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The (Re)Naming of the Finnish Representative Assembly 1809–1919: State-Building, Representation and Sovereignty

Author:

Onni Pekonen

Ministry of Finance, FI
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Abstract

This article examines the names and naming of Finnish parliamentary institutions in relation to European debates, focusing on the period from the Diet of Porvoo in 1809 to the Constitution Act of 1919. The article presents a history of the adoption of the current names of the Finnish parliament – valtiopäivät and eduskunta in Finnish, riksdagen in Swedish, as well as a number of failed proposals. It analyzes how and why the names of the Finnish representative assembly were created and established. The article examines naming as a political act. The name formation was influenced by Finland’s position as a grand duchy of the Russian Empire and the constitutional and language tradition of its former mother country Sweden. However, naming of the assemblies took place in relation to wider European debates and developments. Political actors used translation and naming innovatively to (re)define, (re)describe and (re)conceptualize Finland’s status and national representation. The aim was to raise Finland and its nascent representation among European constitutional states and their parliamentary institutions. The article shows, for example, that valtiopäivät, applied since 1847 to the estate meeting in Porvoo in 1809, preceded the adoption of valtio as the Finnish word for the state, forming a crucial step in defining the Grand Duchy of Finland as a state.

How to Cite: Pekonen, Onni. 2021. “The (re)naming of the Finnish Representative Assembly 1809–1919: State-building, Representation and Sovereignty”. Redescriptions: Political Thought, Conceptual History and Feminist Theory 24 (2): 129–49. DOI: http://doi.org/10.33134/rds.348
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  Published on 16 Dec 2021
 Accepted on 26 Oct 2021            Submitted on 07 Mar 2021

I. Introduction

In the long nineteenth century, parliaments emerged across Europe in countries with different historical and political traditions. Estate assemblies were reformed into bi- and unicameral parliaments. Names of national assemblies shared similarities internationally, across languages. Typically, the names highlighted the character of the represented entity (rik, lant, nation, staten), temporal aspects (dag, Tag), and activity (parler, represent[er]). Furthermore, names, such as the British Parliament and French Assemblée nationale, became common nouns for representative and deliberative assemblies. Names of reformed assemblies reflected national contexts, traditions and expectations, but also international trends, developments and conventions. In countries like France, assemblies were given new names to highlight the break with the past, whereas names such as the Dutch Staten-Generaal emphasized continuity of a long historical tradition (Aerts et al. 2015; Garrigues 2007).

This article studies European parliamentary nomenclature by focusing on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Finland, whose emerging parliamentary institutions and vocabulary were developed by actively following and applying European models, concepts and ideas. The Finnish case illustrates how European debates on parliaments and parliamentarism offered conceptual repertoires that actors used selectively and innovatively in national discussions (Pekonen 2014; Pekonen 2017a; Pekonen 2017b; Pekonen 2019). The article examines Finland in relation to European debates. On one hand, I highlight the role of transnational transfers, translations and comparisons in the making of national institutions. On the other hand, I use European contextualization to understand the specific Finnish conventions on the names of representative assemblies.1

This article examines naming as a political act (Palonen 2018). Naming is a process of identifying, but also comparing and classifying things. It is a way of structuring the world, partly dependent on pragmatic, linguistic and cultural aspects (Allan 2016; Bertills 2003; Rose-Redwood et al. 2018). Names and naming are based on conventions, but in the case of parliamentary institutions, for example, they require agreement and decision-making. In this article, I analyze how the names of Finnish representative assemblies were formed and why certain names were established. Although I highlight key moments and acts of naming, I also understand that the names of political institutions reflect and shape cultural practices, values and expectations. Thus, I analyze names and naming to better understand Finnish parliamentary life and political culture.

The article presents a history of the adoption of the current names of the Finnish representative assembly – valtiopäivät and eduskunta in Finnish, and riksdagen in Swedish.2 I analyze the names and naming from the Diet of Porvoo in 1809 until the promulgation of the first Constitution Act of independent Finland in 1919. The formation of the names was influenced by Finland’s position as a grand duchy of the Russian Empire and the constitutional and language tradition of its former mother country Sweden. However, naming of the assemblies took place in relation to wider European debates and developments. Political actors used translation and naming to (re)define, (re)describe and (re)conceptualize Finland’s status and national representation. The aim was to raise Finland and its nascent representation among European constitutional states and their parliamentary institutions. I highlight spatial and temporal dimensions of politics. Political actors employed information on foreign experiences and made use of historical arguments, constructing notions of continuity and divides between the past and the present. To understand why certain names and common nouns for representative assemblies became customary in Finland, I also look into the histories of failed proposals and thus highlight conceptualizations as contested political acts.

Thus far, the naming of Finnish parliamentary institutions has been only fragmentarily studied. For example, in the first national conceptual history project, the names of representative assemblies were analyzed in relation to concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘representation’ (Pohjantammi 2003; Pulkkinen 2000; Pulkkinen 2003).3 No systematic conceptual history or analysis of the names and their connections to European debates has been conducted. This also seems to be the case with other countries in European parliamentary history studies.

I analyze the names of the Finnish assemblies in both national languages, Finnish and Swedish. The two languages were in close dialogue when coining political vocabulary. Finnish language actors active in naming also spoke Swedish. Swedish was the language of politics, administration and public debate in Finland until the second half of the nineteenth century. The backwardness of Finnish political language was fought by systematically adopting and translating European concepts and vocabulary (Hyvärinen et al. 2003). Actualizing and elaborating Swedish traditions appeared not only in the Swedish modes of naming, but also in how Finnish was in the acts and processes of naming refined as a political language.

The analysis of the article draws on a systematic study of digitized newspapers published in Finland (Digital Collections), provided by the National Library of Finland, completed with parliamentary debates and documents, committee reports, dictionaries, and speeches. The press was an important source for following European political, constitutional and parliamentary developments already in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, Finnish language newspapers played a central role in translating and coining vocabulary. When reporting on foreign events they were forced to react to topics for which no established vocabulary existed. The press formed an arena for testing, peer-reviewing and disputing Finnish words and names. The descriptions of foreign politics were written by translating foreign, for example Swedish, German, Russian and French newspapers. They offered a means to examine Finnish developments in the light of foreign examples, ideas and experiences (Pekonen 2014, 37–49).

II. The Diet of Porvoo in 1809: Translating and Transferring Names of Provincial Estate Assemblies

Finland was annexed to the Russian Empire as a result of the Napoleonic Wars in 1809. Until then, Finland had been part of Sweden for centuries. After the annexation, Finland became a grand duchy of the Russian Empire, with the tsar as grand duke. Alexander I summoned the Finnish Estates (the Nobility, the Clergy, the Burghers and the Peasants) to the Diet of Porvoo (Borgå) in 1809, where he promised to uphold the constitutional laws, rights and privileges in Finland. From this event on, ‘the Finnish constitution’ became a question of varying dispute, especially between Finnish and Russian political and administrative elites. During the nineteenth century, Finnish actors began to highlight the events in Porvoo as a state treaty, the founding moment of Finnish autonomy within the Russian Empire. Finnish politicians and scholars viewed the Swedish Instrument of Government of 1772 and the Union and Security Act of 1789 as Finnish constitutions, despite the fact that the emperor never officially validated them (Jussila 1969; Jussila 1987). After Porvoo, the tsar did not convene the Diet until 1863.

Russian authorities referred to the estate meeting in Porvoo in 1809 with the French word diète (la diète generale, la diète de la Finlande, les états de Finlande en une diète générale) and with the Russian seim (Halila 1962, 498). Diète derives from the Latin diēs (day), originally referring to the time period, that is, the day(s) of the assembly (Ihalainen, Ilie & Palonen 2016, 9). The official Swedish-language name used in Finland was Landtdag. The name illustrates how in the Germanic language tradition, the temporal aspect is often combined with a territorial or constitutional dimension, for example in the German names Landtag (Land referring to a federated state) and Reichstag (Reich referring to a realm, kingdom or empire). Similarly, Landtdag was composed of the words land(t)- ([provincial] state, country or territory) and -dag (day).

Landtdag was taken from Sweden. The provincial meetings of Sweden mostly held in the seventeenth century, often in connection with the national Riksdag, were called lantdagar, landtdagar or landdagar (Svenska Akademiens ordbok). Newspapers published in Sweden and Finland used landtdag to refer to the assemblies of German, Prussian and Austrian states and crown lands, as a substitute for the German word Landtag (for example, Utländska Nyheter 1796).

The Finnish name of the Porvoo Diet was Herra(i)n päivät, ‘Days of the Lord(s)’. It was used in the translations of official documents, such as Alexander I’s proclamation about preserving the old ‘constitutions’ in Finland (Keisari ja Suuriruhtinas Aleksanteri I:n julistus 1809; also Punctit 1800). It was a translation of Swedish herredagar. Herredagar were meetings of notable men, assembled by the king to discuss matters of war and taxes in the fifteenth and especially in the sixteenth century. After creating a more permanent representation for the provinces of Sweden, the assemblies were officially called riksdagar (Pohjantammi 2003, 371; Westrin 1909, 551–552). The Finnish Herran(-)päivät, Herran Päevä, Herran Päivä and Herrain-päivät were used to refer to the Swedish Riksdag of the Estates at least from the seventeenth century onwards, for example in the translation of the Riksdag Act of 1723 (Cuning:sen Maij:tin 1732; also 1600-luvun asetustekstejä). In the press, herra(i)n päiwät was used to refer not only to Swedish, but also to a variety of European and American representative assemblies from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries.

Although herrainpäivät was used for both the Swedish Riksdag and the Porvoo Diet, Finland’s transition from the Swedish realm to a grand duchy of the Russian Empire was underlined in legal documents by calling the Finnish estates maan säädyt (estates of the provincial state), whereas during the Swedish period inhabitants of Finland had been representatives of the waldakunnan säädyt (estates of the realm) (Keisari ja Suuriruhtinas Aleksanteri I:n julistus 1809).

III. Renaming the Diet of Porvoo during the European Revolutions of 1848: Valtiopäivät as the Representative Assembly of the Finnish Nation State

The Porvoo Diet was called Herrainpäivät until the context of the European revolutions of 1848, when Fennoman nationalist journalist and editor of the newspaper Suometar Paavo Tikkanen coined the word valtiopäivät, ‘days of the state’. Valtiopäivät became remarkably successful among the plurality of Finnish names and common nouns coined for representative assemblies in the nineteenth century. Interestingly, when Valtiopäivät became the official Finnish name of the Diet of Finland in 1863, it was the only name of a representative assembly in the world, which included the concept of state (Pulkkinen 2003, 238). Why was the Diet of Porvoo renamed Valtiopäivät around 1848? Why was valtiopäivät adopted in the political vocabulary? Why did it become so successful and popular among Finnish political actors and scholars?

The conceptual analysis of valtiopäivät has traditionally started with the idea that the word combines the concept of the state (valtio-) with the common European, especially Germanic, terminology of dies, day, Tag and dag (-päivä). Tuija Pulkkinen has argued in her groundbreaking study that valtio was created as a translation to match the Swedish word stat and especially its legal and political aspects, which did not have an expression in the Finnish language. That is, valtio was coined in connection with European concepts such as the Latin status, Italian stato, French état, German Staat and English state (Pulkkinen 2003, 218, 220, 232). Similarly, Martti Rapola (1960, 65) has argued that Paavo Tikkanen used valtio for the first time as a substitute for the Swedish stat in 1847.

However, the success of valtio was preceded and enabled by the breakthrough of valtiopäivät. Valtiopäivät belongs to the Finnish political vocabulary that was coined around the European revolutions of 1848 as a reaction to the parliamentary and constitutional debates in Europe. It is important to note that the word valtiopäivät was established during a period when valtio i) was not used individually but as a part of compounds (when referring to stat vocabulary), and ii) was still taking shape and largely lacked the meaning of the modern concept of state. Furthermore, to understand the separate early microhistories of the two words, iii) they lacked mutual linkage – valtiopäivät were not originally organized in valtio.

The European revolutions of 1848 reached Finland through the press. Despite Finland’s peripheral location on the northeastern edge of Europe, the events of 1848 resonated and caused excitement among the political elite (Paasivirta 1978, 139–150). The newspaper Suomi, for example, argued that reports from abroad gave the feeling that the upheavals of Europe took place right next to Finland (Muista maista 1848). The Finnish language press depicted the events of 1848 as a struggle between the people and the government, the ruler or the monarch. Suometar highlighted the importance of the national spirit (kansallisuus-tunto), which was moving the peoples of Europe and their civilization (sivistys) forward. Suometar wrote that the peoples of Western and Southern Europe tried to take power in their hands by assembling and deliberating. Newspapers described the composition, practices and debates of new elected constituent and representative assemblies, such as the first German national assembly, the Frankfurt Parliament (Ibid.; Muista maista 1849; Schweiz’in Tasawallan 1848; Tarwitaanko Suomessa 1848; Ulkomaalta 1848b; Ulkomaalta 1848c; Ulkomaalta 1848d; Ulkomaalta 1849a; Ulkomaalta 1849b; Ulkomaalta 1849c; Ulkomaalta 1849d; Uutta ulkomailta 1848).

The national spirit colored the pages of the press. Suometar wrote that the idea of nationality (kansallisuus) and its previously unknown forces had become dominating. Language was the foundation of nationality, and each nation and language had the right to live, develop and prosper. The newspaper recognized that the Finnish nationalist Fennomania (Suomikiihko, Finland fervor) was part of this international movement and that its equivalents could be found in Teutonism, Magyarism and Pan-Slavism (Rohwessor Palmblad 1848). As another sign of the spread of the revolutionary ideas, parliamentary style of debating became a means to challenge old ideals, authority and practices of politics in the University of Helsinki’s student associations and their mini-parliaments (Klinge 1967, 178–179). The song that became the Finnish national anthem was first presented in public in a students’ spring celebration in Helsinki, May 13, 1848.

Paavo Tikkanen coined valtiopäivät in 1847 (Hakulinen 1979, 456). His text in the publication Lukemisia Suomen Kansan Hyödyksi (Reading for the Benefit of the Finnish People), edited by Tikkanen, has been highlighted as the first occurrence of valtio. However, valtio does not appear in the text individually, but as a part of compounds. The overwhelmingly most popular of the compounds is valtiopäivät (used 12 times), whereas valtio is used to replace Swedish stat in only a few translated compounds, which are legal and administrative in character: waltio-käytäntö (stats-wärk), Waltio-neuwosto (Statsrådet), waltioneuwos (statsråd) and Minister-Waltiosihtieri (ministerstatssekreterare) (Tikkanen 1847). Tikkanen argues that valtiopäivät in Porvoo in 1809 was ‘the beginning of a new era for the Grand Duchy of Finland’. In the first use of valtiopäivät, he presents the old term herrainpäivät in brackets: ‘Porwoon Waltio- (Herrain-) päiwistä’ (ibid. 71). He also parallels valtiopäivät with the Swedish Riksdags of the realm (Riikinpäiwät) (ibid. 102). Valtiopäivät also dominated the occurrences of valtio in Tikkanen’s Suometar in 1847 – valtiopäivät was the most popular noun including valtio and it was used to refer to the Hungarian Diets in 1790 and 1847 and their role in the Hungarian people’s fight for language rights and recognition (for example, Sanomia Ulkomaalta 1847).

In 1848, Tikkanen used valtiopäivät to refer to European representative assemblies that were fighting for power against monarchy. His Suometar used valtiopäivät to highlight the assemblies as the centers for legitimate political power and influence. The power sprung from the people through elected representatives – the purpose of valtiopäivät was to realize the needs and wishes of the people. In Suometar, valtiopäivät were, for example, the first elected Reichstag of the Austrian Empire and the Hungarian parliament (for example, Ulkomaalta 1848d).

Valtiopäivät and valtio are derivatives of the Finnish word valta (power), which has existed in the Finnish language at least from the sixteenth century. Valta is of the same old Germanic origin as German Gewalt and Swedish våld and välde (Hyvärinen 2003, 64). Valta became popular in the press in 1820, when Finnish language scholar Reinhold von Becker used it repeatedly in his newspaper Turun Wiikko-Sanomat. The press used valta in describing how peoples, groups, rulers and kingdoms used their (shares of) valta over others, took valta from others or gave valta to others (for example, Lyhykäisiä tietoja 1820; Suomen säädyistä 1821; Turkkilaisista 1820). Tikkanen also made the link between valta and valtio clear when his newspaper occasionally used the word wallanpäiwät (‘days of power’) in 1848 (Ulkomaalta 1848e; Unkarista ja Itäwallasta 1848). Similarly, in 1847–1848, Suometar used the adjective valtiollinen to refer to actions and characteristics considered political or authoritative (Sanomia Ulkomaalta 1847; Ulkomaalta 1848a, 4; also Tikkanen 1847). Finnish politicians and language specialists explicated the link between valta, valtio and valtiopäivät in 1860, when they disputed whether valtio should be replaced with vallasto, as valtio was from the root valta (power) and the suffix -io gave valtio the meaning of a conquest (Swedish erövring) and not of the Swedish stat. This encouraged Suometar to test the popularity of, for example, wallasto-päiwät (see August Ahlqvist and Rietrikki Polén promoting wallasto in Kielen puhdistusta 1860; Kirjeitä 1860; Kirjoituksia 1860; Waltio tahi wallasto? 1860).

According to Quentin Skinner (1989), the modern concept of the state is characterized by a ‘double abstraction’, in which the state is understood as an entity separate from both the ruler and the people. A word valtio existed in the Finnish language before 1847–1849, but it referred to a person in possession of power, usually a powerful ruler (for example, waltio in Kuoleman 1832; Kuwaelmia Odysseiasta 1837, 160) and waltias in Kirjoituksen keinosta 1846; Köyhäin holhoomisesta 1820). While in the first volume of Suometar (1847) the compound valtiopäivät was used six times, valtio was used as an individual noun only once. In this occurrence, in an older translation of a Hungarian folktale, valtio had the old meaning of a ruler, and not the meaning of the state (Madjaarilaisista tarinoista 1847).

Originally, valtiopäivät were not organized in valtio. Instead, they were organized in maa (country, land or state), maakunta (province) or valtakunta (realm, kingdom). The early uses of valtiopäivät did not make the distinction between different kinds of polities, but emphasized a more democratically elected entity, often a nation based on language (for example, Italiasta 1848b [Italy]; Preussin uuden Waltasäännön 1848 [Kingdom of Prussia]; Ulkomaalta 1848d [Austrian Empire]; Ulkomaalta. Ruotsista 1848 [Sweden]; Ulkomaalta. Tanskanmaalta 1849 [Denmark]; Uutta ulkomailta 1848 [Electorate of Hesse]).

It is worth noting that it was only after the establishment of the word valtiopäivät that Suometar, and later other newspapers, started using valtio to refer specifically to (sovereign) states and empires and describing valtio as an actor. In Suometar, the semantic shift of valtio was quick compared to other newspapers. In a short period of time in 1847–1849, the meaning of valtio shifted from the person of the ruler to the representation of the people, and finally to what Skinner (1989) has called the double abstraction. In the sense of double abstraction, Suometar used valtio to refer to national, provincial and constitutional entities, who had (independent) power over their matters. Valtio was a political body or association, and an arena for political and national activity (for example, Schweiz’in Tasawallan; Saksanmaalta 1849; Tarwitaanko Suomessa 1848; Uutta ulkomailta 1848).

In the late 1840s and early 1850s, other newspapers still used valtio to refer to kings and rulers (for example, Eerikki Silvanus 1848, 1; Ihmisen sieluun 1852). Furthermore, the conservative newspaper Maamiehen Ystävä (Ulkomaalta 1848c), for example, used valtio-kokous (kokous = meeting) when discussing a meeting of old aristocracy, whereas in late 1850s the rarely used valtiokokous referred to representative assemblies (Franskanmaalta 1857).4 The Language Act of 1850 forbade the press to discuss political matters in Finnish. This might have influenced why other newspapers adopted valtio as an entity separate from the ruler later in the 1850s (La Plata 1857). Tikkanen’s co-founder of Suometar, D. E. D. Europaeus (Europaeus 1853), translated valtio as stat and valtiopäivät as riksdag in his Swedish-Finnish dictionary published in 1853.

Interestingly, valtiopäivät was used before valtio when describing Finnish developments. In 1847, Tikkanen’s text in Lukemisia called the Diet of Porvoo valtiopäivät, and in 1848 Suometar called it the first Finnish valtiopäivät (Palkkaväen 1848; Werokappalten 1848). Suometar used valtio in reference to the state of Finland in the 1850s (see ‘Suomen waltio’ in Saimaan kaiwanto 1856). Other newspapers started to use valtiopäivät in the mid-1850s, when discussing foreign assemblies, for example in Sweden, Norway, Italy, Britain, Denmark, Prussia, Belgium, Poland, Serbia and Hungary.

In the late 1850s, valtiopäivät was used in the speculations about a Diet meeting (for example, Aitaus-welwollisuuden 1858; Kotimaalta 1856b). In the early 1860s, valtiopäivät became part of the official political and legal vocabulary. It was used in Tsar Alexander II’s order to convene the Diet of Finland in 1863 (Keisarillisen Majesteetin Armollinen Käsky 1863) and in the translation of his speech at the Diet’s opening (Backman 2006, 21–25). In 1860, Suometar described valtio as the translation of Swedish stat and German Staat. Valtio signified ‘an entity composed of the different state powers’ and ‘an embodiment of the public institutions of the people’ (Kielen puhdistusta 1860; citing German Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon in Kirjoituksia 1860).

The coining and establishment of valtiopäivät and valtio indicate a transition from the conception of Finland as a province towards a conception of Finland as a nation state (Pulkkinen 2000; Pulkkinen 2003). Valtiopäivät was a conceptual tool in this strategy and a crucial step in defining Finland as a nation state. The name Valtiopäivät linked Finland to the European tradition of national representative assemblies and constitutional states. It highlighted the interpretation that the Russian emperor and the Finnish estates had made a state treaty in Porvoo in 1809, when Tsar Alexander I promised to uphold Finland’s religion and constitutions. Valtiopäivät paved the way for the establishment of valtio as the modern concept of state.

IV. The Diet of Finland 1863–1906: Strengthening National Representation

IV.1. The Final Breakthrough of Valtiopäivät

Emperor Alexander II convened the estates in 1863 after a more than 50-year hiatus. The word valtiopäivä(t) (‘day(s) of the state’) inspired Fennoman (pro Finnish language nationalist) politician and historian Yrjö Koskinen (G. Z. Forsman at the time) to poetically call the period between the Porvoo Diet in 1809 and the Diet in 1863 waltio-yö (‘state night’ or ‘night of the state’). According to Koskinen, Finland was awakening from a ‘state night’ – over half a century’s sleep that had governed Finnish political life since the previous valtiopäivät. After the long night wasted on sleeping, it was again time for joint work for the Finnish nation (Forsman 1863).

The Diet Act of 1869 was the first Finnish constitutional law, which, among other things, set regular three-year intervals for the Diets and manifested the principle of the representation of the Finnish people. Its first section stated that the estates convened to the Diet represent the people of Finland (VJ 1869). The Diet Act established Valtiopäivät as the Diet’s official Finnish name. The Diet became the center and mainspring of Finnish public and political life. Each decision the Diet made according to the (de facto) constitutions was an irreversible move towards strengthening Finland’s special status within the empire. Thus, the Diet was invaluable in strengthening the Finnish polity and protecting its interests (Engman 2017, 37–38).

In 1860s, valtio and valtiopäivät were disseminated to all kinds of political and legal texts. For example, in the Diet Act, valtiopäivät and valtio were used as part of compounds 188 times in words such as valtiosäädyt (estates of the state), valtiovarat (state finances), valtiovaliokunta (finance committee), valtiovarasto (Swedish statsverket, referring to state as an economic entity), valtiopäiväjärjestys (Diet Act), valtiopäivämies (member of the Diet) and valtiopäivämiesvaali (election of the Diet members). Valtiopäivät also stimulated the birth of words such as valtioneuvosto (government or council of the state/realm), valtiovalta (Swedish statsmakt, ‘state power’ in the division of powers) and valtio-oikeus (constitutional law) (for example, waltioneuwosto in Kotimaalta 1857 [first use in Tikkanen 1847]; waltiowalta in Kirjeitä 1861; waltio-oikeus in Kotimaalta 1856a). Valtiopäivät paved the way for the expansion of state vocabulary in the grand duchy’s political, administrative and legal vocabulary, thus making the Finnish state a more tangible and conceptualized construction.

While Russian authorities did not allow the Swedish name Riksdag, and Landtdag was used in official documents, Finnish valtiopäivät, valtiopäivämies and valtiopäiväjärjestys became commonplace. The introduction of valtiopäivät and valtio was possible due to the lack of Russian interest in Finnish vocabulary in the largely Swedish political and administrative sphere. The words raised Russian criticism only later, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One explanation is that stat vocabulary was considered less problematic compared to rik as it carried the meaning of the old ‘financial state’ (finanssivaltio), which was an administrative machinery, especially related to taxation (Jussila 1987).

Another reason was the initial ambiguity of valtiopäivät. It did not make the distinction between lantdag and riksdag but was used for a variety of assemblies in different kinds of polities. If we look at the conceptual repertoire that the Finnish nationalist protagonists had at their disposal, the deliberate use of valtiopäivät becomes even more obvious. Riksdag and Reichstag were translated into Finnish as riikinpäivä and valtakunnanpäivät, but the words never became popular and they were not used in reference to the Finnish assemblies (for example, Ludwig Kossuth 1849; Senaattori Mechelinin 1907). Lan(d)tdag and Landtag had their translations as well. They were translated rather faithfully as maapäivät or maakuntapäivät, but, again, the words were only used to refer to foreign assemblies and old provincial Swedish lan(d)tdags (for example, Itävallasta 1848; Ulkomaalta 1865b). Finnish actors considered maakuntapäivät inappropriate for the Finnish assembly as it would have undermined the importance of the significant and essentially national institution (for example, Uusi ukaasi 1909). Valtiopäivät, in contrast, highlighted the Diet as the center for national political power and a national symbol, in connection with its foreign counterparts.

V. Parliamentary Reform of 1906 and the Early Unicameral Parliament

V.1. Eduskunta: A Common Noun Becomes the Official Name of the Finnish Parliament

The Finnish case illustrates how especially in countries with less-established parliamentary traditions translated names and common nouns have become official names of representative assemblies. The current Finnish name of the unicameral parliament, Eduskunta, differs from other names. While lan(d)tdag, riksdag and valtiopäivät combine the idea of a territorial and governmental entity with the temporal aspect, eduskunta signifies a unit of people (kunta) representing or being in front of something (edus). In contrast to the activity of speaking in a parliament (parlare), eduskunta stresses representation. In this sense, Eduskunta resembles the names of the second or lower chambers of parliaments, such as the US House of the Representatives and the French Chambre des représentants and Chambre des députés.

Eduskunta was apparently coined by one of the founders of Suometar, Finnish folklorist and language scientist D. E. D. Europaeus. Eduskunta appeared as a common noun in his Swedish-Finnish dictionary published in 1853. It translated edus-kunta as representation and defined it as ‘an assembly of a nation’s representatives’ (Europaeus 1853). At first, Finnish political actors, such as Yrjö Koskinen (1860), and newspapers used eduskunta to refer to European representative assemblies and their representatives for example in the Austrian Empire, Sweden, France, Italy and the US (for example, Eri tapoja 1862; Ulkomaalta 1859). Eduskunta was also used in a more general sense to refer to an elected or appointed group or delegation that represented a larger entity. It was often sent to mediate or receive information from a higher authority (for example, Italiasta 1860; Wiipurista 1862). Newspapers started to use eduskunta in reference to the Finnish Diet in the early 1860s (Suomen Eduskunta 1863; Suomikiihko 1863; Wähän riitaa 1863). However, eduskunta remained a common noun for representative assemblies, provincial and imperial, throughout the nineteenth century.

Eduskunta was coined from several root words. The vocabulary of edus- and edes- (cf. Swedish före and German ver-) was used to signify presenting and responsibility in front of others. Edusmies (representative) was used from the beginning of the seventeenth century, when discussing the administrative organization of the church. In the early eighteenth century, it was used when referring to the estate representatives of the Swedish Riksdag (Pohjantammi 2003, 366–368, 372, 377). Early nineteenth-century newspapers used edusmies to refer to an elected or appointed person who represented a larger entity (for example, Tietoja 1822). Suometar used the term in 1848 to refer to elected representatives of the people. Suometar also used the term kansan edusmies. It was a precedent of the later popular term kansanedustaja (representative of the people) (Ranskanmaalta 1848; Saksanmaalta 1848). Representation of the people (kansan edustus) became a discussion topic in the press in the 1860s due to the Diets, the Swedish representation reform of 1865–1866 and the Diet Act.

The centrality of the representative aspect becomes evident in the plurality of edus- words translated and coined for representative assemblies in the late nineteenth century, such as edustajakokous, edustuskokous, edustuskuntakokous, edustuspäivät, edustuskunta, eduslaitos, edustuslaitos, eduskuntalaitos, edusmieskunta and edustajakunta. Similarly to eduskunta, these were typically first used to refer to foreign and then to Finnish assemblies, and later to meetings of different institutions and civil society organizations. This highlights the influence of transnational parliamentary vocabulary on the broader vocabulary of representation and participation in Finland. The rich vocabulary of representation reflects wider European shifts in understanding the role of representative assemblies in the long nineteenth century, which was a period of increased demands for popular sovereignty and democratic reform in Europe.

The Finnish parliament was named Eduskunta in the Parliamentary Reform of 1906, which transformed Europe’s last four-estate representation into a unicameral parliament elected by universal male and female suffrage. Eduskunta was the proposal of the Parliamentary Reform Committee of 1905–1906, which prepared the drafts for the Parliament and Electoral Acts, and thus to a great extent formulated their final content. The committee wanted to get rid of the Diet’s name Valtiopäivät, arguing that using it alone would mean that ‘nothing changed’ and ‘nothing was won’ in the reform. The committee members, however, disputed the name Eduskunta because of its past use. Former professor of philosophy, rector of the University of Helsinki and long-term Diet member Thiodolf Rein opposed Eduskunta, arguing it was not a name, but a common noun (Eduskuntakomitea 1906).

Committee members J. K. Paasikivi and E. N. Setälä preferred the name Kansaneduskunta (eduskunta of the people). It was used in the November Manifesto, in which Emperor Nicholas II initiated the Parliamentary Reform (Keisarillisen Majesteetin Armollinen Julistuskirja 1905). However, the committee considered that kansaneduskunta would make the phrasing of the Parliament Act repetitive, and rejected it.5 The committee decided to use both eduskunta and valtiopäivät. The final § 1 of the Parliament Act of 1906 stated: ‘The Eduskunta, assembled to the valtiopäivät of the Grand Duchy of Finland, represents the people of Finland’. In this official form, Eduskunta was the representative body and valtiopäivät was the parliamentary session (VJ 1906).

The name Eduskunta, with its emphasis on representation, fit the reformists’ aim of unifying the people. According to the Fennomans, the reformed assembly should be ‘the people in miniature’ and offer ‘a picture of the Finnish people’ through proportional representation of different areas of the country and different classes of the population in one chamber. The Fennomans believed that an internally harmonious assembly of all parts of the people would ensure the legitimacy of the parliament and strengthen national representation both within Finland and in relation to Russia. Such an assembly would best be able to speak and decide in the name of the Finnish people (Pekonen 2019, 126–127).

The failed proposal Kansaneduskunta became popular again in 1917–1919, when socialists used it as a manifestation of democracy, people’s power, for example in the Draft Constitution of the Red Government in 1918 (Suomen Kansanvaltuuskunnan ehdotus 1918). Socialists still in 1917–1918 applied eduskunta to practices other than the national representative assembly. Helsinki had a local Workers’ Association’s Eduskunta (Helsingin työväenjärjestöjen eduskunta) (Ihalainen 2017, 176), and there had been local meetings of työväen eduskunta as early as in the 1890s.

Other name candidates that highlighted national representation were also presented in the reform. Many of them were coined in the revolutionary context of 1848. For example, kansa(n)kokous appeared in Suometar in 1848. It signified ‘an assembly of the people’ and originally referred to elected unicameral assemblies such as the Assemblée nationale of the French Second Republic, the Frankfurt Parliament, the Prussian National Assembly, the Austrian Reichstag and the Danish Constituent Assembly (for example, Ulkomaalta. Ranskanmaalta 1848). Kansankokous had revolutionary connotations, and in later political vocabulary it referred to large and often vocal public meetings and demonstrations (for example, Turkinmaalta 1859).

Another name candidate Kansalliskokous was a translation of the Swedish nationalförsamling, German Nationalversammlung, French Assemblée nationale and English national assembly. Before the Parliamentary Reform, socialists demanded that a unicameral constituent assembly kansalliskokous should plan and decide about the reform, while the Fennoman Finnish Party argued it should only deliberate and decide on the reform plan prepared by the Senate of Finland. In the Parliamentary Reform Committee, supporter of radical democratic reform and ideologist of the Finnish peasantry Santeri Alkio suggested Kansalliskokous as the parliament’s name. He argued it would be best suited, as Finland would soon have ‘the most universal suffrage in the world’. The committee rejected the proposal by referring to an international practice. The name did not stand for eduskunta that assembled regularly, but, instead, it was used in France (Third Republic) to refer to the joint meetings of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate organized to appoint the president of the republic or to vote on constitutional revision. The powers of the Finnish parliament would not correspond to the French Assemblée nationale (Eduskuntakomitea 1906).

The emphasis on national representation extended to other parliamentary vocabulary as well. The committee decided to replace the word valtiopäivämies (member [or rather man] of the Diet/parliament’) with (a gender neutral) edustaja (representative) (Eduskuntakomitea 1906). In the Diets and in the early unicameral parliament, kansanedustaja (representative of the people) was used to emphasize the representatives’ responsibilities towards all parts of the population or the interests of the people as a whole (Pekonen 2014, 130–138; Pohjantammi 2003, 369). Kansanedustaja (also kansakunnan edustaja [representative of the nation]) appeared in 1863 when the Diet assembled.

The Scandinavian ting vocabulary was also proposed. Valtiokäräjä(t) was infrequently used to refer to Scandinavian and Finnish assemblies in the nineteenth century. The Norwegian Storting was translated as Suurkäräjät. Kansankäräjät, a translation of the Danish Folketing of the bicameral Rigsdag, was suggested as the parliament’s name in the Parliamentary Reform Committee. However, ting or käräjät never became part of Finnish parliamentary vocabulary with the exception of the Parliament of autonomous Åland, Ålands lagting.

Because of the strong emphasis on representation and limited powers of the Finnish assembly, the legislative function was given little attention in the naming. Translations of a legislative assembly (for example, lakiasäätävä laitos, lakiasäätävä kokous, lakiasäätävän kunnan kokous, lakialaativa laitos) were rarely applied to the Finnish assemblies. Instead, they remained common nouns for foreign assemblies and translated names for the French assemblies (Assemblée nationale legislative, Corps législatif) and the US state legislatures (Ulkomaalta 1849c; Ulkomaalta 1865a).

The old words for estate meetings, herrainpäivät and herredagar became rhetorical tools to stress the urgency of democratic reform and conflict between the elite and the masses. In the revolutionary context of 1848, they were used to contrast old undemocratic and unreformed estate assemblies with modern parliaments. Herrainpäivät represented conservative ideas and the ancien régime (Ruotsista 1848; Ulkomaalta 1848c). In the late nineteenth century, newspapers supporting suffrage reform used the words to depict an inevitable historical process and movement towards democratization. Herrainpäivät became a mock word for representative assemblies, especially in provincial newspapers and peasant vernacular. It highlighted the aristocratic nature of state politics. The gentry went to herrainpäivät to slack off, live prosperously and enjoy life at the expense of the poor common people (for example, Kirje Helsingistä 1891). Herrainpäivät also became a (humorous) term to describe rare and luxurious occasions of abundance, enjoyment and rest (Kirjeitä maaseuduilta 1887; Kuinka Tohmajärven 1890). In the beginning of the twentieth century, Social Democrats adopted herrainpäivät and utilized its accustomed peasant uses in their struggle for democratic reform (Mäntsälästä 1900; Milloin tunnustetaan 1903).

V.2. Lan(d)tdag: Unicameral Parliament with Limited Powers

Despite the transition to the unicameral parliament in 1906, the formal powers of the grand duchy’s assembly remained limited. New legislation required promulgation of the emperor, there was no parliamentary government and the emperor had the right to dissolve the parliament, which he often did. The Parliamentary Reform maintained Landtdag as the official Swedish language name. In the reform committee, Thiodolf Rein argued that the name Landtdag should not be changed, since the assembly and its name had grown to be part of the Finnish tradition. Committee chair and professor of law Robert Hermanson noted that changes in the constitution or organization of the assembly was neither a problem for maintaining the old name, since for example the Prussian assembly had always been called Landtdag (Eduskuntakomitea 1906).

To correct a common misinterpretation in literature, it is worth noting that Lantdag replaced Landtdag as Finnish assembly’s name only after the reform of 1906. At first, Lantdag became popular in provincial and socialist newspapers from 1906 to 1907 onwards. It was also used to refer to the Porvoo Diet, when celebrating its 100th anniversary. In the press, Lantdag bacame more popular than Landtdag in 1915. In 1917, Lantdag was used in official legal documents, for example in the Swedish version of the Finnish Declaration of Independence (Självständighetsförklaringen 1917). At this point, Landtdag was no longer used. Finally, the name of the parliament was officially changed to Riksdag in the Constitution Act of 1919.

VI. Replacing Lan(d)tdag with Riksdag in 1917–1919

Assemblies representing the Swedish realm began to be called Riksdagar in the seventeenth century (Pohjantammi 2003, 371–372). Riksdag was also used in Finland when referring to the Swedish four-estate assembly (Utdrag 1771). Estate members used Riksdag and riksdagsman also in the Porvoo Diet (Landtdag) in 1809, whereas the estates were more cautious in their official documents (Castrén 1892, 5). The linguistic ambiguity of the transitional phase reflected the fact that some estate representatives of the Porvoo Diet also participated in the Swedish Riksdag of the same year (Halila 1962, 541–542; Nummela 1961, 343–353). Riksdag was out of the question when referring to the Finnish assembly in official texts until Finland’s independence (see Castrén 1892; Hallituksen esitys Eduskunnalle 1919; Kuolleena syntynyt 1890; Porwoon Waltiopäiwät 1892, 2).

Riksdag was introduced as the parliament’s Swedish name in the first drafts of the Constitution Act in 1917. The reason was Finland’s changed status from a grand duchy to an independent, sovereign state (Regeringens proposition 1917). Similarly to Landtdag, Riksdag emphasized the importance of Sweden’s constitutional and cultural tradition. In 1919, MPs supported Riksdag by highlighting Scandinavian political tradition. They noted that Riksdag was used in reference to the assemblies of the sovereign Scandinavian states Sweden and Denmark, while Lantdag did not convey the meaning of a fully independent or sovereign state. Finland had moved from a Riksdag to a Lantdag in 1808–1809, in line with the Swedish-Finnish legal tradition. The name had been consistent with the provincial lantdagar in Sweden and the assemblies of the German states and the Habsburg crown lands. While Lantdag corresponded to Finland’s constitutional and political status before the independence, the term rike had already become common after the declaration of independence. The Swedish name Riksdag was adopted without dissent (Hallituksen esitys 1919; Motion N:o 5 1919).

While employing Swedish traditions was a crucial aspect of Finnish state-building, Finnish and Swedish vocabularies nevertheless diverged. The issue of territorial sovereignty was much more evident in the Swedish distinction of lan(d)tdag and riksdag. According to the conceptual logic established in the Parliament Act of 1906, there is Eduskunta that, assembled to the valtiopäivät, represents the people of Finland. The Swedish version of the same act simply maintained that the Landtdag of the grand duchy represents the Finnish people. In the Constitution Act of 1919 the Finnish and the Swedish versions alike expressed the idea that the representative assembly, when assembled, represents the sovereign power of the people of Finland. Yet in terms of naming, only the Finnish one included a dualism of the representative body (eduskunta) and its sessions (valtiopäivät). In the Swedish version, riksdagen covered these both sides (Suomen hallitusmuoto 1919; VJ 1906). The difference also appears between (kansan)edustaja and riksdagsman/-ledamot.

VII. Epilogue: The Missing Vocabulary of ‘Parliament’

Interestingly, the Finnish and Swedish vocabularies have rarely applied nouns stemming from ‘parliament’ to Finland’s own representative assemblies, although they early appeared in the descriptions of politics in foreign countries and although the adjective ‘parliamentary’ later became popular as an attribute of varying modes of political action. Terms related to parliament, such as parlement, parlament, Parlamente, parlamento and so forth, are internationally common nouns for representative assemblies. They are very seldom proper names (Ihalainen et al. 2016, 9). In contrast to the Finnish vocabulary of representation, the term ‘parliament’ refers to a space of speech. In the twelfth century, meetings and assemblies were called parlamentum or parliamentum (Kluxen 1983, 17). In England, the word was used in 1236 (Richardson & Sayles 1967, 747–750). In Swedish, terms parlement, perlament and perlement appeared at least as early as in the early sixteenth century (Svenska Akademiens ordbok).

The Finnish press used the term from the late eighteenth century in reference to the provincial appellate courts (parlement) in the Ancien Régime of France and the British parliament (for example, Om så kallade 1794). Finnish newspapers, especially Åbo Allmänna Tidning, started reporting about the deliberations of the British parliament in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The reports described the privileges, elections, organization and procedures of the British parliament and included translated excerpts of speeches and debates. Newspapers also called a variety of other assemblies, especially those under British influence and inspiration, parlament (for example, assemblies of the German Confederation, parliaments of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and the Parliament of the United States of the Ionian Islands).

Parlament became a common noun for representative assemblies in the press in 1847–1848, when reports from Europe described efforts to establish elected national and state parliaments and secure them a constitutional role (Frankrike 1847; Tyskland 1847). The Finnish word parlamentti appeared in the early nineteenth century, first referring to the British parliament (for example, Sanomia ulkomailta 1822; Ulkomaan-Sanomia 1820). In 1848, Suometar used parlamentti when reporting on European national and state assemblies undergoing democratic and constitutional reform (for example, Italiasta 1848a). After 1848, newspapers called different kinds of bi- and unicameral assemblies in Europe and North America parliaments, but the British parliament remained the most common reference.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the title of a parliament was given to the most progressive assemblies such as the Parliament of the unified Kingdom of Italy (Parlamento del Regno d’Italia), the Konstituierender Reichstag (1867) and the Reichstag of the North German Confederation. The Reichstag was parlamentti elected by progressive universal male suffrage, whereas the Landtag of Prussia had valtiopäivät elected by a conservative three-class franchise system (Ulkomaalta 1869). Similarly, from 1871 on, the Reichstag of the German Empire was categorized as parlamentti, as it was considered a modern and progressive assembly elected by universal male suffrage (Ulkomailta 1871). Other parliaments were, for example, the bicameral Ottoman Parliament (1876–1878), the unicameral Bulgarian Constituent National Assembly and the National Assembly, and the bicameral Cisleithanian Reichsrat and the Hungarian Diet of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Bulgarian parliamentti 1879; Itävalta-Unkarista 1878; Ulkomaalta 1877).

The press started calling the French chambers parlamentti in the beginning of the 1880s. Until then, newspapers referred to ‘the French assembly’ (församling, kokous) or ‘chambers’ (kamrarne, kamarit). The Fennoman press was reluctant to label the French assembly as a parliament because of its indecent and tumultuous tradition and practices. For example, Uusi Suometar (Ulkomaalta 1880) argued that ‘In France, the institution of the parliament leads into radicalism […] Britain is the real country of the parliament, its parliament is deeply rooted in the people and a product of a long and prestigious history’.

Reformists of 1905–1906 or 1917–1919 did not discuss the possibility of naming the Finnish assembly parlamentti or parlament. The terms were not included in the official parliamentary vocabulary. Parliaments remained something foreign to Finnish political practice. They remained foreign standards and points of comparison (Ensimmäiset valtiopäivät 1917, 301; Toiset valtiopäivät 1917: I, 62, 256, 272, 362, 697; Valtiopäivät 1919a, 290; Valtiopäivät 1919b, 5; Ylimääräiset valtiopäivät 1918, 99). Although Finland did not have a ‘parliament’, parliaments offered applicable models for Finnish assemblies and their practices. The Swedish terms parlamentarisk (parliamentary) and oparlamentarisk (unparliamentary), and later translated Finnish terms parlamentaarinen and epäparlamentaarinen were common when debating the limits of acceptable and orderly manner of proceeding and speaking in parliament and the meaning of parliamentary government (Pekonen 2012; Pekonen 2014).

VIII. Conclusions

Finland lacked national representation from 1809 to 1863. Interestingly, Finnish names of parliamentary institutions were coined and translated already during this ‘state night’, which has traditionally been considered a period of stagnancy and immobility in Finnish politics. Actors tried to grasp what being a nation and constitutional state with representation and parliamentary institutions meant by studying foreign developments and examples.

The names of the Finnish assembly reflect national expectations, but also transnational trends, developments and conventions. Names of foreign assemblies offered models and guidelines for naming, but especially Finnish-speaking actors applied them selectively and innovatively in the national context. Valtiopäivät, applied since 1847 to the estate meeting in Porvoo in 1809, preceded the adoption of valtio as the Finnish word for the state, thus forming a crucial step in defining the Grand Duchy of Finland as a state. Naming the Diet Valtiopäivät was an effort to (re)define and strengthen Finland’s political and constitutional status within the Russian Empire. It linked Finland’s four-estate representation to European representative assemblies, their developments and parliamentary traditions.

The regularization of Finnish representative politics and formation of Finnish parliamentary vocabulary took place during the period of increased demands for national representation, popular sovereignty and democratic reform in Europe. This left a mark on the Finnish vocabulary, and resulted especially in the strong emphasis on representation in the name Eduskunta. The focus on representation has traditionally characterized Finnish parliamentary life. The Finnish parliament has been examined in public debate and research primarily as a representative assembly, while paying much less attention to its deliberative character or modes of proceeding (Pekonen 2014).

The late formation of the Finnish parliamentary vocabulary was both a challenge and an asset for Finnish nationalists. Finnish lacked words to convey all meanings of a civilized language (for example, Suomen kielen 1863) and the incoherent and innovative use of words caused concerns that the language would never be ready if new words were constantly coined (Kirjallisuutta 1863). This, however, gave the Finnish actors leeway compared to Swedish. Although the situation forced to innovate and invent in Finnish, the Swedish names could be, and had to be, grounded on an already existing tradition and practice. The names Landtdag and Riksdag followed and adapted to changes in Finland’s political and constitutional status.

Notes

1I would like to thank the reviewers of this article, whose insightful comments helped me to clarify my argument. 

2The names in Finnish and Swedish are uncapitalized, but the practice varied in the sources of this study. 

3The discussion on the naming of the Diet in Kurunmäki and Marjanen 2021 draws partly on an unpublished version of this article, presented in the workshops ‘In Absence of Representation’, 14–15 June 2017, and ‘Practicing Political Representation’, 15–16 November 2018 organized by the project ‘Political Night in New Light 1809–1863’. See Kurunmäki & Marjanen 2021, note 5. 

4It is difficult in some cases during this period to assess whether valtio- still had the old meaning or the meaning of the state. 

5The section would have been ‘The representative assembly of the people represents the people of Finland’ (kansaneduskunta edustaa Suomen kansaa). 

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.

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