Finland is a sovereign state in Northern Europe, formally known as the Republic of Finland. The nation, which is a peninsula with the Gulf of Finland to the south and the Gulf of Bothnia to the west, has land boundaries with Sweden to the northwest, Norway to the north, and Russia to the east. Estonia is located to the south of the nation, across the Gulf of Finland. Finland is located in the Fennoscandia area, which also encompasses Scandinavia. Finland’s population is 5.5 million (2014), and has been fairly constant over the last two decades. The southern area is home to the bulk of the people. It is the seventh biggest nation in Europe in terms of land area and the most sparsely inhabited country in the European Union.
Finland is a parliamentary republic with a central government headquartered in Helsinki, local governments in 317 municipalities, and the land Islands as an autonomous territory. The Greater Helsinki metropolitan region is home to about 1.4 million people and accounts for one-third of the country’s GDP. Finland has been an important part of Sweden since the late 12th century, as shown by the predominance of the Swedish language and its official position. In the spirit of Adolf Ivar Arwidsson’s (1791–1858) idea, “we are no longer Swedes, we do not wish to become Russians, let us therefore be Finns,” the Finnish national identity began to emerge. Nonetheless, Finland was included into the Russian Empire in 1809 as the independent Grand Duchy of Finland. In 1906, Finland became the second country in the world to provide all adult citizens the right to vote, and the first to grant all adult citizens the right to run for public office. Finland proclaimed its independence after the 1917 Russian Revolution.
The young state was split by civil war in 1918, with the Bolshevik-leaning “Reds,” backed by the equally new Soviet Russia, battling the “Whites,” backed by the German Empire. The nation became a republic after a short effort to create a monarchy. During WWII, the Soviet Union attempted to invade Finland many times, with Finland losing portions of Karelia, Salla and Kuusamo, Petsamo, and several islands but maintaining its freedom. Finland joined the United Nations in 1955 and adopted an official neutrality stance. During the Cold War, the Finno-Soviet Treaty of 1948 gave the Soviet Union considerable clout in Finnish internal affairs. Finland joined the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1969, NATO Partnership for Peace in 1994, the European Union in 1995, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997, and the Eurozone in 1999.
Finland was a latecomer to industrialisation, being mostly agricultural until the 1950s. It quickly built a sophisticated economy while establishing a large Nordic-style welfare state, resulting in widespread affluence and one of the world’s highest per capita incomes. However, Finnish GDP growth has been negative from 2012 to 2014 (-0,698 percent to -1,426 percent), after a trough of 8% in 2009. Finland ranks first in a variety of national performance indicators, including education, economic competitiveness, civil freedoms, quality of life, and human development. Finland was rated top in the World Human Capital and Press Freedom Indexes in 2015, as well as the most stable nation in the Failed States Index and second in the Global Gender Gap Report. Despite the fact that religious freedom is guaranteed by the Finnish Constitution, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the religion of the vast majority of Finns.