Finland’s Ambassador Mrs Päivi Luostarinen writes on her country’s centenary of independence
In 2017, Finland celebrates 100 years of independence.
Finland has had quite an extraordinary journey: developing from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the most successful nations in the world, ranking highly on many international surveys.
Our success has been built on the basis of representative democracy, equality, transparency, rule of law, education, love for nature and ‘sisu’. (Sisu is a unique Finnish concept, that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. More about that later).
Before independence, the Grand Duchy of Finland became autonomous 208 years ago as part of the Russian Empire. We have had a parliament of our own since 1906 and in the same year Finland became the first country in the world to grant both women and men full political rights. Our first open and free elections were held in 1907.
Because of our long democratic tradition, respect for freedom of speech and the laws passed by our parliament have become a natural element of our society. They have helped us to become one of the most stable and least corrupt countries in the world.
As there are so few of us, only about 5.5 million, we need to use all our resources and we can’t afford to leave anyone behind. Good education and healthcare are the corner stones of our society, and we take full advantage of women’s ability to fully participate in building it.
Nature in Finland is unique. Over 70 per cent of Finland is forest, our archipelago is the biggest in the world and we have 188,000 lakes with water clean enough to drink. Our close relationship with nature means that sustainability comes naturally to us. Finland is one of the greenest and cleanest countries on earth – and we aim to keep it that way.
Northern nature is the ultimate test-bed for all things functional. The arctic climate has given us guts – ‘sisu’ as we call it – and inspires us to be creative as well as ecological. Finns look for practical solutions both in industry and everyday life. We like to think that ‘if it works in Finland, it works anywhere.’
As people, we say what we do and do what we say. That’s why the Finnish handshake has been called the most reliable in the world. We take pride in being a bit quirky and love our Moomins, saunas and peculiar competitions like swamp soccer, mobile throwing and hobby horsing.
Finland and Britain have a close shared history that goes back much further than the past 100 years. This year has been a good opportunity to celebrate our strong cultural, political and economic relations. Finland and Britain are like-minded on many political and economic issues and co-operate closely in international fora. Our trading links are strong and our cultural ties have always been enriching.
The theme of Finland’s centenary celebration year is ‘Together’. Accordingly, the Finland 100 programme in the UK has been a joint effort, put together by the Finns, Brits and other friends of Finland.
Throughout the year, we’ve seen a great number of events and projects take place around the UK, from concerts to stamp exhibitions and professional conferences to library book donations.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo, played our national composer Sibelius’ Finlandia hymn at the Last Night of the Proms. Millions of listeners and viewers worldwide had the chance to experience the choral version of the hymn, sung in Finnish. It will be remembered by friends of Finland and fans of classical music for a long time.
Another highlight was the opening of The Tale of Two Countries digital gallery, which offers carefully curated pieces about the shared history of Finland and Britain and their cultural, political and economic relations. It consists of digitised historical materials, like travel stories, letters, newspapers and photographs from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century.
If you haven’t yet had a chance to celebrate our first centenary, you still have plenty of time.
Art lovers should head to Dulwich Picture Gallery, which presents the first major UK retrospective of Tove Jansson, one of the most celebrated illustrators of the twentieth century and creator of the Moomin characters. The exhibition brings together 150 works to re-introduce Jansson as an artist of exceptional breadth and talent, tracing the key stages of her prolific career.
Or you can go and see all four versions of Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Lake Keitele, one of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery. Gallen-Kallela returned to the subject of Lake Keitele, north of Helsinki, throughout his career and the National Gallery’s exhibition unites all four of the artist’s depictions of the lake, as well as his pre- and post-Keitele paintings.
You can also celebrate by visiting the Finnish Film festival at the Barbican centre or the Finnish Rooftop sauna at Southbank.
The jubilee year culminates in Finland’s Independence Day on 6 December with traditional receptions. Around the date, there will be wonderful classical concerts celebrating Sibelius at the Barbican Centre and the Royal Festival Hall. There is even a Finnish tango event in London.
I also want to invite you all to visit the Centenarian herself. With Christmas on the horizon and the first snow arriving in Finland, Father Christmas is on the minds of most of us. You probably know that Father Christmas – the one and only – comes from Finland, but perhaps not that you can visit him in his official hometown Rovaniemi on any day of the year. Finland is a magical destination at winter, with Santa, Northern Lights, ice swimming and skiing.
But Finland isn’t just about winter – it’s as hot as it is cool. There’s plenty to see and do during the other three seasons too. You can experience the white summer nights, visit music festivals, cycle around the archipelago, trek in the national parks, visit friends at a lakeside summer cottage or get to know Finnish design and delicacies in the cities.
Whether in the UK or Finland, please join us in celebrating our first centenary – and our journey into the next 100 years!