Sunday, October 19, 2014

Power Shifts from Finland’s Government to Russia’s

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

Time: 1910
Place: Finland

"His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, having already given the most manifest proofs of the clemency and justice with which he has resolved to govern the inhabitants of the provinces which he has acquired, by generosity and by his own spontaneous act assuring to them the free exercise of their religion, rights, property, and privileges, his Swedish Majesty considers himself thereby released from performing the otherwise sacred duty of making reservations in the above respects in favor of his former subjects."

This entry in the Treaty of Peace refers to the settlement made at the Borgo Diet a few months earlier, and it is under this settlement, confirmed by deeds of a later date, that Finland claims her right to autonomy. M. Stolypin recognizes the claim of Finland to autonomy, but refuses to recognize the binding force of the acts of the Borgo Diet on which alone it can legally be based. This claim gives Finland no voice in her external relations. All international treaties, including matters relating to the conduct of war (though laws on the liability of Finnish citizens to military service fall under the competency of the Finnish Diet), are matters common to Russia and Finland as one empire, one international unit, and are dealt with by the proper Russian authorities. This is admitted by all Finlanders. But M. Stolypin extended Russian authority by making it paramount in all matters which have a bearing on Russian or Imperial interests.

The attempt to curtail Finnish constitutional liberty has taken different forms. Early in 1908 the Russian Council of Ministers, over which M. Stolypin presides, drew up a "Journal," or Protocol, to which the Czar on June 2d gave his sanction. The chief provisions of this Protocol were briefly as follows: All legislative proposals and all administrative matters "of general importance," before being brought to the Sovereign for his sanction, or, as is the case with Bills to be presented to the Diet, for his preliminary approval, as well as all reports drawn up by Finnish authorities for the Czar's inspection, must be communicated to the Russian Council of Ministers. The Council will then decide "which matters concerning the Grand Duchy of Finland also have a bearing on the interests of the empire, and, consequently, call for a fuller examination on the part of the Ministries and Government Boards." If the Council decide that a matter has a bearing on the interests of the empire the Council prepare a report on it, and, should the Council differ from the views taken up by the Finnish authorities, the Finnish Secretary of State, who alone should be the constitutional channel for bringing Finnish matters before the Sovereign's notice, can do so only in the presence of the President of the Council of Ministers or another Russian Minister. But in practise it has frequently happened that the Council send in their report beforehand, and the Czar's decision is practically taken when the Finnish Secretary is permitted an audience.

This important measure was brought about by the exclusive recommendation of Russian Ministers. Neither the Finnish Diet nor the Senate nor the Secretary of State for Finland, who resides in St. Petersburg, was consulted or had the slightest idea of what was going on before the Protocol was published in Russia. It has never been promulgated in Finland, and no Finnish authority has been officially advised of it. The whole matter has been treated as a private affair between the Czar and his Russian Ministers.

The excuse has been made that the Czar must be permitted to seek counsel with whomsoever he chooses in regard to the government of Finland. But this is not a question of privately consulting one man or the other. The new measure amounts to an official recognition of the Russian Council of Ministers as an organ of government exercising a powerful control over Finnish legislation, administration, and finance. The center of gravity of Finnish administration has, in fact, been shifted from the Senate for Finland, composed of Finnish men, to the Russian Council of Ministers.

The Finnish Senate protested to the Czar in three separate memoranda, dated respectively June 19, 1908, December 22, 1908, and February 25,1909. The Finnish Diet adopted on October 13, 1908, a petition to the Czar to reconsider the matter. On the occasion of the opening of the Diet's next session the Speaker, in his reply to the Czar's message, briefly referred to the anxiety prevailing in Finland, with the result that the Diet was immediately punished by an order of dissolution from the Czar. The Senate's memoranda, as well as the Diet's petition, were rejected, the Czar acting on the exclusive recommendation of the Russian Council of Ministers. They were not even brought before him through the constitutional channels, the Finnish Secretary of State having been refused a hearing. As a result all members of the Department of Justice, or half the number of the Senators, resigned.

In the same year another but less successful attack was made on the Finnish Constitution. In the autumn of 1908 the Finnish Diet adopted a new Landlord and Tenant Bill, but before it was brought up for the Czar's sanction the Diet was dissolved in the manner just described. The Bill being of a pressing nature, the Council of Ministers was at last prevailed upon to report on it to the Czar. The latter then gave his sanction to it, but, on the recommendation of the Council, added a rider in the preamble. This was to the effect that, though the Bill, having been adopted by a Diet which was dissolved before the expiration of the three years' period for which it was elected, should not have been presented for his consideration at all, the Czar would nevertheless make an exception from the rule and sanction it, prompted by his regard for the welfare of the poorer part of the population.

Continued on Monday, October 20th.

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