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Why do the Finns revere Alexander II and how they erected a monument to the Tsar Liberator on Senate Square in Helsinki
Why do the Finns revere Alexander II and how they erected a monument to the Tsar Liberator on Senate Square in Helsinki

The desire to immortalize in bronze, granite or marble their outstanding personalities and state leaders is inherent in all peoples. But the monument to the head of a foreign power installed in the capital is a very rare phenomenon. One example of such admiration for foreign rulers is the monument to the Russian monarch Alexander II in the Finnish capital.

How Finland came into the possession of Russia

Alexander I - Emperor of All Russia, who signed the solemn manifesto "On the annexation of Finland."

The Finnish people have lived in the Russian Empire for over a century. For a long time, the territory of northeastern Europe was a place where there was competition between Russians and Swedes. The latter conquered most of Finland and used it as a springboard for attacks on Russia. Geopolitical conflicts between Sweden and Russia have arisen more than once and have passed with varying degrees of success.

The final in a series of Russian-Swedish wars was the confrontation of 1808-1809. Despite the fact that Russia's interests at that time were focused on the Black Sea region, the head of state Alexander I had to turn to the north. To this he was prompted primarily by the reluctance of the Swedish king Gustav IV to support the Napoleonic sanctions against England, as well as the desire to move away from St. Petersburg and secure its northern borders. In February 1808, Russian troops crossed the border with Finland, and on April 1, before the armistice was concluded, the manifesto of Alexander I was promulgated, which proclaimed that "Swedish Finland" had been conquered and henceforth forever annexed to Russia as a separate Grand Duchy.

The Finnish Language Manifesto and Other Reforms of Alexander II

Opening of the Diet on September 18, 1863. Emperor's speech

An invaluable contribution to the development of the newly acquired principality was made by the Russian Emperor Alexander II, whom the Finns call the Tsar-Liberator. The Finnish principality received unprecedented rights and freedoms at that time. First, the tsar granted autonomy to Finland. Secondly, he kept the Finnish constitution. Thirdly, he promised not to break old laws and not to take away privileges.

The merger of forestry and agriculture was a real economic miracle. The removal of restrictions on sawmilling stimulated the sale of timber, which significantly increased the income of farmers. This made it possible to modernize agriculture. In addition, a new industry emerged - papermaking, which led to an increase in freight traffic and, as a result, the development of transport infrastructure. The Russian autocrat also contributed to the reformation of the educational sphere, initiating a program for the creation of public volost schools supported by the state treasury. The social climate of the country has fundamentally changed: censorship has softened, the national movement has received support, student communities, previously banned for protest political speeches, have been legalized.

Werner von Hausen depicted in his drawing the historic meeting of the Emperor and Senator Snellmann

With great enthusiasm, the residents of Suomi greeted a truly epochal document - the manifesto on the Finnish language, with which the Russian authorities canceled the prevalence of the Swedish language. Finnish became the state language, began to dominate in office work, the press, science, literature, and theater. And the main "gift" of Alexander II is the resumption of the Sejm's activities, which was of great importance for strengthening the national identity of the Finns.

How did the "cult of Alexander II" appear in Finland?

Alexander II at a ball at the Helsinki railway station in the fall of 1863. Artist: Mihai Zichy

Among historians, the adoration of the Russian tsar that arose in the Suomi camp was called the "cult of Alexander II". Moreover, the Finns worshiped the emperor not only during his lifetime, but also after his untimely death. Contemporaries noted that Alexander II was much more popular in Finland than in his own land. And this is quite understandable, because he provided the northern country with economic and cultural development, bestowed the Diet, constitutionalism and his native language.

During the years of the rule of the Russian autocrat, Finland was formed as a state and a nation. Therefore, it is no wonder that the tragic death of the tsar plunged the Finnish population into deep sorrow. The surviving documentary sources reflect the atmosphere that prevailed in the country after the sad news.

Monument in honor of the visit of Emperor Alexander II to the military parade ground in Parola (Hämeenlinna)

In Helsinki on March 1, 1881, horrified people did not leave the streets until late at night, discussing newspaper reports about the tragedy in St. Petersburg. The next day, the news spread throughout the country and in every city the picture was repeated - the people mourned the death of a noble, beloved ruler. Famous national figures responded to the tragedy with fiery speeches. In them, Emperor Alexander was called the destroyers of fetters, who awakened hope for the best in people and will forever remain the infinitely beloved people of Finland.

How the Finns immortalized the memory of the tsar-liberator

Monument to Alexander II in Helsinki

The most striking expression of the love of the Finnish people for the Russian emperor was the opening in 1894 of the monument to Alexander II. The idea to erect a monument to the Tsar-Liberator on Senate Square came up shortly after his tragic death. The collection of voluntary donations for the construction of the memorial began immediately. A year later, this issue was brought up to a meeting of the Diet, and, based on the results of the discussion, a corresponding petition was sent to Alexander III.

The document contained a detailed description of the monument. In the center of the composition, on a red granite pedestal, is the three-meter figure of Alexander II. The Russian autocrat, dressed in the uniform of the Life Guards of the Finnish Rifle Battalion, is captured at the historic moment of the opening of the Diet. The statue is surrounded by four sculptural groups, symbolizing the main directions of the beneficial influence of the Russian monarch on Finland: observance of law and order, the development of science and culture, the prosperity of agriculture, peace. The project, which was designed by sculptors Johannes Takanen and Walter Runeberg, received the highest praise. Of the 280 thousand marks spent on the work, 240 thousand were voluntary contributions from Finnish citizens.

The monument was cast in France, and its opening was timed to coincide with the birthday of Alexander II. It was an event of an unprecedented scale, to which about 40 thousand people arrived in Helsinki: a service in St. Nicholas Cathedral, reading the emperor's greeting, speeches of representatives of the Diet and city government, singing the hymn "God Save the Tsar", laying wreaths at the foot of the monument. People's festivities lasted until late at night in the city park, music sounded. The whole city was flooded with lights of illumination never seen before - a multitude of electric and gas lamps, candles in every window. This day became an expression of the unanimous sincere reverence by the people of Suomi to the memory of their beloved monarch.

But after that the Finns began to hate General Bobrikov and his Finnish policy.

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