Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Russia’s Political and Economic Justifications for Finland Policy Before World War I

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

Time: 1910
Place: Finland

"Finland under the egis of the Russian realm," our present Emperor has said, "and strong in virtue of Russia's protection through the lapse of almost a whole century, has advanced along the way of peaceful progress unswervingly, and in the hearts of the Finnish people lived the consciousness of their attachment to the Russian monarchs and to Russia." In moments of stress and of Russia's danger, the Finnish troops have always come forward as the fellow soldiers of our armies, and Finland has shared with us unhesitatingly our military triumphs and also the irksome consequences and tribulations of war-time. Thus, in the year 1812 and in the Crimean campaign, her armies grew in number considerably; in that eastern war almost her entire mercantile marine was destroyed--a possession which was one of the principal sources of the revenue of the country. During the Polish insurrection and the war for the emancipation of Bulgaria Finnish troops took part in the expeditions, and when in 1885 the Diet was opened, the Emperor Alexander III., in his speech from the throne, bore witness to "the unimpeachable way in which the population of the country had discharged its military obligations," and he gave utterance to his conviction that the Finnish troops would attain the object for which they existed.

By way of proving Finland's striving to cut herself apart from Russia, people point to the doctrine disseminated about the Finnish State, to its unwillingness to establish military conscription on the same lines as the empire, and to the speeches of the Deputies of the Diets of 1877-1878 and 1879. But none of these arguments carries conviction.

The theory about the independence of Finland, as a separate realm, which was worked out for the purpose of devising "the means of safeguarding its idiosyncrasies," is far from proving that "Finland aims at separation from Russia." Down to the present moment separation has not been in her interests. She was never an independent State; her historical traditions do not move her to play a political part in Europe. Besides, her population is mixed. The Swedish element constitutes only the topmost layer, and is not powerful enough to move toward an independent existence or toward union with the Power which belongs to the same race as that layer, while the mass of Finns, dreading the oppression of the Swedish party, is drawn more to Russia by the simple instinct of self-preservation. That is why the Finnish patriot may well be a true and devoted citizen of the Russian Empire, and being, as Alexander III. termed it, "a good Finlander," can also "bear in mind that he is a member of the Russian family, at the head of which stands the Russian Emperor."

The unfavorable attitude of the Finns toward the proposal of the War Ministry for extending to them the general regulations that deal with the obligation to serve in the army is also intelligible. That obligation of military service is exceedingly irksome; and it is not only the Finns who desire to fight shy of it, nor can one discover any specially dangerous symptom in their wish to preserve the privileged position which they have hitherto enjoyed as to the way of discharging their military duties. They seek to perpetuate the privileges conferred upon them in the form of fundamental laws, and they strive to avoid being incorporated in the Russian Army, because service there would be very much more onerous for them than in their own Finnish regiments...

If we now turn from the political to the economic aspect of the matter, to the question how far the order of things as at present established in Finland has proved advantageous to Russia from the financial point of view, we shall search in vain for data capable of bearing out the War Minister's opinion that, for the period of a century the Budget of Finland has been sedulously husbanded at the cost of the Russian people.

Ever since Finland has had an independent State Budget, she has never required any sacrifices on the part of Russia for her economic development. Ill-used by nature and ruined by wars, the country, by dint of its own efforts, has advanced toward cultural and material prosperity. Without subsidies or guaranties from the Imperial Treasury, the land became furrowed with a network of carriage roads and railways; industries were created; a mercantile fleet was built, and the work of educating the nation was so successfully organized that one can hardly find an illiterate person throughout the length and breadth of the principality. It is also an interesting fact worth recording that, whereas the Russian Government has almost every year to feed a starving population, now in one district of the empire, now in another, and is obliged from time to time to spend enormous sums of money for the purpose, Finland, in spite of its frequent bad harvests, has generally dispensed with such help on the part of the State Treasury...

Continued on Sunday, October 12th.

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