November 19, 2017

Finland celebrates its 100th anniversary

This year Finland celebrates its 100th anniversary

Finland declared its independence on 6 December 1917, in the turmoil created by the October Revolution in Russia. Earlier, Finland had been a part of Sweden until 1809, and after that an autonomous Grand-Duchy under the Russian rule.

The hundred years since 1917 have transformed Finland enormously:  in the course of one life time Finland has developed from a poor, conflict-ridden nation to a prosperous and modern country. The Fragile States Index 2016 indicated that Finland is “the least–failed nation” in the whole world.

 

By Mrs. Katri Viinikka.

A country with difficult history and a commitment to peace

The Finnish Civil War in early 1918 between the Reds and the Whites was an extremely traumatic experience and caused great suffering. There are still anonymous mass graves in Finland, dating from those tragic months.  The Civil War left the country deeply divided until the Second World War, which united the nation in what is called the Winter War and the Continuation War. The Winter War broke out after the Soviet Union attacked Finland,  while the Continuation War started in 1941 after Germany attacked the Soviet Union.  Finland remained one of the very few countries not occupied by any country during the World War II.  However, it lost a significant portion of its total geographical area to the Soviet Union.

It is partly due to these harsh experiences Finland has become what it is. Finland is very committed to rules-based international order. It has also gained reputation as  a trusted mediator: post-conflict reconciliation is something we have had to learn from our own experience.

Our former President Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel Peace Laureate of 2008 , is a concrete example of how a difficult history can shape one’s personal life. He was born in 1937 in Viborg, a town which in the Winter War 1939-40 was annexed by the Soviet Union, its inhabitants being driven out of the town.  Mr. Ahtisaari thus became an internally displaced person when he was a small boy.  He has said that those childhood experiences have motivated him in his adult commitment to peace. President Ahtisaari was a major contributor when Namibia achieved independence in 1989-1990, he arbitrated in Kosovo  in 1999 and 2005-2007, and he helped to bring the long-lasting conflict in the Aceh province in Indonesia to an end in 2005.

A society where no one is left behind

A central element of Finland becoming what it is today is an emphasis on equality – building a society for all. Finland is a Nordic welfare society, where income differences are among the lowest in the world.  We are also used to searching compromises; our governments are almost always coalitions among different parties and ideological backgrounds. This is something we are proud of.

Finland has been a forerunner in maternal health and childcare from very early on. The first childcare clinics were established already in the 1920’s. The maternity package, a set of clothing and other items needed for a new-born baby,  was introduced in 1938. It is still offered under the Finnish social security system to every Finnish family expecting a baby, regardless of the family’s income or social status.

Gender equality has been a key value in Finland since the country gained its independence. Finland was among the first countries in the world to grant women the right to vote and the right to stand for election. This actually happened already before our independence, in 1906.

In 2013, Finland was ranked to be the best place in the whole world to be a mother (by Save the Children organization). And in Finland it is indeed possible to combine motherhood and career. One important element in enhancing gender equality has been the free warm school meal, which every child receives at school. It was introduced as early as 1948. Equal pay for equal work for men and women in public office has been mandatory since 1963.

At the moment, 50 per cent of our ambassadors are female. How did we achieve this? In my personal opinion, it is a combination of structural reforms in the society on one hand, and a pioneering role and a strong will of some individuals, who have consistently encouraged women and promoted them, on the other.

An open economy and a champion for international cooperation

Like the Netherlands, Finland is an open economy very much depending on foreign trade, and therefore a champion of free trade.  The forest industry, which uses renewable raw materials, continues to be the most important economic sector in Finland, followed by the mechanical engineering industry.  In the Netherlands, a famous Finnish brand you quite often encounter, without necessarily noticing, is KONE. Its elevators and escalators ensure the smooth flow of people for instance at the Schiphol airport. Also Finnish design is world-famous, and  Iittala vases, originally designed by Alvar Aalto, can be found  at several  upmarket stores in The Hague.

Finland has been an active and constructive member of the European Union since 1995.  In the Netherlands we see a very like-minded and important partner on many European and international issues. We are both pragmatic countries willing  and able to address global challenges. We are also ready to implement and deliver on what has been agreed.

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Photography by Tia Puumalainen.

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