Republic of NE Europe. It is situated between the Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland and borders on Sweden and Norway on the N and W, Russia on the E, and Estonia to the S of the Gulf of Finland . The N of Finland lies above the Arctic Circle in Lapland , while the south is dotted with lakes and waterways. An independent state only since 1917, for much of its history Finland has been part of Sweden, and Swedish remains one of the country’s two official languages. The capital, Helsinki, lies on the southern coast.
Finland was originally inhabited by Lapps, who by the eighth century a.d. had been gradually forced northward by the arrival of Finnish-speaking nomads. In this early period the Finns had no sense of nationhood, and political organization was restricted to a clan system. Christian missionaries visited the country in the 11th century, and in the 13th century it was conquered by the Swedes. Under Swedish rule the Finns enjoyed considerable autonomy, and trade improved. Following the Reformation in the 16th century, Lutheranism became the established religion. In 1581 Finland became a grand duchy. The country suffered as a result of the wars between Sweden and Russia and after the Northern War in 1721 and again in 1743 it lost territory to Russia.
During the Napoleonic Wars it was invaded by Russia in 1808 and was formally annexed the following year. The Russians, like the Swedes, permitted Finland considerable autonomy and allowed a quasidemocracy to develop. The capital was moved from Turku to Helsinki in 1812. Toward the end of the 19th century, Finnish nationalism became a powerful force, and there was considerable unrest when the Russians attempted to impose their culture on the Finns.
After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Finns declared their independence. Following a five-month civil war in 1918, right-wing forces emerged victorious, and in 1920, the Soviet Union recognized the new Finnish republic in the Treaty of Tartu. However, the scars of the civil war were slow to heal, and Finnish politics were dogged by instability throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
At the start of World War II in 1939–40 Finland was invaded by the USSR, despite a nonaggression pact. The Finns were quickly defeated, but when Germany attacked the USSR, they themselves invaded Russia. Initially successful, the Finns were defeated in 1944 and lost the Isthmus of Karelia, Vyborg, the Finnish shores of Lake Ladoga, and the Pechenga area to the Soviet Union.
After World War II, Finland pursued a policy of political neutrality. A Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance was signed with the USSR in 1948 that guaranteed Finland ’s sovereignty. Deténte between East and West in the 1970s resulted in the “Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe” in Helsinki in 1975, the product of which being the Helsinki Accords, which formed an important basis for human rights during the following decades. Finland ’s economy boomed during the 1980s but faltered with the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. Finland joined the European Free Trade Association in 1987, and the European Union in 1995. Finland has recovered from the economic decline of the early 1990s and through the strength of its high-technology industries such as telecommunications now enjoys one of the highest stand ards of living in Europe.