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A German as Finland's King

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                    A German as Finland's King


When Finland achieved her independence on December 6, 1917, according to Parliament's manifest the country was a sovereign republic. However, less than a year later the people's representatives elected a German king as head of state. His name was Friedrich Karl or Fredrik Kaarle (Finnish) and his title at that time was Prince of Hessen.

The model was taken from our Scandinavian neighbors Sweden, Norway and Denmark, but it was about something else, too. Today it sounds odd, but in young Finland's republic the democracy was received as too wide and liberal, at least in the eyes of the monarchists.

Finnish rightists, non-socialists or The Whites wanted a strong central power and they believed the only way was to have a royal crown to implement it. The most eager proponent was a Czarist era senator named A. O. Kairamo. Years before this some national romantics had dreamed about an independent Finland with a king, Väinö I. The name was derived from the national epic "Kalevala." Statesman Juho Kusti Passikivi also supported this.

In April 1918 ministers of Finnish senate, led by P. E. Svinhufvud, convened to choose a regent secretary of state as Finland's leader. They ended up electing Svinhufvud himself into the office. Soon after, however, the majority of the senate converted into monarchists. In their opinion they concluded Finland's only support and safeguard was imperial Germany.

Rather than to Wilhelm II, actually the real power in Germany belonged to general Rüdiger von der Goltz,. Germany's Eastern Baltic Sea division, led by general Goltz, had landed at Hanko, Finland and marched to Helsinki in the midst of the Civil War or the Red Revolt as it was often called. The senate believed Germany would vouchsafe The Whites' victory and based on those prospects they wanted to have a German-born king.

At that time in a limited parliament there were only 97 representatives. All the leftists rebels or The Reds who lost the civil war and were pro-Russian were either in jail, escaped to Russia or executed. The monarchists were headed by Svinhufvud, while the republicans led by K. J. Ståhlberg were also joined by the rural party led by Santeri Alkio.

The king's reign was justified owing to a still-valid old Swedish era form of government declaration from 1772. According to its 38th Section, in case the reigning family had died out or become extinct, the established classes had to convene to elect a new king or king's family. And since the Russian Czar Nicholas II and his entire Romanov family had been killed July 17, 1918, they considered Finland as having such a legal situation at hand.

Consequently, it was proposed that Finland was to become a constitutional and hereditary monarchy. On October 9 the white parliament elected Prince of Hessen Friedrich Karl as King of Finland with 64 of 97 votes. He was a brother-in-law of Emperor Wilhelm II. Originally Finns wanted his youngest son Otto as their king, but the emperor denied it. At the same time the Finnish regent government was turned into a royal government.

Coincidentally, fate intervened in their plans. That very same day Germany had signaled the WWI Allies that they were ready for peace negotiations. And a month later Germany collapsed and capitulated, which led to the ending of the First World War.

Because now Germany was deprecated in Europe, Finland had to reconsidered its position. Thus, Svinhufvud's regent pro-monarchy government was displaced from the nucleus of policy-making. As to the highest power holder, white general C. G. E. Mannerheim was elected to prepare the presidency.

In March 1919 independent Finland had the first general election. Women had already been allowed to vote since 1906 elections. In the elections they again allowed the Reds, basically social democrats also to vote. They gained 80 seats out of 200 and with them proponents of a republic won a big majority.

The new parliament accepted republic-based form of government led by a president. As a result, K. J. Ståhlberg was elected the first president of the republic. The former monarchists Svinhufvud and Paasikivi also had their chances later by becoming respectively the third and seventh presidents of the republic.

As a consolation the monarchists got their will and Finland's president was mandated strong power, actually greater than they had originally planned for the king. Today of the democracies only the presidents of the United States of America and France have more power than their Finnish counterpart.

If Finland had ended up with a king, his full name would have been Friedrich Karl Ludvig Konstantin von Hessen-Kassel. He was married to Margarethe, sister of Wilhelm II. Of their six sons two had died in the war.

Friedrich Karl had served in the imperial Prussian army ending up as major general. He was actually interested in archeology and arts, but his family obligations forced him to choose a military career.

After the king election, Finnish officials had started to prepare for the coronation in a big hurry. National painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela was recruited to design court apparel and goldsmith Eric Ehrström made the king's crown. In the rim there were the coats of arms of nine provinces and on top a Finnish lion and Hessen-Kassel family symbol, an apple.

They also had sent special teachers from Finland to Germany to teach the king the basics of Finnish language and social life and also history, politics and legislation of his new realm. The main department store Stockmann acquired royal furniture from makers from all over Europe. The current presidential palace was to become the king's quarters.

Friedrich Karl or Fredrik Kaarle never entered Finland. The closest he came was across the bay in Tallinn in a meeting with European royals. The WWI ending truce was officially signed on November 11, 1918 and five weeks later he announced in a letter that he would abdicate the Finnish crown.

We can only wonder what if Finland had become a kingdom, would they still be? And what kind of world-renowned PR persons of Finland the royal family would be today? This will be an eternal mystery.

Jonathan Riikonen FAR, January 2019

June Pelo

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