Articles and Columns, 8/1/2008
The beginnings of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs during the year of foundation 1918
In the series of articles about the MFA's anniversary year, Head of Information Service Jyrki Paloposki describes events in 1918. The Senate announced on 6 May 1918, that the Civil War had ended and Svinhufvud could transfer his Senate from Vaasa to Helsinki. During the early summer of 1918, the poorly coordinated management of the Foreign Service had to be reorganised urgently.
In January 1918 – right after Finland had become independent – a Foreign Affairs Bureau had been established to help the Speaker of Senate handle Finland's relations with foreign countries. During the Civil War, foreign policy issues were taken care of by several bodies. In January and immediately after the war, the future foreign service was discussed in the press; the citizens were interested in such issues as the forms of operation, size and, in particular, cost of the network of missions.
At the end of May, former bank director Otto Stenroth, who had served as senator and been active also in Parliament, was appointed the first Foreign Minister of Finland in J. K. Paasikivi's Senate. Stenroth did not have any actual office or ministry under his leadership, but he and the civil servants working in the Foreign Affairs Bureau were preparing the establishment of a foreign ministry.
Models were sought especially from the Scandinavian countries. A decree on the establishment of a Foreign Affairs Office (asetus ulkoasiaintoimituskunnan perustamisesta) was issued on 28 June 1918.
According to the decree, the Foreign Affairs Office was established "to deal with matters arising from Finland's relations with foreign countries”. The head of office was a senator. The short decree of five sections provided also for civil servants' official ranks, salaries and pensions.
Organisation structure of 1918
More detailed provisions on the organisation, duties and officials of the new authority were given in the rules and regulations issued the following week. The most senior official was the Secretary of State, and there were three departments: State Department, Trade Department and Archives Department.
The State Department was in charge of a wide range of issues, including matters pertaining to ”the head of state and his international relations; forms of government; neutrality; war and peace and negotiations related to them; international arbitration courts; and the state territory and borders of Finland". The State Department was also responsible for consular and protocol matters. Senior Lawyer Stefan Söderhjelm was appointed Director General of the Department. His tenure remained short because he died while on official business as secretary of the Finnish delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in France in spring 1919.
In accordance with the rules and regulations, the Trade Department was responsible for not only trade and economic issues but also, among other things, matters concerning fishing, customs, transport, postal and telegraph service, pilotage and lighthouse service, tonnage measurement of ships, inventions and patents, the banking institution, measures and weights, and medication and health care issues. The first Director General of the Department was Henrik Ramsay, who returned to business life at the end of the same year. Ramsay also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs later on.
The third department, Archives Department, was responsible for document management, encrypted messages, courier functions and the library. ”The Archives Department must organise and manage the Office's archives so that documents can be found easily”.
Linguist and scholar Harri Holma was appointed Director General. His term of office remained short like that of the other directors general. In summer 1919, Holma moved to serve in the Finnish mission to Copenhagen. Under the administration of Director General of the Archives, there was also a Press Office, which kept in contact with both domestic and foreign press agencies. It also followed anything that was written on foreign policy and reported about its findings to the foreign policy leadership.
The rules and regulations specified the following civil service titles: Secretary of State, Directors General, First and Second Secretaries, Assistant to the Archivist, and Head of the Press Office. ”In addition to them, the Office staff comprises a relevant number of extraordinary officials, translators, copying clerks and service staff”.
The Foreign Affairs Office started its work in the Government Palace. Based on the provisions of the cost and salary regulation, the Senate granted an annual appropriation of about 500 000 markkas for the Foreign Affairs Office to manage its operation. The appropriation was not considerable. The minister's annual pay of 26 000 Finnish markkas made a considerable dent in the appropriation.
Foreign political challenges
The Foreign Affairs Office employed only a few people and they were busy from the very beginning. The relations with the neighbouring countries were not very good. The relations with Sweden were disrupted by the question of the Åland Islands, and conflict with Russia arose from, among other things, the East Karelia issue.
The Senate's leaning towards Germany annoyed Great Britain and France. One day before the establishment of the Foreign Affairs Office, an abrupt note formulated by Stenroth had been delivered to Great Britain, requiring it to withdraw its troops from Petchenga. Great Britain termed this note an ultimatum.
In his memoirs, Stenroth admitted that the "... scribblers of the note, beginners in the profession, had used diplomatically very poorly sharpened pencils". A senior official from the German Foreign Ministry, Mr Müller, was hired to give guidance to the Finns in the art of diplomatic correspondence. Civil servants in the new administrative branch had much to learn.
Text: Head of Information Service Jyrki Paloposki, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
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The Ministry for Foreign Affairs marks the 90th anniversary year of its establishment in 2008. During the jubilee year, the Ministry will present its history and treasures from its archives, among others in a series of articles.
In this series Ministry has earlier published the articles:
- The Finnish flag (Jussi Pekkarinen, MFA) 6/5/2008
- Establishment of a mission and appointment of an envoy (Jussi Pekkarinen, MFA) 5/7/2008
- Åland - To Finland or to Sweden? (Jussi Pekkarinen, MFA) 3/19/2008
- Negotiating solo - Councillor of State Edvard Hjelt and Finland's first treaty with a foreign State (Antti Vuojolainen, MFA) 3/10/2008
- Vying foreign services (Jussi Pekkarinen, MFA) 2/1/2008
- Finland's independence is recognised by European states - vivat, floreat,crescat (Jyrki Paloposki, MFA) 1/11/2008
- New Year’s Eve at Smolna, St. Petersburg – Recognition of Finland’s independence on 31 December 1917 (Jyrki Paloposki, MFA) 12/27/2007
- Declaration of independence raised Finland “among free and independent nations” (Jyrki Paloposki, MFA) 12/5/2007
All the articles can be read on the website MFA 90.