Saturday, December 1, 2007

Ein Reich

Despite hosting a Finnish exchange student for a year, I don't really know the ins and outs of Finnish history, other than knowing that they have had to tread a fine line between the Swedes and Russians, with the result that they were actually on the Nazi side during World War II at one point. Geopolitical relations make strange bedfellows.

But Finland for Thought covers a little piece of Finnish history that surprised me; German interest in Finland predates World War II.

The German Empire finally intervened in the Finnish Civil War on the side of the White Army in March 1918. The activists had been seeking German aid but the Germans did not want to prejudice their armistice and peace negotiations with Russia. The German stance altered radically when Trotsky called the negotiations off, hoping revolutions would break out in the German Empire and change everything. The German government promptly decided to teach Russia a lesson and, as a pretext for aggression, invited “requests for help” from the smaller countries west of Russia....

Finland was in mid-1918 more or less comfortably included in the German sphere of influence and fastly becoming a German protectorate....At the end of May the Senate asked the Germans to remain in the country. The agreements signed with Germany in return for military support had bound Finland politically, economically, and militarily to the German Empire. The Germans proposed a further military pact in summer 1918 as a part of their plan to secure raw materials for German industry from eastern Europe and tighten their control over Russia.

Already in April 1918 the press, Hufvudstadsbladet and the conservative Uusi Suomi had been promoting the idea of a king for Finland. After all, the Finnish Constitution was still based on the Swedish one with a king as a head of the state, so the idea was not as proposterous then as it would seem today. Of course, there was opposition even among the conservatives, but old republicans like Svinhufvud changed coats to supporting the royalists during 1918. But the question is, who to elect as the king? Of course, the German Empire is conveniently full of Princes. How about Kaiser Wilhelm II’s son Otto? Wilhelm says no to Otto, but another...slightly remote relative might be OK. How about the Kaiser’s brother-in-law Friedrich Karl, the Prince of Hessen-Kassel. Not exactly your Teutonic hero, but close enough to the inner circle, even though slightly reluctant....So on 9. October 1918 Prince Friedrich Karl of Hessen-Kassel was elected King by the Parliament of Finland. Now if you think Finland was somehow unique in wanting a German Prince as a King - it was a fashionable thing to do around the Baltic Sea. Lithuania had already taken a similar step in July 1918, electing Wilhelm Karl, Duke of Urach, Count of W├╝rttemberg as King Mindove II of Lithuania. For Latvia and Estonia, a “General Provincial Assembly” consisting of Baltic-German aristocrats, had called upon the German Kaiser Wilhelm to recognize the Baltic provinces as a joint monarchy and a German protectorate. Consequently...Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was nominated Duke of “the United Baltic Duchy” by the Germans. (Seems in those days they couldn’t have a son without “Wilhelm” “Friedrich” or “Karl” in the name… )

However the situation of Germany and the collapse of the Central Powers in the latter half of the 1918 changed all this. One by one, Bulgaria, Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary signed armistices and a revolution broke out in Germany forcing Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate in November flee to the Netherlands.

Politicians in Finland and the Baltics went “oops”. And started switching coats.

In light of his German birth, and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II ending all monarchies in Germany, the arrangement of being King of Finland was considered untenable by influential Finns of the time, and by Frederick himself. Frederick Charles renounced the Finnish throne on 14 December 1918, without ever arriving in the country, much less taking up his position. Finland had new parliamentary elections - now including Social Democrats - and a republican constitution was adapted in 1919. The “Kingdom of Finland” was effectively forgotten.


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