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Historians have presented widely varying views on when Finland became a state.
Finland was an eastern province of the Kingdom of Sweden for more than 600 years, until it was annexed to Russia as an autonomous grand-duchy at the
Diet of Porvoo in 1809. Tsar Alexander I announced that “Finland had been raised to the status of a nation among nations”.
As promised by the Tsar, Finland retained its Lutheran religion, Swedish as the official language and the Gustavian form and system of government. Finland also acquired her own central government and a four-state House of Representatives.
According to general opinion, the state of Finland was born at the Diet of Porvoo. This view has, however, also been contested. According to some opinions, it was only in hindsight and as a result of national awakening that the year 1809 came to be seen as the birth year of the state of Finland. A critical reading of the events maintains that while the Tsar admittedly promised to retain the former laws and faith, he did not recognise Finland as a separate state. The relations between Finland and Russia during autonomy were not a personal union between two separate states, as Finland was simply its own administrative jurisdiction, forming part of the Russian empire.
The establishment of a state is not just a legislative and legal matter. For a state to be acknowledged, it is required that people living within its territory are conscious of being members of the state. Initially, the status of Finland as a state was debated within a very limited circle of intelligentsia, and mainly in Swedish and Russian.
It was not until 1848 that the Finnish term for state, valtio, was first introduced. That same year, at festivities organised by university students on the 13th of May, the Finnish national anthem, Maamme (Our Land) was first heard, and Finland’s national flag was unveiled. Gradually, the ordinary Finnish speaking population became aware of the existence of a state. By the time the national railway company of Finland was established, Finland’s own currency launched and the 1863 Diet convened, Finns had learnt to view their country as a state.
The history of Finland is an example of how the development of statehood begins before actual independence. Before declaring its independence, Finland possessed many characteristics of a state, even if the decision-making power was held by the Russian Tsar. In the wake of the events of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, the Parliament of Finland adopted the Declaration of Finnish Independence on 6 December 1917.
Finland immediately dispatched requests for the recognition of her independence to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. They decided to wait, however, for the recognition of Russia. This arrived[or “occurred”] on 31 December 1917. After this, other states, one by one, gradually recognisedFinland’s independence. By the end of 1919, Finland had been recognised by 29 states. The process was slowed down by the entry of German troops in spring 1918. Many were concerned that Finland would not be able to retain its independence and that it would become a vassal state of Germany.
Finland’s state status was ultimately secured by its entry into the League of Nations. Finland’s membership was accepted on 16 December 1920. The following year, the League of Nations determined that the Åland Islands belonged to Finland.