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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sarah Palin´s Nordic Predecessors

No less than three governors of Alaska have been Nordics, two of them ethnic Swedes. The latter were also officers of the Russian Imperial Navy.

Adolf Etolin, an ethnic Swede from Finland who ruled Russian America 1840-45, on the cover of K-G Olin´s amazing book. In the background Novoarkhangelsk, which today is Sitka.

The Arctic has entered a period of both great industrial and military development. History is again being written up north. Reason enough to look back at one of the most amazing aspects of Arctic history, that Russia ruled Alaska not that long ago, until 1867, and just some years less than the United States now has ruled the territory (Russia: 134/USA: 143 years).

It is only one year ago since one of the Russian political parties, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, dropped Alaska from its party emblem. Here is a photo of the party shield I took myself in 1993 when I met and interviewed party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky:

The photo I took in 1993 of Liberal Democrat leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky (left). In the background the party emblem sporting both Alaska and Finland. Only in 2009 the map was replaced with one showing a modern map of Russia.

The Zhirinosky map may mainly have been a way of gaining attraction but on the other hand he is still today supported by ten percent of the Russian electorate (he peaked at 23 percent in 1993) and has since been made a vice-chairman of the Russian State Duma and a colonel of the Russian Army - positions that he still holds today.

Well, should Alaska´s former governor Sarah Palin continue to rise in American politics it is probably a good thing Zhirinovsky has removed Alaska from his shield.

Sadly, my grandmother´s brother in Alaska had moved from there by the time I was able to go there. But now I have been able to make up for that thanks to a recent book by Karl-Gustav Olin, Alaska: ryska tiden ("Alaska: The Russian Era"). Thanks to it I am now aware of Palin´s Nordic predecessors. No less than three Nordics have been governors of Alaska. The above pictured ethnic Swede Adolf Etolin had a quite typical background among the Russian civil servants in Alaska. K-G Olin reports that at the time (1840s) citizens from Russian Finland dominated among the white population in Alaska.

The penultimate governor of Russian America was another ethnic Swede from Finland, Johan Hampus Furuhjelm. Like Etolin he was a navy man and ended his naval career as Commander of the Russian Baltic Fleet.

K-G Olin spent about two years researching for this book and he must surely be Finland´s greatest expert on the subject. It is hard to imagine that Olin has missed some archive, diary or previously published book on the subject. Thus the book is a goldmine of information and it is also very well illustrated.

So far, Alaska: ryska tiden, is only available in Swedish. Hopefully it will someday be translated. Here is the author´s website.

Someone may have noticed I wrote Alaska has had three Nordic governors. That is correct, many years after the United States had purchased Alaska for 7 million Dollars (largely possible due to the Crimean War) another Nordic was made governor of Alaska, but this man, Waino Hendrickson, had not been born in Finland, he was the child of Finnish immigrants.

Imagine for a moment if Russia had not accepted the offer by the United States, and had retained Alaska. How probably very different not only the history of the Arctic then would have turned out. For one thing, Sarah Palin would probably be unknown.

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