The Grand Duchy of Finland

Sweden and Russia fought a war, the Finnish War, between 1808 and 1809, which Sweden subsequently lost. As a result of this loss, the eastern third of Sweden was established as a semi-autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, which was in theory at least part of a union with Imperial Russia.

The Grand Duchy was ruled as a constitutional monarchy under the Russian Tsars, with the Tsar being represented in the Finnish court by a governor-general, as might be expected in any other colony. The Grand Duchy did enjoy a high degree of autonomy, however, at least initially. This had the effect of unlocking a degree of Finnish nationalism which previously had not existed - while under Swedish administration the the Swedish language was the official tongue, in the Grand Duchy Finnish was elevated to a national language on the same level as Swedish.

The relatively hands-off, distant attitude adopted by the Tsar ended during the Crimean War in 1863, however, and Russian policy changed to that of overt russification, that is, attempting to force the Finns to adopt Russian culture. Initially this campaign was fairly minor, consisting of some minor constitutional changes and the introduction of censorship, but around the turn of the century this russification program became far more overt and authoritarian, with the goal of ending the autonomy of the Grand Duchy, as part of a wider goal of abolishing cultural and administrative autonomy of non-Russian minorities throughout the Russian Empire. The Tsars government asserted its imperial right to rule Finland without the consent of local legislative bodies, Russian was made the sole state language of Finland, and conscription was introduced, with the Finnish army incorporated into the army of the imperial power.

This oppression was resisted, at first with petitions, elevating to strikes and passive resistance, and finally active resistance, including the assassination of the Russian governor-general in 1904. The Russians responded by granting dictatorial powers to the (new) governor-general and matters generally became more intense, until the Great War of 1914-1918 put matters on hold.

However, secret government documents which were published in the Finnish press suggested that the imperial government still planned on the complete russification of Finland, after the war was over.

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