Monday 6 December 2010

Happy Independence Day Finland!

The Senate Square on this day last year
The Popular folklore about how Finland got its independence goes like this:

In December 1917 a small delegation of Finnish statesmen travelled to Moscow in the hope that the leaders of the newly established Soviet Union would discuss independence with the small Duchy of the old Russian empire. Instead of a start to discussions, the Finns were surprised to receive a swift decision by Lenin and so a democratic state of Finland was established. It was rumoured that either Lenin was in a particularly good mood, or that he had a soft spot for Finland and that a Finnish woman was involved in this somehow. I have no idea if any of these rumours were true, or if the decisions was highly political and tactical, but the good fortune enjoyed by Finland in 1917 certainly shaped the country's future. Not that we didn't have to fight for it...

Looking back at Finland's history one could believe that on several occasions the Soviet Union regretted its decision. After the independence came a civil war between the Reds and the Whites (Whites won). A decade or so later Finland fought two wars against the Soviet Union. In 1939 Stalin and Hitler made a secret pact where Finland was one of the European countries used as pawns.

Later during the Cold War the phrase Finlandization was coined by the West to describe the USSR's influence on Finland's foreign policy.

All through its short history Finland has been balancing on a knife edge between East and West, careful not to upset either side, striving to trade with both.

In spite of this diplomatic struggle Finland has excelled as a country: Nokia, the mobile phone company, is one notable example of how well Finnish business has fared in modern times. Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world and its population is one of the most highly educated in the world. This year Finland was voted the world's best country to live in by Newsweek. Number one in the world - that's quite a lot for a small country in the North.

As you may have noticed, I'm fairly proud of my native land; something that comes easily when you live away from it, some might say. It's true that when I do go back it takes about a nanosecond for me to get fed up with the sometimes odd ways of my fellow countrymen - but on  day like today there really isn't anywhere else I'd rather be than shivering in the drizzle - or snowstorm - or freezing cold wind - of the Senate Square, listening to the students' choir sign Finlandia and shed a tear or two. At least I was there in 2009...


Old, foolish, sentimental Finnish ex-pat that I am.


Happy 93rd Birthday Finland!


Ruby Tuesday said...

I am embarrassed to say that I knew nothing about Finnish history.. This was so interesting.. You are made of strong stuff ..Is it the Absolut ??

Unknown said...

You can't know about every country in the world, Ruby! I'm sure vodka has something to do with the so called Finnish 'sisu'....xx

Jaana said...

Happy Independence Day too! I am however toasting it with champagne and not Koskenkorva Vodka or even Marskin Ryyppy!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Helena. I totally second all that you said. I did not, however, know this story about Lenin. Nice tale! Just a moment ago I was trying to educate my teenage know-all about the importance of this day. She wasn't born and has never lived in Finland and is not totally familiar with the history. Maybe this story will tweak her interest a bit more as she has just learned about the Russian Revolution at school.

Have a wonderful evening.
Anne in Alsace

Unknown said...

Jaana, is there a rule that says that one is allowed to enjoy a glass or two of champagne on Finnish Independence Day on one's own? (Wish you were here...xx)

Anne, it's my pleasure - educating ones off-spring who've never lived in Finland is very hard. My daughter spent her gap year in Helsinki - more or less successfully. She came home knowing a lot more Finnish and about Finland and Finns and now misses it. Just an idea ;-) xx

Wally B said...

I used to work with a Finnish company that imported K2 Skis. Boy, were those guys fun.
I think most expats are more sentimental and proud of the countries they leave, just look at the Irish in Boston.
I wouldn't be surprised to know that a woman was behind Stalin's decision. They usually are, even though they rarely get the credit.

Jaana said...

For all the Finns abroad, check the link above, my kids loved the summer courses in Finland. On second thought maybe not the courses as much as the social bit, they still keep in touch with the friends they made there.

Helena, I will have more champagne with you next week!

Mwa said...

Thank you for this! Very interesting indeed. And happy independence day to you. I feel a kinship with you, as I am also from a small country that no one knows much about.

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