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Centennial Story of Finland Part 3: Interwar Instability 1927–1937 - Embassy of Finland, Washington - Consulate Generals of Finland, New York, Los Angeles : Current Affairs


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News, 3/6/2017

Centennial Story of Finland Part 3: Interwar Instability 1927–1937

During the interwar period, Finland made remarkable political, social and economic progress. The democratic institutions grew stronger, and the country worked hard to unify its people after the bloody civil war. Even though Finland was industrializing, almost 60% of the nation’s workforce was still engaged in agriculture and forestry.

The 1930s were shadowed by the Great Depression, which was, however, quite short lived in Finland. The main reason was that Finland was still an agrarian society with relatively little industrialization. Finland’s main export partner was Great Britain, and also Britain survived the depression relatively well. The Finnish GDP started to grow already in 1932.

Photo: Helsinki City Museum
Grocery store in Helsinki in the 1930s
Grocery store in Helsinki in the 1930s

The Depression had a major impact on European nations, and the decade turned out to be a challenging time for young democracies like Finland. Many nations were challenged by extreme right and extreme left movements. As in many European countries during the interwar period, Finland saw the rise of its own far right movement.

The Lapua Movement used violent tactics to suppress and intimidate left-wing sympathizers. The movement succeeded in pressuring parliament to enact the so-called “communist laws”, which effectively banned Communism in Finland from 1930 to 1944. The leaders of the movement radicalized and hoped to ban the Social Democrats altogether. When the government did not agree on this demand, the Lapua movement tried to stage an armed coup in the town of Mäntsälä. The rebellion was defeated, and, ironically, the Lapua Movement was banned in 1932 using the very communist laws they vigorously called for.

Photo: Rafael Roos, Helsinki City Museum
Peasant March
The Lapua Movement organized a Peasant March to Helsinki on July 7, 1930. Approximately
12 000 men participated in the march.

The Finnish-U.S. relations grew stronger during the 1930s. President Franklin D. Roosevelt praised Finland’s attitude towards paying its debts to the U.S. He offered Finland a new debt payment plan: if the country agreed to pay off its debt of $5,854,903 over the next 30 years, the United States would not require Finland to pay any interest on this debt. Finland accepted the offer, but the U.S. Congress blocked the plan. During the 1930s, Finland endorsed a number of U.S. bilateral and multilateral proposals regarding disarmament, international peace and international commercial measures that removed trade restrictions.

Photo: Library of Congress
Eero Järnefelt
Eero Järnefelt (left) served as Finland's Ambassador to the U.S. in 1934-1938. When he visited the White House in January 1935 he "received a cordial reception, for Finland alone pays its debts."

During the interwar period, Finland believed that neutrality was its best foreign policy doctrine. The country sought “friendship toward all and alliances with none.” However, Adolf Hitler’s aggressive actions in Europe caused widespread concern, and in 1932 Finland signed a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Finland tried to tighten its relationship with the Nordic countries, and in 1936 Finland and the other Nordics declared a strict policy of neutrality.

The Finnish immigrants in the United States held fast at first to their traditions, language and societies, but in the 1920s and 1930s things started to change. The Finns adopted the “melting pot” attitude, and they started using American slang and wearing modern clothing instead of their traditional homemade outfits. Some children were ashamed of their parents’ heavy accents, and many changed their names for simplicity’s sake or to avoid possible ridicule over pronunciation. Some older immigrants settled for a curious mixture of English and Finnish called “Finglish.”

Next parts

Centennial Story of Finland Part 4: Finland Fights Bravely for Her Independence 1937–1947

Centennial Story of Finland Part 5: Recovering from War and Hosting Olympic Games 1947–1957

Centennial Story of Finland Part 6: Navigation in Cold War Turbulence Requires Skill 1957–1967

Centennial Story of Finland Part 7: Developing Welfare Services and Hosting Major Helsinki Conference 1967-1977

Centennial Story of Finland Part 8: Booming Economy and Admiration for the U.S. 1977–1987 

Centennial Story of Finland Part 9: End of Cold War – Europe Whole and Free 1987–1997

Centennial Story of Finland Part 10: Finland Takes Its Place in Globalized World 1997–2007

Previous parts

Centennial Story of Finland Part 1: The Path up to 1917

Centennial Story of Finland Part 2: First Years of Independence 1917–1927

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Updated 7/4/2018

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