In late 1909, the liberal Russian newspaper Birzhevye Vedomosti expressed the fear that Finland could become ‘Russia’s Ireland’. The implication was that by restricting the autonomy that Finland had enjoyed within the Russian Empire for much of the preceding century, Russian nationalists risked creating a chaotic, discontented eastern province, dangerously close to the imperial capital. The ‘Russia’s Ireland’ motif became so prominent in the following eight years – before Finnish independence in 1917 – as to become an international cliché. The discourse of imperial subjugation that existed in both Ireland and Finland in the first decade of the twentieth century has rather obscured the fact that, despite obvious superficial parallels, the nineteenth-century experiences of these nations differed considerably. Both Finland and Ireland were part of larger imperial systems in the nineteenth century, and national movements emerged in both countries that sought to develop political, economic and cultural autonomy. Finland became a sporadic model for diverse Irish national aspirations, but the analogy was rejected consistently, and often vigorously, by Finns in the nineteenth century. This article charts the development of the Finnish–Irish constitutional analogy from the middle of the nineteenth century to the eve of both nations’ independence. It demonstrates that despite the similarities in overall historical timelines, contemporaries perceived differences between the two cases.
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