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A crowd of over 10,000 cheered at Helsinki Railway Station when President Pehr Evind Svinhufvud arrived from Siberia at ten o’clock on a Thursday morning on March 29, 1917.
Svinhufvud had returned to Finland after two years of exile in Siberia, where he was deported after refusing to obey the orders of the Russian procurator, Konstantin Kazansky. It was a period of the second wave of Russification in Finland. Even as an autonomous region of the Russian Empire, Russia kept oppressing Finland by, for example, limiting its political autonomy.
One of the ways was to interfere with the Finnish policy makers. For example, an anti-discrimination law had been amended that allowed a Russian citizen the same rights as a native, Finnish citizen. According to the law, Russian’s could appoint government officials to their post in Finland. The Finnish parliament didn’t accept the law.
Procurator Kazansky had ordered Svinhufvud, who at the time was a judge, to deliver him documents related to a court hearing. Svinhufvud refused. As far as he (and many other Finns for that matter) was considered, Kazansky had no authority to demand anything.
Svinhufvud was imprisoned and sent to exile in Tomsk, Siberia, in November 1914. In a temperature of minus 50 degrees, Svinhufvud learned to mend his clothes and he spent his time hunting while keeping secret contact with the independence movement in Finland.
When news of the February Revolution in Russia reached Svinhufvud, he walked to the town’s police station and said: “The person who sent me here has been arrested. Now I’m going home.”
This week sees the 100-year anniversary of Svinhufvud’s return from Siberia. The historical event was celebrated at the Helsinki Railway Station on Tuesday evening, where a large, historical passenger express steam locomotive built in 1948 arrived from Lappeenranta. The locomotive was named”Ukko-Pekka” meaning “Grand Pekka” after President P.E. Svinhufvud.
A diverse program included speeches and various university communities attended the ceremony, carrying flags of their student communities. P.E. Svinhufvud’s grandson Heikki Svinhufvud held a reception speech, which ended in three hurrays!
Svinfhufvud’s return to Finland 1917 was very timely. In Finland, it was acknowledged that Russia was collapsing and an opportunity for independence was closer than ever. Svinhufvud had been a respected figure before his deportation; he was known as a judge who stood firmly behind the Finnish law. No wonder that, when he returned to Finland, he was received as a hero.
Svinhufvud was chosen as the chairman of the Senate on November 27, 1917. On December 6, 1917, Svinhufvud read the Finnish Declaration of Independence to the parliament. The declaration was accepted by the parliament with votes 100-88.
Two decades later, after becoming the third president of the Republic of Finland, Svinhufvud read the declaration again in a radio broadcast, which you can listen below in Finnish.
[toggler title=”Read the declaration in English” ]
To The Finnish People.
The Finnish Parliament has on 15th day of the last November, in support of Section 38 of the Constitution, declared to be the Supreme holder of the State Authority as well as set up a Government to the country, that has taken to its primary task the realization and safeguarding Finland’s independence as a state. The people of Finland have by this step taken their fate in their own hands: a step both justified and demanded by present conditions. The people of Finland feel deeply that they cannot fulfil their national duty and their universal human obligations without a complete sovereignty. The century-old desire for freedom awaits fulfilment now; The People of Finland has to step forward as an independent nation among the other nations in the world.
Achieving this goal requires mainly some measures by the Parliament. Finland’s current form of government, which is currently incompatible with the conditions, requires a complete renewal and therefore has the Government now submitted a proposition for a new Constitution to the Parliament’s council, a proposition that is based on the principle that Finland is to be a sovereign republic. Considering that, the main features of the new polity has to be carried into effect immediately, the Government has at the same time delivered a bill of acts in this matter, which mean to satisfy the most urgent renewal needs before the establishment of the new Constitution.
The same goal also calls for measures from the part of the Government. The Government will approach foreign powers to seek an international recognition of our country’s independence as a state. At the present moment this is particularly all the more necessary, when the grave situation caused by the country’s complete isolation, famine and unemployment compels the Government to establish actual relations to the foreign powers, which prompt assistance in satisfying the necessities of life and in importing the essential goods for the industry, are our only rescue from the imminent famine and industrial stagnation.
The Russian people have, after subverting the Tsarist Regime, in a number of occasions expressed its intention to favour the Finnish people the right to determine its own fate, which is based on its centuries-old cultural development. And widely over all the horrors of the war is heard a voice, that one of the goals of the present war is to be, that no nation shall be forced against its will to be dependent on another (nation). The Finnish people believe that the free Russian people and its constitutive National Assembly don’t want to prevent Finland’s aspiration to enter the multitude of the free and independent nations. At the same time the People of Finland dare to hope that the other nations of the world recognizes, that with their full independence and freedom the People of Finland can do their best in fulfilment of those purposes that will win them an independent position amongst the people of the civilized world.
At the same time as the Government has wanted to let all the Finnish citizens to know these words, the Government turns to the citizens, as well as the private and public authorities, calling everyone on their own behalf with rapt attention to follow the (law and) order by filling their patriotic duty, to strain all their strength for achieving the nations common goal in this point of time, which has such an importance and decisiveness, that there have never before been in the life of the Finnish people. In Helsinki, 4 December 1917.
The Finnish Senate:
P.E. Svinhufvud. E.N. Setälä.
Kyösti Kallio. Jalmar Castrén.
Onni Talas. Arthur Castrén.
Heikki Renvall. Juhani Arajärvi.
Alexander Frey. E.Y. Pehkonen.
Sources: Itsenäisen Suomen presidenit, Presidentti johtaa, P.E. Svinhufvud ja nykyaika