On the 28th of January 2018, presidential elections will be held in Finland. Although few doubt that current president Sauli Niinistö will be re-elected, the sympathies of all Eurosceptics and opponents of Brussels’ ‘values’ are drawn towards Laura Huhtasaari, a representative of an Emi district (Häme) and candidate of the radical wing of the ‘Finns Party’. In this context it is important to note, that in 2018 the hundred-year anniversary of the birth of a classic author of Soviet historical science, Igor Pavlovich Shaskolsky (1918-1995) will be celebrated. His first articles under the initials I. Sh. already appeared in journals during the Soviet-Finnish War when he was still a student. Later, he became an acknowledged classic author in the study of Novgorod, Karelia, Finland, and Sweden, and the author of a whole series of monographs that covered different eras of this period of history. His monographs are part of two cycles: one is dedicated to the Russian-Swedish battle for the north-west in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, the other to Russian-Swedish relations in the seventeenth century.
By having a beautiful command of the Swedish and Finnish languages, learning the whole historiography of these countries of the 19th and 20th centuries, having a wide spectrum of medieval sources in Latin and Russian at his disposal, and having won well-deserved authority among Finnish scholars, Shaskolsky could solve questions which before his time had either not been dealt with, or, on the contrary, had been grossly misrepresented. He showed the objectivity of many historians of the first half of the 19th century, when there weren’t any nationalist aberrations nor the monstrous transformation of Swedish and Finnish historiography during hysterical Russophobic agitation form the middle of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century (while Russian historians paid almost no attention to this subject).
The first of Shaskolsky’s books in chronological order is dedicated to the Russian-Swedish battle for Finland in the 12th-13th century and an examination of it conjures up fairly sad thoughts, although it also makes it possible to draw several important lessons.
The Kiev-Novgorod and later Novgorod princes controlled eastern Estonia and central and eastern Finland since olden times. In the Finnish case we are speaking of the Emi (the Häme region), and what is more, the Novgorodians also controlled the almost uninhabited Saami in the north of not just modern Finland, but modern Sweden as well. This is the current Norbotten province, which the Swedes hadn’t reached at all at that time. Only Finland’s extreme south-west, the Sumi (Suomi) lands didn’t pay tribute to Novgorod, although traders did business there as well (this is where the name of the later city of Turku comes from, i.e. ‘torg’ [trade – V.A.V.]
However, the Russian ‘control’ was in many respects transparent. The Novgorodians demanded a tribute from time to time but didn’t meddle in the internal affairs of the Emi at all, in the same way they left the Estonians in relative peace. They did not make organised attempts to christen them and only sporadically peacefully preached: it is not by chance that the main Finnish religious terms are even today of Russian origin. The word ‘pop’ [priest] turned into ‘pappi’, ‘gramota’ [writing, the Word] into raamattu to indicate the Bible, ‘krest’ [cross] into ‘risti’, ‘grekh’ [sin] into ‘rääka’, ‘obrok’ [quitrent] into ‘aprakka’, and heathen, i.e. ‘pogany’ [pagan] into ‘pakana’. The Novgorodians did not found a single fort nor a single permanent settlement. In general, they just yawned.
The Swedes, however, did not in general yawn, but because of internal conflict they also often acted unsystematically and with pauses. However, every time legates from papal Rome pushed them to more active involvement. We must note, that up to the middle of the 12th century the Swedes did not live in Finland at all (except for the Aland islands, which had been colonised by Vikings from the 9th century onwards). In 1142 the Swedes attacked the Novgorodians first, around 1157 they completed a crusade against the Sumi and founded the first colonial settlement in the Nousi region. And even though the rebellious Suomi quickly killed their first bishop and the daring Swedish attack on Ladoga in 1164 ended with a shameful defeat (the Novgorodians destroyed 80% of the Swedish army), a catholic outpost in south-western Finland appeared. And in reality, in 1178 the Novgorodian Karelians attacked the Swedish colony in Nousi and killed its second priest, and in 1186 and 1191 the Novgorodians undertook campaigns to the Emi lands in order to drive out the Swedes, who had arrogantly invaded those Russian possessions. The decisive blow was inflicted in 1187: bands of Novgorodian Karelians sailed to Sigtuna (the trade and economic capital of Sweden), after which they burned the town and killed the bishop of Upsala and all Sweden. We cannot prove if the doors in the Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod were taken as trophy from Sigtuna, as is commonly thought, but we also cannot exclude such a possibility. One way or another, to this day Sigtuna is a small settlement. In 1198, the Novgorodians burned Old Abo, the centre of the Swedish colony in Suomi. Had there been two more, the whole of Finland would finally have become Novgorodian.
But the last strike did not come. The Novgorodian traders sold out Russian interests. In 1188, as an answer to the burning of Sigtuna, the Swedes arrested Novgorodian merchants and the city of the Veche [a kind of parliament – V.A.V.] broke off all trade contact with Sweden. The breach lasted until 1201. Once relations were repaired, the merchants started to toe the line to the liking of the ‘Western partners’ and gave them not only Sumi, but Emi as well.
A catastrophe was the result. The Danes entered the battle and landed in Finland twice (in 1191 and 1202), as well as the Germans, who had conquered almost the entire Baltic in twenty years. The Novgorodian oligarchy took note too late. Only the genius prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich knew some geopolitics and in 1220 began a counter attack with the Estonians, who had rebelled against the Germans. However, the Novgorod gentry did not allow him to finish the job. As a result, the German knights just cut off the remaining Russian population in the Baltic.
At the same time (in 1227) Yaroslav converted the Karelians en masse, thereby strengthening the presence of Russian culture among them and started to wage a fierce battle for the Emi with the Swedes. During two decennia (from 1200 to 1220) the Swedish presence in Finland was next to nothing, but the Novgorodians let slip a good chance and didn’t fully destroy it. As a result, during the 1220s the new Catholic bishop Thomas (an Englishman, as were some of his predecessors) started to energetically build castles and convert the Emi to Catholicism with papal support. In response, the Emi rose up between 1232 and 1237 right after the insurrection of the Estonians. Prince Yaroslav supported the rebels. The Orthodox Novgorodians actively helped the Emi pagans to brutally destroy the Catholic clergy and Swedish colonists. The enraged pope began to prepare a general crusade against the Emi from 1232, and because of this the papal legate forced even the Germans and Danes (who fought each other in Estonia) to make peace.
The crusade was planned for 1240, but something unexpected happened: the Mongols emptied out Rus. As a result, the Swedes and Germans decided not to strike at the Emi in the summer of 1240 but to march deep into the territory of Novgorod and defeat the Novgorodians in their homeland, after which they would blockade the Emi and methodically break them. But Yaroslav’s son Aleksandr and his Novgorodian, Karelian, and Izhorian warbands struck down the Swedes with jarl Ulf Fasi at the head and immediately killed several bishops. After this, the Emi began such an active resistance that bishop Thomas fled in 1245.
But another opportune moment was missed. Around this time, a civil war between the dynasties of Sverker and Erik ended in Finland, which had lasted for around 100(!) years. Jarl Birger (Fasi’s cousin) gained real power under the weak kings. Having received word that Yaroslav had gone to the great khan in Karakorum, he collected a great crusade in 1249 and 1250 and conquered all the Emi, finally converting them to Catholicism. The Swedish-Novgorodian border was moved to the borders of Karelia. In order to prevent the Russians and Karelians from attacking the shores of Lake Malar and avert a second Singuta, Birger built a new capital named Stockholm in 1252 which sealed off the waterway. Inspired by his success, the pope supported a personal initiative by the German barons of Estland (which were more similar to robbers in their behaviour) to strike Rus again. In 1256, German-Swedish units crossed the Narova river and invaded the territory of what is now Leningrad oblast, but quickly abandoned their unfinished fort and retreated when they heard that Aleksandr Nevsky (having already become grand prince of Vladimir) was marching on them with a large army. Aleksandr, despite the opinion of the Novgorod nobles who abandoned him, unexpectedly crossed the Gulf of Finland across the winter ice at the end of the year and arrived at the lands of the Emi. This was an unexpected move, unprecedented in military history, even though Aleksandr operated with a small warband (the majority of the Novgorodians refused to make the risky crossing). As a result, the Emi rose up and together with the Russians began to destroy the Swedes. However, Aleksandr didn’t fortify his position or built strongpoints in Häme. He just didn’t have the forces to do that.
Nonetheless, the grand prince scared the Swedes so badly that for 25 years they didn’t dare to attack Rus. Later, as we know, things got worse and worse: from 1283 the Swedes begin to invade ancient Novgorodian Karelia, in 1293-1295 they took her western reaches and built Vyborg, and in 1300 they try to take the entire Neva area (however, they are driven away). In 1311, the Novgorodians again campaign in the Emi lands, in 1313 the Swedes burn Ladoga, and in 1318 the Russians, in turn, burn Old Abo to the ground a second time including all the archives of Swedish Finland (which is why there are little to no original sources), as a result of which the city was moved to its current location. Only in 1323 Yuri Danilovich, prince of Moscow and Novgorod and grandson of Aleksandr Nevsky, builds Oreshek and signs a final peace with the Swedes there, with which the transfer of all of Finland and three reaches in Western Karelia is signed. It is this border that will remain without any changes for the next four-hundred years, until the peace of Stolbovo in 1617.
We can draw very saddening conclusions from this: in the 12th-13th centuries as well as the Modern era, the Russians have far too often refused to fully control their provinces and limited themselves to collecting tribute in the regions where the West even in the feudal area (and Sweden was the weakest and most backwards of the Western kingdoms in the 12th-13th century) was systematically building a gigantic military and administrative colonial apparatus. As a result, the Russian government, which didn’t interfere in the life of the local inhabitants, often appeared weak before the hard strikes of organised opponents (of both the Europeans and Mongols).
Shakolsky’s books emphasise the original attachment of the Finns to the Eurasian cultural sphere, which they were torn out of by the Swedes. This is how the pathological complex of exuberant love for the Swedes and hatred of the Russians of the Finnish nationalists of the middle of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century developed, a typical ‘Stockholm syndrome’ of a mutilated people who have forgotten their history (it is even funny, that to this day songs are sung about how good the living is… in Sweden!). However, as is clear, the Swedes were incapable of destroying the popular foundation of Finnish culture, which it holds in common with the other Finno-Ugric peoples and with the Eurasian, ‘Turanic’ cultural world (which was beautifully described by Nikolai Trubetskoi).
All that has been said can be seen as the prolegomena to a writing of the history of Finland (on one level with that of the Baltics) as a consequent Eurasian history, and the history of Novgorod as a history of conflict between greedy and short-sighted oligarchs and the wise and long-term geopolitics of the Rurikovichi.
: ‘Ямь’ or ‘емь’ is an old Russian term denoting a collection of Finnic tribes living in south-eastern and central Finland. I have coined the term ‘Emi’ for the purposes of this article – V.A.V.
: ‘Little Nut’, a large fort on an Island in the Neva which lies next to the later town of Shlisselburg.
: Nikolai Trubetzkoy (Николай Трубецкой 1890-1938) was both an eminent linguist and an outstanding member of the Eurasian movement. His main work is “The Heritage of Genghis Khan. A View of Russian History not from the West, but from the East” («Наследие Чингисхана. Взгляд на русскую историю не с Запада, а с Востока») – V.A.V.
Translated from the Russian by V.A.V.