Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Finland’s Constitutional Rights Before World War I

Previously on Finland Absorbed by Russia. This segment is by J.N. Reuter, writing on the side of Finland.

Time: 1910
Place: Finland

"Might can not dominate right in Russia," said M. Stolypin, Russian Minister of the Interior and President of the Council of Ministers, in the speech which he delivered in the Duma on May 18, 1908, when pressed by the various parties to declare his policy with regard to Finland. This noble sentiment has the familiar ring of Russian officialdom. It may, perhaps, be worth while to consider it in the light of recent history and present-day issues.

Alexander I., the first Russian sovereign of Finland, addressed a Rescript to Count Steinheil on his appointment to the post of Governor-General. Therein he wrote: "My object in Finland has been to give the people a political existence so that they shall not regard themselves as subject to Russia, but as attached to her by their own obvious interests." It is not the place here to give an historical account of subsequent events. It may, however, be briefly stated that the political ideal expressed in the words quoted here was at times forgotten, but was again revived, and, in such times, even resulted in the extension of Finland's constitutional rights. Then, again, this ideal was abandoned, and gave way to a totally different one, which found its most acute expression in February, 1899, when the Czar, a year after the issue of his invitations to the first Peace Conference at The Hague, suppressed by an Imperial manifesto the constitutional right of Finland. The arbitrary and corrupt Russian bureaucratic regime little by little forced its way into the country, while Finlanders watched with bitter resentment the suppression, one by one, of their most cherished national institutions.

This manifesto was condemned in many European countries at the time, and a protest against it was signed by over a thousand prominent publicists and constitutional lawyers, who presented an international address to the Czar begging him to restore the rights of the Grand Duchy.

In 1905, however, it seemed at last that a new era was about to dawn. The change was brought about by the domestic crisis through which Russia herself was then passing. An Imperial manifesto promulgated in October, containing the principles of a constitutional form of government in Russia, was followed as an inevitable sequel by the manifesto of November 4th, which practically restored to Finland its full political rights. In 1906, a new Law of the Diet was enacted. Instead of triennial sessions of the Estates, annual sessions of the Diet were introduced, while an extension of the franchise to every citizen over twenty-four years of age without distinction of sex gave to women active electoral rights. Moreover, the door was opened to new and far-reaching reforms, the fulfilment of which infused fresh life into the democratic spirit of Finnish national institutions. While, however, so much was done to improve the political, social, and economic condition of the country, the promises which were then made have not been fulfilled. The principal reason for this failure to redeem their pledges lies in a change of attitude among Russian officials and their interference in Finnish affairs. It is by consideration of this change and of its effect upon Finland that we may best judge how much truth there is in M. Stolypin's claim that in Russia "might can not dominate right."

Ominous signs of a reversal of policy had appeared before, but the first official expression to it was given in the speech of M. Stolypin already referred to. In this speech he claimed for Russia as the sovereign power the right of control over Finnish administration and legislation whenever the interests of the empire were concerned. This claim meant practically the restoration of the old Bobrikoff régime and was based on the same ideas as those underlying the February manifesto of 1899. M. Stolypin attempts to justify his attitude by arguing that the constitutional relations between Russia and Finland are determined only by Clause 4 of the Treaty of Peace between Russia and Sweden, dated September 17,1809. This clause runs as follows:

"His Majesty the King of Sweden renounces irrevocably and forever, on behalf of himself as well as on behalf of his successors to the Swedish throne and realm, and in favor of his Majesty the Emperor of Russia and his successors to the Russian throne and empire, all his rights and titles of the governments enumerated hereafter which have been conquered by the arms of his Imperial Majesty from the Swedish Army, to wit: the Provinces of Kymmenegard, etc.

"These provinces, with all their inhabitants, towns, ports, forts, villages, and islands, with their appurtenances, privileges, and revenues, shall hereafter under full ownership and sovereignty belong to the Russian Empire and be incorporated with the same."

After quoting this clause, M. Stolypin exclaimed, "This is the act, the title, by which Russia possesses Finland, the one and only act which determines the mutual relations between Russia and Finland."

Now this clause contains no reference whatever to the autonomy of the Grand Duchy, and if it were the only act by which the mutual relations of Russia and Finland were determined, then Finland would have no constitution. The political autonomy of Finland, which has been recognized for exactly one hundred years, would have been without legal foundation. Even M. Stolypin admits that Finland enjoys autonomy. "There must be no room for the suspicion," he said, "that Russia would violate the rights of autonomy conferred on Finland by the monarch." On what, then, does the claim to Finnish autonomy rest and how was it conferred? Clause 6 of the Treaty of Peace contains the following passage:

Continued on Sunday, October 19th.

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