Quirks of history: Finnish flag created in a restaurant back room?
National flags began to emerge in the mid-19th century. Finland’s national awakening included the hope of acquiring a national merchant flag that would emphasise the autonomy of the Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire. The most ardent advocates of the flag cause were Zacharias Topelius and Otto Donner. The idea of a national flag took root even though the initial enthusiasm was quashed by the Imperial Government prohibiting the matter from being debated by the Estates. Various unofficial Finnish flags, known as ‘villa flags’, were manufactured on a large scale. Eventually the colours blue and white gained predominance in the pennants and flags of yacht clubs.
After the October Revolution in Russia in November 1917, Finland’s maritime organisations submitted a formal request for Finland’s own merchant flag to the Finnish Senate. The flag committee appointed by the Senate quickly came up with a proposal for a merchant flag and a state flag. These were based on the red and yellow colour scheme and prompted fierce debate in Parliament. The outbreak of the Civil War shelved the decision. The ‘lion flag’ – a gold lion on a red field – flew over Senate House and Government House when Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917.
On 27 February 1918, the Senate convened in Vaasa confirmed the red-field flag as Finland’s merchant flag. After several twists and turns, the Constitutional Committee of the rump Parliament decided in May 1918 to adopt a blue cross on a white field as the national flag, with a red and yellow design in the canton. A competing proposal was drafted by artists Eero Snellman and Bruno Tuukkanen, on Whitsun night in a private room at Hotel Fennia, according to anecdotal evidence. The proposal based on their draft was adopted by Parliament as Finland’s state flag on 28 May 1918.