This year marks the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence. Finland is situated in Northern Europe, bordered by Sweden in the west and Russia in the east, and is counted as one of the Nordic countries together with Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. The Finnish–Russian border, at 833 miles long, is the longest border between a European Union country and the Russian Federation. Finland has been a member of the EU since 1995.
The geographic area nowadays known as Finland gradually became part of Sweden as the result of Catholic crusades in the 1300s and wars between Sweden and other regional powers. During Sweden's King Gustav II Adolph's reign in the early 1600s, the kingdom's administrative structure was reformed. Finland was also divided into counties, which made taxation and governing more effective.
Even after the Crown had declared it illegal, Finns used the slash-and-burn technique to clear forest land for farming. The Finns who were arrested were given the choice of serving time in prison - or of going to the New Sweden Colony. So, many of the Swedes that traveled to the Delaware Valley on the Kalmar Nyckel were actually Finns!
During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden fought against Napoleon and his allies, but the campaign was not successful. In 1808, Russia invaded Finland, and in 1809 Sweden surrendered the eastern third of its territory to Russia. The autonomous Grand Principality of Finland was established as part of Imperial Russia. During the years of the Russian rule the degree of autonomy varied. Periods of censorship and political persecution occurred, particularly in the years following 1900. Finnish nationalism emerged, focused on Finnish cultural traditions, including music and the highly distinctive language and lyrics associated with it.
Not long after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, the Finnish Parliament voted to declare Finland an independent nation. That date, December 6th, is still celebrated as Finland's Independence Day.
Finland fought two wars against the Soviet Union during the Second World War-the Winter War and the Continuation War, and managed to maintain its independence despite suffering heavy casualties and land losses. Finland is the only European country bordering the Soviet Union that remained independent after the war.
Finland's independence continues to be a deeply emotional issue for the Finnish people. The Independence Day has traditionally been a solemn celebration, and war veterans and the sacrifices of their generation are remembered and honored. When I was growing up in Finland, the highlight of the day was to light up two candles in each window at 6pm and then cozy up onto the couch to watch the Presidential Independence Day reception broadcasted from the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. The reception is still the most watched program each year on Finnish TV; in 2016, 88% of the TV audience tuned into the live broadcast and commentary.
The 100th anniversary is being celebrated throughout the year both in Finland and in expatriate communities throughout the world. In Finland, there have been countless cultural and educational events, both small and large. A new movie version of author Väinö Linna's book The Unknown Soldier, a national treasure depicting the struggle of the Finnish soldier during the Continuation War, will premier in late October. Home goods companies such as Fiskars and Iittala-Arabia have brought special edition products on the market. There's even a special white and blue sock yarn! In the US, there have also been events throughout the year. The traveling sauna has toured the country since February. In September, the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, accompanied by his wife Mrs Jenni Haukio, visited the Finnish Embassy in DC and then traveled to Minnesota to attend FinnFest, the biggest annual Finnish-American celebration. One weekend in August, Finns both in Finland and abroad were encouraged to host dinner parties with their friends and neighbors as part of a centennial celebration event titled “Finnish Your Dinner”.
The official theme for the anniversary celebration is “Yhdessä", or “Together”, in English. To me, this sums up the modern-day Finnish society perfectly. Finland, like any other country, has its own set of challenging societal problems, but all in all, Finnish society is built on a shared responsibility for the well-being of all its citizens. Regardless of who is in charge politically, the long-term goals of safety, good education, publicly funded health care and social support structure are viewed as benefiting everybody. Finland is a society built on both compassion and a sense of social justice, which the Finns are immensely proud of and which is also favorably recognized in various international comparisons year after year. This is a solid foundation for beginning the second century of the Finnish independence.
Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää, Suomi! Grattis på självständighetsdagen, Finland! Happy Independence Day, Finland!