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Historical Introduction

July 1944: Victims of Soviet troops in Seitajärvi. NASF

Finland, historically under Swedish rule but targeted by Russia's expansionist policy in the early 18th century, was subjected by Tsarist Russia after its victory over Sweden in the 1808-1809 Finnish War. The Russian-proclaimed Grand Duchy of Finland was largely independent, retained its legal, cultural and administrative tradition and, despite demographic shocks and waves of Russification, showed stable economic and population growth until the first half of the 19th century. After the Bolshevik coup in Russia in October 1917, Finland's well-established parliament in December 1917 proclaimed the country's independence and its statehood was soon recognized by Bolshevist Russia, then stuck with a demoralized Red Army and hopes for world revolution. This recognition, however, did not spare Finland from becoming the first foreign victim of Communist experiments.

The Finnish Civil War broke out between and amid post-WWI confusion and social instability, resulting in social disaster but on the other hand guaranteeing Finland's sovereignty from the Soviet Union under the 1920 peace treaty. Finnish Red Guards and remnants of the Red Army attempted a coup in Helsinki, remaining in the area and much of Southern Finland until the decisive battle of Tampere. White Guards, supported by imperial Germany, advanced from North and Central FInland and took the victory by May. Some 100 000 fighters were involved in the conflict and both sides resorted to acts of terror. The Red Terror claimed 1400-1650 lives, while some 7000-10.000 perished in the White Terror. In all, 37.000-38.500 died in the war and 20.000 children were orphaned. Up to 76.000 prisoners captured by White Guards and German forces were tried and about 100 executed on orders of the Tribunal of Treason. Others received mostly light sentences and were pardoned in the 1920s. Mortality was nevertheless high due to severe hunger and Spanish flu.

Despite the fratricidal war of 1918, executions, prison camps, the 1930s economic crisis of and schismatic political tensions, the Finnish people stood up united against Soviet Union's 1939 aggression that unleashed the Winter War. Cast into the Soviet sphere of influence under the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Finland successfully resisted for 105 days, losing at least 26.662 dead and 39.886 wounded. Although total Soviet losses were five times higher, the toll was heavier on the Finnish population: Finland lost 1,8% of its then population of 3,7 million while Soviet Union lost 0,15% of its total population and managed to conquer only 10% of Finland's territory.

After the Soviet-German war broke out, Soviet air forces started bombing Finnish cities and Finland's Eduskunta decided on 25. June 1941 to launch the Continuation War against the Soviets. Finland's toll in this war was 58.000-65.000 dead and 158.000 wounded. After Finnish forces were forced to retreat from Karelia in the heavy battles of 1944, a truce was signed in September that year and asserted by the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947.

Thus, the attempts to establish Communism in Finland more or less directly claimed at least 50.000 lives and left tens of thousands wounded in the 1918 war and Winter War. This estimate does not include victims of the Continuation War. Yet countless war crimes were commited by the Red Army against Finnish civilians. In addition, 423.000 Karelians - 11% of the region's population - lost their homes when evacuated from areas annexed by the Soviet Union.



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