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social sciences

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The capital and largest city of Finland, Helsinki is the country's administrative, business and culture center. It is also the hub of Finnish gay and lesbian life and the center of the country's glbtq political rights movement.

Helsinki has a population of approximately 568,000, and the Greater Helsinki area, which contains the neighboring cities of Vantaa, Espoo, and Kauniainen, and eight outer suburban municipalities, has a population of about 1.3 million.

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The population of Helsinki is predominantly Finnish, with a sizable Swedish-speaking minority.

Helsinki does not have specifically gay or lesbian neighborhoods. In fact, gay and straight groups frequently gather at the same popular venues. Lately, however, the city has developed a diverse glbtq scene, with a small number of restaurants, cafés, bars, dance clubs, and hotels all catering to the needs of the community.

Although slower than its Nordic neighbors to assure glbtq equality, Finland is liberal in regards to gay rights, and prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Since 2002, the country's registered gay and lesbian couples, the majority of whom reside in Helsinki, have had the same legal status as married heterosexuals, with the exception of adoption rights.


Helsinki was founded in 1550 by King Gustav Vasa of Sweden and originally known as Helsingfors. It was intended as a new trading post in the southern part of Finland and as a rival to the city of Reval (today known as Tallinn, the capital and largest city of Estonia), on the opposite shore of the Gulf of Finland, which dominated local trade at the time.

After it was established, King Gustav then ordered the burghers of Rauma, Ulvila, Porvoo, and Tammisaari to move to the new town to ensure its viability. Growth was slow, however, and with the Swedish acquisition of northeastern Estonia, including Reval, at the conclusion of the Livonian War in 1582, the Swedish crown lost interest in building up a rival trading post and the area languished for many decades, overshadowed by the more thriving trade centers in the Baltic region.

In 1640, Helsinki was moved from its original location at the mouth of the river Vantaa, which proved unfavorable, further south to the Vironniemi peninsula.

After Helsinki was temporarily occupied by Russian forces, first in 1713 and again in 1742, the Swedish army decided to fortify the town, constructing the sea-fortress of Suomenlinna in 1748. This marked a turning point in the history of Helsinki, bringing new prosperity to the town.

However, after Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War, begun in 1808, Finland was annexed to Russia in 1809 as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within Imperial Russia. In order to reduce Swedish influence in Finland, Czar Alexander I of Russia relocated the Finnish capital from Turku, at the edge of the Baltic sea, to Helsinki. The city's downtown core was rebuilt in the neoclassical style to resemble St. Petersburg.

The following decades saw unprecedented growth and development for the city as Helsinki became the economic and cultural center of Finland. It was also during this period that the Finnish language became predominant, both as a way to lessen cultural ties with Sweden, and as a means to assert Finnish nationalism.

However, the relationship between the Grand Duchy and the Russian Empire deteriorated when the Russian government attempted to restrict Finnish autonomy. On December 6, 1917, soon after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Finland declared its independence.

Finland's independence was followed by a brief but bitter civil war, in which the opposing factions were supported by Germany and Russia. In 1919, after the triumph of the pro-German faction, Finland became a presidential republic.

During World War II, Finland fought both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. During the Winter War of 1939-1940 and the Continuation War of 1941-1944, Helsinki endured intense aerial bombings, but due to a successful air defense the city suffered relatively little damage.

Helsinki continued to develop steadily during the later half of the twentieth century. Rapid urbanization in the 1970s tripled the population of Helsinki's metropolitan area.

Finland joined the European Union in 1995.

GLBTQ Rights

In 1889, Finland's new penal code declared homosexuality a crime punishable by a maximum of two years in prison.

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Gay Pride marchers in Helsinki (2007).
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