President: Sauli Niinisto (2012)
Prime Minister: Juha Sipilä (2015)
Land area: 117,942 sq mi (305,470 sq km); total area: 130,558 sq mi (338,145 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 5,268,799 (growth rate: 0.56%); birth rate: 10.35/1000; infant mortality rate: 3.36/1000; life expectancy: 79.69
Capital and largest city (2014 est.): Helsinki, 1.17 million
Other large cities: Espoo, 229,500; Tampere, 201,200; Vantaa, 189,200; Turku, 178,100
Monetary unit: Euro (formerly markka)
Finland is three times the size of Ohio. It is heavily forested and contains thousands of lakes, numerous rivers, and extensive areas of marshland. Except for a small highland region in the extreme northwest, the country is a lowland less than 600 ft (180 m) above sea level. Off the southwest coast are the Swedish-populated Åland Islands (581 sq mi; 1,505 sq km), which have had an autonomous status since 1921.
The first inhabitants of Finland were the Sami (Lapp) people. When Finnish speakers migrated to Finland in the first millennium B.C. , the Sami were forced to move northward to the arctic regions, with which they are traditionally associated. The Finns' repeated raids on the Scandinavian coast impelled Eric IX, the Swedish king, to conquer the country in 1157. It was made a part of the Swedish kingdom and converted to Christianity.
By 1809 the whole of Finland was conquered by Alexander I of Russia, who set up Finland as a grand duchy. The period of Russification (1809–1914) sapped Finnish political power and made Russian the country's official language. When Russia became engulfed by the March Revolution of 1917, Finland seized the opportunity to declare independence on Dec. 6, 1917.
The USSR attacked Finland on Nov. 30, 1939, after Finland refused to give in to Soviet territorial demands. The Finns staged a strong defense for three months before being forced to cede to the Soviets 16,000 sq mi (41,440 sq km). Under German pressure, the Finns joined the Nazis against Russia in 1941, but they were defeated again and forced to cede the Petsamo area to the USSR. In 1948, a treaty of friendship and mutual assistance was signed by the two nations. Finland continued to pursue a foreign policy of nonalignment throughout the cold-war era.
Running on a platform to revitalize the economy, Martti Ahtisaari, a Social Democrat, won the country's first direct presidential election in a runoff in Feb. 1994. Previously, presidents had been chosen by electors. Finland became a member of the European Union in Jan. 1995. On Jan. 1, 1999, Finland, along with ten other European countries, adopted the euro as its currency. In 2000, Tarja Halonen, who had been Finland's foreign minister, became its first woman president.