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News, 12/5/2007

Declaration of independence raised Finland “among free and independent nations”

The Senate in 1917.The Ministry for Foreign Affairs marks the 90th anniversary year of its establishment in 2008. The first Minister for Foreign Affairs – Foreign Affairs Senator Otto Stenroth – was appointed on 27 May 1918. A Decree enacted on 28 June of the same year established a ‘foreign affairs bureau’ with three departments and 17 civil servants.

During its anniversary year the Ministry will present its history and treasures from its archives, among others at exhibitions and in a series of articles on the Ministry’s website.

In honour of Independence Day, and to launch the anniversary year, Jyrki Paloposki, Head of Information Service at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, describes when Finland declared her independence, how it was made known to other States and delivery of the first requests for recognition of Finland’s independence.

Jyrki Paloposki, Head of the Information Service:

The Declaration of Independence: "Among free and independent nations"

At the end of March 1917, P. E. Svinhufvud had returned to Finland from exile in Siberia "with the help of God and Hindenburg". Following the revolution that had taken place in Russia, supreme power in Finland had been transferred to the Diet. In November, the Diet had established in the country a Senate, nominating Svinhufvud as its speaker.

On 4 December 1917, the Senate, in connection with its proposal for a new Form of Government, presented to the Diet a communication concerning the Independence of Finland. The whole Senate was present when Svinhufvud read out the Declaration of Independence to the Diet in a strong voice, emphasising the most important passages of the text. In the debate that ensued in the Diet, the socialists criticised the steps taken by the Senate, but, as stated by O. W. Kuusinen, his group, too, had supported independence from the beginning.

Originally, the Senate, led by Svinhufvud, had preferred not to submit the matter of independence to be decided by the Diet. In the view of the groups represented in the Diet, however, approval of the Declaration of Independence fell within the Diet's authority. December the 6th, 1917 came to be the date of Finland's independence. By the votes of the bourgeois parties, who had a majority of 100 to 88,  measures to be taken by the Senate for the implementation of the independence of the country were approved.

Direct relations with foreign powers

A senator to take charge of foreign affairs had not been nominated for the Senate. In matters of foreign policy, Svinhufvud was assisted by Carl Enckell who served as Ministerial State Secretary in St. Petersburg. Later, he was to serve, on several occasions, as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador.  The Declaration of Independence sought the recognition of Finland's independence by other states, including Russia:

"The Government will approach other states in order to obtain international recognition of the political independence of our country. The serious state of affairs, famine and unemployment, caused by the complete isolation of our country, compel the Government to enter into direct relations with foreign powers, whose speedy help in the importation of provisions and materials necessary for our industries is the only means of saving our people from starvation, and preventing the complete stoppage of our industries...  The people of Finland is convinced that the free people and the Constituent Assembly of Russia will not deny Finland's right to a place among free and independent nations..."

Even before the approval of the Declaration of Independence by the Diet, the Senate had proceeded to present a request to Germany, France and England, still at war, as well as to three Nordic countries, namely Sweden, Norway and Denmark, for them to recognize Finland's independence. The request for recognition was not addressed to Russia. The Bolshevist Government was believed to be compelled to adapt to the situation and recognise the independence of Finland along with the Western powers, Germany and the neutral states involved.

"... the Government of Finland permits itself to request, with respect, that the Government of Sweden may recognize Finland as an independent and sovereign state and permit Finland to sent its representatives to Stockholm to solemnly deliver the announcement concerning the Declaration of Independence of Finland..."

The recognition process did not, however, advance. Germany was negotiating for a truce with Russia, and the other states were keeping an eye out for any developments in the situation. It was hoped that Finland would first clarify its relationship with Russia. At the end of December, the Senate was compelled to give in to the idea of having, as its next step, to leave for St. Petersburg to negotiate with a Russia led by Lenin for the independence of Finland and the arrangement of relations between the countries. 

pdfDraft version of the Declaration of Independence in French to be given to foreign states

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Updated 2/7/2008

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