While Finland and Georgia in almost every way seem to be quite distinct and unique societies, there is an extraordinary similarity to key aspects of their histories in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries only to be followed by sharp contrasts in their revolutionary experiences in 1917-1918. In both these countries, the particular coincidence of class and nationality, of social status and ethnicity, produced similar forms of nationalism and national liberation movements. Instead of classic “bourgeois” nationalisms, both Finland and Georgia present pictures of national formation as a contest between an elite nationalist formulation and a mass-based social democratic movement that became the primary national liberation movement of their respective countries.
Yet in the first revolutionary year 1917 the Georgian Social Democrats managed to establish firmly their hegemony over Georgia, while the Finnish Social Democrats, who a year earlier had won an absolute majority in elections to the Finnish parliament, the first country in the world where Social Democrats won a majority in the local parliament, were displaced by the conservatives and defeated in a bloody civil war. The two related questions that this talk will explore are: why socialism rather than nationalism dominated in the national liberation movements in these two countries? And why did the Georgian Mensheviks succeed in their quest for power and the Finnish Social Democrats fail? The answers are based on insights gained from a comparison of their experiences.
The Program on Georgian Studies is an activity of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University and is made possible by a sponsored research award from the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia.
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