Finland Day of Independence: When Did It Become Independent, Who Is Its President and More

Today (December 6) is the 102nd anniversary of Finland's independence. The day is recognized as a national holiday across the country, with the U.S. embassy in Helsinki also closing to observe the day.

Where is Finland?

Known as Suomi in the native language of Finnish, the country is located in the Nordic region of Northern Europe. It borders the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland, and is surrounded by Norway to the north, Sweden to the northwest and Russia to the east. Its capital city is Helsinki.

It is part of the European Union, joining in 1995 and signing the Lisbon Treaty in 2007.

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Finland Flag Independence Day
Fireworks illuminate the sky above Helsinki, Finland on December 6, 2017 to end the festivities of the centenary of Finnish independence. VESA MOILANEN/AFP / Getty Images

When did Finland become Independent?

The Nordic country had been under Swedish and Russian rule before its declaration of independence. The country was part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the 13th century, though it gradually transitioned to Russian rule following the Great Northern War and the Russian-Swedish War. By the 19th century, it became completely under Russian rule, though Finland itself was established as a united political entity in 1809 with autonomy as a grand duchy.

However, while the country grew in prosperity during this time, there was bitterness linked to the banning of the Finnish language throughout the 19th century. It was only given equal billing with Swedish in 1902. Further, Russia imposed laws on Finland, also known as Russification, which saw Russian become a third language of the country and the Finnish army disbanded.

Things started coming to a head when the ruthless Governor-General Nikolay Bobrikov was assassinated by Finnish nationalist Eugen Schauman. What followed was the establishment of the Social Democratic political party in Finland, national strikes against the Russian leadership—resulting in a complete reform of the parliamentary system in 1906— and a constant campaign on Finnish autonomy. In 1910 the responsibility for all important legislation was transferred to the Russian Duma.

It wasn't until World War I (1914-1918) and the Russian Revolution in March 1917 that Finland was granted its autonomy again. By November 1917, after Russia was taken over by the Bolsheviks, Finland was declared an independent state.

Throughout its 102 years as a country in its own right, Finland has undergone a lot of change. In its early independence, civil war broke out which resulted in the execution of thousands of revolutionaries, followed by the establishment of the monarchy and Finland as a republic, and the Russo-Finnish War during World War II.

Finland's Government and Society Today

Like the U.S., Finland adopts has a republican constitution with its president serving a six-year term and members of the parliament, known as the Eduskunta, elected for four years. In 2003, Finland became the first European country to have a woman president, Tarja Halonen, and a woman prime minister, Anneli Jäätteenmäki, hold office at the same time.

President of Finland
President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinisto and his wife Jenni Haukio pose ahead of the Independence Day reception in Helsinki, Finland on December 6, 2018. Vesa Moilanen/AFP / Getty Images

In terms of its healthcare system, Finnish people receive free medical treatment from local authorities and pay a small daily hospital charge if needed. Finland also reimburses a large percentage of the patient's expenditures on drugs.

According to Statistics Finland, the country is one of the happiest and healthiest in the world. It has the lowest infant mortality rate in the world, according to the United Nations, its children have the third most secure childhood in the world, ranks as the top OECD country in education and is the most literate country in the world. In terms of equality, it is the fourth most gender-equal country in the world, according to the World Economic Forum.

How does Finland Celebrate it Independence Day?

Known as Itsenäisyyspäivä in Finnish, many Finns celebrate the day with a festive meal with friends or family. The president, currently Sauli Niinistö, usually holds the Independence Day Reception, which sees high-ranking military officers, politicians, police officials and diplomats, as well as prominent athletes, entertainers and activists, invited. It is broadcast on national television and is watched by around 2.51 million people, according to the broadcaster Yle.

Today in Helsinki, people will start the celebrations by laying wreaths in front of the Heroes' Cross in the Hietaniemi Cemetery. A party will also be taking place in the evening in Senate Square, which includes choirs singing and speeches by Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori and representatives of student unions and student associations.

Finland Day of Independence: When Did It Become Independent, Who Is Its President and More | U.S.