From medieval times to 1809, Finland was part of Sweden. City fires have left little standing
from this period, but Finland still has a sizeable Swedish-speaking minority, bilingual street
signs, and close cultural ties to Sweden.
In 1809, Sweden lost Finland to Russia. Under the next century of relatively benign Rus-
sian rule, Finland began to industrialize, and Helsinki grew into a fine and elegant city. Still,
at the beginning of the 1900s, the rest of Finland was mostly dirt-poor and agricultural,
and its people were eagerly emigrating to northern Minnesota. (Read Toivo Pekkanen's My
Childhood to learn about the life of a Finnish peasant in the early 1900s.)
In 1917, Finland and the Baltic states won their independence from Russia, fought brief
but vicious civil wars, and then enjoyed two decades of prosperity...until the secret Nazi-
Soviet pact of August 1939 assigned them to the Soviet sphere of influence. When Rus-
sia invaded, only Finland resisted successfully, its white-camouflaged ski troops winning
the Winter War against the Soviet Union in 1939-1940 and holding off the Russians in the
Continuation War from 1941 to 1944.