Greater Finland

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The current borders of modern-day Finland and lands lost to the USSR in 1940-1944 are light blue. "Greater Finland" includes some or all of previous Finnish territory. The picture includes the borders of Finland under the Treaty of Tartu and the 1947 Paris Peace Treaties.
  Estonia and Ingria

Greater Finland (Finnish: Suur-Suomi Swedish: Storfinland) is an irredentist and nationalist idea which emphasized territorial expansion of Finland in the context of pan-Fennicism. The most coined version of Greater Finland was thought to be limited by natural borders encompassing the territories inhabited by Finns and Karelians, ranging from the White Sea to Lake Onega and along the Svir River and Neva River – or, more modestly, the Sestra River – to the Gulf of Finland. Some proponents also included the Kola Peninsula (as part of a natural border), Finnmark (in Norway), Torne Valley (Sweden), Ingria (around Leningrad) and Estonia.

The idea of Greater Finland gained popularity and influence rapidly in 1917, and lost its ground and support after World War II and the Continuation War.


"Finland's natural borders" and the study of language[edit]

A typical example of "Karelianism", The Defense of the Sampo, 1896, Akseli Gallen-Kallela

The idea of the so-called three-isthmus border is hundreds of years old, dating back to the period when Finland was part of Sweden and between Sweden and Russia was a disagreement between the wars, and of where the Swedish (Finland at the same time) and the Russian border should pass. The Swedish government headed by a three Isthmus border was considered the easiest to defend, because the land border would then have been the closest possible. The isthmuses were the White Isthmus, Olonets Isthmus and the Karelian Isthmus.

Although in the early 19th century, the term "Greater Finland" was never reportedly used, the idea of Finland's natural geographical boundaries dates back to then. In 1837, the botanist Johan Ernst Adhemar Wirzén defined Finland's wild plant distribution area as the eastern border lineage of the White Sea Lake Onega and the River Svir. The geologist Wilhelm Ramsay defined Fennoscandinavia's bedrock concept at the beginning of the 19th century. Also, Zachris Topelius took the matter up later in the inauguration readings in 1854.

Around the same time Uralic language research raised the issue of the political frontier of the eastern side of the "Finns" living in by the Urals, but the political frontier was considered to be the linguistically and ethnically wrong.


Main article: Karelianism

Karelianism was the artists', writers' and composers' national romantic hobby where Karelian and Karelian-Finnish culture was used as a source of marketing. Karelianism was most popular in the 1890s. For example, the author Ilmari Kianto was known as the White-friend. He wrote a book about he campout in his travel to White Karelia in the book "Finland at its largest - for the liberation of White Karelia" in 1918.

The Greater Finland ideology for the other Nordic countries[edit]

Kvens milking a reindeer (late 19th century)

Northern Norway's minority, the Kvens made the Finnish settlements spread, especially in the 1860s. The Kvens used to isolate themselves from their own communities. The Academic Karelia Society and the Finnish Heritage Association worked actively with the Kvens from 1927-1934. The most important activity in the Finnish media was to spread pan-Fennicist propaganda through various channels. Activity slowed down from 1931 to 1934, but the organizations mentioned in the press Kven issues were addressed yet even after this.

The principal means of cultural and linguistic political discrimination through the school system, in Norwegian, the mass media and the so-called "cadre politics". Finnish language and appreciation of the efforts to reduce and Finnish-speaking ethnic identity and cultural was soon dying out.

In the early days of Finland's independence, Finland wanted the Swedish Finnish-speaking areas in Norrbotten to join Finland. This was a reaction to Åland's desire to join Sweden. The Finnish government set up the North West committee whose task was to introduce the western base of the Finnish national movements. Sweden, on their part, tried to Swedify Finnish to include the addition of instruction in Swedish North-Swedish Finnish regions. In the 1950s, the North-Swedish schools were punished for speaking the Finnish language.


Main article: Heimosodat
A 1922 Bolshevik propaganda poster: "We don't want war, but we will defend the Soviets!"

In 1918-1920, the Greater-Finland ideology built in the Heimosodat and wanted to combine all the Finnic peoples into a single state. Similar ideas were also in western East Karelia. Repola and Porajärvi wanted to become municipalities of Finland, however, with the strict conditions of the Treaty of Tartu, the two municipalities remained in the Russian SFSR. Karelians in Uhtua wanted their own state instead, so they created the Republic of Uhtua. Similarly, Ingrian Finns created their own state, North Ingria, but with the intention of being incorporated into Finland. Both states ceased to exist in 1920.

The Greater-Finland ideology inspired the Academic Karelia Society and the Lapua movement and its successor, the Patriotic People's Movement. The later political parties National Coalition Party and the Centre Party remain supporters of the ideology. The Mannerheim Sword Scabbard Declarations in 1918 and 1941 increased the enthusiasm for the idea. Left-wing politician in large Finnish hobby was once the Oscar Tokoilla and Väinö Voionmaa, who published in 1918 the book "Greater Finland natural boundaries".

Treaty of Tartu[edit]

In 1919, the Repola and Porajärvi municipalities declared themselves independent of Russia, and wanted to join Finland, but the border change was never officially confirmed. In 1920, the Treaty of Tartu negotiations, Finland demanded more of Eastern Karelia. Russia has agreed to this and demanded and kept Repola and Porajärvi to themself and offered Finland Petsamo instead. After the debate President Ståhlberg agreed to the exchange. The claims of Eastern Karelia abandoned from the right-wing on the edge of peace was called "the shameful peace".

The Karelian ASSR in the 1920's and 1930's[edit]

Karelians in 1928.

At the Treaty of Tartu in 1920, Finland wanted to give a national government and autonomy for Eastern Karelia. The League of Nations ruled in Eastern Karelia when it belonged to Soviet Russia, for the reason of giving Karelia an autonomous self-ruled government. At the same time, the League of Nations also solved the Åland crisis in Finland's favor. After the Finnish Civil War, the Red Guards fled to Russia and rose to a leading position in Eastern Karelia, and led by Edvard Gylling, they established the Karelian Worker's Commune. The Reds were also assigned to act as a bridgehead in the Finnish revolution. Finnish politicians in Karelia strengthened their base in 1923 with the establishment of the Karelian ASSR.

Since the Karelian Worker's Commune was practically in the hands of the Finnish fleeing reds, Finland argued that Soviet Russia didn't organize Eastern Karelia as a democratic autonomy as the peace treaty said. After a failed uprising with the Karelians, the Soviets demanded many of them to move to Finland.

After the Civil War the Finnish migrants, along with the Ingrian Finns, and the Finns that returned from North America, fled to East Karelia. They also supported the idea of East Karelia being a Finnish cultural district.

Even in 1926 in Soviet Karelia, 96.6% of the population spoke Karelian language as their mother tongue. Karelian language was not yet a written language, and the creation of that was considered impossible because of the many dialects. Because of that, Karelia's official languages became Finnish and Russian. Dealing with the Finnish language was diverse. Some of the Karelians had difficulty to understand the Finnish written language and using it faced an outright resistance from the locals in Olonets Karelia, while White Karelia's locals had a more positive attitude towards the language. The resistance was labeled as mole work against the local Finnish kulaks and the Russian chauvinists' socialism.

In the summer of 1930, "finnification politics" rose publicly as controversial theme. There were also many disagreements about Soviet Karelia's official language. It was unclear if Soviet Karelia taught the Karelians Finnish, or if they generated their own language, as such, the idea of heading Soviet Karelia in a Karelian literary language was rejected. The Soviet Union Central Committee of the Council of Nationalities and the Soviet Union Academy of Sciences protested against forced finnification of Soviet Karelia.

The Great Purge[edit]

In Stalin's Great Purge in 1937, Soviet Karelia was accused of being led by Trotskyist-bourgeois nationalism. Karelian language and culture was banned and the political orientation to the bourgeois Finland. Leadership by Finns lasted until 1937, when it was obsoleted in Stalin's persecutions. At the same time Russification started in the area, by banning the use of Finnish and Karelian public use. Eventually, Russification made the area easier to control, as with Russian language, there were no other competing languages.

The Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic was founded by the Soviet Union at the beginning of the Winter War, which was led by the Terijoki government and Otto Wille Kuusinen, for the intention of incorporating the established Soviet republic into Finland. For this reason, the official language returned to Finnish. When Finland's occupation left undone, only in the Moscow Peace Treaty in 1940 the lost areas were incorporated into the Soviet Union.

During the Continuation War, about 62 000 Ingrian Finns escaped from the German-occupied area to Finland, of whom, 55 000 of them were returned to the Soviet Union and expelled to Siberia. From the 1950-1960's and onwards they had a chance to get back to their homes.[1]

The Continuation War[edit]

The furthest advance of Finnish units in the Continuation War.
Main article: Continuation War

Even during the civil war in 1918, when Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim was in Antrea, he issued one of his famous Sword Scabbard Declarations, which says that he "will not sheath my sword before law and order reigns in the land, before all fortresses are in our hands, before the last soldier of Lenin is driven not only away from Finland, but from White Karelia as well."[2] During the Continuation War, Mannerheim gave the famous second Sword Scabbard Declaration. The declaration also mentioned "the Great Finland", which at that time also caused negative attention in political circles.

During the Continuation War, Finland occupied the most comprehensive area in the history of Finland. Many people elsewhere as well as the Right-wing politicians wanted to annex East Karelia to Finland. The grounds were not only ideological and political, but also military, as the so-called three-isthmus line was considered easier to defend the border to Russia. Nazi Germany at the time, was certain of the possibility to annex East Karelia.

Russians and Karelians were treated differently. Of the Russian-speaking minority, their ethnic background was studied in order to know which part of them was Karelian, i.e. "the national minority", and which part was mostly Russian, i.e. "the unnational minority". The Russian minority were collected in the concentration camps, so that they would have been easier to move away.

In 1941, the Government published Finnlands Lebensraum in German, a book supporting the idea of a Greater Finland, with the intention of annexing of Eastern Karelia and Ingria to Finland.

Eastern Karelia military regime[edit]

Hitler and Mannerheim in 1942. The two worked together for Greater Finland.

On the other hand the economic motives of East Karelia's utilization of forest resources in the form. The areas are however not legally connected to Finland, but the parliament proclaimed only in the Winter War that the territories lost belonged to Finland. Areas managed by Finland's military administration in Eastern Karelia, which made all the preparatory measures in the occupied territories' population to be Finnified and prepared their integration into Finland.

Finland's eastern question[edit]

In the Continuation War's attack phase in 1941, when the Finns hoped of a German victory over Soviet Union, the Finns began to consider what areas Finland could get with a possible peace treaty with the Soviet Union. The German objective was to take over the Arkhangelsk-Astrakhan line, which would have allowed the expansion of the Finnish regions to the east. Professor Jalmari Jaakkola's book, Die Ostfrage Finnlands, which was published on August 29, 1941, sought to justify the occupation of East Karelia. The book was translated into English, Finnish and French, and received heavy criticism from Sweden and the United States.

The Finnish Ministry of Education established in December 11, 1941, the Scientific Committee of East Karelia, with the purpose to guide research in East Karelia, in order to form the accurate picture of the region. The first chairman of the commission was the Rector of the University of Helsinki Kaarlo Linkola and the second chairman was Väinö Auer. The jurists were preparing international legal arguments as to why Finland should get East Karelia.

The Concentration Camps[edit]

Staged photograph[3] of Russian children at a formerly Finnish-run transfer camp in Petrozavodsk (then Äänislinna; photo taken by photographer Galina Sanko on 29 June 1944, one day after the Finns had left the area. The sign reads, in Finnish and Russian: "Transfer camp. Entry to the camp and conversations through the fence are forbidden under the penalty of death."[4]

In the conquered territory, internment was established, which was at first called "concentration camps" and then later "transfer camps". The peoples transferred there were:

  1. "Non-Finns from the area can not express their political view of the military action";
  2. "Politically unreliable people for Finns, and non-Finnish population of persons";
  3. "Other peoples of the population that felt freedom in the militarily-governed area, would not be considered acceptable."

People of the Zaonezhye Peninsula (by the Onega), Svir Valley, Onega isthumus, which traditionally happened to speak Russian, were transferred to camps further back from the front line to prevent Soviet Partisan attacks against the civilians to protect themselves. Nevertheless, the Zaonezhye Peninsula was packed with refugee families of a Non-Finnish people origin, from different parts of the Karelo-Finnish SSR; which were waiting in vain to be transported over the Lake Onega, but they were caught in the hands of the Finnish Defence Forces. By research from literature, it can be estimated that up to 16 600 evacuees or refugees that lived near the battlefronts were placed into the concentration camps. This meant that the non-Finns were the highest number of evacuees or refugees in the camps. They were more than 69 percent of the camps' people, which at 1 April 1942, numbered 23,984 people.

Death in the camps (137.5 ‰) was significantly higher than in the occupation-free region's population (26 ‰), let alone in Finland (13.1 ‰). The real cause of campers' high mortality seems to have been poor nutrition, and to some extent their age structure: 20-30 year-old women and minor children which were almost 50%.

The idea's end[edit]

The "golden age" of the Greater Finland idea was the 1910s. In the 1920s the popularity of the idea declined, but rose for a moment in popularity during the Continuation War. After the Continuation War, the Greater Finland idea was practically shut down, because its concept was no longer possible by political or military condition. The Soviet Union had won the war and Finland was prepared for harsh peace treaties, which, among other things, made the Finnish territory further decrease. In addition to nazism and fascism, Lebensraum-expansive thoughts were no longer considered to be a good thing. The Academic Karelia Society and the IKL, which favored Greater Finland ideology, were shut down. Additionally, the idea's end was also probably affected by the fact that the Karelians were acting unanimously and supportively of the Finnish territorial expansion project, as many of them welcomed the Finns as the occupiers: indifferent to be in peace and hostility due to the pressure. Karelians would prefer to have the Finns as "spiritual" help, similarly as in the Heimosodat.

Similarly, the cultural foundation fell from the ideology, while communication with the Uralic peoples left under Soviet rule became increasingly difficult and more bureaucratic. In 1991, when the independence of Estonia was newly recovered and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it created more opportunities for NGOs and private citizens.

The idea of the motive[edit]

The motives of the Greater Finland idea has been discussed to some extent. It is an undeniable fact that some of the supporters of the idea of the background was a sincere desire to help the cultural brothers", as the idea was linked to the wider cultural cooperation. Later, the idea began to gain a clearer imperialist feature. For example, the main supporters of the idea was the Academic Karelia Society, which was originally born as a cultural organization. In the second year of their active years, they released a program, which dealt with broader strategic, geographical, historical and political arguments, for the notion of Greater Finland.

The idea today[edit]

In modern times, the Greater Finland ideology is practiced by few people. Today, the cultural ideology seeks primarily to promote Uralic peoples' survival and recovery work without changes in national borders, and not in the context of being happy to talk about the Greater Finland ideology in different ways. Such ideas are practiced among, Juminkeko Foundation, Matthias Castrén Society, Finland-Russia Society and many of the Uralic Finnish Kindred organizations support the struggle for survival. Among the students, the idea lives strongest in the University of Tartu, Estonia.

In August 2008, the international situation intensifies in South Ossetia, with a five-day war. The Keskisuomalainen-magazine drastically criticized the Finnish-Russian policy. In the editor's opinion, the Finns have raised their head to a "spiritual Greater Finnish idea".[5]

See also[edit]


  • Manninen, Ohto (1980). Suur-Suomen ääriviivat: Kysymys tulevaisuudesta ja turvallisuudesta Suomen Saksan-politiikassa 1941. Helsinki: Kirjayhtymä. ISBN 951-26-1735-8. 
  • Nygård, Toivo (1978). Suur-Suomi vai lähiheimolaisten auttaminen: Aatteellinen heimotyö itsenäisessä Suomessa. Helsinki: Otava. ISBN 951-1-04963-1. 
  • Tarkka, Jukka (1987). Ei Stalin eikä Hitler - Suomen turvallisuuspolitiikka toisen maailmansodan aikana. Helsinki: Otava. ISBN 951-1-09751-2. 
  • Seppälä, Helge (1989). Suomi miehittäjänä 1941-1944. Helsinki: SN-kirjat. ISBN 951-615-709-2. 
  • Morozov, K.A. (1975). Karjala Toisen Maailmansodan aikana 1941-1945. Petrozavodsk. 
  • Jaakkola, Jalmari (1942). Die Ostfrage Finnlands. WSOY. 
  • Näre, Sari; Jenni (2014). Luvattu maa: Suur-Suomen unelma ja unohdus. Helsinki: Johnny Kniga. ISBN 978-951-0-40295-5. 
  • Trifonova, Anastassija. Suur-Suomen aate ja Itä-Karjala. University of Tartu.  , Itämerensuomalaisten kielten laitos. Web version (PDF)
  • Solomeštš, Ilja. Ulkoinen uhka keskustan ja periferian suhteissa: Karjalan kysymys pohjoismaisessa vertailussa 1860-1940, Carelia, nro 10-1998, ss.117–119.  Web version
  • Ryymin, Teemu (1998). Finske nasjonalisters og norske myndigheters kvenpolitikk i mellomkrigstiden. Universitetet i Bergen.  Web version
  • Olsson, Claes. Suur-Suomen muisto.  Web version
  • Sundqvist, Janne. Suur-Suomi olisi onnistunut vain natsi-Saksan avulla.  Web version. Yle uutiset 26.5.2014.

  1. ^
  2. ^'s translation of the first Sword Scabbard Declaration.
  3. ^ Geust, Carl-Fredrik (2007). "Murjottavat ja nauravat Äänislinnan lapset" [Sulking and laughing children of Petrozavodsk]. Sotilasaikakauslehti (11): 44–45. 
  4. ^ (Russian) Семейный Ковчег: "Военное детство нынче не в цене", April 2004
  5. ^ Kohunimimerkki Kalpa: Tämä tie voi viedä sotaanKeskisuomalainen, 29 August 2008