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The Finnish Flag Turns 100

The Finnish Flag Turns 100
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The Finnish flag on the roof of a treehouse in 1941. Picture: Sundström

Before gaining independence in 1917, Finland was part of Sweden until incorporated into the Russian empire in 1809. The flags of these two countries were also used as the official Finnish flag and, even though under Russian rule the autonomous grand duchy of Finland had its own arms displaying a lion, the country did not have any official flag depicting its national symbols.

The Finnish Maiden and the flag of Finland. Illustration: Sellen Ragnhild, 1906.

Red and Yellow

The arms were widely used as an unofficial Finnish flag, and in fact, its colours, red and yellow, became unofficial national colours.The song “Maamme” (Our country) that eventually became the Finnish national anthem, was first performed at a student spring festival near Helsinki in 1848.

As part of the celebrations, the flag of the Helsinki University Student Union depicting the Finnish arms on a white field was displayed. Inspired by the event, numerous cultural and political figures, especially the writer and historian Zachris Topelius suggested that Finland should have a national flag of its own. A lively debate ensued, and during the following decades, several proposals for a Finnish flag were made.

The debate continued throughout the 1850s and 1860s, and blue and white gained support as Finnish national colours. However, the Finnish Diet never took up the matter, and the debate was limited to newspapers. Nevertheless, Finns used many of the proposed flag designs at their country homes in the late 19th century, and gradually blue and white were also adopted by yacht clubs for their flags and pennants.

Finland declared independence on December 6 1917. The occasion was celebrated by flying the red and yellow lion flag from the Government Palace the same day, and during the first months of independence, it was also used as the semi-official state flag. The flag had a crimson-red field displaying the lion depicted in the arms of Finland, the golden animal armed in silver and surrounded by rosettes of the same colour.

The Finnish parliament debated the flag issue in spring 1918, and on May 28 approved the proposal of its constitutional committee for a new national symbol. The act, making the design of Eero Snellman and Bruno Tuukkanen the official Finnish flag was issued two days later, and even though some of its provisions have been amended slightly since then, the design itself, a blue cross on a white field, remains unchanged.

Source: The Ministry of the Interior

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