Early morning neon / Kulosaari / 20 Jan 2016

Early morning neon / Kulosaari / 20 Jan 2016







Snellman in the snow / Helsinki / 12 Jan 2016

Snellman in the snow / Helsinki / 12 Jan 2016


At its core, there are two contrasting narratives of Finnish history struggling for dominance. One is a slim narrative, really just a prologue, where a long-ruled people, having earned their freedom after centuries of functioning as a buffer state between two regional, and then global, powers, Finland dives into the 20th century to find it already almost already over. In the second, Finnish national history is spliced with myth and folktale, adopting the magnitude, pitch, rhythm of heroic epic.

Both iterations exist inside Finnish society and in each Finnish citizen. In fact, perhaps the key relationship with their history is the oscillation between these two tellings.

And because Finnish history proper is such a brief period – 99 years currently – there is a fierce ownership over the highlights and they way they are strung together. Furthermore, history exists there in a much realer way. The cities are mostly new, or else done in the Imperial style under the Russian or Swedish rule. Families are, at the most, two generations away from the farm. The connection with the land is not just ideological. The land of Finland represents family in a direct and important way.

University of   Jyväskylä, woods, cabin, snowstorm / Jyväskylä / 17 Mar 2016

University of Jyväskylä, woods, cabin, snowstorm / Jyväskylä / 17 Mar 2016


It is vital to consider how dramatically compressed Finnish history is. Kept an agrarian society for much of the early industrial revolution, it finally modernized just in time for war – first its Civil War and then the World Wars that reduced Finland’s population and capacity. In fact, all of Finland’s real movement into the age of international industrial capitalism happened in the last 70 years.

Through that lens, it’s not fair to consider it alongside centuries old established statehoods like France, modern Germany, or the UK. Instead, Finland should be considered alongside the Baltic States most obviously, but also the postcolonial countries of Africa, the chartered countries of the Middle East, and the American crypto-states Puerto Rico and Guam. While Finland’s position allows it some different considerations, taken as a member of this cohort, its success becomes even more remarkable.

“Because the teaching of mythic versions of the past has so many liabilities, most advocates of patriotic history endorse the teaching of a more truthful version….A truthful presentation of the past allows for better historical analysis, and this amounts to a better education for children, both in terms of acquiring knowledge and of developing capacities for sound political judgment.” Costa (2009), 107.

If you ask what is important to us, it is probably just the independence and how we won the miraculous battle against whatever Soviet Union. – Girl, 14, Helsinki

Independence, of course. After that independence comes the civil war, which is still a major thing. We just kind of fought through the early 1900s in the first place. Then the Second World War, that's one of the main issues. Then Russia, being so close to Russia. It's kind of like it's always there. Everything is going to reflect from it, what we do. These two major events, it's a sad thing, but people tend to think that it's wars which are the turning points. After turning points, I think the major story of Finland has been that we made it anyway, especially we made it through the World War II, and somehow nobody knows what was in Stalin's head. He just decided "Oh well, let them go," and we built up all this in this climate. That's the big story. People are really proud of it.

There still are that the turning points, people tend to think about them and how close it was that everything would have been different. When you look at the neighboring countries, you see Sweden where everything went even much better, smoother. When you look at Estonia, you see what could have happened here. Those are the major defining moments.

The last big defining moment that comes to my mind right now is the collapse of Soviet Union and the Berlin wall. It kind of set everything free again. It used to be a taboo here, because the politicians didn't want to talk about it, because it was all right already, but we knew it wasn't. We had to live in this kind of ... We had this kind of double standard thinking here all the time, and everybody knew it. It's kind of like we didn't have to do it anymore. I was in my late teens, early twenties when all this happened, so it affects me a lot. The younger generation, I think they've seen the European Union Finland. The old Finland wasn't that much different from the outside, but it from the inside was. – Mika, History Teacher, Vantaa

Sweden, our ties are very close. I think we've started intertwining our two militaries. They have the superior air and naval force, and we have the superior ground forces. We work together, especially know we have Russia's increased aggression. Has been accelerating, the rate. Yeah, I think so. Except that we are dependable on Russia. Depending on Russia not so much as we were in the past. Soviet Union. Still we get energy and do some trade from that. Trade showed especially during the 90s from the Soviet Union fall. Wasn't it the second biggest or like ... Trading partner we had. All the money stopped pouring in from there. It showed. During that time, like the 1600s, the 1500 ... There basically was no idea of an independent Finland. We were just a part of the Swedish kingdom. The idea arose during those times. – Mikko, 15, Helsinki

“The territory of Finland was fundamental both to the growing spatial extension of national identity and to the imagination of nation as such. The process in and through which a region called 'Finland' was invented -- first by the educated elite and later by the masses -- involved an extraction from the people’s everyday practice of certain cultural traits, their association with the ’Finland-object’, and the elevation of the resulting object into the status of enduring, unified, historical entity -- a political subject.” Jouni (1999), 142

We have some common history that should be important for everyone, but I think nowadays we have a lot of people from different backgrounds. I think we are all proud of Finnish things. That's probably the most important thing that we are proud of this whole system here, schools, healthcare, and then we have the cultural background. – Mona, 23, Student Teacher, Helsinki

questions for discussion or writing

  1. What is the effect of Finland's "compressed history" on 21st century global developments?
  2. American audiences: How is the course of Finnish history similar or different to American history?
  3. Finnish audiences: What effect does this "compressed history" have on the Finnish national identity?
  4. Explain how Jouni and Costa describe how the idea of Finland came to exist. Can you think of any comparable examples?
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this section complement or relate to the text?
Birds projected on the Cathedral during LUX / Helsinki / 9 Jan 2016

Birds projected on the Cathedral during LUX / Helsinki / 9 Jan 2016


Although Finland was part of Sweden for over 600 years, and there is a great deal of information available about that period, the literature as it exists now if slim on analysis. It seems, for all intents and purposes, that the time was defined by a tense peace. Of course, it is much more complicated than that, as I found through my conversations with Finns throughout the country. Finnish reactions to the Swedish period end with a whimper as Sweden, stung for its overarching ambition, had to surrender the territory to the Russian Empire.

The period of Russian rule, when Finland obtained a type of autonomous rule unique in the empire, seems much more complicated. Page for page, more seems to be written about the development and legacy of the Russian period than any other period in its history, including the two World Wars and its independence. The idea of Finland as a place of its own originated during this time. It was only in contrast to the Russian Empire, the language, and the soldiers garrisoned in Finland that the country awakened and began to dream of its statehood. 

“The Grand Duchy of Finland was a state, created in 1809 when the Diet swore fealty to the czar-grand duke at Porvoo. Of that, Snellman and the others were certain. But Finland and the Finns were not yet a nation. That required consciousness and a distinct identity.” Rinehart (2002) 428

“In 1843, Zacharius Topelius, then a twenty-five year old student of natural philosophy, gave a public lecture entitled ‘Do the Finnish People Possess a History?’ at the Imperial Alexander University, which in time became the Unviersity of Helsinki. He answered in the negative. Because Finland had no political existence, he argued, it was not a legitimate topic of historical investigation. The Finns had not been sovereign agents. They had never acted politically on their own behalf but always as part of another political entity.

Topelius was the youngest of a small group of writers and intellectuals who set about to create a Finnish national identity where none had existed before. In many countries, that would have been an organic development or the task of kings, soldiers, and statesmen, but, in Finland, it was a conscious act and the work of a philosopher (and economist), Johan Vilhelm Snellman, a linguist (and physician) Elias Lönnrot, a poet (and teacher) Johan Ludvig Runeberg, and Topelius, a playwright and popular historian, who taught young Finns what it meant to be Finnish….they gave Finland a past and a myth distinct from that of other countries.” Rinehart (2002), 427

“Until 1809, although it was a Grand Duchy, Finland was regarded in Europe as an integral part of Sweden: afterwards, although constitutionally it continued as a Grand Duchy under a Russian monarch, it was frequently described as ‘Russian Finland.’” Mead (1991), 310

Maybe when we got rid of Sweden, that was important. That was because of Russia. Because Russians take over Finland and then the Swedes didn't do anything about it. They just let it happen. If the Russians wouldn't have taken over Finland then Finland would never have gotten its independence. That's really important. Since we were part of Sweden but then Russians took over Finland. Then Russia kind of gave Finland its independence. – Isa, 16, Vantaa

“Autonomous Finland was originally a political construct, a buffer state of Russia based on bureaucratic practices, not a cultural nation with strong nationalist feelings. The state was a manifestation of the will of the Emperor, and the Finns were his subjects. In its political and social development, Finland remained a part of eastern Europe where revolution, the rise of the bourgeoisie, early industrialization, parliamentary democracy and public opinion were not matters of relevance.” Passi (1997), 44

I don’t think the independence would have the same kind of effects because now Finland has joined as one country because we had two different sides and then we joined together as one for the independence so I feel like if it happened later it wouldn’t have been for the same reason or the same situation and it wouldn’t have been under the same circumstances so at that time, when it happened the reasons were good and brought the country together as one. – Girl, 14, Helsinki

“By the end of the nineteenth century, Finland having discovered its national identity was seeking confirmation of it in Europe at large.” Mead (1991), 308.

I don’t think we would be independent now if we weren’t a part of Russia. Because Finland was so integrated into Sweden back then, so I don’t think we would have became independent because no one had thought of it. – Boy, 14, Helsinki


  1. What effect has this back-and-forth between Russia and Sweden had on the Finnish national identity?
  2. American audiences: What are some international or American analogues for Topelius, Snellman, Runeberg, and company, and how are their ideas similar?
  3. Finnish audiences: What is the lasting legacy of Topelius, Snellman, Runeberg, and company? That is, how are their ideas relevant to you today?
  4. What does it mean for Finland that it spent much of its colonial history as a "buffer state?"
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this chapter complement or relate to this section text?
Helsingin  päärautatieasema / Helsinki / 10 Apr 2016

Helsingin päärautatieasema / Helsinki / 10 Apr 2016


Keeping with Finland’s historical compression, independence and a bloody and contentious civil war came essentially right upon each other. The war, as much a part of World War I’s greater upending of the existing order. In fact, that European uncertainty, and the Russian Revolution in particular, gave Finland the opportunity to declare its independence.

When it did declare its independence, the nature, structure, and guiding ideology of the moment seem, now with the sepia cast of history, almost American – or perhaps even more so. After all, Finland’s colonial power was its neighbor, an unpredictable superpower with one-tenth of the world’s area. In Finland’s civil war, the conservative whites, nationalists who sought to preserve a sense of developing Finland, fought the Reds, who were, like Reds all Europe over, wanted a wholesale reformation of society. By the war’s end, where the Whites did triumph, left a collective taste of fratricide in the mouth of the new nation.

The declaration of independence is as much a point of national pride as veiled embarrassment as the subsequent bloodletting.  Among all other periods of Finnish history, this episode does the most to explode a rift in Finland. Several authors and filmmakers are just now starting to probe the way in which the war of brother against brother shaped the outer limits of the Finnish national psyche. What they seem to be learning is that the struggle, the grasping for the country’s future, shades the ongoing discourse today.

“When Finland became the autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia, and the province of Viborg was attached to its territory three years later, the Finnish nation-building assumed a territorial framework that would remain virtually intact until 1940. This territorial continuity was accompanied by political and administrative one, as the Finns were also allowed to retain their old Swedish constitution. By the end of the 19th century the Grand Duchy of Finland had its own parliament, government, administration, law and courts, postal services, army (until 1904), and currency. To be sure, the Russian governor-general represented the supreme executive power in the country, but this could not considerably hinder the state-making efforts in Finland. All in all, it can safely be asserted that the formative years of national identity in Finland took place in a stable geographical setting.” Jouni (1999), 127

Independence. That's really important in Finnish because if we still would be under the influence of Russia everything would be really different in here. We would probably speak Russian more than Finnish. It's really important, at least to me because I'm fully Finnish, to just speak my own language. – Olivia, 13, Helsinki

“On December 6,1917 the Finnish Senate declared Finland independent from the Russian Empire. The declaration of independence ended a century long relationship between the two nations. The decision to separate the Grand Duchy of Finland from Russia was made rapidly after Bolsheviks seized power in St. Petersburg. The quick declaration of independence alarmed Finnish Socialists and Communists, who declared their solidarity with fighting comrades in Russia. Conservative parties, however, were determined to secure independence. As a result, political polarization escalated and a bloody and bitter civil war was fought during the spring of 1918.” Michelson and Kuisma (1997), 344

The day when we became independent is important Probably because of background where being part of the Russia wasn't so good, probably that's why. People are still talking about that a lot and we still have people alive who are able to remember the time before that and so on. – Mona, 23, Student Teacher, Helsinki

“The Finnish Civil War of 1917–1918 could be portrayed as a kind of ‘class war’ whereby the aristocracy, Swedish speakers, and rural Finns supported the Whites while the industrial cities, containing the Finnish- working class, tended towards the Reds.” Dutton (2010), 96

Finnish wars are pretty important because Finnish people remember back to, oh, we beat Russia kinda, we fought against them, we kind of won, we defended ourselves. – Lauri, 15, Helsinki

Almost every documentary shown on television in 1997 as part of Finland's celebration of 80 years of independence (the year's theme was Multicultural Finland) involved the war years. The war themes in four of these documentaries resonated with current political discussions in Finland. At times, the media presented an image but no commentary; for example, one documentary about Finns evacuated to Sweden during World War II ended with a picture of Somali refugees walking across the tarmac of Vantaa airport in the 1990s. This juxtaposition of history with a modern image linked nationalism, multiculturalism, and, by analogy, the common experiences of refugees. A second documentary addressed the way the Finns treated Russian residents of Karelia, moving them into camps during the war. A third documentary showed old men today in Russian Karelia who had fought in the Finnish army and can now receive Finnish veteran's pensions. The most recent film was about women in the Lotta-Svard voluntary association, women who served during the war by cooking, nursing, and doing random but necessary jobs for the army. The Lotta organization was banned after the war as part of the armistice, and the women were later depicted as being either too politically conservative or ‘loose.’” Armstrong (2000), 604

We were supposed to have a king from German I think. Then because in German there were so many problems so that's why we couldn't get a king form there. That's why we have a president. I have friend who really likes a lot the royals. She's really upset that we don't have a king. – Jade, 17, Vantaa

Independence of course was important because that finally gave us the complete Finnish identity, our own Finnish country. Of course, that was important. I think World War II especially, since it showed to the world what a plucky little nation could do against such a giant like the Soviet Union. Of course, joining the EU was a big step as well. Among the first. Of course the fall of Soviet Union, because the fall led us to do that, kind of forced us also to open our doors so there was a world. Once the fear was gone we were allowed to expand out. – Mikko, 15, Helsinki


  1. What about independence seems most important for Finnish teachers and students?
  2. American audiences: Is the Finnish experience during their declaration of independence and civil war similar to the American experience?
  3. Finnish audiences: In what ways are the conflicts at the heart of the civil war still being felt today?
  4. What is the connection between the Finnish civil war and the Russian Revolution?
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this chapter complement or relate to this section text?
Sibeliuksenpuisto frozen over / Helsinki / 12 Jan 2016

Sibeliuksenpuisto frozen over / Helsinki / 12 Jan 2016


After a brief period of rebuilding, where Finland used its opportunity for reconciliation as a means to develop a sense of civic pride and duty towards the greater good, the country became embroiled in the greater conflict of World War II. Finland, however, was not a formal belligerent on either side. Theirs was a simultaneous trio of wars for sovereignty: the Winter War, which was followed by the Continuation War and then the Lapland War.

Their role in the greater global is complicated; they fought against the Soviet Union and were allied with Hitler’s Germany - though separately from the Axis powers and out of necessity after being willfully abandoned by Sweden – before turning and fighting the Nazis towards the end of action in the European theater. Finland not only bears a badge of distinction for being the only country that fought against the Soviet Union that was not subsequently incorporated into the greater USSR and being the only other European combatant besides the UK that was never occupied, but for repaying their wartime reparations to the Soviet Union on time and in full. 

“The demons of the interwar period haunt Finns far less than they do the peoples of other East-Central European countries. The Finns may have been in a kind of narcosis in the post-World War II decades, but their sleep was much lighter than elsewhere.” Alapuro (1992), 703

“The interwar period was in many ways exceptional in Finnish history. In spite of proximity, Finland had almost no relationship with the Soviet Union. It was the civil war which demolished Finland and left the country socially and politically isolated in the northernmost corner of Europe. In order to survive, Finland had to unify and establish new business connections in Western Europe and the United States. This required a socially, politically, culturally and economically strong nation.” Michelson and Kuisma (1997), 352

The thing is that when I think about when I was a kid, a young guy, in every family which wasn't particularly leftist, everybody thought that we had this thing with Russia, and they shouldn't be irritated. People were taught to hate them, or despise them actually not to hate but despise them. People felt that we are better than they are because we're richer. They won the war, but we made it; they didn't. We had this thing: we're doing our business, and ... How should I put it? I have this feeling, as I've already said, of having double standards. When you talk, everybody knew it's just like chatting. What we are doing here, we're just trying to hold on in this and trying to grab ourselves slowly through the west all the time with this possibility. – Mika, History Teacher, Vantaa

“Although small in population, Finland rapidly developed into a modern European industrial state during the interwar period. This accomplishment was exceptional among the new nations that had gained sovereignty after World War I. Why did Finland succeed where others failed? Historians have pointed out that Finland had already created independent legal and bureaucratic institutions by the 19th century. Finland was also able to build relatively strong national identity under Russian rule. Therefore, Finland was politically, socially and culturally independent and ready to set herself free from the Russian empire.” Michelson and Kuisma (1997), 344

Yeah, I'm fortunate when I went and talked to my relatives and ... Actually, my grandparents, they really ... My grandparents made it to Karelia in the World War, and I know that it traumatized them a lot. When I speak to my other relatives too, they have this sort of Russian hate in their blood because their parents taught them that and I try to be objective when I listen to them, but I really don't understand it. I just tell them that I didn't live in that time.

I've heard my grandma and grandpa talk about the war, but not so much my grandfather, cause I don't think he wants to talk about it. But my grandma has told about her mother and father and stuff like that during the war and how they had to live, and she wants to talk about it, she wants to educate me. But our generation isn't that familiar, I think, and a lot of grandparents had to go through it, so they basically are a bit traumatized, maybe, because of it. And I think they just don't want to go back to those memories. – Girl, 16, Helsinki

Also, I think the things that most of us are really proud of our victory in the Winter War. I mean it wasn't a victory. All around the world, especially in the USA, they're like, "Yeah, go Finland you beat Russia." Most Finns just think that it was a miracle that Finland survived those months. The size comparison, you can't even compare them because Russia was so overpowering, but we still kind of won. – Girl, 14, Helsinki


  1. What makes Finland's experience during the interwar period unique?
  2. American audiences: Compare Finnish interwar history with American interwar history.
  3. Finnish audiences: What effect does the combination of the the Winter War, Continuation War, and Lapland War have on the Finnish psyche?
  4. What does Alapuro mean by claiming that the Finns' interwar "sleep" was "lighter than elsewhere?"
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this chapter complement or relate to this section text?
The river Porvonjoki thawing & painted wood / Porvoo / 4 Feb 2016

The river Porvonjoki thawing & painted wood / Porvoo / 4 Feb 2016


It was only after the horrors of World War II that Finland, having fought its own war and fended off both the Red Army and the Nazis, was able to turn towards the task of actual nation-building. However, it had to establish itself as an independent actor while the Cold War expanded. Geography aside, Finland’s actions during the years before the fall of the Soviet Union display a keen sense of its own size and an awareness of political performance that many countries both larger and further away from the western edge of Russia lack.

But it did successfully navigate the larger problems, partially by being conciliatory where necessary, and partially by turning its attention inward, towards domestic development. During these decades, Finland began to develop a civil society, adapting the Russian and Swedish legacies into a social model all its own.

In recent decades, Finland’s turn towards Europe has proved a mixed blessing, for the same reasons that other Eurozone countries demonstrate, but that integration has demonstrated a larger shift: Finland desires to become more international, engaged, connected, and involved in, if not the decision itself, in the discussion around it. 

“[An] internal cost of the Finnish-Soviet relationship has been the need for the Finns to exercise considerable self-restraint.” Kwak (1984), 36.

I think the Winter War is important. Well. I mean that ... Russia, they had more lands and weapons than Finland so that's like unbelievable how Finland won. We were like kept our independence. It's yeah. – Sanceri, 16, Vantaa

“Finland is today the only European border country of the Soviet Union to retain the independence won after World War I. Of the countries involved in World War II, only Finland and Yugoslavia have succeeded in remaining outside both the NATO and Warsaw pacts.” Kwak (1984), 35.

“It is already a challenging task to give students a clear sense of how complicated actual historical events were. It is even more challenging to do this while also finding something valuable in what is studied—and valuable in a way that inspires some sort of identification with the nation.” Costa (2009), 108

In ordinary life, you didn't see any Russians, because they couldn't travel. The Russians we saw here were the same you saw there, on TV. Nobody knew anything about Russia, actually, not even allies.

Then came the backlash in the early nineties as well. Before that, all these war stories and so on were considered to be for the right-winger hotheads reading their stories. Then came this huge influx of war. Studies from the universities and novels and all that kind of stuff came over, and people were really proud. All this war hassle started at the time, which is still kind of going on. I don't like it. I'm a patriotic man, of course. In this place like Finland, you need to be patriotic, but I'm really un-militaristic. I think that when it comes to army and guns and such, it's only when needed. We don't have to hold another war all the time.

This backlash started then, and then the old Finland was also different in an inner way, because the whole country was a kind of half-closed economy. Economy was growing really fast, like six or seven percent a year. People were getting richer all the time. My basic experience from the 1980s was that we had color TV in the beginning of the eighties. In the late eighties, we had videos and better cars. Everything was getting better, and people were very equal at the time. There was lots of money to be made for ordinary people. You got good salaries all right over here, but there wasn't anything like these internet tycoons or anything like that, no quick money anywhere, so people tended to be like equal.

Also, the country was very, very Finnish. I went to school for twelve years without having a single foreign-origin student with myself, and I was born forty miles from Helsinki, which is quite the industrial city. There weren’t any foreigners. It was really Finnish, and it was always a luxury ticket to be born here. It's very like a small village where everything goes fine. Just don't rock the boat, and that's how it was.

In the beginning of the nineties, that all changed with a bad recession. The Soviet Union collapsed; freedom came through the press and everything, but then the economy also collapsed, because one quarter of their export went to the Soviet Union. The recession was really bad in this industrial region where I come from. In Helsinki here, you meet people, they hardly know this, like the professionals. Industrial region, my father had a construction business all ended up in a year. There wasn't a single family with one or both parents unemployed at least three, four years. The whole thing went over because we were so well to do before. The clothes lasted for three years before they were rags, and then things got better. That recession, they say when you read from books "Just discuss about this." "Well, it ended abruptly as well. Nokia came, and it all went better." No, it went better for the IT professionals in Helsinki and Espoo, but when I graduated in 1998, the job situation for university students like myself wasn't good. It wasn't good. The good times started in the beginning of 2000. – Mika, History Teacher, Vantaa

When I think about my family, my grandfather and my grandmother are from the same region fifty miles west from here. My grandmother's family was fifteen children. They didn't even own their land. They were just farmhands. My grandfather's parents owned a small farm, like forty acres, bad land. A dozen kids, none of them could stay there. My grandmother had six years of school, the elementary school, which was all right. My grandfather had never had this formal schooling. He learned to read and write but never learned to count very well. When they hooked up together after World War II when grandfather got back from the front, my father was the only child. MY grandmother was ... It wasn't that clever thing; she was kind of sick, and she couldn't have any more kids. They could give my father an education in the 1960s, and he came to Helsinki. He's a building engineer, which is good. It's a huge social lead. I'm the first generation who went to university and did high school in our kin, and it's a very common story in Finland that many people of my age are the first generation of educated people. We know the old times. We can still remember the grandfathers and grandmothers like my grandparents that were industrial workers. My family is a very typical Finnish story form farms to industries to industries to services.

Many people are one generation from the farms. It all happened since 1940s, all this happened, so the change has been really rapid. It has had an impact on our culture and our physical surrounding as well. They used to say that Swedish Fins are more social, and they live better lives, but their communities have never been decimated in this way. They have never moved away from their homeland. They've always been these little farmers and fishermen around here. Most of the Fins have moved a lot within one hundred years. It has changed the face of this country. Still, me as a first generation academic, I did the bad studies. I didn't go to study law; I was just glad to get the university. For my parents, it's a big thing, the university. To my kids, I won't let them go study history or anything like that. They have a chance of getting the bucks, and I'm a cultural people myself, but the thing is in tomorrow's world, they won't need that many people of my skills anymore. – Mika, History Teacher, Helsinki

R: When we were at war, I was so young and my parents don’t tell anything about the war. I only know that it is the war but I learned about this war from magazines where men who were in war, they write to magazines and it comes one time a month and I was seven or eight years old, I read all those and all maps where these Russian people…My war is coming from books. People don’t talk about it. It was very typical in many families, they never talk anything about the war. It was kind of taboo, don’t ask.

Q: Why do think that is? Why was no one at home willing to talk about the war?

R: It hurts so much. All the people, they don’t want to talk and then, the people, they didn’t ask but it’s really very strong at that time. – Ritva, 77, Imatra

“Finland really resembles the former Soviet satellites in East-Central Europe in many respects. As in the former satellites and also Finland as well, World War II froze the political situation.” Alapuro (1992), 701

Because of the wars, our grandparents are quite traumatized by Russia, and they given these attitudes to our parents, but we don’t have those especially in this school because we are all from different cultures most of us are from different cultures in some way. We don’t have that, we never lived during the war, so we’re not traumatized by Russia so we don’t understand why Russia is so bad like our parents think. Different generations.. my grandma was six when the second world war started and she never really talked about it much, I think it’s because we don’t really want to talk about it, but my generation, the internet generation, we made a lot of jokes about the situation in Russia and the people there. It’s not that big of a deal to us what our life was like for our grandparents. I’ve heard my grandma and grandpa talk about the war. My grandpa not as much because I don’t think he wants to talk about it. But my grandma has told me about her mother and father and stuff like that during the war. She wants to talk about it and she wants to educate me. I don’t think our generation isn’t that familiar and a lot of grandparents had to go through it so they are a bit traumatized from it and they don’t want to go back to those memories. – Girl, 14, Helsinki

“The construction of Finnishness was aimed at socializing the Finns as western people. Finland had indeed been regarded as a western country before the war, but many new geopolitical representations tended to place it in Eastern Europe after World War II. The arguments behind this displacement were based on new economic and political links between Finland and the Soviet Union, which were regarded as bringing Finland into the Soviets sphere of interest. This was reflected in the countries international image, particularly in the well-known, disparaging discourses on the ‘Finlandization’ that shaded certain western representations of Finland's geopolitical location since the 1950s.” Passi (1997), 47

Uhro Kekkonen being the president for like twenty years is one of the most important parts of our history. Well probably because he might have actually faked the Note Crisis. People think he might have framed the crisis so that he would have gained more power and more voters. I don't know. I think it is just that he seemed to have really good relationship with the Russian leaders. That's why most people like him as a hero. – Boy, 13, Helsinki

“The history of the Finnish nation-state was, until the end of the 1980s, the history of a relatively closed nation, although in the long-term perspective, Finland has always had to cope with powerful neighbors who were its rulers for long periods (Sweden until the year 1807; Russia until 1917). Later, trade relations with the Soviet Union and its geo-political position as a neutral watershed between the super- powers of the east and west has always meant a unique status for Finland. National non-alliance and a closed-doors policy, in fact a kind of isolationism, can be seen in the fact that Finland has remained outside the military alliances of the Cold War, and has maintained various customs barriers, currency regulation, import restrictions and kept its borders closed to immigration, etc. During the so-called Second Republic, which extended to the late 1980s, a national consensus crystallized, among other things, in the rhetoric of an homogeneous country and its population.” Rinne et al (2002), 645

“Not everyone in Finland shares the same political views, but people know the political codes and the reference points. Right now, the war years provide a common historic time frame around which people discuss both past and present.” Armstrong (2000), 604

When I talk to my relatives especially my grandparents, they needed to leave their home when the world war ended. I know that it traumatized them a lot and when I speak to my other relatives they have a kind of Russian hate in their blood because of what their parents taught them that. I try to be objective when I talk to them, I don’t understand it but that shows that I didn’t live at that time. I have a great grandmother who is turning 107 so she has lived through the independence and the world wars and she has a very strong opinion about this that has caught on with the rest of our family. I don’t exactly feel the same way but I understand it very well. – Girl, 15, Helsinki


  1. What is the connection between the development of a Finnish identity and the wartime period?
  2. American audiences: How has American proximity or distance shaped national character and identity?
  3. Finnish audiences: How does the relationship with Russia in the years after World War II demonstrate a Finnish exceptionalism?
  4. Consider Mika's point that almost all Finns are only a few generations away from rural lives. What are the consequences of this?
  5. What kind of gaps can you find in either the academic research or the interviews?
  6. What comments from the Finnish students do you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting? 
  7. In what way do the selected images in this chapter complement or relate to this section text?
Bored at the Atheneum / Helsinki / 3 Mar 2016

Bored at the Atheneum / Helsinki / 3 Mar 2016