6/12/1917 Finland declares independence again #1917Live

Finland’s parliament declared independence from Russia back in July, but Kerensky‘s Provisional Government was able to suppress the Finns’ dreams of freedom. But now the Finnish parliament is ready to try again.

Finland is internally divided between socialists and conservatives. The socialists were behind July’s declaration of Finnish sovereignty and were opposed then by the conservatives, who feared that without the restraining influence of Kerensky the radicals would lose the run of themselves. But now the wheel has turned: Finland’s conservatives are shocked by the Bolsheviksseizure of power in Petrograd and want to prevent the spread of Soviet power to their country.

After elections in the autumn the conservatives have a majority in the Finnish parliament. Today they pass a declaration of Finnish independence. Sovnarkom, the Soviet government in Petrograd, has already declared that the regions of the Russian Empire are free to choose independence if they want it, so the Finnish nationalists expect no trouble from that quarter. However the country’s radicals are determined not to let the conservatives have things their way. They see the Soviet government in Petrograd as an inspiration and are determined to bring something similar into being in Finland. And like Lenin‘s Bolsheviks, the socialists are prepared to effect their revolution through physical force if needs be. Finland is on the road to civil war.

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Finnish Senators drafting the declaration of independence (Robinson Library: Finland Declares Its Independence)

3/8/1917 Kerensky shuts down the Finnish parliament but loses Czernowitz to Austria #1917Live

Kerensky has been emboldened by the recent failure of radicals to overthrow the Provisional Government. Now the Russian Prime Minister flexes his muscles, arranging for loyal troops to shut down Finland’s parliament, the Sejm. The Sejm had a socialist majority following elections earlier this year and it recently passed a resolution declaring Finland’s effective independence from Russia. This unilateral separation is unacceptable to Kerensky (and to many on both right and left in Russia); his shutting down of the unruly Finnish parliament is widely supported in Russia. Even in Finland many conservatives support the measure, fearing that without the link to Russia the Finnish socialists would be uncontrollable.
Kerensky finds it harder to bend the army to his will. He has appointed Kornilov as its commander in chief and accepted his demands for the reintroduction of the death penalty for desertion. But Kornilov’s attempts at repression are a failure. The army continues to disintegrate and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians continue their advance that began with their counter-attacks against Kerensky’s offensive. Now they recover the Galician town of Czernowitz, captured by the Russians in Brusilov’s offensive last year. The Russian army looks increasingly unable to prevent further advances by the enemy.

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The Eastern Front (Wikipedia)

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary salutes the liberators of Czernowitz (Wikipedia)

6/7/1917 Finland declares independence from Russia #1917Live

At the front, any hopes that the Kerensky Offensive will lead to a great victory are rapidly unravelling. Although the Russians are pushing back the Austro-Hungarians, the main effort against the Germans is coming badly unstuck and the stresses of battle are hastening the Russian army’s disintegration.

This reverse is not the only crisis facing the Provisional Government. Aside from the increasingly chaotic situation in the heart of the country, Russia is increasingly beset by separatist movements on the periphery. The Rada in Ukraine has already declared autonomy. Now the parliament of Finland goes one step further, today declaring independence for what had hitherto been a self-governing part of the Russian empire.

The Finnish declaration causes consternation in Petrograd. Both the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet are opposed to Finland’s unilateral declaration of independence. The Soviets resolve to persuade the Finns to revoke their declaration but the Provisional Government adopts a more forceful position, preparing to use force if necessary to keep Finland in the empire.

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The Grand Duchy of Finland (Wikipedia)

29/3/1917 Russia offers Poland independence

The revolution in Russia has unleashed forces long bottled up by the Tsarist autocracy. The various non-Russian nationalities in the empire are now clamouring for a greater say in the government of their affairs together with more recognition for their language and cultural rights. But the Provisional Government is wary of offering too many concessions to the various minorities. They fear that this run the risk of encouraging centrifugal forces that will break up the country.

There is one exception to the Provisional Government’s cold shouldering of nationalism. Today they declare their support for Polish independence. But Polish independence is an easy promise to make. Most of Poland has been overrun by Germany and Austria-Hungary and is unlikely to ever be recovered by Russia. The Provisional Government hopes that by offering Poland its independence the Poles can be encouraged to fight against their Teutonic occupiers.

Poland remains an exception. The Provisional Government is determined to hold the line against demands by other nationalists. In particular there are to be no concessions to nationalist sentiment in Finland or Ukraine.

image source (Mental Floss WWI Centennial)