The Republic of Finland (Finnish: Suomen tasavalta, Swedish: Republiken Finland) is a Nordic country in northeastern Europe, bordered by the Baltic Sea to the southwest, the Gulf of Finland to the southeast and the Gulf of Bothnia to the west. Finland has land frontiers with Sweden, Norway and Russia and a maritime border with Estonia. The Åland Islands, off the southwestern coast, are under Finnish sovereignty while enjoying extensive autonomy.
Main article: History of Finland
Conclusive archaeological evidence exists indicating that the area now comprising Finland was settled around 8500 BC, during the Stone Age, as the inland ice of the last ice age receded. The earliest inhabitants are thought to have been hunter-gatherers, living primarily off what the forests and sea could offer. Pottery is known from around 5300 BC. The existence of extensive exchange systems is indicated by the spread of asbestos and soapstone from Eastern Finland, and by founds of flint from South Scandinavia and Russia, chisels from Lake Onega, and spearheads from North Scandinavia. Currently it is considered probable that the speakers of the Fenno-Ugric language arrived in Finland during the Stone Age, possibly even among the first Mesolithic settlers. The arrival of the Battle-Axe Culture (or Cord-Ceramic Culture) in Southern Finland around 3200 BC is considered as the start of agriculture. However, hunting and fishing continued to be important parts of the subsistence economy, especially in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
The Bronze Age (1500 – 500 BC) and Iron Age (500 BC – AD 1200) were characterized by extensive contacts with Scandinavia, Northern Russia and the Baltic region.
The beginning of Finland's nearly 700-year association with the Kingdom of Sweden is traditionally connected with the year 1154 and the alleged introduction of Christianity by Sweden's King Erik. Actually many of the Finnish pagans were already Christened hundreds of years before, according to archaelogical records. Swedish became the dominant language of administration and education; Finnish chiefly a language for the peasantry, considered useful mainly for printing religious literature.
During the 18th century, virtually the whole of Finland was twice occupied by Russian forces (1714–1721 and 1742–1743), by the Finns known as the Greater Wrath and the Lesser Wrath . After that, "Finland" became the predominant term for the area — both in domestic Swedish debate and in Russian propaganda promising "liberation from Swedish oppression".The Finnish name for Finland is 'Suomi.
In 1808, Finland was conquered by the armies of Russian Emperor Alexander I and thereafter remained an autonomous Grand Duchy in personal union with the Russian Empire until the end of 1917. To counteract Russian replacing Swedish, and also to sever the cultural and emotional ties with Sweden, the Finnish language was ardently promoted by both the imperial court and the Finnish government and a strong nationalist movement, known as fennomania. Milestones in this development were the publication of what would become Finland's national epic, the Kalevala, in 1835; and Finnish getting a legally equal status with Swedish in 1892.
On December 6, 1917, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Finland declared its independence. The independence was recognized by Bolshevist Russia within a month, but the following civil wars in Russia, in Finland and activist expeditions to White Karelia and to Aunus complicated the relations. The Finnish–Russian border was agreed on only with the Treaty of Tartu in 1920.
The social frontier between the ruling and the working classes has been broader in Finland than in most comparable countries. Into the 19th century there was a most obvious language barrier; then during the 19th century Finland developed a proud university-educated meritocracy that felt as being the true representation of "the people" since they spoke the people's language and since a great deal of their ancestors really had been poor peasants.
In 1918, the country experienced a brief but bitter Civil War that coloured domestic politics for many years. The Civil War was chiefly fought between "the whites" and "the reds". The whites consisted largely of the educated class, supported by the numerous class of independent small farmers and by Imperial Germany. The reds consisted mostly of propertyless rural and industrial workers who despite universal suffrage in 1906 had found themselves without political influence. The reds recieved strong backing from the Soviet Union.
During World War II, Finland fought the invading Soviet Union twice: in the Winter War of 1939–1940 and again in the Continuation War of 1941–1944 (with support from Germany). This was followed by the Lapland War of 1944–1945, when Finland forced the Germans out of northern Finland.
Treaties signed in 1947 and 1948 with the Soviet Union included obligations and restraints on Finland vis-ā-vis the Soviet Union as well as further territorial concessions by Finland (compared to the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940).
After the Second World War, Finland was in the grey zone between western countries and Soviet Union. The "YYA Treaty" (Finno-Soviet Pact of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance) gave the Soviet Union some leverage in Finnish domestic politics. Many politicians, like President Kekkonen (1956–81), used their relations with the Kremlin to solve party controversies, which meant that the Soviet Union got even more influence; other people worked single-mindedly to oppose the communists.
When the Soviet Union fell in 1991 Finland was surprised and suffered economically, but was free to follow her own course and joined the European Union in 1995, where Finland is an advocate of federalism contrary to the other Nordic countries that are predominantly supportive of confederalism.
Main article: Politics of Finland
Finland has a semi-presidential system with Parliamentarism. The President of Finland is formally responsible for foreign policy. Most executive power lies in the cabinet ("Council of State") headed by the prime minister chosen by the parliament. The Council of State is made up of the prime minister and the ministers for the various departments of the central government as well as an ex-officio member, the Chancellor of Justice.
Constitutionally, the 200-member, unicameral parliament, the Eduskunta (Finnish) or Riksdag (Swedish), is the supreme legislative authority in Finland. It may alter the constitution, bring about the resignation of the Council of State, and override presidential vetoes. Its acts are not subject to judicial review. Legislation may be initiated by the Council of State, or one of the Eduskunta members, who are elected for a four-year term on the basis of proportional representation through open list multimember districts.
The judicial system is divided between courts with regular civil and criminal jurisdiction and administrative courts with responsibility for litigation between the individuals and the administrative organs of the state and the communities. Their jurisdiction can be illustrated with an example: Parents unsatisfied with the school placement of their child would appeal against the board of education in an administrative court as the school placement is subject to an administrative decision. Finnish law is codified and its court system consists of local courts, regional appellate courts, and a Supreme Court. The administrative branch of justice consists of administrative courts and a Supreme Administrative Court. The administrative process has more popularity as it is cheaper and has lower financial risk to the person making claims. In addition to the regular courts, there is a few special courts in certain branches of administration and a High Court of Impeachment for criminal cases against the President of Republic, the members of supreme courts and the cabinet, Chancellor of Justice and the Ombudsman of Parliament.
The parliament has, since equal and common suffrage was introduced in 1906, been dominated by Conservative Nationalists, Agrarians, and Social Democrats — after 1944 also Communists have been a factor to consider. Liberal parties and ideologues may have been somewhat less prominent in Finland than in many comparable countries. The relative strengths of the parties vary only slightly in the elections due to the proportional election from multimember districts but there are some visible long-term trends.
It should be noted that the Finnish political system remained democratic during the Cold War; although the political atmosphere was largely influenced by the neighboring Soviet Union and a certain degree of self-censorship.
The constitution of Finland and its place in the judicial system are unusual in that there is no constitutional court and the supreme court doesn't have an explicit right to declare a law unconstitutional. In principle, the constitutionality of laws in Finland is verified by a simple vote in the parliament. However, the Constitutional Law Committee of the parliament reviews any doubtful bills and recommends changes, if needed. In practice, the Constitutional Law Committee fulfills the duties of the constitutional court. A Finnish peculiarity is the possibility to make exceptions to the constitution in usual laws that are enacted in the same procedure as constitutional amendments. An example of such law is the State of Preparedness Act which gives the Council of State certain exceptional powers in cases of national emergency. As these powers, which correspond the US executive orders, violate the constitutional basic rights grossly, the law was enacted in the same manner as a constitutional amendment. However, it can be repealed in the same manner as a usual law. In addition to the preview of the Constitutional Law Committee, all Finnish courts of law have the obligation to give precedence to the constitution when there is an obvious conflict between the constitution and a regular law. There has, however, never been a case in which this provision would have been used. The only other European countries that lack a constitutional court are the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (which doesn't have a codified constitution).
Main articles: Provinces of Finland, Historical provinces of Finland
Today, Finland has 6 administrative provinces (lääni, pl. läänit) The province authority is part of the executive branch of the national government; a system that hadn't changed drastically since its creation in 1634 to the new division to "greater provinces" in 1997. Since then, the six provinces are:
- Southern Finland
- Western Finland
- Eastern Finland
The Åland Islands enjoy a degree of autonomy. According to international treaties and Finnish laws, the regional government for Åland handles some matters which belong to the province authority in Mainland Finland.
Another kind of provinces are those echoing the pattern of colonization of Finland. Dialects, folklore, customs and people's feeling of affiliation are associated with these historical provinces of Finland, although the re-settlement of 420,000 Karelians during World War II and urbanization in the latter half of the 20th century have made differences less pronounced.
Local government is further organized in 444 municipalities of Finland. Since 1977, no legal or administrative distinction is made between towns, cities and other municipalities. The municipalities cooperate in 20 regions of Finland.
Main article: Geography of Finland
Finland is a country of thousands of lakes and islands; 187,888 lakes and 179,584 islands to be precise. One of these lakes, Saimaa, is the 5th largest in Europe. The Finnish landscape is mostly flat with few hills and its highest point, the Haltitunturi at 1,328 m, is found in the extreme north of Lapland. Beside the many lakes the landscape is dominated by extensive boreal forests (about 68 percent of land area) and little arable land. The greater part of the islands are found in southwest, part of the archipelago of the Åland Islands, and along the southern coast in the Gulf of Finland. Finland is one of the few countries in the world that is still growing. Owing to the isostatic uplift that has been taking place since the last ice age, the surface area of the country is growing by about 7 sq. kilometres a year.
The climate in Southern Finland is a northern temperate climate. In Northern Finland, particularly in the Province of Lapland, a subarctic climate dominates, characterised by cold, occasionally severe, winters and relatively warm summers.
A quarter of Finland's territory lies above the Arctic Circle, and as a consequence the midnight sun can be experienced — for more and more days, the further up north one comes. At Finland's northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 days during summer, and does not rise at all for 51 days in winter.
See also: List of towns in Finland, Population of Finland, List of lakes in Finland
Main article: Economy of Finland
Finland has a highly industrialized, largely free-market economy, with per capita output roughly that of the UK, France, Germany, and Italy. The Finnish standard of living is high. Its key economic sector is manufacturing - principally the wood, metals, engineering, telecommunications (especially Nokia), and electronics industries. Trade is important, with exports equalling almost one-third of GDP. Except for timber and several minerals, Finland depends on imports of raw materials, energy, and some components for manufactured goods.
Because of the climate, agricultural development is limited to maintaining self-sufficiency in basic products. Forestry, an important export earner, provides a secondary occupation for the rural population. Rapidly increasing integration with Western Europe - Finland was one of the 11 countries joining the euro monetary system (EMU) on January 1, 1999 - will dominate the economic picture over the next several years. Growth was anemic in 2002 but slowed down in 2003 because of global depression.
Main article: Demographics of Finland
There are two official languages in Finland: Finnish, spoken by 92% of the population, and Swedish, mother tongue for 5.5% of the population. Ethnic Finns and Finland Swedes are generally considered to comprise a common nation. The Finland-Swedes are concentrated in the coastal areas; and there is a slight cultural difference between the culture of the Ethnic Finns, focused on lakes and woods, and the more outward-oriented coastal culture of the Finland-Swedes. This difference may be considered as an ethnic division, but the difference is slight and not more pronounced than the difference between East Finnish and West Finnish culture .
Other minority languages include Russian and Estonian. To the north, in Lapland, are found the Sami, numbering less than 7,000, who like the Finns speak a Finno-Ugric languages. There are three Sami languages that are spoken in Finland: Northern Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami.
Most Finns (84%) are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, with a minority of 1% belonging to the Finnish Orthodox Church (see Eastern Orthodoxy). The remainder consist of relatively small groups of other Protestant denominations, Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews beside the 14% who are unaffiliated.
After the Winter War (confirmed by the outcome of the Continuation War) 12% of Finland's population had to be re-settled. War reparations, unemployment and uncertainty regarding Finland's chances to remain sovereign and independent of the Soviet Union contributed to considerable emigration, abating first in the 1970s. Until then, some 500,000 Finns had emigrated, chiefly to Sweden, although half of the emigrants ultimately re-migrated again.
Since the late 1990s, Finland has received refugees and immigrants at a rate comparable with the Scandinavian countries, although the total ethnic-minority population remains far lower in Finland than the rest. A considerable number of immigrants have come from the former Soviet Union claiming ethnic (Finnic) kinship. However, over 20 languages are now spoken in Finland by immigrant groups of significant size — that is, with at least a thousand speakers.
Finland's population has always been concentrated in the southern parts of the country, which is even more pronounced after the 20th century urbanization. The biggest and most important cities in Finland are Helsinki, Tampere, Turku and Oulu, with Oulu being the only city in central–northern Finland with more than 100,000 inhabitants.
After having one of the highest death rates from heart disease in the world in the 1970s, a concerted government programme to improve the Finnish diet and exercise has paid off. Finland is now one of the fittest countries in the world. 
Main article: Culture of Finland
Main article: Public holidays in Finland
All official holidays in Finland are established by acts of Parliament. The official holidays can be divided into Christian and secular holidays, although some of the Christian holidays have replaced holidays of pagan origin. The main Christian holidays are Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost and All Saints Day. The secular holidays are New Year's Day, May Day and Midsummer Day.
In addition to this all Sundays are official holidays but they are not as important as the special holidays. The names of the Sundays follow the liturgical calendar and they can be categorized as Christian holidays. When the standard working week in Finland was reduced to 40 hours by an act of Parliament it also meant that all Saturdays became a sort of de facto public holidays, though not official ones. Easter Sunday and Pentecost are Sundays that form part of a main holiday and they are preceded by a kind of special Saturdays.
Retail stores are prohibited by law from doing business on Sundays, except during the summer months (May through August) and in the pre-Christmas season (November and December). Business locations that have less than 400 square meters of floor space are allowed Sunday business throughout the year, with the exception of official holidays and certain Sundays, such as Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day.
Other related articles
main article: *List of Finland-related topics