Studia Historica Septentrionalia 67


Antti-Jussi Nygård, A grip too tight. The Finnish position and use of power in Estonian economic life at the beginning of Finno-Estonian relations – Estonian views

The closely situated Estonia aroused interest among the Finns already during the first year of Estonia’s independence. Plans of employing the Estonian market and natural resources gained momentum when the Great War and the German occupation of Estonia ended. A war broke out between Soviet Russia and Estonia in November 1918 and the newly independent small nation called for help from all possible directions. Finland supported Estonia with loans and military equipment as well as by sending voluntary troops. The situation seemed to open lucrative opportunities for Finnish businessmen who had lost an important market in the East after the revolution.

During the first months of the year 1919 the Estonians seemed to be ready for far-reaching economic cooperation with Finland. The plans laid out included the creation of a common market and founding several Finno-Estonian companies. All these plans gave Finland a dominant position, but they proved to be a disappointment to the Finns. The officials in the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs accused the Estonians of being ungrateful and complained that the volunteers had shed their blood in vain because their help had not turned into economic advantages.

In this paper I will explore how the Estonians saw the Finnish economic interest in the spring of 1919. I argue that although the public opinion in early 1919 was extremely positive towards the northern kinsmen, and close economic cooperation with Finland was not seen to cause any problems, the Estonian politicians were actually very cautious towards their Finnish neighbours. Some even warned that the Finns were trying to turn Estonia into a Finnish colony. However, the difficult situation on the eastern front forced the Estonian prime minister to make wide-ranging promises and offers.

The Finnish government did not want to get too much involved with Estonia, but economic advantages were seen as something that could last even if Estonia would become a part of the new Russia. Starting from April 1919 the Finnish government adopted an aggressive policy aimed to secure a firm foothold in the Estonian market. Being afraid of not gaining a special position, the Finns demanded extensive commercial compensations as a collateral for new volunteer troops and loans. The Finnish requests caused a very negative response in Estonia, led to the resignation of two Finnish representatives in Tallinn and triggered far-reaching difficulties in the Finno-Estonian economic relations. Although the Finnish demands did not reach the newspapers, the positive public image of the Finns was also changing. During the summer of 1919 the Finns quickly abandoned their aggressive policy and changed their attitude towards the future of Estonia.

Takaisin Studia Historica Septentrionalia 67