Today is the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence from Russia. Just weeks after the Bolshevik Revolution, Finland broke free and thus avoided all the carnage that most of the former Russian Empire suffered. Finland may be a small country, but it’s got moxie. In the Winter War of 1939-1940, it fought back the mighty USSR which attacked it without provocation. It lost some of its territory but maintained its independence. Since then, Finland has long been a neutral country promoting peace, the prime example being the Helsinki accords signed in 1975 between Western powers and the Communist bloc.
Many people mistakenly consider Finland to be a part of Scandinavia. It is not, despite its cultural similarities. In fact, they don’t even call it Finland; it’s Suomi, and its people call themselves Suomalainen. Finnish is an Asian language unrelated to Norwegian, Swedish and Danish. It was an inspiration for Tolkien’s elvish language. Finland does, however, have an ethnic Swedish minority.
Another source of the confusion may be that Finland’s flag is quite similar to those of the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Its famed cavalry, the Hakkapeliitta (meaning “strike them down”), featured in the postage stamp above, fought for Gustavus Adolphus when Finland was part of the Swedish kingdom.
Finland has produced a number of famous progeny, among them Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), composer of classical works such as Finlandia and the Karelia Suite. My personal favorite Finn is Linus Torvalds, (note his ethnic Swedish name) born in Helsinki in 1969. Linus invented the famed Linux computer operating system which I’m using to write this article.) In the last few decades, Finland has been a center of progress in electronics and computing. The world-renowned telecommunications company Nokia was founded in Finland back in 1865 when it was still part of the Russian Empire.
No celebration of Finland is complete without Monty Python’s ode to that jewel of the North.
All together, Finn-o-philes: Finland, Finland, Finland!