Legend of a National Border: The Nöteborg Border (1323) in Finnish History Writing

Legend of a National Border: The Nöteborg Border (1323) in Finnish History Writing

By Ilkka Liikanen and Jukka Korpela

Paper given at the 21st International Congress of Historical Sciences (2010)

Introduction: This paper approaches overlapping national histories in the European North by studying the use of the concept of ‘border’ in Finnish national history writing. The aim of the study is to recognize conceptual changes in the interpretations of the origins of the Finnish Eastern border. To what extent the border has been defined in national terms as a demarcation based on ethnicity, language and national culture and to what extent it has been understood in broader supranational terms as a frontier between two civilizations, religious and cultural spheres are questions to analyse. Based on this conceptual analysis, the chapter aims to draw conclusions on the political use of historical arguments during periods of interwar consolidation of the independent nation-state, Cold War defence of Finnish state-sovereignty and, finally, present-day deepening of European integration.

The study is based on the examination of key 20th century scholarly debates on the early construction of the Finnish Eastern border. The alleged border delineation of the so-called Treaty of Nöteborg (1323) was the object of intensive scholarly discussion three times during the 20th century. The analysis of these debates suggests that the national and European conceptualizations of the border cannot be understood as two separate discourses producing overlapping interpretations. Rather, it seems that both dimensions were closely intertwined in the definitions of the Finnish Eastern border from the beginning. It is for example extremely difficult to recognize, in this respect, a clear turn from ‘nationalist’ 1930s to post-Second World War modern ‘European’ approaches ─ as has been the standard interpretation in Finnish historiography.

Contrary to customary reading, it seems that it is precisely during the interwar period that European conceptualizations were emphasized in the historical ‘bordering’ of Finland and the drawing of overlapping border lines that went with it. This practice of projecting a fixed territorial boundary in the medieval past prevailed even during the Cold War years, but now in clearly more national terms. Recently, Europeanizing tendencies seem to be on the rise again in the definition of early Finnish borders – but this time with less pronounced intensions to construct fixed, mutually overlapping borderlines in the ancient past.

Click here to find this article on the International Congress of Historical Sciences website

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