Finland was a province of Sweden until 1809, when it was occupied by Russia. The 1814 Congress of Vienna formalized Russian rule and Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire. Unlike in the Kingdom of Poland (Congress Poland), the Finnish national idea developed in a relatively peaceful manner. By and large, the tsars respected Finnish autonomy and it was not until the 1850s that Finnish nationalism became politically significant. The Swedish-speaking upper class initially championed the Finnish national idea, not least as a means of cementing ties with the Finnish-speaking free peasantry. As was the case elsewhere in Europe, nationalism was associated with liberal political ideas, with the result that in the last two decades of the century the Russian government resorted to political prosecutions and press censorship in an effort to maintain control. But by then Finnish nationalism could not be suppressed, and the stage was set for independence when the tsarist regime collapsed in 1917. Finland became independent as a Grand Duchy with the intent of upgrading to a kingdom with a German prince on the throne. But Germany's defeat in 1918 led to the proclamation of a Republic instead.

The three dominant themes in the development of the Finnish national flag were the colors of the country's coat of arms—red and yellow—the colors blue and white and the Scandinavian-style cross. Today all four colors are used for Finnish flags. See also The Scandinavian Cross.




Kingdom of Sweden


Russian Empire




Unofficial National Flag  •  1850s-60s


Proposal of Zacharius Topelius  •  1863


Helsingfors Dagblad Proposal  •  1863


Proposal of Otto Donner  •  1863


Proposal of K. Jänne (Vice-Judge of the Flag Committee)  •  1918


Proposal of the Artist Akseli Gallén-Kallela  •  1918

Under Swedish and Russian rule Finland had no official national flag of its own, the Swedish and Russian national flags serving as such. In the mid-nineteenth century, however, the rise of a national consciousness inspired interest in the adoption of a distinctive Finnish flag. Already there were many unofficial Finnish flags in use, such as the blue and white-striped flag with a canton of the ducal arms of Finland. These date from 1580, in which year King John III of Sweden assumed the title of Duke of Finland. Variants of this flag had red and yellow stripes. In 1863 a spate of proposals appeared. Many featured the colors blue and white, which had long been associated with Finland, white symbolizing the snows of the long winter and blue the country's numerous lakes. In 1917-18, with independence in view, more proposals appeared and were submitted to the Flag Committee of the provisional government. Many of them featured the offset cross typical of Scandinavian flags. The proposal of K. Jänne, a member of the Flag Committee, was one example, employing the colors blue and white. It was ultimately rejected because it seemed too similar to the Swedish flag and to the Greek  royal flag. The
Gallén-Kallela proposal is another example, with the colors of the coat of arms in cross form on a white field.




Temporary National & State Flag  •  1917-18


Temporary Civil Ensign  •  1918


National Flag & Civil Ensign  •  1918-20


State Flag & Ensign  •  1918-20

or a brief period after its declaration of independence, the national flag and state flag was a banner of the ducal arms. This was a temporary expedient pending the adoption of a definitive national flag. Also adopted was a temporary civil ensign: a Scandinavian-style cross flags employing all four of the national colors. They were both replaced in 1918 by the first version of the current national flag. Proposed by the artists Eero Snellman
 and Bruno Tuukkanen, this was white with a blue Scandinavian-style cross. For government authorities and offices, e.g. the postal service, the same flag with the crowned ducal arms added was specified. Also adopted was a range of naval and military ensigns and flags




National Flag & Civil Ensign  •  1920-78


State Flag & Ensign  •  1920-78


National Flag & Civil Ensign Since 1978


State Flag & Ensign Since 1978

When Finland became a republic in 1920 the national flag was modified with a darker shade of blue for the cross, this because the lighter shade used previously faded too quickly. The ducal crown was removed from the state flag and the shape of the shield was altered. In 1978 a still darker shade of blue was adopted and the small point at the base of the arms on the state flag was removed, this for ease of manufacture. Finland's current naval and military flags reflect these changes.




Åland Islands


Swedish Finns


East Karelians


Sami People


Ingrian People


Southwest Finland (Finland Proper)




City of Helsinki

Finland's ancient provinces were abolished in 2010, being replaced by administrative regions, but many of the coats of arms and flags associated with the former remain in use. There are also flags for Finland's minority ethnic groups. The Swedish-speaking Åland Islands, just off the coast of southwestern Finland, constitute an autonomous region with internal self-government and its own national flag. Southwest Finland is called Finland Proper because it was the original home of the Finnish people; only in the seventeenth century was the name Finland applied to the whole country. Finland Proper's flag recalls the old link with Sweden. Lapland is Finland's largest region in terms of area; its arms and flag display the wild man with club. Two similar figures are the supporters of the Danish royal arms. Finnish municipalities also have flags based on their coats of arms, such as that of the capital, Helsinki. East Karelia, which is today a republic within the Russian Federation, was claimed and occupied by Finland during World War II. The flag shown above was used during this period and now represents Finns who trace their origins to East Karelia.