Russian Border near Svetogorsk / Imatra / 27 Feb 2016

Russian Border near Svetogorsk / Imatra / 27 Feb 2016

  1. introduction

  2. FInland and its neighbors

  3. Sweden

  4. Russia

  5. the karelian case

  6. europe

  7. finland and the world


Children's graffiti at the Designmuseo / Helsinki / 4 Mar 2016

Children's graffiti at the Designmuseo / Helsinki / 4 Mar 2016


Finland, between East and West. So the old adage goes. But the phrase’s staying power is a testament to the truth contained within. Geopolitically, Finland occupies a strange liminal space, a middle ground between what political cartographers name Europe and the expanding and expansive Russian territory. It’s a northern European country, but not Baltic, and not Scandinavian. It is Nordic, but unlike both Sweden and Norway, though the former is closer than the latter.

Finland’s geography has always been more political that strictly cartographical. The concept of “Finland” is fairly new. For much of its history, segments, fragments, quadrants had been carved off, bartered, exchanged, and given as gifts.

An academic described the country to me thusly, on the condition of eternal anonymity: “Finland is a Russian version of Sweden.” Clever, and approaching something resembling the truth, and the same with the vice versa. Finland is definitely somewhat Swedish. And it’s undeniably part Russian. But there’s something else there as well, some core local flavor that is, thankfully, it’s own.

As a result, Finland feels culturally more connected to their neighbors than almost any other country I am familiar with – perhaps save Israel. For them, international relations always have domestic consequences. 

Science class at Viiki / Helsinki / 14 Jan 2016

Science class at Viiki / Helsinki / 14 Jan 2016


For so long, Finland has been defined by its neighbors. In fact, the history of Finland is almost entirely a history of northern Europe. Finland had been an example of a vassal state, a penalty for Swedish imperial ambitions, and a no-man’s-land between Russia and the bellicose West. As a result, Finnish identity is greatly defined by these relationships and historical episodes.

Finnish approaches to diplomacy tend to have a familial quality – the Nordics on one side, headed by Sweden, and Russia on the other. One benefit to this multifaceted approach to regional politics is that Finland is able to navigate bi- and multipolar issues much easer than either of its neighbors, a skill that has served it well thus far into the 21st century.

If there are intrinsic limitations on Finland’s global success, then they are only internal, psychological limits set by excessive and now-unneeded comparisons to the east and west. Instead, as some forward-thinking history teachers suggest, Finland should shed the dialectical definitions associated with its colonial and wartime identity, and look towards making its own identity anew. 

“Through discovery and conquest, the external powers not only defined the area of Finland but also divided it, and this division has had far-reaching consequences in the cultural history of the area. The cultural border crossing through Europe divided Finland into western and eastern cultural areas.” Siikala (2006), 156

Because I think, we're the small thing in between- there's massive Russia, and then not so massive Sweden, but Sweden is a lot bigger country than Finland. We've been either ruled by either one, or owned by one of them, and maybe we still don't know. We're kind of struggling here. It's kind of cute and sweet that anytime Finland is in one form or another mentioned somewhere in international news, anything, just a small tiny thing – Katariina, English Teacher, Helsinki

Finland wasn't a kind of colony of Sweden. Actually, in the peace treaty with Russia, Sweden didn't cede any Finland. They ceded counties of eastern Sweden. During this period, I know how much you've learned about it, but we have Swedish law, Swedish money for decades, and Swedish language, which is the language of education and so on. Actually, the bond between Finland and Sweden never broke out. Russians tried to break it, but they started too late. They had only one decade to go, then came World War I.

Russians, they can't be compared. We grew up with Sweden, together. It's kind of like another leg. It was cut off, and the bad wolf took it. The bad bear took it. After a while, we just had to stand by ourselves. The thing is one of the major things you need to understand about this relationship during the autonomy, as any educated class of Finland and the nobility which owned everything here was Swedish. They went to Stockholm, had their kids educated over there, and the cultural influence came from Stockholm to Helsinki, their literature and everything. Russian as a language, I know it's very rare for the nobility to understand it, except for the people who are trading with them or having a military career over there. They can't be compared.

– Mika, History Teacher, Vantaa

“During the last two decades, Finns have established themselves with increasing vigor in both Eastern and Western Europe…. No country has had greater experience in conducting these projects than Finland.” Mead (1991), 309

With Russia, not so good. Yeah, not so good. I think that most of the people are scared and I don't think it's a real feeling. Yeah, that's a feel probably. With Sweden, I think we have some competition all the time or it's something like that, but it's much better. I think that Finnish people like Swedish people and so on. – Mona, 23, Student Teacher, Helsinki

As she mentioned a little bit before, our fear has a lot to do with our history because there was already, a long time ago, I think it was called Finlandization? I don’t know what it’s called but we have always been kind of scared emotionally because of the big world wars, all of the decisions they made had to be thought out well on because it all effected what Russia would do to them. – Girl, 14, Helsinki

“Over the past few decades, processes of cultural, economic, and political internationalization and globalization have caused both increasing insecurity about national identity and a loosening of the bond between collective and personal identity in Europe. However, this process has not weakened but intensified the search for identity.” Arts and Halman (2005/2006), 70

We’re a pretty small country, so everyone doesn't even know where Finland is in Europe. Like in Spain or Italy. – Lauri, 15, Helsinki

Sweden is our big brother. We have little teasing with each other. It's not serious. We're friends I would say. Yeah. Of course, economically, Russia is bigger, playing a bigger role. Politically, we're close. At least I think so. The people are the same kind. It's like we're the countryside of Sweden. They're the more civilized people and we're the countryside. Also Europe, we are the countryside. We don't have a lot of power to say things in the European Union. We're just there to hang around and get some ... How do you say it? We're there to protect our own interests. We're interested in Europe. Europe isn't interested in us I would say. – Matti, 19, Helsinki

“Europe, however, is still far away from a United States of Europe that could adopt the well-known motto of the United States of America: E pluribus unum. Today it resembles much more a ‘family of cultures’ made up of a syndrome of partially shared historical traditions and cultural heritages.” Arts and Halman (2005/2006), 71

It's a bit tense between Russia and Finland maybe. It's always been. It won't disappear in 20 years. If Russia doesn't do anything in 20 years okay maybe then we an be friends because the most racist people in Finland are like 60 plus years old. Also probably in the USA the same thing. They hate Russia because they are mothers and fathers said Russia is bad. They are killing our family they're destroying our country. And that's why they hate. And then they tell our mothers and fathers that Russia is bad. Y father doesn't like Russia because his parents told him Russia is so bad. That's why. I don't see any trouble with Russia because they haven't done anything in so long. – Anna, 15, Helsinki

“The reluctance of some people to support membership in the European Union is often regarded as evidence of fear that their national identities will be endangered by the further unification of Europe.” Arts and Halman (2005/2006), 76

Being more careful with Russia, yeah. Sweden, we can say whatever we want; if we want to be mean, we can do it, but with Russia we have to think about the future with the country. – Maria, 17, Joensuu


  1. What are Finland's different attitudes towards its neighbors and how are they incorporated into the Finnish identity?
  2. American audiences: How has American history been shaped by our proximity between two strong and distinctly different neighbors?
  3. Finnish audiences: In what ways has Finland managed to reconcile the Russian and Swedish influences into a cohesive whole?
  4. In what way can membership in the European Union, as Arts and Halman claim, endanger national identity?
  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?
Thrift store, South Karelia / Imatra/ 26 Feb 2016

Thrift store, South Karelia / Imatra/ 26 Feb 2016


More than any other internal force, much of what Finland is today – for good and ill – is owed to Sweden. Swedish remains the second official language, possibly more out of respect than necessity. Sweden is the major trading partner. Sweden, the old colonial power, holds large economic, social, and political influence over Finland.

 When asked, Finns will compliment Swedish industry or praise the bilateral military cooperation. Finland seems to recognize that, as the Russian economy wanes, a waxing Europe and Sweden in particular are increasingly vital to any sort of economic success.

 But the Finns are critical as well. Older Finns recounted the times when Sweden could have come to its aid, given some help or support, but didn’t. And they are not sure if it was out of self-preservation or fear, fear at how much the Scandinavian kingdom had been weakened. Students protest the one-sided relationship. They learn Swedish and the country’s history, yet, they say, most Swedes know nothing at Finland, nothing beyond the mostly Swedish-speaking islands and the western coast.

 And then there is hockey. The Finnish team doesn’t need to win. When pressed, they can root for the Canadian team, or even America. But Sweden, Sweden must lose.

“Moreover, although both Finland and Sweden were described together as being 'neutral', their neutrality was of a very different character. Swedish neutrality had deep historical roots and was based, ultimately, upon a conception of Sweden as a major power in European politics. Its neutrality did not imply military weakness. Indeed, after the Second World War, Sweden was militarily rather strong. Finland, for its part, was on the losing side in 1945 and was compelled to pay reparations to the Soviet Union. It also concluded a Treaty of Friendship with the USSR in 1948; this not only limited its room for maneuver, but meant that it had to adapt its policies to the Soviet Union in order to avoid being drawn into a Soviet sphere of influence. Unlike Swedish neutrality, therefore, Finnish neutrality was a by-product of the Cold War and a means of dealing with its close neighbor, the USSR.” Tiilikainen (1998), 51

Nobody sees Sweden as a threat. They're just our friends, neighbors. We do like to make jokes of them, or say we're better, or they're better, just like a normal, maybe even brotherhood. – Timofei, 18, Helsinki

Sweden and Finland have no direct problems. We are friends with them. We are brothers with them. There’s no tension with us, it's cool. It's just the ice hockey, but everything else is cool. – Marcus, 15, Helsinki

E: I think that Finnish people envy Swedish people. They're always happy and they always have a great time and they always succeed. I think that's the reason why we always make fun of Sweden. In the end we just envy them I guess.

A2: I'd want to live in Sweden one day.

E: All the people move to Sweden.

A1: It feels like everything Finland does is somehow compared to Sweden, doing the same thing...

E: Better. (laughter)

A1: Always. Well Sweden did it too, and they did it better, so now we got to try and do it real good. I don't know. Every time, for example, when I'm in the States, visiting family and stuff and then some new friend asks me, "So where is Finland? Is it, like, next to Sweden?" It's always next to Sweden. There's always that sort of comparison...

A2: We're in the shade of Sweden. – Anni, 17, Emma, 17, and Annika, 17, Tampere

Yeah, it's kind of like Sweden is the people that are really good and perfect and everything. I feel like it's kind of like having this small competition with them. Always want to be better than Sweden. I don't think Sweden people really care about it at all. It's just Finnish people trying to bully its ex-husband or something like that. – Iida, 16, Vantaa

We always have to be better in some way and Sweden – Ville, 15, Joensuu

With Sweden, they have a lot of athletic competition and generally jealousy because they are a very pretty group of people and they are known throughout the world. The funny thing is that this rivalry between Finland and Sweden is also between Iceland and Sweden because all the countries kind of hate Sweden. Part of the reason is that Sweden has the jobs, better paid. – Girl and Boy, 14, Helsinki

The Swedes, they have a lot of respect for Fins. When I'm there during the summer, when I tell them I'm from Finland, they're like, "Oh, that's cool", and then they start asking everything. – Titus, 15, Helsinki

The defense cooperation Finland and Sweden are working on is quite good. But I think it has been pretty much the same for quite a long time now. But the other people do have I guess, well the Swedish really don't care about the Finns but the Finnish all the time are just looking at the Swedes, why are they better than us? – Benjamin, 16, Helsinki

Yeah. I wouldn't call it jealous, but we hate Swedish because we have to speak their language. We used to be under their rule. They used to be our leaders. They think always that they're better than us. They laugh at us. Exactly because of the drunk thing and being Finnish is embarrassing. So we have kind of a hate love relationship. We still like their country. We don't like the people so much. It's true that they're better at stuff. Their music is better than ours. – Girl, 14, Helsinki

I think it's really funny that for Swedish people, they think that Finland is like their little brother, and they're always cheering when Finland is playing against some other country, except Sweden. And we're never cheering for Sweden, we're always like "Canada! Go Canada! Go Canada!" It's really funny, they think that we're good, and we think that Sweden is bad. Everything is better than Sweden. – Boy, 17, Helsinki

But still it's strange that in Finland we have to study about Sweden and other Nordic countries because it is part of our learning and stuff, but for Sweden they don't have to learn about Finland that much, so it is kind of funny that they still cheer on for us, but we know so much more about them because we're taught more about them and their language so it's just kind of strange and kind of crossed. – Boy, 16, Helsinki

I think it’s really funny that, like, for Swedish people they think of Finland as their little brother, and they’re always cheering when Finland is playing against some other country. But we are never cheering for Sweden, we are always like “Go Canada!” It’s really funny, like, Sweden thinks that were good and we think that Sweden is bad, everything is better than Sweden. But still it’s strange that in Finland we have to study about Sweden and other northern countries just because it’s part of our learning, but in Sweden they don’t have to learn about Finland that much, it’s kind of funny that they still have to cheer for us, but we know so much more about them and their language so it’s just kind of strange. – Girl, 14, Helsinki

Well, older people don't like Russia that much but I don't think the young people think that as bad thing as the older ones. Sweden is not that bad think. We don't think the same about them as we think about Russians. – Essi, 16, Vantaa


  1. What kind of reactions to the relationship with Sweden do the Finnish interviewees offer?
  2. American audiences: What similarities between Swedish-Finnish and American-British relationships can you discuss?
  3. Finnish audiences: Does the Swedish influence still have as prominent a part in Finnish society?
  4. How is the mostly historical research dramatically different from the emotional reactions of the interviewees?
  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?
Kuokkala Church /  Jyväskylä / 18 Mar 2016 / Photo: Jenna Grimley

Kuokkala Church / Jyväskylä / 18 Mar 2016 / Photo: Jenna Grimley


Russia is Sweden’s antithesis, its direct opposite in terms of Finland. Much of the complexity of Russia that is lost on the average American is woven into the weft of political thinking in Finland.

 Before the Soviet Union fell, much of Finland’s economy, reputedly up to a full third, was dependent on Russian purchasing power. During the Continuation War, the second of Finland’s three wars during World War II, the Red Army was within mere miles of taking the capital before Stalin slowed, stopped, and withdrew. The Russian influence on the economy has ranged from near total to significant. Russian military posturing tends to happen in Finland’s front yard. Of all the threats Finland faces, Russia is the one that is the least vague and the most existential – or, at least, the one that seems so.

But there is a strong pull eastwards as well. There is an undeniable Russian influence in Finland, most visibly in culinary traditions in Karelia and the south, but throughout society. There’s a tinge of anti-Swedish sentiment in this influence as Swedish realpolitik seems to leave Finnish interests behind apart from trans-Nordic cooperation.

Regardless of global political climate, Finland is, suffice it to say, aware of Russia – not scared or cowed, just merely aware. The ramifications of Russian foreign and domestic policy are far too great to ignore. Finland’s border with Russia, the longest any country shares with the world’s largest country, is not a wall or an iron curtain, but a permeable barrier, where trade, thought, and influence flow both ways.

“Although culturally significant, the Finnish-Russian border has been politically insignificant during the years of autonomy.” Passi (1997), 47

Russia is someone who took us away from Sweden. It's something that older people think is scary because it's such a big country. It's next to Finland so if they would want to take over Finland again then we wouldn't be able to do anything about it. It's like the older people are scared that Russia will attack but the younger people think that it won't really do anything. There are many Russian people in Finland. Even in this school there are some students that have Russian parents. Yeah. – Essi, 16, Vantaa

Because of the wars, our grandparents are traumatized by Russia, and they transported these attitudes to our parents, but we don't have those, especially in this school, because we're all from different cultures, most of us are from different cultures. We don't have that, cause we never lived during the war. We're not traumatized by Russia. So we don't understand why Russia is so bad for our parents. – Girl, 16, Helsinki

Q: What about Russia?

E: It’s scary.

V: It’s a lot different, it’s kind of …

E: I think it’s because they got like common history that we think like …

V: We’re not part of Russia. Russian people they’re quite biased. They take a bottle of vodka at night, we can’t do that. In Finland, if people drink beer like water, in Russia they drink vodka like water. With Sweden, we kind of have hate-love relationship but …

E: With Russia is just …

V: It’s just hate.

E: First we don’t talk about it as much as the Swedish-Finnish ...

V: We respect them because they are really scary. Just like the cold war when we had this, a policy that we couldn’t really resist them in any way, so it’s really the mark between the generations. That’s only thing that Russian’s are pretty cool, I don’t hate them, that’s only I like them more Swedish.

Q: Do you think that’s because we’re here so close to the border? Do the feel the same on Finland’s west coast?

E: No. Because lots of people that speak Swedish as their mother tongue, so they are more close to Sweden than we are to Russia.

Male: Yeah, about that awesome relationship with Joensuu people and Russian people, we go to Russia a lot often, like I have to Russia like almost 200 times …

E: We drive to Russia and buy gas and tobacco and alcohol and cigarettes and come back every day. We have a better relationship with Russians than people in Helsinki.

V: It’s not better quality but its cheap. – Vilppu 15 and Elvi, 15, Joensuu

“The construction of a communal narrative often centers, as does any good narrative, on a crisis or turning point. In the Finnish communal narrative of history, the young state was threatened by wars with the Soviet Union; the community had to respond as one, and everyone had to share the sacrifice.” Armstrong (2000), 595

The last thing that has been really remarkable about Finnish political history, is that Finnish political history seems to be defined by that. That role where we're between Sweden and Russia. We're between America and the Soviet Union. Finland has been comfortable, again, going with Hegel, the antithesis ... That Finland is always between the two. Between these two. I think that as Russia experiences its decline, I think that's when Finland has to at that point kind of stand on its own and realize it can't just exist in opposition. It has to exist independently. The thing is, it's very controversial these last two years. We tried to be friends with them. We have this ... About this name thing, sort of explain. The thing is now it's all changed again. Armed to our teeth waiting here and when you get here, we're going to kill you. That's there behind. People talk about it. It's there. We're all in the reserve. We're all men. Even at my age. It's kind of the thing everybody thinks once a year. If they come over. – Mika, History Teacher, Vantaa

“Finland is not subservient in the sense that its foreign policy is dictated from Moscow or regularly judged with carrot or stick. The fact that Finnish foreign policy choices are tightly constrained by the demands of geopolitics certainly dilutes the government’s freedom of action, but Finnish interests have never been wholly sacrificed.” Kwak (1984), 37.

It's hard because Finland has always been…well, Russia sees Finland like in its sphere of influence. Finland was a little afraid because any time people could come and take your freedom and independence, stuff like that. Now people are still afraid, even though the possibility of that is not as big as during the Soviet times for example, so the relations are still hard.

Finland, what is doing is staying neutral, very neutral. Still, it would take something big, like NATO for example. People don't want that, they like to be neutral. Like Switzerland, we're a small country, we don't want to be in these big things, just leave it alone. We want to be independent and like that. – Timofei, 18, Helsinki

“Of all the Nordic countries, Finland has been the most willing to adopt changes in its security policy. This willingness is based upon an assessment of the country's position during the Cold War era and the difficulties that created for Finland. Finland is a country where territorial security is still very much emphasized and where the whole issue of security tends to be connected with its long eastern border, now shared with Russia. Finnish security policy thinking is therefore to a large extent still dominated by the concepts known from the Cold War era, namely, a small-state identity and the presence of a major security dilemma.” Tiilikainen (1998), 51-52

That could happen. Our friendly neighbor Russia, they have so skillful, special troops. In Helsinki, it would be possible. Yeah. It's possible. I can't ... I don't know. It might be already happening. I don't know. It might happen in 10 years. It might happen not at all. Yeah. We are not told something is happening, of course. That would be panic causing. – Matti, 19, Helsinki

You have to understand the reality: we have a big wide empire of Russia there and we are very little and it's common sense that you don't point your finger at the big brother, but you actually have your independence and decreed also. That's Finland. – Markku, History Teacher, Vantaa

“Whatever Finland did…was done by choice and because it was the wisest policy for a small country living next to a super-power to pursue and not as the result of coercion. Ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most Finns precedents can be read in different ways, and political decisions often produce their own logic.” Rinehart (2002) 429

I mean, we have like longest land border with Russia, right. And it's a lot of the news, and Russia has influenced us a lot and I think maybe Finland influenced Russia, too. Mostly, we try to stay out of any kind of political issues that involve Russia, because we want peace. I think we try and maintain a kind of friendly relationship with Russia, because we've always had that and it's like really ... Big trade is good for the economy and stuff, but now that the recession is longer, I don't know what's going to happen, but I don't think that we have anything against Russia really but we're not best friends. I think Finland is a little scared of Russia because of Putin. – Girl, 17, Helsinki

Russians are near the border here, in Helsinki there’s not many Russians, same way as in Lappeenranta or Imatra. – Villpu, 15, Joensuu

“Finlandization is the process whereby a nation, out of fear, subordinates its foreign policy to the interests of a dominating neighbor.… foreign and even domestic policies are determined in anticipation of a superpower’s response.” Kwak (1984), 35.

I say the Finland is more dependent of Russia then Russia is of Finland. In my opinion Finland shouldn't join NATO because I feel it will bring more bad then good. – Ida, 15, Helsinki

It’s completely understandable to be scared of Russia, but at the end of the day, what could Russia actually do to Finland, like they could invade Finland, then that would just be a stupid move for them because of international relationships, the European Union. The stuff with Ukraine is slightly different, but if Russia invaded Finland, which I doubt they would ever do, it would just mean that Russia had just turned a whole lot of the world against them because Finland is so innocent. I understand when people feel like there’s this threat, but if you think about it a little further, it would be a stupid move to do, which I think Russia could be capable of doing. – Boy, 15, Helsinki


  1. What factors seem to make the Russian experience much more contentious?
  2. American audiences: Can you compare Finland's relationship with Russia over time with the American relationship with other superpowers? How can the US learn from the Finnish experience?
  3. Finnish audiences: Do these remarks accurately capture the relationship with Russia now, or is it still changing even now? 
  4. Explain the process of Finlandization and explore how it has appeared (or will appear) in other contexts.
  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?
Brutalist outlines / Helsinki / 11 Apr 2016

Brutalist outlines / Helsinki / 11 Apr 2016


In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland, intending to reclaim territory it considered part of the former Russian Empire and, therefore, rightfully its domain. That conflict evolved into the Winter War, which started 3 months after the outbreak of World War II. By the war’s end, Finland ceded much of Southern Karelia to the Soviets, only to attempt to take it back during the Continuation War. Its partial success fueled ambitions of a “Greater Finland.” As optimistic as that campaign was, it ultimately resulted in further Finnish losses and territorial surrenders. Finland lost much of Karelia, its arctic access, and part of its claim on the Kola Peninsula. As of yet, none of those lands have been returned to Finland. They remain – and may always be – Russian.

 My reading of Karelia is as a keen point of shame, shame at its loss, at its need to be lost, and at its continued absence. Finnish Karelia is a phantom limb, sensed all the more often as a result of the resettlement of over 400,000 Karelians throughout Finland. As a lesson, it warned Finland against imperial thinking, and taught Finland to consider Russia more than just a neighbor. Moreover, the loss of Karelia is a tragedy. Viipuri, now Vyborg, was the second largest Finnish city, its cultural capital, has shrunk in population and prestige throughout the Russian possession, and the rest of Karelia looks almost the same as it did in 1939.

The generations of Finns who survived the resettlements are growing older and the stories are evolving into myth, becoming a part of the Finnish narrative. Eventually, the case of Karelia will live in textbooks alone. For now, however, it’s a vital part of the Finnish national identity, a deep wound just now starting to scar.

“Karelia as a homeland that is now occupied by foreigners.” Armstrong (2000), 593

I’m born in Enso. Today, it’s in Russia, is called Svetogorsk. From this place to where I’m born is about 12 kilometers. Enso was rather big village. Not town. Imatra has been like Enso then. Only village, not town. There was very big factory, newspaper factory and power station. Enso was lively. Many people, many houses, and schools and church.

I was born in 1939. I lived with my mother and my brother. He was two or three years old. When war start, we must go here to Kokemäki which is on the western coast of Finland. We were there two years and after then, when that war was first stopped and then start again, and Finnish soldiers, they are going to Russia, maybe they want to make a big Finland.

My father was there in Enso and he start to Build a house.

Yes. Then, 1944, I think so, the Russian people want to take Finland and they came again and very soon and then, we go to evacuate. It is in Finland. Maybe between Helsinki and Imatra. After that, we evacuate two years and then, we came here in Imatra.

Some meetings that happens maybe two times a year, those Finnish people go to Russia and they come here. They must be together. The culture exchange is good so there are many people … Russian people coming here, singers. – Ritva, 76, Imatra

“After the war (and until the 1980s), the Finnish government discouraged public discussion of Karelia so as not to alarm the Soviet Union or encourage the Soviets to assume that Finland would try to reclaim the territory.” Armstrong (2000), 604

“The evacuated Karelians numbered 420,000, nearly 11 percent of the population; they were relocated throughout Finland at the end of the war. As a result, most people in Finland know something about the Karelians - either through direct experience or school history classes.” Armstrong (2000), 593-4

It was in Finland. Vipuri, the Finnish town of culture and all that. Yes. It was one of the biggest towns and oldest towns. I'd like to visit Karelia on the Russian side to see what it looks like. I spent a lot of time in Finnish Karelia, and I'd just like to see what's happened to it since. On the shores of Lake Ladoga there's a town of about thirty thousand people ... My grandpa's family lived there for about ten generations. Yeah. Told me a lot about it, and I'd just like to see what it looks like now. Yeah, my grandpa had the same thing. I mean, he passed away in 2009, but I still remember him talking about the Russians and all that. He also was in the military for his entire life. Yes. He came here as a refuge from Karelia. I think Eastern Finns feel the strongest, but every Finn knows about what they've done, what they've taken. I think all of eastern Europe feels the same way. – Mikko, 15, Helsinki

“Cultural and linguistic contacts between Russian and Finnish Karelia have existed for centuries, and they have influenced the development of Finnish language literature and regional identity, especially prior to and following the Soviet era. Before the establishment of the first Finnish Russian national border in 1918, interaction between the populations of eastern Finland and Russian Karelia was part of everyday life. Movement across the national border dwindled, however, in the late 1930s and became almost non-existent by the end of the Second World War. During the Cold War era, from the late 1940s until the end of the 1980s, any cultural interaction across the border took place through official literature and cultural and scientific organizations. In the far reaching and deeply embedded context of the Cold War, the Finnish Russian national border functioned in Finnish language literature as a strict boundary extending to all areas of life. Thus, the Finnish Russian national border established not only a divide between two states but also between the Finnish speaking populations that dwelt on opposite sides of it.” Kurki (2013), 96

“The border, border crossing, or the mere proximity of the border have forced individuals to question their identities, sense of belonging, and loyalties. Identity construction is not a phenomenon localized within the Karelian borderlands; the opening of the national border and the collapse of the communist regime have necessitated the construction of new, different identities on individual, group, ethnic, and national levels throughout post Soviet Russia.” Kurki (2013), 97

“Each time the national border was moved and the geographic area of Karelia redefined, the new borderlands and their inhabitants were subjected to new administrative operations. In addition, these new borders carried the consequence of destroying old regional, ideological, and cultural unity and connections between the borderlands and their previous administrative center. In their place, new forms of unity and new relations between the region and its administrative center had to be established. These upheavals also led to the radical reconfiguration of identities in the Karelian borderlands. Because of these border processes and administrative actions, the borderlands can be defined as discursive multi voiced spaces where traces of previous ideological, political, and administrative discourses of borderlands, narratives based on individual experiences, and silenced narratives have survived for centuries.” Kurki (2013), 101

I think that Finnish people who came first here, they was hunters. They came By the rivers and lakes and they found a lot of woods and animals to kill and big salmons and all that … nature came here and we keep. We have been in Sweden, they took us. The border was somewhere here and then, there was Russian people, but our own language is, I think it’s middle. In western Finland, many, many people talk Swedish and here, our former land. They have only language named Livvi. It is like Karelian but it’s not. – Ritva, 77, Imatra


  1. What are the psychological, social, political, and other consequences of having a "homeland that is now occupied by foreigners?" 
  2. American audiences: What impact has resettlement, either forced (by might, economic incentives, or other means) or voluntary, had on the political and social differences across the United States?
  3. Finnish audiences: What do you think is the lasting legacy of the Karelian case? What has Finland learned from it and how can it apply these lessons to issues elsewhere (i.e. Åland)? 
  4. How is the greater Karelian region Finnish, Russian, and also something else or more?
  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?
The Gulf of Finland, frozen / Helsinki / 12 Jan 2016

The Gulf of Finland, frozen / Helsinki / 12 Jan 2016


On the first day of 1995, Finland joined the European Union in the first expansion beyond the traditional “core countries,” and was in the first wave of countries to adopt the Euro as a single currency in 1999. Throughout much of the second half of the twentieth century, Finland’s international history is a story of slow but steady integration into a larger European community.

Many Finns described Finland as a “small country in the far corner of Europe” or “barely Europe” geographically speaking. If this is the case, the government has compensated by lashing Finland tightly to nearly every major policy decision and negotiation in Europe. While it doesn’t have the population of Germany, nor the inherent allure of France, Finland does carry disproportionate influence in European affairs, mostly in terms of social welfare programs, education – obviously – and internal mechanisms for international collaboration, a tactic developed throughout Finland’s independence and certainly before.

Truth be told, Finns chronically underestimate their country in terms of relative size and population in comparison to other European countries. Nearly the size of Germany, and larger than Norway, Italy, Greece, and the United Kingdom, Finland may be at the corner of Europe, but it’s definitely no small country. And although Finland is only 5.5 million people strong, its population is larger than, again, wealthy Norway or all three of the Baltic States combined. Part of this misconception comes from its larger neighbors, but there’s also a sense of modesty inherent in Finnish international relations. Recent economic successes and the prestige from a globally-ranked education system have, however, adjusted young people’s sense of Finland’s actual size and, more importantly, global impact, to reflect reality more closely. 

“Finnish national identity is not an issue, and the argument for ‘cultural survival’ through a merger of identities is not satisfying. But have the Finns also assumed a ‘European identity’ to complement their Finnish identity? Certainly, it would be hard to find willingness among the Finns to be ‘better Europeans.” Rinehart (2002), 430

Finland’s role in Europe is small. We are so far away and I think we are different. We are part of the Nordic group, and I think most of the people here are not interested about things that are going on in Europe. – Mona, 23, Student Teacher, Helsinki

We are small, but we could really set an example for the bigger and more powerful countries in Europe by doing their own stuff because it’s a good thing that we’re part of the European Union, but we still need to focus on what we’re good at. Like let’s not always not show the media about how did the national market is not going well and such things, but I really do believe every country can look up to Finland. We can set an example. – Ville, 15, Joensuu

“The concept of Europe historically and geographically, was slowly fostered in Finnish educational institutions in the early nineteenth century.” Mead (1991), 309

“Finland is now simultaneously laced with new certainties from the opposite direction. European integration pulls Finland into the West more compellingly than at any time since the incorporation of the country into the Russian Empire at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In March 1992, the Finnish government decided to apply for membership in the European Community. Thus, two opposite and largely external tendencies, one originating in the East and another in the West, happen to culminate at one and the same time, putting Finland in a completely new situation.” Alapuro (1992), 699

I would call the relationship between Finland and Estonia kind of embarrassing because usually when Finnish men, or people in general, travel aboard, they go to the hotel rooms and they drink. They don't see the culture or anything. They just go there for drinking. So we have kind of a bad reputation because now Finnish people are drunk headed. Usually where we go to somewhere garden, someone says we are Finnish or we come from Finland, they immediately start laughing or say some jokes. So it kind of, how would I say it, like embarrassing. – Girl, 13, Helsinki

“Although European unification means a loss of national identity, it also means the building of a more encompassing economic, political, and cultural community. At the practical level of policy, claims of competing identities, the European and national may come into conflict. In everyday life this will, however, only rarely be the case.” Arts and Halman (2005/2006), 70

Everyone knows Norway and Sweden and Denmark but Finland is kind of looked as people are very unsocial. When I talk to my friends from Spain and France and all that, they were like, oh Finland. They were like, “Polar bears walk down the streets?” I'm like, no. Then they said to me like, “Oh, but you're from Finland, how are you so social?” I don't think Europe has a very…I don't think they know so much about Finland actually. I don't think they care so much. – Ida, 15, Helsinki

Finland used to be a very agricultural society, and li everything that happened here, stayed here. But since the EU, everything affects us, whatever happens in the world and you say that it sort of breaks up from the inside because there are economical problems and of course with the immigrants the situation changes. We're not alone here anymore. There are things that we're not sure of anymore. Unknown, and you feel afraid of many things and then problems start brooding there and then people start talking about them and with the media throwing their opinions out. There you have it. And in general, we're accused of being negative, like we're looking at this and the bad things. – Paulina, Student Teacher, Joensuu

“Globalization and the coming of post-national and transnational society are often presented as matters of necessity. Globalization appears as an inexorable force—perhaps of progress, perhaps simply of a capitalist juggernaut, but in any case irresistible. European integration, for example, is often sold to voters as a necessary response to the global integration of capital.” Calhoun (2002), 147

L: It feels like Finland has a really small part. I don't know, it's too far away from everything. Everything happens in the center of Europe, which is far away and not many people know about Finland.

A: Yeah, but at the same time, a big role in ... it's a diplomat center, some people like artists out of here have maybe made an image of Finland for Europe. – Leena, 17 and Alina, 17, Joensuu

“Finland has looked regularly to the countries of Western Europe and their institutions as models – educationally, commercially, technologically. At the same time, Europe at large has been contrastingly conceived by Finns as both a driving force and a vortex. Europe has been and remains a driving force in at least two ways. Directly, it is Finland’s principal market and a source of finance. Indirectly, it is an immense stimulus to tourists.” Mead (1991), 310

Q: What do you think Finland's role in Europe is?

T: That's a hard one.

D: Well, we produce a lot of paper.

Q: Do you think Finland is an important country in Europe?

T: No.

D: We only have 5 million people.

T: Small.

D: We never make any big moves. I don't know, like big decisions. - Titus and Daniel, 15, Helsinki

“As the European Union (EU) expands and consolidates, it poses significant difficulties for the educational systems of its constituent states. One of these difficulties is how they can maintain national identities and, at the same time, enhance a sense of EU or European identity. Phrases such as 'our common European home' and 'the European house' abound. What is happening here is a classic case of the Enlightenment Programme swimming against the tide of reality, a misplaced desire to place a seemingly rational, scientific order onto a shimmering diversity. European identities, European peoples, their locations and their histories have never been so simple a construct as many modernist Europhiles would claim: indeed, many might find the pluralities in the previous clause difficult to comprehend.” Coulby and Jones (1996), 175

We always think here what if there is no strength power in Russia. What if Russia goes apart like Soviet Union? Then it succeeded. What if the core Russia breaks down? Maybe that is the biggest challenge. Then this environment of Westerners and is the ice melting down in the north pole and what is going to Arctic regions and what are those refugees because of the climate? Climate change refugees. That kind of questions whether we need the cooperation all the time, all the nations, and we will survive…but this question is very important. There are obstacles and I think that politics are going to be harder and we need more educated and sophisticated students. We meet these challenges only with education. I think our only answer is education and the political realism added to this. – Sinikka, History Teacher, Vantaa

“As a youthful member of Europe’s family of nation states, Finland cherishes its autonomy and most Finns are apprehensive of yielding anything of their hard-won sovereignty.” Mead (1991), 314


  1. What does it mean that Finland needs to juggle individual, national identity with a collective European identity? 
  2. American audiences: What impact has resettlement, either forced (by might, economic incentives, or other means) or voluntary, had on the political and social differences across the United States?
  3. Finnish audiences: What are the origins of European-Finnish myth - a small country at the corner of Europe - when it is larger than Italy with a population larger than many of the other Eurozone countries? 
  4. What roles can Finland serve in the European community?
  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?
Exiting the woods on Suomenlinna / Helsinki / 24 Jan 2016

Exiting the woods on Suomenlinna / Helsinki / 24 Jan 2016


Most of Finland’s international experience has been either through wartime diplomacy or else mediated through Sweden. Historically, then, Finland was a participant in international politics, but wasn’t a primary player. That trend, having shifted significantly throughout the early 21st century, seems now vanished. Finland seems to recognize that its future lies in more international cooperation, more economic relationships beyond the Eurozone. Although Sweden and Russia are still the first and second most important trading partners by sheer Euro value, trade with Japan, China, and developing economies are almost collectively recognized as more lucrative and important in the long term.

Finnish society’s success at home in developing and deploying complicated social programs and institutions seems to be the country’s chief export to the world. Finns recognize that there are skills and talents – inculcated as almost social norms – that benefit countries just now entering the late industrial and post-industrial marketplace. Finland ‘s version of Nordic socialism also seems like something that the country is trying to leverage, not as a direct export, but as a training module, a sample of what a small and unified population can do.

Young Finns especially point to a developing rift between a political old guard, who advocates the old isolationist realpolitik from the Soviet Days, and a younger technocracy that pushes towards more economic ties, political allegiances, and is not prima facie opposed to NATO membership. 

“It is precisely in the interaction of the national and global that a borderline space exists for generating new forms of transnational literacy, social relations, and cultural identities that expand the meaning of democratic citizenship beyond national borders.” Giroux, H. (1995), 45

Finland is kind of like Sweden’s “little brother,” the little brother in the world. We are young and know one really cares about what we think, but we are still trying. And sometimes, in a family, we can be the one that finds the solution to the issue facing us. For example, yeah, I am really embarrassed about the way that the Finnish government nowadays is acting abroad. For example, we have a terrible foreign minister. A terrible one. He’s really old fashioned. And they make Finland look quite not so open-minded. What I think is that Finland should be like a country that shows maybe other how to live in peace and cooperate. We haven’t had another choice than to cooperate, if we didn’t cooperate then we would be a part of some country, probably Russia. And, so we have to. Even though we are the people that like to be friendly, and like to have small talk and stuff, we have to do that because it’s our only way to survive. And I think Finland could be a country about how to do that well. And that’s one of the reasons why I would like to be a diplomat. And maybe Finnish diplomats, in Washington D.C. earlier in 2015, autumn, the Pope was there and the Vatican embassy is next to the Finnish one, so I saw a photo on Facebook where a Finnish diplomat had baked this traditional Finnish pastry called pulla and they went in front of the Vatican embassy and gave those pastries to the people at that embassy. And maybe that’s Finland's role, that we are a baking pastries for everyone! Being like, “Don’t be so stressed!” – Helmi, 18, Helsinki

“You were ‘international,’ it seemed, if you were not just ‘educated’ but, crucially, spoke English—at least in your own view— very well…. Being ‘international’ also meant having ‘international friends’— relationships conducted through the medium of English.” Dutton (2010), 101

“The primary goal of Finnish policy is to preserve independence by avoiding having to take sides, for only during times of crisis is Finland caught between East and West. During peace it may continue to enjoy the best of both worlds – the integrity of its Western national identity along with correct relations and profitable trade with the Soviet Union. Its goal is therefore to work whenever possible toward the moderation of international tension….This self-restraint is the primary cost of peaceful coexistence and survival, as it precludes the satisfaction of moral and emotional considerations. Everything is reduces to a solely self-centered Realpolitik.” Kwak (1984), 37.

If you think about the world, global issues, what's happening, I think you get the feeling of safety. It means that we're living in a safe country, we've got possibilities, we can do things. If you think about from the young people's perspective, the world is completely open to them. They can do anything in their lives, and I think that's because we're a fairly neutral country, hopefully we'll stay that way, stay out of trouble. – Annukka, English Teacher, Vantaa

It would be nice if people would know what famous things are from Finland. Many people thought that Angry Birds is from America even though it was from Finland. It would be nice that people would know that, "Oh this is from Finland." Then they will get interested in Finland and check out where it is actually. It's really annoying because in many books or movies they always talk about Sweden and not Finland. Even though it's right next to it. They always talk about Sweden. Then when the some movie or will be a TV series say something about Finland's very huge deal and you tell about this everyone say, "Hey Finland was here." – Isa, 16, Vantaa

Well, yeah, you know. Everybody knows American have done faults but with good intentions. Just doing too much. That was a fault. But still, the role is getting even bigger. Without you, we'd be in trouble here. Who's going to take care of Europe's soldiering. European countries? No way. They're not doing it. Finland's independent because of the U.S. It's not the thing that ... Well, Stalin had this whim, nobody knows why. He just decided, "Okay, let's take all this back. We're going to rush to Berlin." That's the official explanation. They was just about to break, of course they could have done it. They thought, "You know, it's a sideshow. We don't know how we're going to get to Berlin." That's how they decided, "We're not going to occupy that. Just going to squeeze them a little bit." We managed that, but after that, there was a tremendous pressure coming from that, but the thing is it was too late for them to grab Finland anymore. It would have pushed Sweden to NATO and it would've changed the whole system in Northern Europe. But it all depended on the American presence in Europe.

That's one of the things. Finland's political history is something we are really quiet about. Most important guys of their history and history department and politicians have said it already. The thing is that the whole foreign policy…being capable of having talked to the Russians, being nice of them, but it always wasn't like that. They can't discuss it. It would change the situation too much over there. It's still the same. We can't do it without U.S. in Europe. – Mika, History Teacher, Vantaa

“Cosmopolitanism is potentially consonant with a vision of a Europe of the nations—preserving not only cultural difference but also political autonomy—so long as nationalism is not ethnically communitarian and is subordinated to human and civil rights. But it has a stronger affinity with visions of confederation or of an even greater degree of integration, although it emphasizes the outward obligations of Europeans. What it eschews most is nationalism—especially in its separatist forms, but also any application of the nationalist vision of cultural community to supranational polities. What it claims most, in the spirit of Kant, is that people should see themselves as citizens of the world, not just of their countries.” Calhoun (2002), 150

I think that we and the rest of Scandinavia, we could show what kind of things Democratic Socialism can do, but I think ... Russia and America bring us up, I think that they should understand that we're a very homogeneous nation, unlike the States. We're a small population. Five million people. Even Sweden is only like under ten million. It's way easier to do that kind of Socialism on this kind of small scale. Than it is nationwide. – Mikko, 15, Helsinki

“At the same time, it is equally important to remember the extent to which life together is made possible not simply by systemic integration, the construction of formal organizations, and rational-critical discourse. It is made possible, as Arendt argued, by promises that bind people to one another. This is a crucial dimension of constitution-making. Collective life is made possible also by acts of imagination, communicated and incorporated into common culture.” Calhoun (2002), 169-70

Maybe offering influences of some ways we do things like education is what Finland should do. I don't mean copying things; but watching what we do and learning from that. What is that, what should you learn? I don't know. Maybe, I think you do your things well in your own way. I don't think you should necessarily learn anything from us. If you want to do so, go ahead. The first thing is education. – Matti, 19, Helsinki

“Globalization as an idealized vision of the new intensity and saturation of the capitalist mode of production, above all as the new freedom of multinational corporations, however, does not translate immediately or substantively into social and political freedom for either individual citizens of advanced capitalist countries or for non-Western groups of national and non- or antinational varieties.” Zhang (2004), 33


  1. What does the idea of "democratic citizenship beyond national borders" look like?
  2. American audiences: Is the American tendency for national pride compatible with "cosmopolitanism?" How?
  3. Finnish audiences: How can Finland adapt to the demands of a truly global identity while maintaining national autonomy?
  4. What role does Finland seem to play in world affairs, and how can they leverage this role to maximum effect?
  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?
Helsinki Cathedral, fresh snow and sun / Helsinki / 15 Jan 2016

Helsinki Cathedral, fresh snow and sun / Helsinki / 15 Jan 2016