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Year of induction: 2021

Custodian: National Archives of Finland

Pro Finlandia cultural petition 1899

The cultural petition is connected to a phase when the Russian Empire aimed to change the legal position of the Grand Duchy of Finland, an autonomous part of the empire, and revoke special rights previously granted to it. To oppose the Russian measures in the spring of 1899, Finnish activists collected signatures from notable representatives of science, art and society in dozens of cities in twelve European countries for a petition for Finnish culture and Finland’s legal position.

The cultural petition was especially prepared as an objection to the manifesto issued by Emperor Nicholas II in February 1899, which was considered to restrict the position of the Finnish diet as the Grand Duchy of Finland’s legislative body. The cultural address was a privately planned and executed undertaking, prepared by influential figures from many European countries in addition to Finns. As many as 1,064 signatures were collected in only three months. Its signatories included Florence Nightingale, Emile Zola, Anatole France, Herbert Spencer, Theodor Mommsen, Emilio Brusa, Vito Volterra, Edvard Grieg, Henrik Ibsen and Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld.

An extensive international appeal for a single nation like the cultural petition, addressed directly to the ruler, was a rarity on an international scale. This is why it attracted attention in the European press. Considering Finland’s later governmental position, it was significant that the cultural petition mentioned the “constitution” and “independence”. Finland’s position was therefore seen to be exceptionally strong, even though it was part of Russia.

Collecting the cultural petition in only three months was a remarkable achievement, especially as it involved a considerable group of well-known international influencers of the time and the subject was politically sensitive. In addition to politics, the signatories represented a broad range of art, science and culture organisations, from European universities to scientific associations.

The cultural petition was a substantial indication of the solid European networks of the late 19th century, to which Finland also belonged. The signatories of the cultural petition brought forth the high quality of Finnish science and culture on a European scope.

The large petition, collected at the same time among Finnish people, was a strong indication of the Finns’ unanimous will and desire to protect their rights. In three weeks, it was signed by more than 520,000 people. The large petition was referred to in the cultural petition as the clear indication of the citizens’ will. As a result, it is an integral part of the Pro Finlandia cultural petition both in terms of its character and objectives. 

The cultural petition is an indication of Finland’s aim to repel the autocratic Russian Emperor’s decision, which threatened the Great Duchy of Finland’s autonomous rights, by using the European toolkit for political and national influencing. Its closest models include the Dreyfus petition, which dominated European dialogue, and the international Hague Peace Conference which was prepared during the same year and in whose preparations Emperor Nicholas II actively participated.

The collection of the Pro Finlandia cultural petition in 1899 and the failed attempt of the international delegation to hand it over to Emperor Nicholas II represent contemporary political and social tensions, the growing impact of the public opinion, the growing understanding of national cultures, and the strive for international cooperation and influencing.

The cultural petition is not only important politically, but also a part of a unique documented cultural heritage. The signatures collected on parchment from different countries are supplemented by each country’s distinctive, artistically impressive pages. They were designed and prepared simultaneously in different European cities, from London to Saint Petersburg, and from Stockholm to Turin. The Pro Finlandia cultural petition 1899 and the related large petition, consisting of signatures of Finnish people, are included in the collections of the National Archives of Finland.