission in life to attack and dismantle and control the organs of Finnish separateness: the army, railways, lighthouses, pilots, school education, newspapers, law courts, universities, monetary and tariff systems, postal services, merchant fleet, language, church, police, kindergarten, libraries, mail, telegraph, telephones, transport, fire brigades, shooting clubs, and sports groups. Funerals, song festivals, monuments, foundation stone laying ceremonies all attracted, to Bobrikov, 'demoralising patriotic demonstrations'. Bobrikov lived long enough after he was shot to confess and bear his pain bravely while he was administered Holy Communion. He had half a metre of short intestine removed at the Finnish Surgical hospital, but died in the earlier hours of the following morning. 'From this moment on', wrote one Finn, 'our road led upwards to freedom.'
This is an important book with a few small blemishes (e.g. 'it is interesting to not', p. 115) but the usual high quality of Hurst publication, and first rate index, are apparent. It also should be observed that the Finnish Academy is a model for others in providing long term research professorships for such distinguished scholars as Tuomo Polvinen, who has made good use of the work of other Finnish professors like Sune Jungar and Seppo Zetterberg.
Bobrikov himself was a character from the world of Tolstoi; he could have stepped straight from the pages of Anna Karenina. But even in Huxley's translation, Polvinen's Finnish sense of humour is apparent, in an evocative work where the sensitive reader can almost hear the cold water sizzle on the sauna stones.