From Fennoman parties to the modern centre-right

If that title doesn't set your pulse racing, I don't know what will.

I've come to the conclusion that although the Finnish Party is generally held to be the precursor of the National Coalition Party, the modern Coalition is better analogous to the Young Finnish Party. The Centre Party, on the other hand, has more of the hallmarks of the Finnish Party.

Aside from a short-lived liberal group, the earliest party division in Finland was based on language. The brilliantly named Finnish Party represented the Fennomans and the not quite as wonderfully named Swedish Party, the precursor to today's Swedish People's Party, represented the Svecomans. The Finnish Party split into two gradually starting in the late 1870s. At first a group called the Young Finns formed a faction, then a sort of a party within the party, and finally broke off on their own. The reasons for the split are difficult to pin down, but my understanding is that at first it was more about style than content. The Young Finns were more confrontational toward the Swedish Party and, crucially, also toward the Russian authorities. They supported public demonstrations and their newspapers criticized the Fennomans' opponents more eagerly and with harsher tones.

Later on the two groups adopted different goals. Notably their responses to Russification differed, with the Young Finns advocating passive resistance and the Old Finns wanting to make concessions to remain in the Czar's good graces. During the independence struggle, most Young Finns pushed for full independence whereas most Old Finns, ever the pessimists, advocated greater autonomy because they believed that it was the best that could be achieved - that Russia wouldn't allow Finland to survive as an independent nation.

While the differing styles and approach to Russia account for the division, the two parties' social and economic programs came to differ, too. In general on social issues the Old Finns advocated conservative values, whereas the Young Finns were more liberal - and often badly divided. In economic questions the Old Finns, though, were to the left of the Young Finns. An interesting point of comparison are their election programs in the 1907 parliamentary election, available on the Web here (fi) and here (fi). It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Old Finns' economic reform proposals went further.

Party #1 has a large rural base, centrist economic program, advocates socially conservative values, and emphasizes maintaining close, friendly ties with our eastern neighbour. Party #2 is more urban, economically to the right, more liberal, and more critical of our eastern neighbour's power. The descriptions fit the Finnish Party and the Young Finnish Party circa 1907, but also the Centre Party and the National Coalition Party circa 1967. Nowadays the Russian question has lost its importance, but the old divisions can still be seen e.g. in the parties' attitude toward NATO membership.

For the Coalition, I think the switch was complete by the time J.K. Paasikivi died. He was the last connection between the Coalition and the old Finnish Party.

No comments: