Sunday, October 12, 2014

Russia Begins to Assimilate the Finnish People

Previously on Finland Absorbed by Russia. This segment is by Baron Sergius Witte, Prime Minister of Russia at this time.

Time: 1910
Place: Finland

Under these circumstances it is hardly fair to assert that Finland has been living at Russia's expense. On the contrary, Finland is perhaps the only one of our borderlands which has not required for its economic or cultural development funds taken from the population of Russia proper. The Caucasus, the Kingdom of Poland, Turkestan, part of Siberia, and other portions of our border districts - nay, even the northern provinces themselves - are sources of loss to us, or, at any rate, they have cost the Russian Treasury very much, and some of them still continue to cost it much, but the expenses they involve are hidden in the totals of the Imperial Budget. A few data will throw adequate light on this aspect of the situation. It is enough, for instance, to call to mind what vast, what incalculable sacrifices the pacification of the Caucasus required from Russia and what worry and expense it still causes us. No less imposing is the expenditure which the Kingdom of Poland with its two insurrections necessitated in the course of last century.... And if we cast a glance at the youngest of our borderlands - Turkestan - we shall find that here also the outlay occasioned by the political situation of the country has already become sharply outlined.... When we set those figures and data side by side we shall find it hard to speak of "our expenditure on Finland" or of "the vast privileges" we have conferred on the principality. It follows, then, that the system of administration established for Finland by the Emperor Alexander I. has not yet had any harmful political results for Russia, and that it has dispensed the Russian Government from incurring heavy expenditure for the administration and the well-being of the country, and in this way has enabled Russia to concentrate her forces and her care on other parts of the empire and to devote her attention to other State problems.

One can not, of course, contend that the system of government adopted in Finland satisfies, in each and all its parts, the requirements and the needs of the present time. On the contrary, it is indubitable that the independent existence of the principality, disconnected as it is from the general interests of the empire, has led to a certain estrangement between the Russian and the Finnish populations. That an estrangement really exists can not be doubted; but the explanation of it is to be found in the difference of the two cultures which have their roots in history. To the protracted sway of Sweden and Finland's continuous relations through her intermediary with Western Europe, the circumstance is to be ascribed that the thinking spirits among the Finns gravitate - in matters of culture - not to Russia but to the West, and in particular to Sweden, with whom Finland is linked by bonds of language - through her highest social class - and of religion, laws, and literature. For that reason the views, ideas, and interests of Western - and in particular of Scandinavian - peoples are more thoroughly familiar and more intelligible to them than ours. That also is why, when working out any kind of reforms and innovations, they seek for models not among us but in Western Europe.

It is, doubtless, impossible to look upon that state of things with approval. It is highly desirable that a closer union should take place between the interests, cultural and political, of the principality and those of the empire: that is postulated by the mutual advantages of both countries. As I have already remarked, Russians could not contemplate otherwise than with pleasure the possible union and assimilation - in principle - of the borderland with the other parts of our vast fatherland: they will also be unanimous in wishing this task as successful an issue as is possible.....

But what is not feasible is to demolish at one swoop everything that has been created and preserved in the course of a whole century. A change of policy, if it is not to provoke tumults and disorganization, must be carried out gradually and with extreme circumspection. The assimilation of Finland can never be efficacious if achieved by violence and constraint instead of by pacific means. The Finnish people should be left to appreciate the benefits which would accrue to them from union with a powerful empire: for an adequate understanding of their own interests will, in the words of the Imperial rescript of February 28, 1891, "inspire them with a desire to draw more closely the bonds that link Finland with Russia." There is no doubt that even at present a certain tendency is noticeable among the Finns in favor of closer relations with Russia: the knowledge of the Russian tongue is spreading more and more widely among them, and business relations between them and us are growing brisker from year to year. The desirable abolition of the customs cordon between the two countries is bound to give a powerful fillip to the growth of commerce, which is the most trustworthy and most pacific means of bringing about a better understanding and strengthening the ties that bind Finland to Russia.

Harsh, drastic expedients may easily loosen the threads that have begun to get tied, foster national hate, arouse mutual distrust and suspicion, and lead to results the reverse of those aimed at. Assimilative measures adopted by the Government, therefore, should be thought out carefully and applied gradually.

Continued on Wednesday, October 15th.

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