Finnish Independence Day – What Finland means to me

Today Finland turns 98 years old as an independent state. I don’t want to write about this week’s upheaval in labour market relations, because that is a topic for more serious thoughts. I just want to make one comment: given the European Monetary Union and its currency, and the rules and regulations setting strict limits to budgetary freedom of the Finnish government – the rules that have come from Brussels (with the approval of the Finnish Finance Minister of course) – one must really ask: is Finland an independent state? Is the Finnish parliament really (as in effectively) the supreme controlling body? These are more or less rhetorical questions and I leave further discussion for another time.

So, to the real topic: what has Finland meant for me personally? I first came to Finland in 2002 (internship at the Finnish Forest Industries Federation) and I did part of my Master’s thesis writing at the Labour Institute for Economic Research (Palkansaajien tutkimuslaitos). After I moved permanently to Finland on December 8, 2003, I was unemployed in Helsinki for a while before I found a job as a sales assistent for the German market at Marja Kurki Oy. I started working on my dissertation in 2006 and then I also moved to Turku. I got married and founded a family. Basically since 2006 I have been at the University of Turku, in various positions and with various funding.

Coming from the Netherlands, Finland has meant to me first and foremost space and nature, both of which are scarce in the Netherlands. Along the way I learnt a lot about picking mushrooms and going to sauna – and I suppose I am nearly fluent in Finnish nowadays.

Finland has also meant efficient bureaucracy to me. Coming from the Netherlands, the KELA-system is supremely easy to navigate (although I know of course that this is not always true). In any case, everything from dealing with social security to paying taxes has been very easy in my view.

Finland also has shown that because it is a small country population-wise, it is very homogeneous. In the Netherlands I don’t know of products that are likely to be literally in every home, such as Marimekko Unikko, Aalto-vases and other Iittala products, Moccamaster coffee machines (which are actually Dutch I think), Arabia Teema -plates and mugs, Hackman cutlery etc etc. They are nice and functional but it is quite amazing that there are so many products which are kind of socially obligatory to own.

One big asset is also the Finnish day-care and schooling system (all the way to the universities). I do wonder to what extent critical thinking, creativity and healthy disregard for authority are part of the school system, but it seems that it is very efficient in teaching skills. The context of this remark is that I was in a Montessori-school, where at least the latter two issues are quite prominent. At the secondary school though, creativity was “killed” due to not so good art teachers. Critical thinking was prominant in civics, history and economic classes.

But maybe interestingly enough, I think the thing that matters most for me in Finland is its music scene. Finland is small but there are so many good musicians (although less in the pop scene I dare say). It is obvious that Sibelius is a towering figure, but I personally like the works of Einojuhani Rautavaara a lot, since he frequently included e.g. bird song in his works. (e.g. this one). Finland has a very active and productive heavy metal scene, where maybe Nightwish is the name most well-known (now with a Dutch singer!) and Children of Bodom is the most influential music-wise. My personal favourite (for all kinds of reasons) is Sentenced, e.g the  instrumental song Kaamos. In the jazz world (where I include improvisational music more widely) there are too many names to mention: Juhani Aaltonen, Mikko Innanen, Raoul Björkenheim (Blixt, Krakatau), Iiro Rantala, and many others, also in the experimental folk scene. Also in the visual arts there are many important figures, but I am less familiar with those and music is my love in any case.

So, happy Independence day!

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