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Finland: 100 Years of Independence – Global Legal Collection Highlights

The following is a guest post by Elin Hofverberg, who covers Scandinavian jurisdictions at the Law Library of Congress. Elin’s previous posts include Alfred Nobel’s Will: A Legal Document that Might Have Changed the World and a Man’s LegacySwedish Detention Order Regarding Julian AssangeThe Masquerade King and the Regulation of Dancing in SwedenThe Trade Embargo Behind the Swedish Jokkmokk Sami Market, and 250 Years of Press Freedom in Sweden.

Just over 100 years ago, on December 6, 1917, Finland officially declared independence from Russia. The Declaration of Independence had been signed on December 4 by the Senate (then Finland’s highest governing body) and was adopted by the Finnish Parliament two days later. Work towards independence had commenced in March 1917 following the abdication of the Russian tsar.

In early January 1918, Russia officially recognized Finland as an independent republic. Sweden, France, and Germany were then the first countries to follow suit.

A short time after the country received international recognition a civil war broke out. The Finnish Civil War was fought in the early months of 1918 until a stable government was established in May 1918. The country’s first constitution was signed in July 1919.

Brief History of Finland

  • Although a relatively young independent nation in Northern Europe, Sami people—the indigenous people living in the very north of Europe—have inhabited the northern parts of Finland for several millennia.
  • Finland was effectively part of Sweden from 1323 until the early 1800s. Like other parts of Sweden, it was made up of different landskap (provinces) each with their own laws. From the 1600s until the 1700s, Finland was bound by a Swedish law that applied Magnus Erikssons Landslag (a law originally made by King Magnus IV in around 1341 that had sought to replace the landskap laws throughout the country). From 1734, the new Swedish code applied in Finland.
  • Following Swedish losses in the 1808-1809 Finnish War with Russia, Finland became part of the Russian Empire from 1809 until its independence in 1917. Finland was a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire, although during this time it retained many of the laws that it had adopted while part of Sweden.
  • In 1907, Finland (while still part of Russia) became the first country in Europe to elect women (in fact, nineteen of them) to the National Assembly, after giving women the right to both vote and run for political office in 1906.
  • Following independence in December 1917, the Finnish Parliament passed legislation allowing Jews (“Mosaic Confessors”) to become Finnish citizens. Jewish settlement in Finland had previously been prohibited under the Swedish law that applied in the territory.

The Law Library’s Finnish Collection

Intrigued by the events of 1917, I spent the Finnish centennial browsing the Law Library’s Finnish law collection and found some real gems. Looking through Finlands författningssamling from 1918, I found laws limiting the amount of food a person was allowed to carry following the Finnish Civil War (Finlands Senats beslut angående enskilda personers rätt att transportera livsmedel FFS  1918:93, utfärdat 13 augusti 1918) and laws on the creation of a Finnish flag (Lag om Finlands flagga FFS 1918:40, utfärdat 29 maj 1918). Of course, there is so much more to discover. The Library holds approximately 3,000 law titles related to Finland. These range from current legal commentaries to rare legal texts.

Rare materials include:

There are various English resources that provide commentary on current Finnish law, including:

Another interesting point to note is that when Finland declared its independence in 1917 it had three official languages: Russian, Finnish, and Swedish. Law books printed in 1920 included the laws written in all three languages. Today the right to use one’s own language is protected by section 17 of the current Finnish Constitution, which recognizes Finnish and Swedish as official languages of Finland. However, the Republic Finland has had legislation regarding the status of languages since 1922.

Information in English on the status of different languages in Finland is provided in the following resources:

If you have a question regarding Finnish law, you can submit it using the Ask a Librarian form on our website. You can also follow Finnish legal developments online through our Global Legal Monitor publication.

Helsingfors. L’Monument D’Alexandre II. Statue of czar Alexander II on the Senate Square in Helsinki, commemorating the 1863 Diet (parliament meeting). Photoglob Company, ca. 1890-1906. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.52455.

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