Osmo Jussila, Seppo Hentilä and Jukka Nevakivi
This book deals with the modern political history of Finland, since it emerged as a political entity within the Russian Empire. This history is divided up into three epochs. The first period starts with Finland's emergence as an entity within the Russian Empire in 1809 after Russia took this land off Sweden, and continues up to the Bolshevik revolution and Finnish independence. The second era covers the devastating Finnish civil war and ends with the two wars with the Soviet Union during the Second World War. The third period covers developments in Finland after the Second World War and as such is dominated by Finland's relations to the Soviet Union in the setting of the Cold War.
Each author deals with one of these specific periods. The first section is entitled "Finland as a Grand Duchy 1809-1917", and is written by Osmo Jussila. This section starts with a very brief overview of how Russia extended its control over the Finnish Peninsula at the expense of Sweden. This section details the creation of Finland's administrative system under Russia, how the Finnish Grand Duchy related to the Russian empire-that is, what degree of autonomy did it enjoy. The role of the various Governors-General are discussed in detail and how their actions aided or impeded the integration of the Grand Duchy into the general imperial administrative and legal system. The emergence of the idea that Finland was a state and as such a separate political entity from Russia and the controversies surrounding this assertion are also dealt with.
The second section, "From Independence to the end of the Continuation War, 1917-1944", is dealt with by Seppo Hentilä. This section details Finland's achievement of independence and the bloody civil war between the rightist 'Whites' and the leftist 'Reds'. Some attention is given to various analyses of this war and what caused it and what exactly the war was about. Seppo Hentilä goes on to describe the type of society that the victorious Whites started implementing and discusses the continued divisions in the country and the mutual hatred and suspicions between the former partisans. Seppo Hentilä's section closes with accounts of the two wars against the Soviet Union in the 1940s-the Winter War of 1939-40 and the Continuation War of 1941-44.
The dire threat the Winter War posed to Finland's continued existence as an independent state meant Fins had to overcome the old divisions and animosities created by the Civil war. This healing of the rifts in Finnish society has become known as the 'Miracle of the Winter War'. Although Finland eventually lost the war and some territory, the tenaciousness of its fighting ensured its survival.
Finland was allied with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. This alliance which initially seemed the best idea to secure Finland's independence against an aggressive Soviet Union would back fire later in the war, since Finland had to contend with the hostile allies. After its defeat in the Continuation War, Finland again lost territory to the Soviet Union and was forced to make substantive reparation payments.
The last section, entitled "From the Continuation War to the Present, 1944-1999", is written by Jukka Nevakivi. It discusses the end of the Continuation war and the harsh peace settlement imposed on Finland that entailed the loss of territory and high reparation to be paid to the Soviet Union. This section discusses Finland's adaptation to the Cold War era, its position as a neutral state and how the Soviet Union loomed large in its domestic and foreign policies.
The book deals with both internal developments and Finland's external relationships and is mostly successful in showing the interaction between the two spheres. The activities of the staunchly anti-communist Lapua movement can be explained by the intense antipathy between the former Reds and Whites of the Civil war, as well as by fears of latter about the influence of the Soviet Union on Finnish politics.
The gradual changes in Finnish politics that led to a move away from the estate system, protecting and advancing the interests of aristocrats, to a more parliamentarian system and greater democracy, are addressed. Of major importance are the accounts given of the rise of the various political groupings, orientations and parties that would come to dominate Finnish politics in the twentieth century. Much of Finland's history has been dominated by its proximity to its large and powerful neighbour to the East-the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union greatly influenced both Finland's internal politics as well as its foreign policy, a process often described as 'Finlandisation'. As such the book makes for interesting reading on the effects of geopolitics on a state as well as on the 'Ostpolitik' practised by a state on the borderline between the East and the West during the Cold War.
The book also deals with the lives and deeds of some of Finland's noteworthy statesmen in a manner that places these actors in the contexts of their times. Some such prominent figures are Carl Gustav Mannerheim, who led the White troops against the Reds in the civil war, and again led Finnish forces in the Winter War and Continuation War against the Soviet Union. Another prominent figure was Väinö Tanner, a long time moderate leader of the Social Democrats that advocated the ending of the Civil war, Prime Minister and due to Russian pressure also a convicted war criminal after the Continuation war. Reference to these actors makes for an interesting contrast with the necessary discussions of broader developments and changes in Finnish society and politics.
The book is reasonably easy to read - a credit to the translators - although there is the occasional clumsy sentence structure or grammatical error. Presumably the translation has helped to ensure a greater uniformity of style and expression between the three separate sections, which enhances the continuity between these parts of the book and the book's overall unity. In fact the book appears much more the work of a single author than of three.
The inclusion of maps is most helpful, although the map on page 210 detailing the Soviet offensive in the Karelian Istmus in July 1944, during the 'Continuation War, could be improved with a legend. The maps also give the reader a rough idea of the territories ceded by Finland to the Soviet Union in the Winter War and in the Continuation War.
Overall the book is easy to read, although the long narratives on the creation and fall of several governments can be tedious, especially in the third section. One is not always sure why so much detail is paid to the rise and fall of each government, considering the much more brief attention given to other matters of only secondary interest. The various issues discussed throughout the book are dealt with in a clear manner, and the chapter lay out of the three sections tends to be logical. From Grand Duchy to a Modern State is an enjoyable read and will certainly be of use to anyone with an interest in modern Finnish political history.