Introduction to Finland

Finland, or Republic of Finland, a country of northern Europe. It is crossed in the north by the Arctic Circle and is one of the most northerly nations in the world. Finland borders Russia, Norway, and Sweden, and fronts on the Gulfs of Bothnia and Finland—arms of the Baltic Sea.

Physical Geography

FinlandFinland is a country in northern Europe.

Finland is a low-lying country that was covered by glaciers during the last Ice Age. On retreating, the glaciers left the country flat to hilly and studded with lakes. The land rises from a coastal plain in the south and southwest to a rolling plateau, with elevations from 300 to 600 feet (90 to 180 m) in the south-central section. Uplands of more than 600 feet (180 m) in elevation extend northward to Finnish Lapland, the northernmost part of the country. Here rise small arctic mountains, called fells. The highest point is Mount Haltia, on the Norwegian border, which reaches 4,344 feet (1,324 m).

Thousands of islands, most of them small, dot the 690-mile (1,110-km) coast. The largest is land, the principal island of the land Islands, which lie off the southwest coast.


On the plateau in south-central Finland are many of the country's 60,000 lakes, including most of its large ones. Among the largest are Saimaa, Paijanne, Nasi, Keitele, Kalla, and Pielinen. Other large lakes include Oulu Lake, in central Finland, and Lake Inari, in Lapland. Among the rivers are the Vuoksi, Kymi, and Kokemaen, draining much of the plateau; the Oulu, draining Oulu Lake; and the Kemi, draining much of the north.


Finland has a subpolar type of climate, which increases in severity toward the north. In the south the climate is tempered by the sea. Winters are long and cold—average February temperatures vary from about 5° F. (-15° C.) in the north to 20° F. (-7° C.) in the south. Summers are short and cool—July temperatures average about 55° F. (13° C.) in the north and 63° F. (17° C.) in the south.

Finland's annual precipitation varies from 20 to 25 inches (510 to 630 mm). Snow cover lasts from about 90 days in land to 250 days above the Arctic Circle.

Daylight hours are extremely long in summer and short in winter. Above the Arctic Circle there are more than 50 days of uninterrupted winter night and more than 70 days of continuous summer daylight. This part of Finland is within the region often called the Land of the Midnight Sun.


Forests, mainly coniferous, cover about two-thirds of Finland. Pine and spruce are the predominant species. Intermixed among the conifers in the south are such hardwoods as aspen, birch, and alder. A treeless tundra region of mosses, lichens, and grass lies beyond the Arctic Circle.


Since World War II Finland has developed into a modern industrial nation with a stable economy and a high standard of living. Abundant timber and substantial hydroelectric power are among the resources that have promoted industrial growth. Finland must import most of its mineral fuels and raw materials.

In general, the economy is based on a free market and on private ownership of industry. The government operates public utilities, public transportation and communication facilities, and some manufacturing and commercial enterprises. Most of Finland's trade is with Germany, Sweden, Great Britain, and other European nations.

Forestry and Manufacturing

About 70 per cent of Finland is forested. Lumbering and the processing of wood are the mainstays of the economy. Forty per cent of Finland's exports are forest products. The government has implemented tree planting programs that have sustained the country's growing stock.

Manufacturing accounts for about a fifth of the gross domestic product. Products made from wood include pulp, paper, newsprint, plywood, veneer, and cardboard. Among leading metal products are farm machinery and tools, machines for the woodworking and paper industries, ships, locomotives, railway cars, engines, motors, and cable. Goods produced mainly for the home market include processed foods, textiles, clothing, leather and rubber goods, furniture, chemicals, and glass, clay, and stone products.


Though hampered by the small amount of cultivable land (only 3 per cent of the total) and by the rigorous climate, agriculture is important to the economy. It is highly mechanized and efficient and engages about 7 per cent of the labor force. Most farms are privately owned and are small.

Farming is largely devoted to raising livestock, especially dairy and beef cattle, hogs, and chickens. Among the chief crops are barley, oats, wheat, potatoes, and sugar beets. Some Finnish farm products are produced through farmers' cooperatives similar to those in the neighboring Scandinavian countries.

Mining and Fishing

Mining is a relatively small sector of Finland's economy, and most of the minerals produced are used domestically. They include copper, gold, and zinc.

Finland's fishing industry produces primarily for the domestic market. Atlantic herring is by far the most important catch.


Motor vehicles provide the principal means of transportation; the roads are located mainly in the south. Almost all of Finland's railways are state-owned and are also located mainly in the south. Lakes and rivers, icebound during the long winters, provide inland waterways of some 4,100 miles (6,600 km). The Saimaa Canal links Lake Saimaa with the Gulf of Finland by way of Vyborg, in Russia. The only international airport is at Helsinki. Helsinki and Kotka, both on the Gulf of Finland, are the chief ocean ports.

The People


In 1991 Finland had a population of 5,029,002. The population density, about 39 persons per square mile (15 per km2), was one of the lowest in Europe and about 55 per cent that of the United States. Most of the people live in southern Finland. The rural population, living mostly on scattered farms and in small villages, makes up about two-fifths of the country's total. The urban population is concentrated in cities on or near the coast.

The Finns are descended mainly from a people of Finno-Ugric language stock who migrated into the area perhaps as early as 1000 B.C. Later there was some intermingling with other Nordic and East Baltic peoples. Finns are generally of light complexion, with fair hair and blue or gray eyes. There is also a small Lapp population.

Language and Religion

Finnish and Swedish are the official languages. Most of the people speak Finnish, a Finno-Ugric language akin to Estonian and Hungarian. Swedish is spoken by many people, though only about 6 per cent of the people speak it as a mother tongue. The Lapps have their own language, also of Finno-Ugric origin.

Since 1923 there has been complete religious freedom. Most of the people belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Chief among the minority faiths is the Eastern Orthodox Church. Many people do not belong to any religious group.


Nearly all Finns are literate. A nine-year comprehensive school program is compulsory for all children. There are also upper secondary schools and vocational schools.

Helsinki University is Finland's largest institution of higher learning. It was founded in 1640 at Turku and transferred in 1828 to Helsinki. There are several other universities, as well as a number of institutions of higher learning that provide technical, commercial, and teacher-training courses.


Finland is a republic under a constitution adopted in 1919. The president is elected for a six-year term by popular vote. Parliament consists of one house of 200 members, elected, by the proportional-representation system of voting, for four-year terms. The president may veto bills passed by parliament. A council of state, headed by a prime minister, is appointed by the president, with the approval of parliament. All citizens 18 and older may vote. Finland and Sweden in the 1860's were the first European countries to adopt woman suffrage.

Finland has 12 provinces, each with a governor appointed by the president. Within the provinces are communes, which have local self-government. The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court, composed of a president and a number of justices, appointed by the president of the republic.