Chapter XXX Part III
The Principle of Free Confederation
The cases of Finland and Poland
Writing in early 1918, Sri Aurobindo mused that the case of an united Russia, not excluding Finland, even before the Russian Revolution had a significance, having been founded by the Peters and Catherines on a strong political, military and economic necessity. (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.536) (Peter the Great whose rule spanned from 1682 to 1725 introduced modern reforms in Russia that replaced the medieval socio-political systems. Catherine who ruled from 1762 to 1796 continued that tradition of modernising Russia). Sri Aurobindo felt that the Slavic nations would have benefited by union with Russia; disunited, they would be exposed to the oppression of powerful neighbours, Sweden, Turkey, Poland (while Poland was hostile and powerful) or Germany and Austria.(Ibid) A united Russia as a geographically compact and resource-rich State would have a great role to play if properly organized and would have acted as an armed arbiter or champion of oppression as in Austro-Hungary or in the Balkans. (Ibid, pg.536-537)
However the principle of self-determination that became active during the Revolution acted contrary to the spirit of an united Russia. Sri Aurobindo cites the example of Finland. In 1809, Finland was incorporated into the Russian Empire. Prior to that, it was under Swedish influence from the late 13th century. Sri Aurobindo observed that the incorporation of Finland into Russia benefited both : “ ..a free Finland would have left Russia geographically and economically incomplete and beset and limited in her narrow Baltic outlet, while a Finland dominated by a strong Sweden or a powerful Germany would have been a standing military menace to the Russian capital and the Russian empire. The inclusion of Finland, on the contrary , made Russia secure, at ease and powerful at this vital point. Nor, might it be argued, did Finland herself really lose, since, independent, she would be too small and weak to maintain herself against neighbouring imperial aggressiveness and must rely on the support of Russia. All these advantages have been destroyed, temporarily at least, by the centrifugal forces let loose by the Revolution and its principle of the free choice of nationalities.”(Ibid, pg.537)
Sri Aurobindo’s observations were validated when Finland which declared itself independent following the Russian Revolution in 1917, got entangled in a civil war shortly after Sri Aurobindo penned these lines in 1918 itself with Soviet Russia and the German Empire supporting the conflicting parties. In World War II, Finland had to lose parts of Karelia, Salla, Kuusamo and Petsamo to the Soviet Union.
Sri Aurobindo’s observations about Poland were also interesting. “The union of the Ukraine Cossacks with Russia was indeed brought about by mutual agreement as a measure of defence against Poland. Poland itself, once weakened, stood a better chance by being united with Russia than by standing helpless and alone between three large and powerful neighbours (Hapsburg Austria, Kingdom of Prussia and the Russian Empire), and her total inclusion would certainly have been a better solution for her than the fatal partition between these three hungry powers.” (Ibid, pg.536) Though Poland which was partitioned for 123 years regained independence in 1918 just after Sri Aurobindo’s wrote these lines, it had to face successive onslaughts that culminated in September 1939 when World War II started with the invasion of Poland by Germany followed by the Soviet Union. More than six million Polish citizens including 50% of the country’s Jews died in the war. If, in accordance with Sri Aurobindo’s observations, Poland had been united with Russia, its fate might have been otherwise.
Sri Aurobindo’s astute observations about Finland and Poland were not aimed for prophesising events but a rational outlook studying how the idea of self-determination can act as centrifugal force to a greater unity.
Date of Update: 20-June-19
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu