Wednesday 19.12

Finland in the inter-war era

  • The Kingdom of Finland (1918)
  • Relations with Soviet Union
  • Agrarian reform
  • Diplomacy
  • Prohibition
  • Politics
  • Finnish Economic and Industrial Growth - 1920 to 1939
  • Relations with Soviet Union

Relations with Soviet Union

In the wake of the Civil War there were many incidents along the border between Finland and Soviet Russia, such as the Aunus expedition and the Pork mutiny. Relations with the Soviets were improved after the Treaty of Tartu in 1920, in which Finland gained Petsamo, but gave up its claims on East Karelia.

Tens of thousands of radical Finns—from Finland, the United States and Canada—took up Stalin's 1923 appeal to create a new Soviet society in the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (KASSR), a part of Russia. Most were executed in the purges of the 1930s.

The Soviet Union started to tighten its policy against Finland in the 1930s, limiting the navigation of Finnish merchant ships between Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland and blocking it totally in 1937.




Agrarian reform

During the interwar years Finland, to a much greater extent than the rest of the Nordic countries, was an agrarian country. In 1918, 70 percent of the population was employed in agriculture and forestry, and by 1940 the figure was still as high as 57 percent. Paper and wooden articles were Finland’s most important export commodities. By the Smallholdings Law of 1918 and by land reform in 1922, which allowed the expropriation of estates of more than 495 acres (200 hectares), an attempt was made to give tenant farmers and landless labourers their own smallholdings. More than 90,000 smallholdings were created, and since then the independent smallholders, who form the majority of the Agrarian Party (now the Centre Party), have been a major factor in Finnish politics.

Diplomacy

The new republic faced a dispute over the Åland Islands, which were overwhelmingly Swedish-speaking and sought retrocession to Sweden. However, as Finland was not willing to cede the islands, they were offered an autonomous status. Nevertheless, the residents did not approve the offer, and the dispute over the islands was submitted to the League of Nations. The League decided that Finland should retain sovereignty over the Åland Islands, but they should be made an autonomous province. Thus Finland was under an obligation to ensure the residents of the Åland Islands a right to maintain the Swedish language, as well as their own culture and local traditions. At the same time, an international treaty was concluded on the neutral status of Åland, under which it was prohibited to place military headquarters or forces on the islands.



Prohibition

Alcohol abuse had a long history, especially regarding binge drinking and public intoxication, which became a crime in 1733. In the 19th century the punishments became stiffer and stiffer, but the problem persisted. A strong abstinence movement emerged that cut consumption in half from the 1880s to the 1910s, and gave Finland the lowest drinking rate in Europe. Four attempts at instituting prohibition of alcohol during the Grand Duchy period were rejected by the czar; with the czar gone Finland enacted prohibition in 1919. Smuggling emerged and enforcement was slipshod. Criminal convictions for drunkenness went up by 500%, and violence and crime rates soared. Public opinion turned against the law, and a national plebiscite went 70% for repeal, so prohibition was ended in early 1932.