200 Years Since Sweden Loses Finland
Exactly 200 years have passed since the last military battle was fought on Swedish soil - bloody clashes between Sweden and Russia.
The outcome? A defeated Sweden cut in two – loosing its Finnish eastern half, and fearing attacks from European rivals wiping Sweden off the map.
The battles were fierce and numerous -– with field artillery and ship's cannons booming from the shorelines and islands of the southern archipelago up through Finland and to the Swedish northeastern coast - above Umeå – to the small northern towns of Ratar and Sävar where the final skirmishes were fought - the towns obliterated and surrounding forest trees cut to stumps by the shelling.
Heroes and traitors on both sides, cavalry and foot soldiers stumbling through the mud, cowardly commanders loosing control, troops without ammunition fighting with swords, bayonets and even fists…
That Swedish-Russian war was really only a minor rumbling on the fringe of a Napoleonic war machine rolling over Europe.
Over a century has passed since Sweden's super power era had faded – when Protestant Swedish warrior kings had carried their banners throughout the Baltic region and down deep into Catholic Germany - and Sweden had long lost much of its Baltic territory.
By the 19th century, France and Russia dominated the scene, eager to push a weakened Sweden away from its only ally Britain. For its help, Russia would be given Sweden eastern half - Finland.
The Russian army and navy swept over southern Finland, moving north and then crossing the Baltic over into Swedish territory:
Some historians blame the sometimes fumbling and hesitant Swedish command on expectations that Sweden would soon sue for peace anyway.
For as the battles raged in the north, the political situation down in Stockholm darkened: Swedish King Gustav the 4th who hated Napoleon as the biblical devil himself was blamed for bungled military leadership, was arrested and deposed, and his government dismissed.
The fighting ended .. and the peace treaty awarded Russia Sweden's eastern half - Finland - including the Swedish-speaking Åland Islands in the middle of the Baltic Sea. It was on these islands that Russia started building a giant naval base right off Sweden's coast - a reminder of Russian power.
At the time, many here feared that other European nations - especially Napoleon's closest ally – that old Nordic enemy Denmark in the south -– would pounce on the defeated and war-weary Sweden carving it off the European map – a fate suffered by Poland.
But Sweden survived - and not long afterwards adopted its famous and long tradition of neutrality and non-alignment. Sweden does have a long history of participating in United Nations and other peace keeping operations - but all far from Sweden's borders.
As for the Finns, the Russian victory back in 1809 meant an end of 600 years of Swedish rule. But the Czar let the Finns keep their Swedish-built administration as well as Swedish as a minority language of the former rulers and much autonomy. Finland gained full independence with the fall of the Czar at the end of the first world war.
All during this anniversary year, both Sweden and Finland are marking their historic separation with numerous ceremonies, joint parliamentary events, conferences and seminars.
On the dates of that last bloody battle on Swedish soil, a lunch in that once-smoldering northern town attended by the Swedish king and queen. On that former battle field – young men from Sweden, Finland, Russia and even neighboring Norway – dressed as soldiers and firing real bullets in a small-scale re-enactment of the event.
But for most of the year's celebrations, music and toasts to Nordic solidarity and neighboring co-operation overpower the gunfire.