In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Intra-Nordic Differences, Colonial/Racial Histories, and National Narratives:Rewriting Finnish History
  • Suvi Keskinen


The role of the Nordic region in European and global colonialism has only recently become the subject of wider scholarly work. In the public sphere, discussions of Nordic histories have been characterized by what Gloria Wekker (2016) calls "white innocence"—ignorance and denial of participation in global colonial histories and the continued colonialism in the region. Such notions of "innocence" or "exceptionalism" have been challenged by an emerging research field that investigates Nordic involvement in colonial histories outside Europe and in the Arctic, and the effects of these histories on current (post)colonial societies (e.g., Ipsen and Fur 2009; Keskinen et al. 2009; Kristín Loftsdóttir and Jensen 2012; Naum and Nordin 2013; McEachrane 2014). While these studies have placed global relations and their inequalities at the center of the research agenda, they have usually focused on one nation-state or addressed the Nordic region as a (relatively) coherent entity. Studies on the postcolonial North Atlantic and colonialism in the Arctic (e.g., Körber and Volquardsen 2014; Kuokkanen 2007) have operated beyond the national framework but still focused on specific areas (Greenland, Faroe Islands, Sápmi) instead of engaging with the histories of the region as such.

In this article, I argue for the importance of including a regional perspective when investigating Nordic colonialism. Through an analysis of the colonial and racial histories of Finns and Finland, I will show [End Page 163] that it is impossible to understand the colonial/racial relations and processes in which the Nordic countries were involved without properly addressing intra-Nordic power relations and their entanglement with local, state, and global factors. As a country that only gained independence in 1917, prior to which it was under Swedish rule for six centuries and was an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire between 1809 and 1917, Finland provides a case par excellence to investigate the role of regional aspects in colonial/racial histories. While Finland's subordinate position within the two empires has often resulted in bypassing the role of Finns and Finland in colonial histories, this article seeks to identify the trajectories of colonial involvement before and after independence.

Moreover, I aim to connect the overseas colonial endeavors of the Nordic countries to the colonization of the northern parts of the region. Nordic participation in overseas colonialism has been characterized as "colonial complicity" (Vuorela 2009; Keskinen et al. 2009), referring to a situation in which the countries were neither part of the colonial center but nor can they claim to have remained outside European colonialism. The Nordic countries may have possessed fewer overseas colonies than the British, French, or Dutch empires, but they were intertwined with European colonialism through multiple economic, political, cultural, and knowledge-production processes. The concept of "colonial complicity" also highlights the seductiveness of being included in hegemonic notions of Eurocentric modernity and the material benefits it promises for countries located at the margins of Europe, some of which, like Finland, occupy ambiguous inside/outside positions in relation to Europeanness (Keskinen 2014). However, the work by Sámi and other indigenous scholars (e.g., Kuokkanen 2007; Gärdebo, Öhman, and Maruyama 2014) points toward more profound and continued trajectories of colonialism in the Nordic region, which raises the question of whether "colonial complicity" is an adequate concept to capture all forms and temporalities of Nordic colonialism. This article thus also examines the question of whether new concepts are needed to understand Nordic involvement in colonialism when the overseas perspective is combined with studies on the Arctic.

The empirical focus of the article is the colonial/racial histories of the Finnish people and Finland as a territory; after independence, I also investigate the repressive and assimilatory actions of the Finnish state, as well as the racialization of Indigenous people and minorities perceived as threats to the modernizing nation. My interest in [End Page 164] examining the colonial involvement of Finns and Finnish enterprises or missionary work during a time when the nation-state of Finland did not exist should not be interpreted as nationalist imposition of current classifications on earlier historical periods...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 163-181
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.