100 years ago: Finland declares independence

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The white and blue Nordic Cross flag was not yet Finland’s national flag when the country declared its independence on 6 December 1917. The white-blue Finnish flag was adopted by law on 29 May 1918. In the winter of 1917-1918 Finland’s temporary flag was a red heraldic banner with the Finnish coat of arms.   

Top left: National flag of Finland since 1918

A white flag with a blue Nordic Cross has been the Finnish national flag for almost a century. The colour combination white-blue became popular in the 19th Century and were already established as the, albeit inofficial, national colours of Finland at the time of the country’s declaration of independence in December 1917.

However, red and yellow, the colours from Finland’s coat of arms, also played an important role in the Finnish flag debate in the winter of 1917-1918. The Finnish Civil War January–May 1918 between the conservative Whites and the socialist Reds made it impossible to solve the flag issue. Following the White victory, the Finnish Parliament decided on a national flag featuring white and blue rather than red and yellow

Bottom left: Temporary national flag 1917-1918

When Finland declared its independence on 6 December 1917, it was a banner of the coat of arms of Finland that was hoisted on the flagpole of the Finnish government, the Senate.

Finland’s arms stem from around 1580 and feature a yellow lion on a red background surrounded by white roses. The lion treads on a sabre while raising a sword over its head. (Expressed in proper heraldic terms, the blazon of the arms of Finland is as follows: Gules, a lion rampant crowned Or, trampling a sabre in base proper, his dexter foreleg in the form of a man’s arm vambraced and embowed Argent, garnished Or, bearing aloft a sword proper, nine roses Argent.)

A banner of these arms, “the Lion Flag”, was proposed by the Senate’s Flag Commission on 8 December 1917 and it was used as a temporary national flag during the winter of 1917-1918.

Bottom right: Provisional merchant flag in the spring of 1918

The Senate decided to adopt a provisional civil ensign to be used by the merchant navy on 27 February 1918. It was a red flag with a yellow Nordic Cross fimbrated by thin lines of white and blue. This design combined the competing red-yellow and white-blue, but it played no lasting role in Finnish flag history. In May 1918 “the Blue Cross Flag” became the new official national flag for use on land and at sea.

A Nordic Cross flag in the colours of the Finnish coat of arms, red with a yellow cross, is used by the Swedish speaking minority in Finland. This flag is very similar to the flag used by Scanians in Southern Sweden; also a red flag with a yellow cross.

Top right: State flag of Finland 1918-1920

The first official Finnish state flag, adopted on 29 May 1918, had the crowned coat of arms of Finland in the middle of the blue cross. The grand ducal crown was removed on 12 February 1920. Finland was a Grand Duchy in personal union with Russia from 1809 until the abdication of the last Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, in 1917. Officially, Finland has been a republic since the Constitution Act of 1919.

 

Read also: Finns fly the flag at night to celebrate Finland’s centenary.

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Finns fly the flag at night to celebrate Finland’s centenary

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If you illuminate it properly, you’re allowed to fly the Finnish flag from the evening of December 5 and through Independence Day on December 6. Normally, flying the flag in the middle of the night is not allowed in Finland. But an exception to the rule will be made this year as the country celebrates 100 years of independence.    

In Finland, it’s prohibited by law to fly the flag during the dark hours. Being a country in the Northern Hemisphere, the northernmost part of the country lying north of the Arctic Circle, Finland has to live with plenty of dark hours in December.

On December 6, Finland’s Independence Day, the sun rises in the capital city of Helsinki at about 9 am and it sets approximately 6 hours later. In Northern Finland, Rovaniemi (the village known as Santa Claus’ Village) enjoys only three hours of daylight at this time of year.

So, in order for the national flag to play a more prominent role in the festivities marking the 100-year anniversary of Finland’s independence, the Finnish Ministry of the Interior has announced that the Finnish flag, if properly lit, can be hoisted during the dark hours from Tuesday evening at 6 pm until Wednesday evening at 10 pm.

“Flying the flag through the night is only allowed if the flag can be illuminated so that the blue is blue and the white is white,” Mika Mäkinen, Communications Director of the Ministry of the Interior, said in an interview.

“No street lighting or car lights are sufficient,” Mr. Mäkinen made it perfectly clear. “There should be proper lights if the flag is to be flown all night long.”

The ministry has also announced that a large Finnish flag will be hoisted in front of the City Hall in Helsinki’s Market Square (Kauppatori in Finnish, Salutorget in Swedish). It will fly day and night for a year to celebrate the centenary of Finland’s independence and the flag will be illuminated during the dark hours.

“It’s a bit odd that the only flag you see in this central square in Helsinki is the blue and yellow flag on the Swedish Embassy. Now we’ll get a more beautiful flag in that place,” Communications Director Mäkinen explained.

Finland declared its full independence on December 6, 1917. Since 1809 the country had been a Grand Duchy in personal union with Russia. But when Emperor Nicholas II abdicated during the March Revolution of 1917, Finland no longer had a Grand Duke. After the October Revolution later that year, members of the Finnish Government travelled to Saint Petersburg (then Petrograd) to secure the acceptance of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. In January of 1918, Russia as well as other European countries formally recognized Finland’s independence. Finland has been a parliamentary republic since 1919.

 

Read the original interview and news story in Finnish here and in Swedish here. Read also about Finnish flag history: 100 years ago: Finland declares independence.