The history of civil societyAaro Harju
In Finland the history of civil society is closely connected with the history of the Finnish nation and society. People’s activities in organizations, political parties and trade unions influenced the intellectual, spiritual and economic development of the entire country. With the help of non-formal adult education, people acquired knowledge and skills and grew into active citizens. Thus the development of civil society cannot be bypassed when writing Finnish history, and vice versa, the major events and the important stages of development in the nation’s history are visible in the history of civil society.
The history of established civic activity goes back to the end of the eighteenth century in Finland as in the rest of Europe. Inspired by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the bourgeoisie and the middle classes started to demand a redistribution of social rights and responsibilities: the equality before law and the abolition of privileges typical of the class-society. (Kun edustajat…1989, 21; Kekkonen 1988, 6)
Aurora Society started off in 1770. In this society the discussion was on literal topics and issues of national interest. The Turku Musical Association, founded in 1790, concentrated on advancing musical culture, while the Finnish Economic Society, founded in 1797, sought to inform and encourage people in the sphere of economic life. (Alapuro & Stenius 1989a, 21–23) The first religious associations also sprung up in the 1810s.(Heikkilä & Seppo 1989, 77)
In Finland the temperance societies were the first group of organizations with a large membership. Excessive drinking of alcohol was a considerable problem, especially among the workers and the rural proletariat. From the 1830s on, some members of the educated class actuated the foundation of various temperance organizations all over the country. The number of members of the temperance organizations was at its highest in the early twentieth century. (Alapuro & Stenius 1989, 50–51) The ladies’ associations focused on philanthropic activities in the urban areas. The volunteer fire-brigades took care of fire safety in towns.