June 16th, 1904
On this day 118 years ago, Russian governor-general of Finland, Nikolay Ivanovich Bobrikov was assassinated by Finnish nationalist Eugen Schauman.
Almost full century earlier, previously part of Sweden, Finland had been annexed by Russia after Finnish war (1808-1809). Instead of straight up integrating the newly conquered land into the empire, Finland was given autonomy, and became known as the Grand Duchy of Finland. In diet of Finland (1809) the Russian tsar Alexander I – the grand duke himself – had confirmed the rights of Finns under his rule, promising freedom to pursue their own customs and maintain their own religion and identity. Such a concession was necessary due to the difference in cultures and customs. In the Porvoo Diet (1816) he also extended this promise to bind his descendants as well.
In the Grand Duchy of Finland the head of state was the Russian tsar, but it had its own constitution, its own laws and senate, its own army, its own postage stamps, all the works. As the grand duke himself had other duties as tsar of Russia, A general-governor was nominated by the grand duke to be his representative in Finland.
Things worked out quite well for a time. So–called Old Finland, parts of Finland which had been annexed from Sweden in 1721 and 1743, were integrated into Grand duchy of Finland. Finns didn’t get conscripted into Russian army, and the Finnish army wasn’t sent to fight wars in foreign lands. In 1860 Finland got its own currency, the Finnish mark. Serfdom, which was legal in Russia until 1861, was never implemented in Finland. Finns got to run their own government and build their own industrial infrastructure, from railroads to factories and lighthouses and beyond. Finns were allowed to freely develop their own culture and arts. The press was somewhat free under imperial censorship. The tsars even built their summer lodges in calm and beautiful Finland, a haven of nature away from busy cities and court politics. If you ever visit St.Petersburg in Russia, look for red granite pillars (like the ones in St. Isaac’s cathedral) and other elements of red granite in fine old buildings. Those were imported from Finland during the Russian rule, and it is said that grand duchy of Finland is what made building modern St.Petersburg possible.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing but Finns were generally happy enough to live their lives under Russian rule. However all of that came crashing down in 1899, when Tsar Nicholas II gave the February Manifesto, which officially started the russification of Finland. The point was to strip autonomous Finland of its ”privileges” such as separate army, its constitution and laws, its senate and to marginalize non-Russian populations in Finland so that Russian and russified populations would eventually replace them and that Finland could be eventually fully annexed into the Russian empire.
Unsurprisingly the policy of russification was immediately unpopular, as it brought forth strict censorship, repression of Finnish language and Culture, and placed Russian and russified peoples above native Finns. Russian language was set as the official language of the Finnish senate, government offices, and even schools. The Finnish army was also disbanded.
Nikolay Bobrikov was nominated by tsar Nicholas II to be the 13th (Russian) governor-general of Finland in 1898. Bobrikov himself was one of the architects of the February manifest, and one of the main drivers of russification of non-russians within the empire. When his vision encountered political resistance from the Finns, he himself requested, and was given by the tsar, dictatorial powers over Finland in order to “pacify” the Finns.
A constitutionalist resistance called “the Kagal” was formed by the Finns to oppose the russification. At first their operation was nonviolent, resistance through propaganda, but when Bobrikov became a dictator, he expelled the Kagal’s leadership. From that point on the Kagal’s public operations continued to operate based in Stockholm, Sweden.
Resistance overall had been nonviolent up to this point, but there began to be opinions supporting acts of violence. There seemed to be consensus on what should be done, but not who would do it. Turned out they didn’t have to concern themselves with details for long.
Nikolay Bobrikov’s end came June 16th, 1904. Eugen Schauman, a government clerk and son of a former Senator, was waiting for general-governor Bobrikov in the second-floor landing of the Senate House in Helsinki. Schauman working in senate house knew Bobrikov’s schedule, and came prepared with a .32 ACP FN Browning M1900 pistol which he fired three times towards Bobrikov. The first bullet ricocheted harmlessly from Bobrikov’s jacket button, and second one from Bobrikov’s St. Vladimir cross only causing him a scratch in his neck. But the third one hit Bobrikov’s belt buckle and fragmented, entering his body and causing fatal organ damage.
Schauman then turned his pistol around and shot himself twice in the chest, killing himself almost instantly. Bobrikov was still standing, and managed to walk into the senate hall, where he first insisted that he is fine, until he was informed of the blood dripping from him. Despite extensive medical care and surgery, he died of his wounds during the night, 01:10AM on June 17th 1904.
The Kagal had been, after nonviolent activism becoming inefficient, beginning to plan assassinating Bobrikov, but Schauman, working semi-independently, had already been on it for months and acted first. Schauman had even written a will and several letters, even one addressed to the tsar, in which he justified his deed, stated that he acted alone, and explained his actions. About his suicide he wrote:
“It is awful to kill another person. With my own life, I will have to make up for my crime. After making this decision, I am at peace; calm and happy I now go to die.”
After searching his home it was discovered that Schauman left behind many philosophical writings, which tell us more about the motivation behind his actions:
“Freedom is its own reward. With certain and quite minor restrictions, it is an inalienable right of every human being that no external power can deprive him of. Man has no right to give it up for his own part, much less for his children. Freedom is the foundation of self-respect, and without it the great doctrine of man’s moral responsibility would be mere lie and deception. Freedom is a sacred thing and the love of freedom is deeply rooted in our hearts. Do you love your country? Good, then keep in mind the words of [Henrik Johan] Ibsen: “Though thou wouldst give all, but not thy life, thou hast given nothing.”
News of Bobrikov’s death were quietly celebrated in certain circles, but people in general feared how Russia might react. The Russians were also divided: in the state council others demanded that Finns pay for what they had done. But others understood that bullheaded Bobrikov himself had turned the Finns, who were previously friendly and patriotic people, against Russia. The assassination didn’t end the russification policies, in fact it accelerated them by prompting purges of anti-russification activists, but it remains the finest hour of Finnish resistance against internal tyranny and oppression, as well the most famous assassination in Finnish history.
The Russian revolution of 1905 and the Grand Strike in Finland was what ultimately ended what is now known in Finland as ”First period of oppression”. A second attempt of russification, which is today called the “Second period of oppression” would be ordered by tsar Nicholas II as soon as 1908, and would last until the February revolution in 1917. By now, Finland had enough, and would become independent country on December 6th that same year.
Alenius, Kari. “Russification in Estonia and Finland Before 1917,”Faravid,2004, Vol. 28, pp 181–194
Huxley, Steven.Constitutionalist insurgency in Finland: Finnish “passive resistance” against Russification as a case of nonmilitary struggle in the European resistance tradition(1990)
Polvinen, Tuomo.Imperial Borderland: Bobrikov and the Attempted Russification of Finland, 1898–1904(1995)
Thaden, Edward C.Russification in the Baltic Provinces and Finland(1981).
Seppo Zetterberg: Kuka oli Eugen Schauman?, pp. 96–97. In Osmo Apunen: Itsenäisen Suomen historia 1: Rajamaasta tasavallaksi. Weilin+Göös 1991.
Jussi Niinistö: Suomalaisia vapaustaistelijoita, pp. 13–18. Nimox Ky, Helsinki 2003.
Authored by Hevi Heinonen
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