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Indigenous Sami (formerly known as Lapps, a term they find offensive) once inhabited most of Finland. They were pushed into the far northern part of the country thousands of years ago by migrants from northeastern Europe. In the 12th century, Finland (then a pagan country) was incorporated into Sweden following a Swedish crusade, and a bishop named Henrik from the British Isles was left in Turku to administer the country (and eventually to suffer a martyr's death - the pagan who decapitated him didn't feel he needed a new set of rules). Henrik was later canonized and became Finland's patron saint. Sweden and Russia began fighting over the country in 1710, and each owned pieces of it until Russia prevailed in 1809.

In 1906, Finland negotiated with the Russians for a parliament of its own. The new parliament promptly recognized women's right to vote - the first government in Europe to do so. In 1917, Finland declared independence and, two years later, established a republic in the wake of the Russian Revolution. Finns are particularly proud of their staunch resistance in the Winter War against the Soviet Union in 1939-1940, when the tiny nation held the massive Red Army at bay for many months. Finland won nearly every battle but in the end was overwhelmed by the sheer number of Soviet troops. Finland lost portions of its territory.

Following World War II, Finland established a lucrative relationship with the Soviet Union, with the Soviets bartering oil and natural gas for Finnish goods. While the barter system greatly benefited the Finns, it also allowed the country to become somewhat complacent, and many Finnish industries failed to keep pace with the rest of Europe. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Finland's economy took a nosedive, from which the country has mostly recovered. In 1995, Finland became a member of the European Union.