Review of history of the Czech-Finnish relations
03.01.2012 / 17:18
The first contacts
The Czech-Finnish relations date back to the end of 14th century when also Finns were coming from the Nordic countries to study at Prague University and after that they worked in clerical administration at home and some of them became also politicians. In 1578 Colegium Nordicum, a special seminar for education of Catholic missioners, was found by a Jesuit campus in Olomouc where also many Finns were studying and after returning to their country they acted as secret Catholics in clerical offices. However during the severe persecution of Catholics under the reign of Duke Kaarle they were usually discovered, deprived from their office and forced to leave the country.
Finns in the protestant troops
A special chapter of the Finnish presence in Bohemia is the period of 30 years´ war when the Swedish army included about 24 thousand Finnish soldiers, so called “hakapeliitat” who were considered to have devilish and magic abilities. It was Finns who in 1648 took Strahov library from Prague with them as well as valuables from Strahov monastery including silver from the melted above-lifesize sculpture of st. Norbert given to the monastery by Polyxena from Lobkovitcz. Strahov library was taken to Turku where Josef Dobrovský saw it in 1792 when travelling to Sweden and Russia at that time; the library burned in 1827 during the city fire.
Cooperation of Czech and Finnish national revivalists
Up to 19th century Czech contacts with Finland (earlier a part of Sweden, since 1809 Grand Principality of Finland in the Russian Empire, in 1812 the capital shifted from Turku to Helsinki) were more or less sporadic like rare visits of travellers or theologians.
In 19th century the Finnish public started getting some information about the Czech national movement, writings by F. Palacký were published in Finland during the culminating fight of the Czechs for their state law. Perhaps the most significant event in mutual relations in the second half of 19th century was a stay of journalist Anton Fredrik Almberg in Prague, he was known under the pseudonym Antti Jalava and he met with Palacký, Rieger and Náprstek. He learned about the demand concerning an independent Czech university, he admired compulsory school attendance and the time devoted to the Czech language in schools. He gave evidence about his several months´ stay in Bohemia in the serial of articles Letters from abroad published in the magazine Uusi Suometar. Already in 1866 literal critic V.B.Nebeský informed about the Finnish epos Kalevala which was published by Elias Lönnrot first in 1835 and the final version in 1894. Kalevala was translated into Czech by Josef Holeček who learned the Finnish language for this purpose. The Czech translation was published in 1895 as one of the first complete translations.
Formation of independent states after the World War I and the period between the wars
On the turn of 19th and 20th centuries Czech press begins to note Finnish endeavour towards independence. Beginning first with explicitly Russian-minded comments criticizing Finland for ingratitude towards Russia gradually the Finnish endeavour was considered as legitimate. A review of the Czech press during the last 25 years before the First World War shows that the domestic journalism was well informed about the Finnish-Russian dispute, at the same time however it reflects the disputes on the Czech political scene and the political polarization of these opinions.
The conditions under which the independent states of Czechoslovakia and the Finnish Republic were formed at the end of the First World War were so different that they did not automatically bring an impulse for establishing diplomatic relations. Because of a rather unclear foreign policy orientation and internal political situation marked by the civil war Finland was not of special interest to Czechoslovakia. The initiative for establishing diplomatic relations came from the Finnish side. The government of Finland asked for de jure recognition of the Republic of Finland by a note on 31st December 1919. Czechoslovakia recognized Finland on 28th April 1920 and only in February 1921 reacted to the request for establishing diplomatic relations. It was not until September 1923 when a consulate was opened in Helsinki. It did not have however diplomatic powers. After signing a trade agreement in 1927 also diplomatic relations were established – the consulate was upgraded to a legation. After the German occupation of Czech countries Finnish authorities took a negative stand to further activity of the Czechoslovak mission which was closed 15th March 1939 and Czechoslovak passports were declared invalid.
The World War II and restoring of the contacts after the war
The situation during the Second World War was from the point of view of mutual relations ambiguous and complicated. In the time of Munich agreement Finland wanted to remain strictly neutral and in addition there was understanding for Sudeten Germans (the same when negotiating about the Czech-German declaration in the second half of 90´s when Finns compared mechanically the expulsion of Sudeten Germans to the situation of the evacuation of Karelia). Czechoslovakia sympathized with Finland during so called Winter War 1939-40, however there was no understanding for Finland’s alliance with Germany during so called Continuation War 1941-44.
Diplomatic relations were renewed from the initiative of Finland in 1946; the Czechoslovak Legation started to work again 30th June 1947. In 1959 the Legations in Prague and in Helsinki were upgraded to Embassies.
In the beginning of 1948 the development in both countries was similar; the Finnish communists were speaking about “the Czechoslovak road”. After their defeat in elections in July 1948 communists did not get into the government until 1966 and they never got into powerful positions. Close mutual relations in the 50´s were kept only between the communist parties and their organizations by sending delegations to party congresses.
The Prague Spring
The reform process in Czechoslovakia in 1968 brought about more intensive interest of the Finnish public in the happenings in Czechoslovakia and it also speeded up the differentiation inside the Communist Party of Finland into so called euro-communistic and dogmatic Stalinistic which has had a marginal minority. The occupation of Czechoslovakia was a shock; the Finnish press condemned the occupation. Relatively the most positive approach towards the occupation by belittling it came from the press of the Centre Party (former Agrarian Party) which was a power basis of the President Urho Kekkonen. Government of Finland did not take any official stand to the so called Czechoslovak crisis.
Relations in the period of so called normalization in Czechoslovakia
During the time of normalization President Kekkonen started an active period of bilateral relations. In 1969 he visited Czechoslovakia and in 1970 President L. Svoboda visited Finland. Till 1975 there was a visit of high state or party representatives every year. In 1975 the final stage of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe was held in Helsinki and it was a result of many years´ effort of the Finnish diplomacy. Enormous activity in building a bridge between the East and the West made more manoeuvring space for the Finnish diplomacy and its position as neutral country also in negotiations with the Soviet Union. This policy continued also during the time of Kekkonen’s successor President Mauno Koivisto.
Cooperation after the Velvet Revolution
At the end of the 80´s the intensity of bilateral relations declined; attention of the Finnish public and politicians was drawn only by the activity of anti-communist opposition and the collapse of regime in November 1989. The mutual relations changed; there were more contacts on the official level as well as in everyday life. In May 1991 President Václav Havel visited Finland during his round trip in the Nordic countries. The division of Czechoslovakia was accepted by the Finnish public with understanding (reminding Nordic separation of Norway from Sweden in 1905). In June 2005 President of the Czech Republic Václav Klaus paid a state visit in Finland.