Finland, officially the Republic of Finland (Finnish: Suomi, Suomen tasavalta, Swedish: Republiken Finland), is a Nordic country situated in Northern Europe. It is bordered with Sweden to the west, Russia to the east, Norway to the north while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.
Previously part of Sweden and from 1809 autonomous in the Russian Empire, Finland declared its independence in 1917. Today, Finland is a democratic republic with parliamentarism and a member state of the United Nations and the European Union.
Finland has a population of 5,290,157 people spread over 338,145 square kilometres (130,559 square miles) making it the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. As their mother tongue, most Finns speak Finnish, one of the few official languages of the European Union that is not of Indo-European origin, with the second official language Swedish spoken natively by a 5.5 percent minority.
Finland is eleventh on the United Nations' Human Development Index and ranked as the sixth happiest nation in the world. According to the World Audit Democracy profile, Finland is the freest nation in the world, in terms of civil liberties, freedom of the press, low corruption levels and political rights.
Prehistory and Swedish era until 1809
According to archaeological evidence, the area now composing Finland was first settled around 8500 BCE during the Stone Age as the ice shield of the last ice age receded. The earliest people were probably hunter-gatherers, living primarily off what the tundra and sea could offer. Pottery is known from around the 5300 BCE (see Comb Ceramic Culture). Scientists believe it is probable that speakers of a Finno-Ugric language arrived in the area during the Stone Age (see Finno-Ugric peoples), and were possibly even among the first Mesolithic settlers in Europe. The arrival of the Battle Axe culture (or Cord-Ceramic Culture) in southern coastal Finland around 3200 BCE may have coincided with the start of agriculture. However, the earliest certain records of agriculture are from the late third millenium BCE. Hunting and fishing continued to be important parts of the subsistence economy, especially in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
The Bronze Age (1500-500 BCE) and Iron Age (500 BCE-1200 CE) were characterised by extensive contacts with other cultures in the Fennoscandian and the Baltic region. The first verifiable written documents appeared in the twelfth century.
Sweden secured its hold of Finland in the 13th century. Swedish became the dominant language of administration and education; Finnish was chiefly a language for the peasantry, clergy and local courts in predominantly Finnish-speaking areas. The nobility was Swedish and small coastal towns were predominantly German. The Bishop of Turku was the most important person in Finland during the Catholic era. Finland was then called "?sterland".
The Middle Ages ended with the Reformation when the Finns converted to Lutheranism. In the 16th century, Mikael Agricola published the first written works in Finnish. The first university in Finland, The Royal Academy of Turku, was established in 1640. In the 18th century, wars between Sweden and Russia led to occupation of Finland twice by Russian forces, known to the Finns as the Greater Wrath (1714?1721) and the Lesser Wrath (1742?1743). By this time "Finland" was the predominant term for the whole area from the Gulf of Bothnia to the Russian border.
Grand Duchy in the Russian empire (1809-1917)
On March 29, 1809, after being conquered by the armies of Alexander I of Russia in the Finnish War, Finland became a semi-autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire until the end of 1917. During the Russian era, the Finnish language started to gain recognition, first probably to sever the cultural and emotional ties with Sweden and thereafter, from the 1860s onwards, as a result of a strong nationalism, known as the Fennoman movement. Milestones included the publication of what would become Finland's national epic, the Kalevala, in 1835; and the Finnish language achieving equal legal status with Swedish in 1892.
Despite the Finnish famine of 1866-1868, in which about 15 percent of the population died, political and economic development was rapid from the 1860s onwards.
In 1906, universal suffrage was adopted in the Grand Duchy of Finland, the second country in the world where this happened. However, the relationship between the Grand Duchy and the Russian Empire soured when the Russian government made moves to restrict Finnish autonomy. For example, the universal suffrage was in practise nearly meaningless, since the emperor did not approve any of the laws adopted by the Finnish parliament. Desire for independence gained ground, first among radical nationalists and socialists.
Civil war (1917-1918) and early independence
On December 6, 1917, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Finland declared its independence, which was approved by Bolshevist Russia.
In 1918, the country experienced a brief but bitter Civil War that affected domestic politics for many decades afterwards. The Civil War was fought between "the Whites", who were supported by Imperial Germany, and "the Reds", supported by Bolshevist Russia. The Reds consisted mostly of propertyless rural and industrial workers who, despite universal suffrage in 1906, felt that they lacked political influence. The White forces were mostly made up of bourgeoisie and wealthy peasantry, politically to the right. Eventually, the Whites overcame the Reds. The deep social and political enmity between the Reds and Whites remained. The civil war and activist expeditions (see Heimosodat) to the Soviet Union strained eastern relations.
After a brief flirtation with monarchy, Finland became a presidential republic, with Kaarlo Juho St?hlberg elected as its first president in 1919. The Finnish?Russian border was determined by the Treaty of Tartu in 1920, largely following the historic border but granting Pechenga (Finnish: Petsamo) and its Barents Sea harbour to Finland. Finnish democracy survived the upsurge of the extreme rightist Lapua Movement and Great Depression in the early '30s. However, legislators tended to be anti-communist and the relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union was tense.
Finland during World War II (1939-1945)
During World War II, Finland fought the Soviet Union twice: in the Winter War of 1939?1940 and in the Continuation War of 1941?1944, following Operation Barbarossa in which Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. This was followed by the Lapland War of 1944?1945, when Finland forced the Germans out of northern Finland.
The treaties signed in 1947 and 1948 with the Soviet Union included Finnish obligations, restraints, and reparations as well as further Finnish territorial concessions (cf. the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940). Finland ceded most of Finnish Karelia, Salla, and Pechenga, which amounted to ten percent of its land area and twenty percent of its industrial capacity. 400,000 evacuees, mainly women and children, fled these areas. Establishing trade with the Western powers, such as Great Britain, and the reparations to the Soviet Union caused Finland to transform itself from a primarily agrarian economy to an industrialised one. Even after the reparations had been paid off, Finland continued to trade with the Soviet Union in the framework of bilateral trade.
The post-war era and modern history
After the Second World War, neutral Finland lay in the grey zone between the Western countries and the Soviet Union. The "YYA Treaty" (Finno-Soviet Pact of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance) gave the Soviet Union some leverage in Finnish domestic politics. This was extensively exploited by President Urho Kekkonen against his opponents. He maintained an effective monopoly on Soviet relations, which gave him a status of "only choice for president". There was also a tendency of self-censorship regarding Finno-Soviet relations. This phenomenon was given the name "Finlandisation" by the German press (fi. suomettuminen). However, Finland maintained a democratic government and a market economy unlike most other countries bordering the Soviet Union.
The post-war era was a period of rapid economic growth and increasing wealth and stability for Finland. In all, the war-ravaged agrarian country was transformed into a technologically advanced market economy with an extensive social welfare system. When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the bilateral trade disappeared overnight. Finland was simultaneously hit by a severe depression originating from the Western markets and the Finnish economy itself that caused a structural change of the economy. The depression lasted from 1990 to 1993, but the economy survived and began growing at a high rate. Finland joined the European Union in 1995, where it is an advocate of federalism contrary to the other Nordic countries which predominantly support confederalism.
The name Suomi (Finland in Finnish) has uncertain origins but a strong candidate for a cognate is the proto-Baltic word *zeme meaning "land". According to an earlier theory the name was derived from suomaa (fen land) or suoniemi (fen cape).
The exonym Finland has resemblance with e.g. the Scandinavian placenames Finnmark, Finnveden and hundreds of other toponyms starting with "Fin(n)" in Sweden and Norway. Some of these names are obviously derived from finnr, a Germanic word for a wanderer/finder and thus supposedly meaning nomadic "hunter-gatherers" or slash and burn agriculturists as opposed to the Germanic sedentary farmers and sea-faring traders and pirates. It is unknown how, why and when "Finnr" started to mean the people of Finland Proper in particular (from where the name spread from the 15th century onwards to mean the people of the whole country).
Among the first documents to mention "a land of the Finns" are two runestones. There is one in S?derby, Sweden, with the inscription finlont (U 582 ?) and one in Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea, with the inscription finlandi (G 319 M) dating from the eleventh century.
Geography and environment
Topography and geology
Finland is a country of thousands of lakes and islands; 187,888 lakes (larger than 500 m?) and 179,584 islands to be precise. One of these lakes, Saimaa, is the fifth largest in Europe. The Finnish landscape is mostly flat with few hills and its highest point, the Halti at 1,324 metres, is found in the extreme north of Lapland at the border between Finland and Norway.
The landscape is covered mostly (seventy-five percent of land area) by coniferous taiga forests and fens, with little arable land. The most common type of rock is granite. It is a ubiquitous part of the scenery, visible wherever there is no soil cover. Moraine or till is the most common type of soil, covered by a thin layer of humus of biological origin. The greater part of the islands are found in southwest in the Archipelago Sea, part of the archipelago of the ?land Islands, and along the southern coast in the Gulf of Finland.
Finland is one of the few countries in the world whose surface area is still growing. Owing to the post-glacial rebound that has been taking place since the last ice age, the surface area of the country is growing by about 7 square kilometres (2.7 square miles) a year.
The distance from the most Southern point ? Hanko ? to the most northern point of Finland ? Nuorgam ? is 1,445 kilometres (898 miles) (driving distance), which would take approximately 18.5 hours to drive. This is very similar to Great Britain (Land's End to John o' Groats ? 1,404 kilometres (872 miles) and 16.5 h).
Flora and fauna
All terrestrial life in Finland was completely wiped out during the last ice age that ended some 10,000 years ago, following the retreat of the glaciers and the appearance of vegetation.
Today, there are over 1,200 species of vascular plant, 800 bryophytes and 1,000 lichen species in Finland, with flora being richest in the southern parts of the country. Plant life, like most of the Finnish ecology, is well adapted to tolerate the contrasting seasons and extreme weather. Many plant species, such as the Scots Pine, spruce, birch and oak, spread throughout Finland from Norway and only reached the western coast less than three millennia ago.
Similarly, Finland has a diverse and extensive range of fauna. There are at least sixty native mammalian species, 248 breeding bird species, over seventy fish species and eleven reptile and frog species present today, many migrating from neighbouring countries thousands of years ago.
Large and widely recognised wildlife mammals found in Finland are the Brown Bear (the national animal), Gray Wolf, elk and reindeer. Other common mammals include the Red Fox, Red Squirrel, and Mountain Hare. Some rare and exotic species include the flying squirrel, Golden Eagle, Saimaa Ringed Seal and the Arctic fox, which is considered the most endangered. Whooper Swan, the national bird of Finland, is a large Northern Hemisphere swan. The most common breeding birds are the Willow Warbler, Chaffinch and Redwing. Of some seventy species of freshwater fish, the northern pike, perch and others are plentiful. Salmon remains the favorite of fly rod enthusiasts.
The endangered Saimaa Ringed Seal, one of only three lake seal species in the world, exists only in the Saimaa lake system of southeastern Finland, down to only 270 seals today. It has become the emblem of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.
Due to hunting and persecution in history, many animals such as the Golden Eagle, Brown Bear and Eurasian Lynx all experienced significant declines in population. However, their numbers have increased again in the 2000s, mainly as a result of careful conservation and the establishment of vast national parks.
The climate in Southern Finland is a northern temperate climate. In Northern Finland, particularly in the Province of Lapland, a subarctic climate dominates, characterised by cold, occasionally severe, winters and relatively warm summers. The main factor influencing Finland's climate is the country's geographical position between the 60th and 70th northern parallels in the Eurasian continent's coastal zone, which shows characteristics of both a maritime and a continental climate, depending on the direction of air flow. Finland is near enough to the Atlantic Ocean to be continuously warmed by the Gulf Stream, which explains the unusually warm climate considering the absolute latitude.
A quarter of Finland's territory lies above the Arctic Circle, and as a consequence the midnight sun can be experienced ? for more days, the farther north one travels. At Finland's northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 consecutive days during summer, and does not rise at all for 51 days during winter.
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- Geography and environment