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Finland, country located in northern Europe. Finland is one of the world’s most northern and geographically remote countries and is subject to a severe climate. Nearly two-thirds of Finland is blanketed by thick woodlands, making it the most densely forested country in Europe. Finland also forms a symbolic northern border between western and eastern Europe: dense wilderness and Russia to the east, the Gulf of Bothnia and Sweden to the west.

A part of Sweden from the 12th century until 1809, Finland was then a Russian grand duchy until, following the Russian Revolution, the Finns declared independence on December 6, 1917. Finland’s area decreased by about one-tenth during the 1940s, when it ceded the Petsamo ( Pechenga) area, which had been a corridor to the ice-free Arctic coast, and a large part of southeastern Karelia to the Soviet Union (ceded portions now in Russia).

Throughout the Cold War era, Finland skillfully maintained a neutral political position, although a 1948 treaty with the Soviet Union (terminated 1991) required Finland to repel any attack on the Soviet Union carried out through Finnish territory by Germany or any of its allies. Since World War II, Finland has steadily increased its trading and cultural relations with other countries. Under a U.S.-Soviet agreement, Finland was admitted to the United Nations in 1955. Since then, Finland has sent representatives to the Nordic Council, which makes suggestions to member countries on the coordination of policies.

Finland’s international activities became more widely known when the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which resulted in the creation of the Helsinki Accords, was held in that city in 1975. Finland has continued to have especially close ties with the other Scandinavian countries, sharing a free labour market and participating in various economic, cultural, and scientific projects. Finland became a full member of the European Union in 1995.

The landscape of ubiquitous forest and water has been a primary source of inspiration for Finnish arts and letters. Starting with Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala, the country’s great artists and architects—including Alvar Aalto, Albert Edelfelt, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Juha Ilmari Leiviskä, and Eero Saarinen—as well as its musicians, writers, and poets—from Jean Sibelius to Väinö Linna, Juhani Aho, Zacharias Topelius and Eino Leino—have all drawn themes and imagery from their national landscape. One of the first Modernist poets, Edith Södergran, expressed her relationship to the Finnish environment this way in “ Homecoming”:

The notion of nature as the true home of the Finn is expressed again and again in Finnish proverbs and folk wisdom. The harsh climate in the northern part of the country, however, has resulted in the concentration of the population in the southern third of Finland, with about one-fifth of the country’s population living in and around Helsinki, Finland’s largest city and continental Europe’s northernmost capital. Yet, despite the fact that most Finns live in towns and cities, nature—especially the forest—is never far from their minds and hearts.

Finland is bordered to the north by Norway, to the east by Russia, to the south by the Gulf of Finland, to the southwest by the Gulf of Bothnia, and to the northwest by Sweden. Its area includes the autonomous territory of Åland, an archipelago at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia. About one-third of the territory of Finland—most of the maakunta (region) of Lappi—lies north of the Arctic Circle.

Living with the Soviet Union

1917 - The Russian Revolution allows Finland to declare its independence.

1918 - Bitter civil war, which leads to some 30,000 deaths. A rebellion by left-wing Red Guards is put down by General Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim.

1919 - Finland becomes a republic. Kaarlo Stahlberg becomes first president.

1939 - Outbreak of Second World War. Finland declares its neutrality. In November the Soviet Union invades in the Winter War.

1940 - Despite fierce resistance, the Finns are forced to concede. The Treaty of Moscow gives around 10% of Finnish territory to the Soviet Union.

1941 - Germany attacks USSR in June. Finland launches military campaign to retake territory.

1944 - The Soviet Army invades. An armistice is signed in September. Finland concedes more land to the Soviet Union and agrees to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in war reparations.

1950 - Urho Kekkonen becomes prime minister and is subsequently elected as president in 1956. He pursues a policy of friendly neutrality with the Soviet Union.

1955 - Finland joins United Nations and Nordic Council.

1973 - Trade agreements signed with the European Economic Community and Comecon.

The Refugee Crisis in Finland, Explained

S ome die trying to cross the sea. Other refugees try to flee the terror and horror counting on humanitarian aid provided by European countries. However, that, how many asylum seekers each country accepts varies greatly, as the debate is a melting pot of politics, tolerance and the attitudes of citizens.

After weeks-long debate on how many refugees Finland should accept, the Finnish Immigration Service has provided a number: 15,000. The estimate is 10,000 higher than the previous estimates conducted last year, and is based on the amount of applications received this summer. The number is roughly 11 per cent of the total amount of about 137,000 refugees having fled to Europe during the first half of 2015 – an increase of about 83 per cent compared with the previous year.

But there seems to be nothing slowing down the flood of migrants in the biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II, with some 60 million people displaced by conflict and poverty. The refugees are arriving among others from the conflict zones of Syria, Africa and Afghanistan, in an escape of violence and danger.

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T he journey of a refugee is extremely risky, as many try to flee across the Mediterranean Sea, which stands between the continents of northern Africa and southern Europe. The distance of the journey varies between 15-200 kilometres, depending where you try to cross it.

The area is a playground for ruthless smugglers who, with a promise of a better future in Europe, clam the migrants into decrepit boats and take them to a trip of unpredictable weather and sharks. More than 2,600 people have died this year trying to make the journey to the continent’s shores, turning the Mediterranean into the most dangerous border crossing in the world. Last week the pictures of a Syrian toddler, Aylan, washed ashore of the Turkish coast, became the symbol of the journey.

A refugee looking out of the window at the reception centre in Turku. Picture: Jussi Vierimaa/SPR

T here are several reception centres established across Finland from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, each accomodating about 100-300 asylum seekers. The European Union is proposing to relocate additional 120,000 migrants across EU, who arrive in Greece, Italy and Hungary. The acceptance, however, is voluntary. Sadly, the option has already led some Finnish municipalities decline to accept refugees.

Prime minister Juha Sipilä (NCP) has taken the initiative and is leading by example: he offered his second home in Kempele (Northern Ostrobothnia) as a temporary residence for migrants. His house can accommodate about 20 people and is free to use after the turn of the year. “The idea was originally my wife’s. I don’t want money from the accommodation. Compassion and caring obligate one to take care of the others,” Sipilä said.

Sipilä and his family live in Sipoo (Uusimaa region) and are also occasionally enjoying the accommodation of the official residence of the prime minister, Kesäranta, located in Helsinki’s Meilahti area.

Petteri Orpo, the minister of the interior, is trying to figure out how and where to accommodate the thousands of migrants arriving to Finland in the upcoming months. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

F or now, the municipalities are encouraged to decide whether to accept refugees or not. However, that might change in the near future. By law, the Finnish Immigration Service can without the consent of the municipality establish a reception centre to a private residence anywhere in the country. “In practice, the Immigration Service is asking the opinion of the municipal decision-makers and is seeking a mutual understanding in the matter,” the Finnish Immigration Service said in a bulletin.

Currently, there is a need to establish three to four reception centres weekly. “Because the amounts are as large as this and the number seems to increase daily, at some point, we might be in a situation where there are not enough reception centres and we have to use the authority available to us. I, however, wish that we don’t have to go that far,” said Petteri Orpo (NCP), the minister of the interior.

Sources: The Finnish Immigration Service, HS, IS, TIME magazine


The first humans arrived in Finland about 7,000 BC after the end of the last ice age. The earliest Finns were stone-age hunters and gatherers. Over thousands of years, successive waves of people entered Finland. After 2,500 BC people in Finland lived by farming. About 1,500 BC they learned to make tools and weapons from bronze. About 500 BC people in Finland learned to use iron. However, the Finns had little or no contact with the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome.


The recorded history of Finland began in the 12th century. By 1120 Christian missionaries were operating there. They were prepared to use force to convert Finland! The Swedish king Eric led a crusade in 1157. An Englishman, Bishop Henry of Uppsala, assisted him. Henry stayed after the Swedish soldiers left and he was martyred. Later he became the patron saint of Finland. However, in 1172 the Pope said that the Finns would convert then renounce their faith as soon as their enemies had left. He advised the Swedes to subject the Finns by permanently manning fortresses in Finland.

However, the Swedes had rivals in Finland. The Danes invaded Finland twice, in 1191 and in 1202. Furthermore, the Novgorodians (from part of what is now Russia) hoped to control Finland and convert the people to the Eastern Orthodox Church. They fought the Swedes at the River Neva in 1240 and won a decisive victory. However, the Swedes returned in 1249. Earl Birger led this second crusade. He succeeded in conquering Hame and built a castle at Hameenlinna. Finally, in 1291 a native Finn was made bishop of Turku.

However, the Swedes were keen to conquer Karelia. In 1293 they sent an expedition under Marshal Torgils Knutsson. At first, they were successful but in 1381 the Novgorodians counterattacked. The two sides made peace in 1323. Karelia remained in Novgorodian hands.

Meanwhile Swedish colonists migrated to Finland in large numbers and after 1323 Finland became a province of Sweden. Swedish law came to apply in Finland (although it was tempered by Finnish custom). In 1362 the Swedes allowed the Finns to participate in the election of a Swedish king. Then, in 1397, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland). The Union broke up in 1523.

The reformation in Finland was led by Mikael Agricola who became bishop of Turku in 1554. When he died in 1557 Finland was firmly Lutheran. Then in 1581, Finland was made a Grand Duchy. Meanwhile, Helsinki was founded in 1550.

However in 1596-97 Finnish peasants rose in rebellion in the Club War (so-called because the peasants were armed with clubs). The nobles ruthlessly suppressed the rebellion. Afterward, the peasant’s condition did not improve but Finland became an integral part of Sweden. n The end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th were years of hardship for the Finns. In 1696-97 there was a severe famine. Malnutrition and disease reduced the population of Finland by about a third.

Then came the Great Northern War of 1709-21. In 1713 the Russians invaded Finland and marched across it. The Swedish-Finnish army made a last stand at Storkyro but was defeated. The Russian occupation from 1713 to 1721 is known as the Great Wrath. Wealthy Finns fled to Sweden but peasants could not escape. King Charles XII ordered the Finns to start guerrilla warfare against the Russians, which naturally led to reprisals. In 1721 peace was made but Charles XII had to surrender the south-eastern part of Finland to Russia. n Meanwhile in 1710 plague reached Helsinki and devastated the population.

War broke out again between Sweden-Finland and Russia in 1741. The Swedes were defeated at Villmanstrand. The Russian army occupied the whole of Finland but the treaty of Albo, which ended the war in 1743 left the status quo unchanged except that Russia took a small part of Finland. n War broke out again in 1788. This time a man named Magnus Sprengtporten led a separatist movement. However, he attracted few followers and the war ended in 1790.


Finland was finally detached from Sweden in 1809. The Russians invaded Finland on 21 February 1808. The Russians captured a fortress at Sveaborg in May but the Swedish-Finnish army won a victory at Lapua in July. However, in September 1808, the Russians won a decisive victory at Oravainen. Swedish troops then abandoned Finland and left to their own devices the Finns made peace with the Tsar. During the 18th century, Sweden was declining and Russia was growing more and more powerful so the Finns bowed to the inevitable.

In March 1809 the Finnish Diet (a form of parliament) accepted Tsar Alexander as their ruler. He agreed that Finland would become a Grand Duchy rather than a part of Russia and he promised to respect Finnish laws. In 1812 the Tsar moved the capital of Finland from Turku to Helsinki.

Little changed in Finland in the early 19th century. Then in 1856, the Saimaa canal was built. It enabled the Finns to export timber from their great forests to western Europe more easily. n

n the late 19th-century Finnish nationalism began to grow. As early as 1835 Elias Lonnrot published a collection of Finnish folk poems called Kalevala. After 1850 interest in the Finnish language and culture grew stronger. In 1858 the first Finnish-speaking grammar school opened. By 1889 half of the grammar schools in Finland spoke only Finnish.

However, at the end of the 19th-century Tsar Nicholas II tried to clamp down on Finnish nationalism. In 1899 he issued a manifesto, which said he had the power to make laws for Finland, without the consent of the Finnish Diet if those laws affected Russian interests.


The pendulum then swung the other way. In 1902 Finnish was made an official language along with Swedish and in 1905 the Tsar withdrew the manifesto of 1899. In 1907 a new assembly was elected to replace the old Diet. This time all men were allowed to vote.

From 1906 Finnish women were also allowed to vote. Finland was the first European country and the third in the world, after New Zealand and Australia to allow women to vote in national elections. Furthermore in 1907 Finnish women became the first in the world to win seats in a national parliament.

However in 1910 the Tsar severely restricted the power of the Finnish legislature. He declared that he had the power to pass laws for Finland if its effects are not limited to the internal affairs of that region.

But the reign of the Tsar was soon over. He abdicated in March 1917. In July 1917 the Finnish Diet declared that it had authority in all matters except foreign policy. Then on 6 December 1917, the Diet declared Finland an independent Republic.

Meanwhile in October 1917 a conservative government was elected in Finland. The far-left decided to try and take power by force. The Red Finns seized Helsinki and other towns. However, General Gustaf Mannerheim led the White Finns. In April 1918 they captured Tampere. Meanwhile, the Germans intervened. German troops captured Helsinki. By the middle of May, the rebellion had been crushed. Subsequently, 8,000 reds were executed. Another 12,000 died in prison camps.

In October 1918 a German Prince, Charles Frederick of Hesse was made king of Finland. However, his reign was extremely short. After Germany signed the armistice on 11 November 1918 Mannerheim was made regent. Shortly afterward, in 1919 Finland gained a new constitution. In July 1919 Finland’s first president K J Stahlberg replaced Mannerheim. Finland became a republic.

Following Finnish independence, farming was reformed. In the years 1918-1992 many leaseholders became smallholders.

In 1929 the Communists demonstrated in Lapua. As a result, right-wingers foamed an anti-Communist movement called the Lapua movement. In February 1932 the Lapua movement tried to seize power in Mantsala. President Stahlberg defeated the rebellion but the rebels were treated leniently.

Finland became involved in the Second World War. In 1939 Stalin feared attack from the west. He wanted to take territory from Finland to protect his northern flank. Stalin offered to give Finland other territories in exchange but the Finnish government refused so Stalin decided to use force.

The Winter War began on 30 November 1939. The Finns were heavily outnumbered but they fought bravely. The Russians invaded Finland north of Lake Ladoga but they were defeated at Tolvajari and Suomussalmi. Meanwhile along the Karelian Isthmus Finland was protected by the Mannerheim Line, a network of forts and concrete bunkers and trenches. The Russians tried to break through but the Finns held them up for several weeks.

However, on 14th February 1940, the Russians penetrated the Mannerheim line and Finland was forced to seek peace. The war ended with the Treaty of Moscow on 12 March 1940. Afterward, Finland was forced to surrender the southeast including the city of Viipuri (Vyborg) and more territory north of Lake Ladoga. About 22,000 Finns died in the Winter War.

In June 1941 Finland joined with Germany in attacking Russia. The Finns called it the Continuation War. The Finns quickly recaptured their territory. However, in December 1941 Britain declared war on Finland and after the German defeat at Stalingrad in 1943, the Finns realized they must leave the war. n Negotiations began in March 1944 but Finland rejected the Russian demands. However, defeat was inevitable and Finland made a ceasefire with Russia on 5 September 1944.

After the war, Finland was forced to surrender large amounts of territory to Russia. The Finns also had to pay reparations. The Continuation War cost 85,000 Finnish lives. However, a final peace treaty was made with Russia in 1947.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the treaty of 1947 was replaced by a new treaty in 1992 in which both sides agreed to settle their differences in a friendly manner.

There were about 450,000 refugees from the territory taken by the Russians, which added to the strain on Finland’s economy. However, Finland slowly recovered from the war. By the early 1970s, the Finnish economy was booming. However, in the late 1970s, it declined. In the mid and late 1980s, Finland enjoyed rapid economic growth but it ended with a recession in the early 1990s. There was mass unemployment. However, at the end of the century, Finland recovered.

Before the Second World War, the main occupation in Finland was agriculture. Since 1945 metalworking, engineering, and electronics industries have grown but Finland is still less industrialized than the other Scandinavian countries. The main resource of Finland is timber.

In 1995 Finland joined the EU. In 1999 Finland joined the Euro.


Meanwhile, in 2000 Tarja Halonen was elected the first woman President of Finland. In the same year, Helsinki celebrated its 450th anniversary. Today it’s a prosperous country. In 2020 the population of Finland was 5.5 million.

Links & Resources

  • Wikipedia: Finland
  • Cyndi's List: Finland
  • General language translation tool(Google)
  • Rootsweb Message Board: Finland( Please post your queries here! )
  • WGW: FinlandGenWeb (not maintained currently not accessible)
  • The Genealogical Society of Finland (Suomen Sukututkimusseura) with the free Suku Forum
  • Finland's Family History Association (FFHA/SSHY)
  • FamilySearch: Finland Genealogy
  • Facebook Pages: Suomen Sukututkimusseura (Finnish)
  • Facebook Groups:
    • Finnish Genealogy
    • Suomen Sukuhistoriallinen yhdistys (Finnish)
    • Northern Europe Genealogy Research Community

    For further in-depth genealogical research guidance please continue to our WorldGenWeb Country Partner or Country Link. Please note that while the WorldGenWeb project is free and does not even require registration, some partners/links may require a sign up and/or membership fees. Click the blue button to continue.

    The Suomen Sukututkimusseura (The Genealogical Society of Finland) currently provides an English version of the site..

    Finland dreams: ‘The most important game in our football history’ | European Football Championship

    “This is the most important game in Finnish football history,” national coach Markku Kanerva underlined on Sunday in the run-up to the final game with Belgium. “We have a big dream in our own hands. It’s great that we get this opportunity. We will do everything we can to realize our dream.”

    “We still have a chance to win the group,” Kanerva continued, who does not want to look further at the game between Denmark and Russia. “Our main task is to focus on what we can influence ourselves. That’s our own game. I hope I will not need the information from Copenhagen.”

    Worked twice as hard

    Player Jere Uronen flanked his coach during the press conference. “Over the past six months I have worked twice as hard to be able to show myself here. I am very motivated and happy to be able to play.”

    “Our biggest dream was to qualify for this tournament”, the defender who is active in Belgium continued. “But just because you can realize that dream doesn’t mean it has to stop. Since qualifying, our ambition has been to also get through the group stage. We know how big this is for our country and want to make all Finns proud. We’ve been missing our families for a month, but we want to keep going. For me and the team, this is the best period of our career. We don’t want this to end now.”

    The Finns get a lot of support from the home front, Uronen said. “We get a lot of messages, we feel a lot of support. Even the president gave us a heart. It’s heartwarming.”

    Famous Birthdays

    Birthdays 1 - 100 of 287

      Catherine Jagellion, Polish princess and queen of Sweden as the wife of John III of Sweden, born in Kraków, Poland (d. 1583) Johan Helmich Roman, Swedish composer, conductor and violinist, born in Stockholm, Sweden (d. 1758) Johan Gadolin, Finnish chemist (discovered yttrium), born in Turku, Finland (d. 1852) Alexander von Nordmann, Finnish zoologist, born in Kotka, Finland (d. 1866) Johan Ludvig Runeberg, Finland, poet Johan Vilhelm Snellman, Finnish journalist, statesman and nationalist, born in Stockholm, Sweden (d. 1881) Fredrik Cygnaeus, Finnish poet/literature critic Vissarion Belinsky, Sveaborg Finland, Russian author (Literary Review) Zacharias Topelius, Finnish historical novelist (Surgeon's Stories), born in Nykarleby, Finland (d. 1898) August Ahlqvist, Finnish poet (Suomalainen Runousoppi), born in Kuopio, Finland (d. 1889) Karl Collan, Finnish composer Aleksis Kivi, Finnish writer and poet (Nummisuutarit), born in Nurmijärvi, Grand Duchy of Finland (d. 1872) Minna Canth, Finland, playwright (The Pastor's Family) and social activist Martin Wegelius, Finnish musicologist and composer, born in Helsinki, Finland (d. 1906) Karl Flodin, Finnish composer and critic, born in Vassa (d. 1925) Karl M Lybeck, Finnish/Swedish language poet (Samlade Arbeten) Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg, first president of Finland (d. 1952)

    Jean Sibelius

    1865-12-08 Jean Sibelius, Finnish composer (Valse Triste, Finlandia), born in Tavastehus, Finland (d. 1957)

      Miina Sillanpää, Finnish first female minister and a key figure in the workers' movement, born in Jokioinen, Finland (d. 1952) Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, Finnish general and 6th President of Finland (1944-46), born in Askainen, Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire (d. 1951) Antti Aarne, Finnish folklorist, born in Pori, Finland (d. 1925) Armas Järnefelt, Finnish conductor and composer (Berceuse), born in Vyborg, Russian Empire (d. 1958) Juho Kusti Paasikivi, Finnish politician (7th President of Finland 1946-56), born in Tampere, Finland (d. 1956) Princess Margaret of Prussia, Queen consort-elect of Finland, born in New Palace, Potsdam, Prussia, German Empire (d. 1954) Eliel Saarinen, Finnish-American architect (GM Tech Institute, Mich), born in Rantasalmi, Finland (d. 1950) Gustaf John Ramstedt, Finland-Swedish linguist and diplomat, born in Ekenäs, Finland (d. 1950) Volter Kilpi, Finnish writer (Alastalon salissa), born in Kustavi, Finland (d. 1939) Selim Palmgren, Finnish pianist and composer (Daniel Hjort), born in Pori, Finland (d. 1951) Eino Leino, Finnish poet, born in Paltamo, Finland (d. 1926) Aino Kallas, Finnish writer (White Ship, Estonian Tales), born in Kiiskilä, Viipuri Province, Grand Duchy of Finland (d. 1956) Heikki Ritavuori, Finnish politician (d. 1922) Gunnar Nordström, Finnish physicist (d. 1923) Otto V. Kuusinen, Finnish politician (founder of the Finnish Communist Party), born in Laukaa, Finland (d. 1964) Lauri Kristian Relander, 2nd President of Finland (1925-31), born in Kurkijoki, Finland (d. 1942) Toivo Kuula, Finnish composer, born in Vehkakoski (d. 1918) Runar Schildt, Finnish writer (Segrande Eros), born in Helsinki (d. 1925) Artturi Leinonen, Finnish journalist and writer (Kati), born in Ylihärmä, Finland (d. 1963) Risto Ryti, Finnish premier/president Hannes Kolehmainen, Finnish long-distance runner (Olympic gold 1912), born in Kuopio, Finland (d. 1966) Lauri SA Haarla, Finnish (stage)writer (Juudas, Sukeltaja) Eino Kaila, Finnish psychologist and philosopher, born in Alajärvi, Finland (d. 1958) Hans Ruin, Finnish Swedish-language historian Clas Thunberg, Finnish speed skater (Olympic gold 1924, 28), born in Helsinki, Finland (d. 1973) Aarre Merikanto, Finnish composer (Lemminkäinen Juha Schott Concerto), born in Helsinki, Grand Duchy of Finland (d. 1958) Artturi Ilmari Virtanen, Finnish chemist, Nobel laureate (d. 1973) Elmer Diktonius, Finnish poet, composer, and musicologist (Janne Kubrik Stenkol), born in Helsinki (d. 1961)

    Paavo Nurmi

    1897-06-13 Paavo Nurmi, Finnish middle & long distance runner (9 Olympic gold 1920, 24, 28), born in Turku, Finland (d. 1973)

      Alvar Aalto, Finland, architect (Finlandia House) Felix Kersten, Baltic-German Finnish masseuse (masseuse to Heinrich Himmler who helped save people from Nazi persecution), born in Tartu, Imperial Russia (d. 1960) Elias Simojoki, Finnish clergyman and politician (d. 1940) Urho Kekkonen, 8th President of Finland (1956-81), born in Pielavesi, Finland (d. 1986) Ragnar Granit, Finnish neuroscientist (Nobel 1967 - discoveries concerning the primary physiological and chemical visual processes in the eye), born in Helsinge, Finland (d. 1991) Uuno Kailas, Finnish poet, born in Heinola, Finland (d. 1933) Sulho Ranta, Finnish composer, born in Peräseinäjoki, Finland (d. 1960) Kaarlo Sarkia, Finnish poet (Unen Kaivo) Toivo R Pekkanen, Finnish writer (Wegwerkers) Ilmari Salminen, Finnish athlete (Olympic gold 10,000m 1936), born in Elimäki, Finland (d. 1986) Hertha Kuusinen, Finnish communist Eino Roiha, Finnish composer, born in Vyborg (d. 1955) Arvi Kivimaa, Finnish writer (Groenende Cross), born in Hartola, Finland (d. 1984) Simo Häyhä, Finnish sniper (d. 2002) Heikki Savolainen, Finland, pommel horse gymnast (Olympic gold 1948) Sulo Nurmela, Finland, 4 X 100K relay skier (Olympic gold 1936) Matti Jarvinen, Finland, javelin thrower (Olympic gold 1932) Anni Blomqvist, Finnish novelist (d. 1990) Eero Saarinen, Finnish-American architect (IBM Building, MIT Chapel), born in Kirkkonummi, Finland (d. 1961) Armand Lohikoski, Finnish director (d. 2005)

    Tove Jansson

    1914-08-09 Tove Jansson, Finnish author and illustrator (Moomins), born in Helsinki, Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire (d. 2001)

      Sylvi Saimo, Finland, 500m kayaker (Olympic gold 1952) Tapio Rautavaara, Finnish athlete, actor, and singer (Me tulemme taas, Rion yö), born in Pirkkala, Finland (d. 1979) George Gaynes, Dutch-Finnish-American singer, stage and screen actor (Tootsie Police Academy General Hospital), born in Helsinki, Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire (d. 2016) Onni Palaste, Finnish writer Kalle Päätalo, Finnish novelist (Iijoki), born in Taivalkoski, Finland (d. 2000) Tom of Finland [Touko Laaksonen], Finnish fetish artist, born in Helsinki (d. 1991) Lydia Wideman, Finnish cross country skier (first female cross-country Olympic gold 1952), born in Vippula, Finland Maila Nurmi [Syrjäniemi], Finnish-American actress (The Vampira Show), born in Gloucester, Massachusetts or Petsamo, Finland (d. 2008) Mauno Koivisto, President of Finland (1982-94), born in Turku (d. 2017) Siiri Rantanen, Finnish cross country skier (Olympic gold 1956), born in Tohmajärvi, North Karelia, Finland Veikko Hakulinen, Finnish cross country skier (Olympic gold 1952, 56, 60), born in Kurkijoki, Finland (d. 2003) Einojuhani Rautavaara, Finnish composer (Kaivos), born in Helsinki, Finland (d. 2016) Veijo Meri, Finnish writer, born in Viipuri (d. 2015) Paavo Berglund, Finnish violinist and conductor (Helsinki Chamber Orchestra Finnish RSO, 1956-72), born in Helsinki, Finland (d. 2012) Pentti Siimes, Finnish actor (Miriam), born in Helsinki, Finland (d. 2016) Taina Elg, Finnish-American actress (Hercules in NY, Les Girls), born in Impilahti, Finland Spede Pasanen, Finnish film director and comedian, born in Kuopio, Finland (d. 2001) Paavo Haavikko, Finnish poet & writer, born in Helsiniki, Finland (d. 2008) Jorn Donner, Helsinki Finland, director (Anna, Tenderness) Risto Jarva, Finnish filmmaker (d. 1977) Armi Kuusela, Finnish beauty queen (1st Miss Universe, 1952), born in Muhos, Finland Martti Talvela, Hiitola Karelia Finland, operatic basso Elina Salo, Finnish actress (Hamlet Goes Business), born in Sipoo, Finland Irmelin Sandman Lilius, Swedish-Finnish writer, born in Helsinki Kari Rydman, Finnish composer, born in Helsinki Martti Ahtisaari, President of Finland Esko Nikkari, Finnish actor M.A. Numminen, Finnish singer and writer Paavo Lipponen, Prime Minister of Finland (1995-2003), born in Turtola, Finland Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, Finnish Sami writer (The Sun, My Father) and musician, born in Enontekiö, Finland (d. 2001) Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, born in Helsinki, Finland Vesa-Matti Loiri, Finnish entertainer
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    President: Sauli Niinisto

    Sauli Niinisto won the presidential election in 2012 to become the country's first conservative head of state in five decades.

    The victory of the pro-Europe politician suggested that voters wanted to keep the country in the eurozone, despite misgivings over European Union bailouts.

    Mr Niinisto is credited with leading Finland's economy towards growth following the collapse of the Soviet Union during his tenure as finance minister from 1996 to 2001.

    Finland's president has a largely ceremonial role with fewer powers now than in previous decades, but can be an important shaper of public opinion.

    Mr Niinisto comfortably won a second term in the January 2018 election.

    Prime Minister: Sanna Marin

    Social Democrat Sanna Marin took over as prime minister of a centre-left coalition in December 2019, after her predecessor Antti Rinne resigned over his handling of a postal strike.Mr Rinne, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, had come to power in June 2019 after defeating the centre-right government in April elections.

    His coalition, the first to be led by the Social Democrats since 2003, pledged to increase taxes and spending to preserve the country's generous welfare state.

    Ms Marin, the outgoing transport and communications minister, is 34 years old, making her Finland's youngest prime minister.

    Why Is Finland Able to Fend Off Putin’s Information War?

    With elections coming up this year in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and perhaps Italy, European intelligence services across the Continent have been sounding the alarm about Russian attempts to influence the outcome though targeted disinformation and propaganda, as they appeared to do in the U.S. presidential election.

    That brand of information war can range from pushing fake news stories and conspiracy theories to fanning the flames of existing problems — all serving to undermine public confidence in governments and institutions. Elsewhere in the Baltics and former Soviet Union, Russian-linked disinformation has worked to stoke panic and force local governments into knee-jerk, counterproductive responses that have boosted Kremlin goals across the region.

    But in the face of this mounting pressure, one of Russia’s neighbors has emerged unusually resistant to the wider information war waged by Moscow across Europe: Finland.

    Like other countries along the Baltic Sea or in Eastern Europe, Finland has seen a notable increase in fake news stories and propaganda targeted against it that can be linked back to Russia since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. These attacks have sought to undermine the government and often coincided with military shows of force along the Russian border.


    But unlike its neighbors, Helsinki reckons it has the tools to effectively resist any information attack from its eastern neighbor . Finnish officials believe their country’s strong public education system, long history of balancing Russia, and a comprehensive government strategy allow it to deflect coordinated propaganda and disinformation.

    “The best way to respond is less by correcting the information, and more about having your own positive narrative and sticking to it,” Jed Willard, director of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Center for Global Engagement at Harvard, told Foreign Policy . Willard, who is currently working for the Swedish government, was hired by Finnish officials to help them develop a public diplomacy program to understand and identify why false information goes viral and how to counter propaganda.

    That initiative started at the top. In October 2015, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto took the first step, when he acknowledged that information warfare is real for Finland, and said that it was the duty of every citizen to combat it. In January 2016, the prime minister’s office enrolled 100 officials in a program across several levels of the Finnish government to identify and understand the spread of disinformation based on Willard’s advice.

    Lots of governments in the West don’t have the same kind of narrative to respond with as does Helsinki. A homogeneous country of 5.4 million people, Finland routinely ranks at the top of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s quality of life metrics and, in addition to strong social welfare programs, the country’s education system is the best in the world, according to the World Economic Forum.

    Willard says this combination of widespread critical thinking skills among the Finnish population and a coherent government response makes a strong defense against concerted outside efforts to skew reality and undermine faith in institutions.

    “This stuff is real. It is as real as war,” said Willard. “But the Finns very quickly realized this and got out in front of the problem.”

    René Nyberg, a former Finnish ambassador to Moscow, says Finland has a couple of key advantages when it comes to parrying Russian disinformation. Helsinki is painfully well-versed in dealing with Russia, as it has had to do through war and annexation, and most recently the decades-long staring match of the Cold War. That left Finland with a sober understanding of the Kremlin’s real motives. Plus, it helps that Finland is not Russia’s main target when it comes to undermining European unity.

    “The real intensity is Germany … Merkel is the main course,” Nyberg told FP . “We’re just a side dish.”

    The case of the false “ Lisa story ” in Germany from January 2016 is often cited as a textbook example of Moscow’s modern information capabilities. Russian-language media reported allegations that a 13-yearold Russian-German girl had been raped by migrants in Berlin before local authorities had time to verify the information those Russian reports were then picked up by mainstream news media in Germany and elsewhere . When the story was finally debunked, subsequent accusations of a cover-up by Berlin were reported by Channel One, Russia’s prime state TV station, and were even hinted at by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said the incident “was hushed up for a long time for some reason” during a press conference. The spread of the false story also prompted protests across the country by anti-immigrant groups and Russian Germans.

    Experts say it’s nearly impossible to track the extent to which these pro-Russian positions are directly shaped by the Kremlin. Indeed, to be most effective, Moscow does not invent issues out of whole cloth, they say. Instead, disinformation attacks seek to inflame existing tensions by putting out viral web stories that would then be republished by local news outlets and on social media to distort political debates about wedge issues like the European Union, immigration, and NATO.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Finnish President Sauli Niinnisto during a working visit to Finland on July 1, 2016. (Photo by Juhani Kandell/ Office of the President of Finland)

    Weaponizing information has a long history in Russia, and the Kremlin ran an extensive operation to subvert the West in Soviet times. In an age of social media where news can quickly spread around the globe, Russia deployed its arsenal of trolls, propaganda, and false information to a new level that has allowed Moscow to perfect its techniques over the last decade. These techniques have even become enshrined in official Kremlin doctrine.

    But responding to such tactics can often backfire and risks replicating the Kremlin-backed narrative. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — as well as other former Soviet countries like Ukraine and Georgia — have been less successful in pushing back against Russian disinformation.

    Pro-Russian media, including the state-owned Channel One, already reach huge numbers of homes across the former Soviet Union. In the Baltic states, which have large Russian-speaking minorities, attempts to restrict or ban Russian broadcasters, websites, or journalists have often polarized relations with the local Russian community and given more material for Kremlin-backed propaganda and disinformation. In Ukraine and Georgia, Russian propaganda often amplifies and distorts the very real problem of state corruption, seeking to destroy confidence in pro-Western political parties.

    In contrast, Finland, which ranks as the world’s third-least corrupt country according to Transparency International, and which has only a tiny Russian-speaking population, has fewer obvious targets to be exploited. In March 2016, the Finnish-language bureau for Sputnik , the state-funded Russian media outlet, closed after it failed to attract enough readers.

    “Nothing has been very harmful for the public so far,” Markku Mantila, director general for government communications at the Finnish prime minister’s office, told FP . “Finns are well-educated and because of that, we are very resilient to such attempts.”

    But Finland does have one thing that drives the Kremlin to distraction: an 830-mile border with Russia. Fears over NATO’s eastward expansion — including, potentially, to Finland — are behind much of Russia’s aggressive posture toward the West.

    Finnish officials claim to have documented 20 disinformation campaigns against their country that have come directly from the Kremlin. Those attempts tend to focus on a narrow but sensitive topic: Helsinki’s carefully balanced relations with Moscow.

    After two wars with Russia in two years in the 1940s, Finland during the Cold War followed a carefully crafted policy of neutrality , allowing it to balance integration with Europe while maintaining good relations with the Soviet giant next door. The country refrained from joining NATO and often bowed to Moscow’s wishes to preserve its independence, a stance that some Western detractors condemned as too accommodating to the Soviets. Cold Warriors even dubbed it, derisively, “Finlandization.”

    Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Helsinki quickly distanced itself from its Cold War legacy, but the country’s policymakers still walk a tightrope with Russia. Public opinion on NATO membership is strongly divided , making Finland an important target for Russia as it seeks to influence the public discourse of its neighbors and sow divisions in Europe.

    Russian disinformation campaigns have spun a narrative of the Finnish government discriminating against ethnic Russians. In February, reports of dual Russian-Finnish citizens being rejected from military and foreign service jobs became a talking point in pro-Kremlin media in Russia. A measure discussed in Finnish parliament to prevent Russian citizens from owning land near military sites also rallied the pro-Kremlin propaganda machine. A similar line of attack, which has involved doctored photos, saw Kremlin outlets accuse Finnish authorities of child abduction in disputes arising over child welfare and custody battles for Finnish-Russian marriages. The accusations, which Finnish officials deny, first materialized in 2012, but continue to flare up — giving Russian lawmakers more opportunity to make inflammatory statements about their neighbor.

    “It’s not just about Finland’s relationship with Russia,” Saara Jantunen, the author of Info-War , a book about Russian disinformation in Finland, told FP . “It’s about showing what kind of rhetoric in Finnish society and the media is acceptable.”

    Left: Finnish investigative journalist Jessikka Aro. (Photo courtesy of Jessikka Aro). Right: Johan Backman during a television appearance on the Russian-state network RT in 2014. (Photo by YouTube/RT)

    One noticeable aspect of the Kremlin’s approach in other parts of Europe is to support anti-establishment forces, which often parrot pro-Russian positions. A similar dynamic is at play in the case of Jessikka Aro, an investigative journalist for the social media division of Finland’s state broadcaster, Yle Kioski .

    In 2014, Aro followed up on reports of a Russian “troll factory” in St. Petersburg that was seeking to influence public opinion in the West about Kremlin maneuvers abroad. After she published her initial investigation , which documented how pro-Russian voices were attempted to shape the public discourse on Ukraine , her name appeared on Russian nationalist websites where she was derided as a Western intelligence agent, bombarded with anonymous abusive messages on social media, and labeled a drug dealer .

    The man who became the main voice targeting Aro was Johan Backman. A n outspoken supporter of the Kremlin who is fluent in Russian, Backman — a Finn — was responsible for the bulk of the derisive commentary that appeared about Aro. Backman serves as the representative in Northern Europe for the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, a state-funded research group known for its Kremlin connections during the Cold War and currently led by a Soviet-era intelligence officer. Backman has defended his commentary as free speech.

    MV-lehti — a Finnish-language news site hosted abroad that is known for its right-wing, anti-immigrant, and anti-EU views — also produced some of the false information about Aro. Ilja Janitskin, the news site’s founder and head who lives in Spain, told the New York Times in 2016 that he had no connections to Moscow. Still, both men are currently being investigated by Finnish police for harassment and hate speech for targeting Aro. Finnish authorities have been trying to extradite Janitskin from Spain, but he is currently on the run.

    Adding another layer to the case, the Helsinki police department announced in October 2016 that an employee from Yle , the Finnish broadcaster for whom Aro works, is suspected of providing the information that was later used to defame her. The case is awaiting a date in court.

    Aro told FP that she became a target because her reporting brought into question Helsinki’s traditionally measured line with Moscow.

    “NATO is at the core of everything,” Aro said . “The goal of these campaigns is to discredit the voices in Finland that are critical of Russia.”

    Top image credit: DENIS SINYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images

    Reid Standish is a journalist based in Helsinki, Finland. He was formerly an associate editor at Foreign Policy. (@reidstan)

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