The fragility of Finnish parliamentary democracy at the moment when Prussianism fell
Ihalainen, P. (2019). The fragility of Finnish parliamentary democracy at the moment when Prussianism fell. Journal of Modern European History, 17(4), 448-468. https://doi.org/10.1177/1611894419880458
Published inJournal of Modern European History
© The Author, 2019
The Finnish case is in many ways illustrative of the complexities of democratisation after World War I. Finland found itself at the nexus of a Swedish constitutional tradition, legalism and ideological controversies adopted from Imperial Germany, the radicalised Russian Revolution, and Western parliamentary democracy. After having been a model for reformers demanding women’s suffrage, for instance, the country found itself in autumn 1918 going in the opposite direction to almost all other European countries. This article analyses the fragility of Finnish parliamentary democracy then, contrasting it with longer-term trends supportive of democratisation. ‘Democracy’ had been the goal for most Finnish political parties since the adoption of universal suffrage in 1906, but the meaning of the concept remained contested and became increasingly so after the Russian Revolution in disputes concerning parliamentary sovereignty, the declaration of independence, a civil war, monarchical reaction, and the search for a republican compromise. For as long as Germany was expected to win the war, democracy in Finland remained fragile, challenged from within first by the revolutionary far-left and then by the reactionary right. The victory of ‘Western democracies’ forced both the left and the right to rethink their opposition to ‘Western’ parliamentary democracy and to adapt to a constitutional compromise. The ideological contestability of democracy remained but confrontations were confined by extremism’s loss of credibility, the growing influence of centrist groups, and a shared determination to avoid another civil war. ...
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