This week we’ve taken a trip to the fascinating country of Finland. Unique from the rest of its Nordic neighbours, there’s quite a lot here to discover…so let’s get started!
- Capital (and Largest City): Helsinki
- Population (2016): 5,491,860 (114th)
- Total Area: 338,424 km² (64th)
- Official Languages: Finnish, Swedish
- Recognized Regional Language: Sami
- Currency: Euro (€) (EUR)
History of Finland
Most of early Finnish history can be characterized by tribes growing into more advanced, agricultural based societies. For much of the first millennia CE, the country was divided between the Finns, who farmed and settled the south, and the Sami people who remained closer to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of their ancestors. It wasn’t until the 12th and 13th century CE when things began to change dramatically.
During the Northern Crusades, the Swedes consolidated territory in much of the region. From about 1249 through to the beginning of the 19th century, Finland was under Swedish rule. There were a great many changes during this long period. Swedish became the language of the elite and ruling class, while those in the country and rural areas spoke Finnish more. By and large, and people of Finland converted to Lutheranism during the Reformation. One of the most pressing concerns however, was the geographical position of Finland – sandwiched between Sweden and the powerful Russia. Throughout the 1700’s, many wars were fought in the North of Europe that saw Finland caught in the crossfire. Throw in resistance to Swedish rule, and it was only a matter of time before the country changed hands.
In 1809, Russian forces took control of the country from Sweden following a victory in the Finnish War. Finland was named an autonomous Grand Duchy, and began to foster a greater sense of national identity. This included more widespread use of the Finnish language as well as the Fennoman nationalist movement. Despite a devastating famine, Finland continued on relatively peaceful until the early 20th century when Russia attempted to restrict the country’s freedoms. This grew into greater calls for independence…and the Russian Revolution of 1917 provided the perfect opportunity.
Fighting for Independence
The Revolution caused chaos both in Moscow and in Finland, with the situation of the country left unclear. Eventually, in December 1917, the right-wing Finnish government declared independence. Within a couple months, a civil war began between the Whites (the Finnish right-wing government supported by Germany) and the leftist reds (who had the backing of the Soviets). The Whites prevailed after a short war, and declared the country a democratic republic in 1919. While agreeing to a border with Russia in a treaty, relations remained tense.
World War II in Finland
Despite the support of Germany in the civil war, relations were frosty following the rise of the Nazi’s. The end result was multiple conflicts against both the Soviet Union and Germany during the war. Finland fought the Winter War and the Continuation War against the Soviet Union and, following an armistice with the USSR, fought the Lapland War against Germany. After WWII was over, Finland was forced to cede some of its territory to the Soviets, however it remained independent. Despite this, it would just be the beginning of a tense situation – caught between the Western powers and the USSR.
The Cold War in Finland
Finland remained neutral during the Cold War, fostering a close relationship with the USSR but maintaining its own democratic system. For the most part, it was pro-Soviet parties who had the support of the people – largely due to the benefits that came from trade. Despite some economic hiccups, Finland succeeded in creating a comprehensive welfare state while also agreeing deals with the precursor to the EU (the EEC). However, the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s was a devastating blow that threw Finland into its own recession.
Following the recession, the Finnish economy grew throughout the 90’s. The country also joined the EU in 1995 and adopted the euro seven years later. Despite issues associated with an aging population, the Finnish state is typical of other Nordic countries – largely egalitarian and successful in the regional context.
Finnish culture is a mix of indigenous traditions, and common Nordic, Russian, and other European elements. Much like the rest of the Nordic countries, egalitarianism and self-sufficiency (if you can believe that those two go together) are commonly held values. Unlike nearby Sweden, Finland is not considered a Scandinavian country. Instead, ethnic Finns are closer to Hungarians than their neighbours.
One of the most famous examples of Finnish culture is the sauna. It’s a steam bath designed to open pores on the skin and cleanse the body. To get the blood flowing, branches are traditionally tapped and slapped against oneself. Once the heat becomes too much, it is a common practice to jump in a nearby lake, river, or snowbank. Saunas are almost always attended nude.
There are many festivals, holidays, and traditions in Finland – often a product of both the Christian faith and age-old pagan beliefs. Juhannus especially is a midsummer holiday where people retreat to summer cottages, often lighting a bonfire to celebrate the solstice. Finns also have their own tradition when it comes to Christmas, with festivities beginning on the 23rd and going through the 26th. There are, of course, others but these are just a few of the well-known Finnish festivities.
Food in Finland combines traditional faire, higher-end cuisine, and contemporary styles. Fish and meat (especially chicken) are very popular in the modern diet, while grains are hugely important in many dishes.
Sports in Finland
The national sport in Finland is a game called pesäpallo, which is similar to baseball. The most popular sport however is ice hockey. Finland is considered one of the big 6 national teams in the world. Other popular sports include athletics, ski jumping, cross country skiing, and Formula 1.
Some of the most famous people from Finland are hockey players Teemu Selanne, Tuuka Rask, Pekka Rinne, and (retired) Saku Koivu. Kimi Räikkönen is a successful F1 driver who currently races for Ferrari. The producer and DJ Darude (Sandstorm) is also from Finland. Renny Harlin directed Die Hard 2.
Geography of Finland
Finland is a very northerly country, though it has a different landscape than that of the other Nordic countries. Simply put, there are four different geographical regions. There’s the lake district, which covers a large portion of the interior. This is generally a vast forested area with numerous lakes found within. The coastal regions are mostly plains and are used for farming. The uplands extend into the Arctic Circle (to Lapland), with a fair amount of hills and mountains. However, bogs cover most of the region. Finally, there is Archipelago Finland – which consists of thousands of islands in the Baltic Sea.
The largest city by far is the capital, Helsinki. It’s consistently considered one of the most livable cities in the world. While not as large as Stockholm or Oslo, it remains a centre for business, commerce, and culture.
Facts About Finland
- Finland is the EU’s most sparsely populated country
- Finland has more saunas than cars
- October 13th is recognized as the annual ‘Day for Failure’
- One of the most famous companies to come out of Finland is the telecom giant Nokia
- The Molotov cocktail was invented in the country
- There was a ban on alcohol between 1919-1932
- There’s a golf course that is half in Finland, half in Sweden
- Earn a PH.D in Finland and you get a top hat and sword
- Finland has more heavy metal bands (per person) than anywhere else in the world
That’s all for now! Check out our Currency Spotlight for more on the euro and stay tuned this week for our Travel Guide!
Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems (see them all HERE). Be sure to check out our Currency Spotlight for more information on the euro.
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