Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

Start Over

The Fennoman movement

  • Historical background and contextFinnish
  • Cultural Field
    Eiranen, Reetta

    The roots of Finnish nationalism can be traced back to late-18th-century academic interest in the vernacular language and folk poetry. At the time, Finland was an integral part of the Kingdom of Sweden and Finnish was a minority language spoken on the north-eastern side of the Baltic Sea. The political situation in the area changed when Sweden had to cede its eastern provinces to Russia in the aftermath of the Finnish War of 1808-09. The territory was constituted as the Grand Duchy of Finland and gained some autonomy in the Russian Empire following the Diet of Porvoo (1809); Alexander I maintained the established Swedish laws and the privileges of the estates, and the estates declared their loyalty. In later interpretations and historiography, the event and Alexanderʼs words of raising Finland among the nations gained great importance in nationalist discourse.

    Securing the autonomy of the Grand Duchy was a central issue in Finnish politics, attracting different strategies and arguments. The administrative elite emphasized the Grand Duchyʼs special relation with, and loyalty to the emperor. Later on, this Reichspatriotismus was overlaid with an emerging ethnonationalistic identification of the Finnish nation with the Finnish language.

    In the Grand Duchy, the language of the administration was Swedish, but after 1809 its speakers were a minority in the area. Language and class divisions coincided, and the Swedish-speaking elite felt the need to connect with the Finnish-speaking folk. Gradually, intellectual and cultural interest in the Finnish language and folk culture gained a stronger political resonance. Meanwhile, the Russian authorities were tolerant of Finnish nationalism as long as it distinguished the Grand Duchy from Sweden (in cultural terms), rather than from Russia (in political terms).

    The advancement of the Finnish language and culture was in many cases initiated and carried out in Swedish by Swedish-speakers, initially in university circles. In the 1810s and ’20s, the Turku Romantics are a case in point. A.I. Arwidsson represented their radical side and ultimately had to go into exile in Sweden. He is usually credited with the famous slogan “Swedes we are not, Russians we will not be, so let us be Finns.” A moderate but influential programme was outlined by J.J. Tengström, who later as a professor of philosophy became the Hegelian mentor of the upcoming Fennoman generations. In 1831, a group of academics founded the Finnish Literature Society for advancing Finnish literature and language. There was also an informal cultural Finnish-minded group, the Saturday Society, whose members included the future “national philosopher” J.V. Snellman and soon-to-be “national poet” J.L. Runeberg, both of whom wrote in Swedish. The women of this social circle were also interested in timely topics. Among them were Runebergʼs wife Fredrika, later a novelist herself as well, and her sister, Tengströmʼs wife Carolina Tengström. The Tengström family circle was a culturally active network in its own right.

    In the 1830s and 1840s Finnish nationalism was inspired by Runebergʼs poetry, which idealized the Finnish folk, and by the national epic, Kalevala, created by Elias Lönnrot. The epic was published in Finnish and based on the folk poetry he had gathered. Also, linguistic interest in Finno-Ugric language relations increased. The Finnish language and its written form were consciously developed in publications and research, as Fennomans felt the need to demonstrate that the Finns, too, had a culture and a history of their own. Folklore provided an important reservoir for cultural history, since the general view was that Finland did not have a political history of its own before 1809.

    An important promoter and formulator of the Fennoman ideology was Snellman, who in the 1840s unfolded his programme in his Swedish-language newspaper Saima. Snellman’s programme called for educating the nation and, especially, nationalizing (Fennicizing) the Swedish-speaking educated classes, who had the means and skills to promote Finnishness.

    The European revolutions of 1848 stiffened the attitudes of the Russian authorities towards the Finnish language, despite the quietness of the situation in Finland compared to many European countries. The Crimean War, 1853-56, made itself felt on the Finnish coasts in the shape of British battleships, and stimulated Western-oriented ideas related to political Scandinavism (as well as Swedish revanchism). In this situation, the Russian authorities saw the Fennomans as useful allies; many of them were appointed to university positions in the 1850s. They adjusted their activities to suit the boundaries set by the authorities, advancing the Finnish national cause within the given political limits.

    After Russiaʼs defeat in the Crimean War, the Empire was forced to reform, which necessitated a reconvening of the Grand Duchy’s Diet. The first Diet since 1809 was held in 1863 and assembled regularly. Finnish was declared an official language with equal standing with Swedish (albeit with a 20-year transition period), and Finland gained its own currency, the markka. Modernizing reforms were passed, for instance, in the fields of trade and education. By the end of the century, Finnish became a language of administration, higher education and culture.

    In the 1860s, the struggle between the Finnish and Swedish languages intensified. Gradually, both sides formed into their own parties, the Fennomansʼ Finnish Party and the Svecomansʼ Swedish Party. The Liberals took an intermediary position, emphasizing the significance of the constitutional laws, but they did not survive the language polarization. Within the Fennoman movements, there were competing wings: strict monolingualism vs linguistic pluralism.

    A new faction in the Fennoman movement, the monolingualist Young Fennomans (jungfennomaanit), emerged under the leadership of Yrjö Koskinen. They wanted to raise the Finnish cause above party politics into a nationwide popular movement. In the 1870s the Fennomans were active in promoting various forms of voluntary organization, in towns as well as in the countryside, and utilized these civil activities as a proof of peopleʼs support for their cause. The lower social groups, however, were regarded as a target for education rather than equal actors. During the last decades of the 19th century, the Fennomans were able to maintain their dominant position.

    During the century, the Finnish interpretation of the 1809 Diet of Porvoo evolved towards a stronger emphasis on the countryʼs rights in relation to the Russian Empire. When Russia began Russification politics with the February Manifesto (1899), this was seen as a violation of Finlandʼs autonomy and constitution. The Russification drive exacerbated a political faultline within the Finnish movement. The “Old Finns” (with Koskinen amongst them) chose a strategy of compliance, while a more liberal and reformist Young Finnish faction (nuorsuomalaiset) vindicated the country’s constitutional rights. The Finnish political system modernized abruptly and dramatically in the aftermath of the Russian Revolutionof 1905. After a general strike in 1905, Finland gained parliamentary reform and universal suffrage. In the ensuing rise of party politics, the Fennoman movement dissolved into competing modern parties.

    Word Count: 1127

    Article version
  • Allardt Ekelund, Karin; Fredrika Runeberg: En biografisk och litteraturhistorisk studie (Tampere: Söderström, 1944).

    Engman, Max; “Finns and Swedes in Finland”, in Tägil, Sven (ed.); Ethnicity and nation building in the Nordic world (London: Hurst, 1995), 179-216.

    Jalava, Marja; J.V. Snellman: Mies ja suurmies (Helsinki: Tammi, 2006).

    Liikanen, Ilkka; Fennomania ja kansa: Joukkojärjestäytymisen läpimurto ja Suomalaisen puolueen synty (Helsinki: SHS, 1995).

    Sommer, Łukasz; “A step away from Herder: Turku Romantics and the question of national language”, Slavonic and East European review, 90.1 (2012), 1-32.

    Suodenjoki, Sami; “Kansalaisyhteiskunnan ja Suomen ideat, liikkeet ja julkisuudet ennen vuotta 1917”, in Paakkunainen, Kari (ed.); Suomalaisen politiikan murroksia ja muutoksia (Helsinki: Helsingin yliopisto, 2012), 53-74.

  • Creative Commons License
    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Eiranen, Reetta, 2022. "The Fennoman movement", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 04-04-2022, consulted 20-06-2024.