In 1809, following occupation by Russian forces during their war against Sweden, the four estates of Finland (clergy, aristocracy, burghers and peasants) pledged loyalty to the Russian Tsar Alexander I, who became the Grand Duke of Finland. He granted the territory a degree of autonomy and their own legislative assembly, which became known as the Diet of Finland.

This assembly met infrequently and became dominated by two parties: one representing the Finnish speakers; the other, those who spoke Swedish. This domination marginalised the liberal parties and hampered constitutional reform. Hope of reform were further eroded by increasing Russification of Finland at the end of the nineteenth century, which brought the country under imperial rule, weakening the power of the Diet. The Finns reacted to this increasing oppressive Russification by calling a general strike during Russia’s disastrous war with Japan. The Emperor responded by returning powers to the Diet and promised regular parliaments, elected by universal suffrage.

Around a year and a half months later, on 23rd May 1907 the Parliament of Finland met for the first time. This unicameral legislature was the first in the world elected under a system that granted full political rights to women. Not only did women have the same voting rights as men, they also had the right to stand for election. Indeed, of the two hundred members elected to the first Parliament, nineteen were women.

Tsar Nicholas II limited the powers of the Parliament during a second phase of Russification. When the February Revolution forced the abdication of the Tsar, the Finnish Parliament took its chance and declared independence in 1917. Nevertheless, Finland was far from united: republicans and monarchists fought a bitter civil war a year after independence. The result of which was the foundation of the Republic of Finland in 1919.

The Parliament of Finland website includes pages about the History of the Finnish Parliament and also offers a variety of brochures for download in pdf format including one on its history.

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