The world's loneliest bench / Helsinki / 12 Jan 2016

The world's loneliest bench / Helsinki / 12 Jan 2016



Espoo Blues vs Helsingin IFK / Espoo Metro Areena, Espoo / 23 Jan 2016

Espoo Blues vs Helsingin IFK / Espoo Metro Areena, Espoo / 23 Jan 2016


Like much of the world, Finland has suffered significant shocks to its institutions, social fabric, and economy in much of the last decade. The slate of problems and challenges has forced Finnish society to engage in candid and public conversations about national priorities and come to terms with the limited ways in which they can continue to compete and participate globally.

The economic crisis of 2008 has had an exaggerated impact in Finland. Coinciding with the sudden steep decline of Nokia, which was a disproportionate percentage of GDP and white-collar employment, the crisis exposed the weakness in Finland’s traditional economy. Other that Nokia’s suite of services, products, and infrastructure, Finland’s economy relied on limited manufacturing and some services, but was mostly reliant on its natural resources: forestry services, wood, and their by-products. The fall of Nokia, however, created an explosion of tech-savvy and internationally-minded entrepreneurs, and, as a result, Finland’s technology sectors have been dramatically growing in the 8 years since the economy first contracted.

The uncertainty of the Eurozone and the single currency has also dramatically affected Finland. Although Finland joined the European Union as soon as it could, signed on early for the Euro, and has maneuvered to be towards the center of conversations about “European affairs,” the current climate of European unity has forced the country to backpedal somewhat on its enthusiasm. The economic difficulties has painted Finland as a possible “sick man of Europe,” and conversations of a Greek or British exit – countries Finns feel are more “central” to the EU – highlight the importance of a decision on the matter. Finland, above all else, doesn’t want to be alone in Europe, as seen in the renewed discussions of NATO membership.

Furthermore, the current turmoil in the Middle East and the accompanying refugee crisis, while explored in detail later, is, at least in terms of public discourse, the most immediate topic on the minds of average Finns. Combined with the economic struggles and the uncertainty of continues European unity, the influx of immigrants has forced Finland to reflect on what the country is, wants to be, and will be. The new population is also taxing the current social welfare system, exposing weaknesses amplified by slow economic growth. While right-wing nationalists have gotten much of the press, their growth is only one of many symptoms of a Finland exploring its ongoing and evolving self-conception. 

The Unisport facilities in Viiki / Helsinki / 14 Jan 2016

The Unisport facilities in Viiki / Helsinki / 14 Jan 2016

FINLAND's present

“Today, Finland is a wealthy Nordic welfare state with zero illiteracy, low infant mortality, high productivity and relatively high taxes.” Kupainen (2009), 49

I think it's maintaining our welfare system because it's quite excessive. It pays your education and health and everything. The question "how are we going to pay that in the future" and also with people are getting older and less are working class people, so how are we going to pay enough taxes to maintain the system? I think that's the biggest problem. – Iiris, 17, Joensuu

“The old geopolitical cliché ‘Finland, between east and west’ retains elements of truth, but much of its relevance has been lost as multipolarity has succeeded bipolarity in European relations. Nevertheless, Finland is conscious of the antithesis between Sweden to the west, with its legacy of Rome, and Russia to the east, with its inheritance of Byzantium. The antithesis is symbolized in the skyline of Helsinki as it is seen from the approaches to the south harbor, the dome of the neo-classical Lutheran cathedral contrasting with the gilded cupolas of the Uspensky church.” Mead (1991), 308

A week ago there was a guy from Finnish University of Economics, he was telling us the previous generation used to be, or are right now, very lazy. I don't think it was exactly like that, but Finland was doing very well for a lot of time, and then we got to some level and we thought "That's enough, we should not work anymore. We should concentrate on what we have. We don't want to lose the wealth we have gathered now." So they just stopped and now this recession in our economy.

I think younger Finns understand that we shouldn't stop when we are on the top, we should continue. I think that will be a big difference and of course the open mindedness. People start to understand more things, because older generations, they don't hate, but they are scared of people coming in here. The younger generate is like why not? The whole world is becoming a more open place and in Finland this is especially seen more. Well Sweden is far ahead of us. A lot more people come there. There are problems with that because they're taking too much people in. Russia again no, the other way around, they're behind. – Timofei, 18, Helsinki

“The dual processes of political disintegration and integration under way in Europe have struck Finland harder than any other Western European country except Germany.” Alapuro (1992), 699

I think we're more influenced by the USA. Yeah. We know more about other world, and we're not so stuck in Finland, unlike our grandparents. We're not as closed-minded. I think like my grandparents are not that open to other cultures as this generation is. We think that we should try to matter or so, others or our grandparents. Yeah. Because Finland was really closed. No one really came here. It was just the Finnish people. That seems to be changing now. – Lauri, 15 and Juhani, 14, Helsinki

I think that now it's going to destruct. Yes, yes and it’s going more in back day American way. That everything has to be pragmatic, make money, and there is less bartering service. I think so. I think that the reason is that Finnish people are so stupid. When we have elections they choose big politics and last campaign they just lied to people. I think that people are now, they are not aware of things in mind. I've noticed that you have Bernie Sanders and some kind of social democrat party. – Markku, History Teacher, Vantaa

It's okay. Finland isn't in a war, which is really good. It's safer here. It's okay. It could be better, but it's okay. Finland is in a lot of debt, so that's why it's pretty bad. – Ifreen, 14, Helsinki

“In Finland, the outward signs are clear in the urban scene where architectural forms embrace the familiar medieval, neo-classical, neo-Gothic, Jugend and contemporary Scandinavian. Less visible are the signs in the countryside. Yet, although Finland lay outside the feudal system, its rural landscape, dominated by independent owner-operator smallholders, replicated European field systems before land reforms led to the compacting of properties and replacement of nucleated by dispersed settlements, Embedded in Finland’s social fabric is a West European legal system.” Mead (1991), 313

“Finland appears to be at a loss with its newly-gained autonomy, unable to conceive of itself as a free agent in full possession of its own faculties. It is as if the Finns, thrown out into the world, were unconsciously looking for a new context that would re-determine for them a range within which to move: a special Finnish version of the escape from freedom.” Alapuro (1992), 704

A: We have a few big problems here, so everybody's a little bit tense. The problem is... The politicians make decisions, then they change the decisions, then they promise something but then they do that, and the people here are just like, what are you doing. They promised that they wouldn't cut from students, then they cut from there, and then they promised another thing…

E: They're cutting from pensions. All sorts of stuff. All that annoying stuff. They're cutting a lot of money out of...

A: Things they should not be cutting it from.

E: Especially. Then it feels like their paychecks are getting bigger and bigger all the time. That's what it says in the newspaper. All that stuff, but that's how it feels. That they're getting rich by making everyone else poor, basically. – Anni, 18 and Emma, 17, Tampere

There are way too many unemployed people, young people who just can’t find a job or don’t look for one simply and that’s a big problem considering the economy. – Vilppu, 15, Joensuu

“As it is, Finland differs from most developed Western countries in the late timing, great speed and considerable intensity of its transition from a poor agrarian country to a modern knowledge- based economy, all within the past fifty to sixty years.” Kupainen (2009), 49

Compared to me, my generation, younger people are more open. They've got better self-confidence. As upbringing in the families has changed, people are given more rights and more freedom in their upbringing than we were. We're still like children of the soldiers' children, in a way. We have this. Even if you have the money, you don't buy the candy because it's not good for you to have so much good things. You need to be ready for the hardship that might come around the corner. My generation really feels that still in our upbringing. Nowadays, they're better. They're more open-minded, and at least here in Helsinki, they're colorblind nowadays. They use the internet, which is of course the major cultural influence of our generation. They're born to it. They're a much better class of people than we are, and they're better to each other. The youth culture is different. There is lots less violence. When I was a teenager, there was a lot of teenage violence, especially in this kind of industrial city where there's working class neighborhood, and we're middle class people living in the middle of them. You really needed to use your fists to get along with the world outside. It's different now. Everything has gotten much better. All the old people, they don't think that way. – Mika, History Teacher, Vantaa

“In the last decades, both nationality and class, in their traditional forms, have eroded within Finnish culture. Earlier, the educated class and intellectuals adopted the national role by identifying themselves culturally with ‘the people’ and by seeing themselves as its representatives to Russia. ‘The Finnish people’ meant above all the peasants, but in its last metamorphosis in the 1960s and the early 1970s, the intellectuals’ identification took the form of allegiance to the working class and a neutral or positive attitude towards the Soviet Union. Today such a dear and simple role has become impossible to assume, both inside the country- in relation to peasants, workers, or whatever other social group- and to the external world, now hopelessly unstable and complicated. Finland is a country of increasingly professionalized but still amorphous middle classes.” Alapuro (1992), 705

For example this material world: the people who were born after the war or during the war, they have this material welfare very important for them. This kind of material that you define your status by your apartment or your car or your material welfare. I think that students nowadays aren't that interested in this. They want maybe free access to internet and free access to social media and free access to everything they regard important and they are also in a way international. They can speak many languages and they are open. I think maybe this openness of Finland, especially to the west, is important for these students and also this some kind of insecurity of the world, it's a kind of burden for newer generations. It was not during the Cold War because we knew the Russia, we knew the Soviet Union, how to play with it. Our presidents and people with money had the abilities to do that and so this is a demanding place for new students but I'm sure that they will survive and they will find their way, how to survive in this unsecure world. – Sinikka, History Teacher, Vantaa

We have our smartphones. My mother has now. She didn't have it when she was young. She lived on the countryside. Most of the people did in the 60s. My grandmother, there's a huge difference. I haven't been obligated to do any homework, work around the home I bet my grandmother didn't do anything but chores. My generation, we hang around in malls. Of course my mother did back in the day also. My grandmother didn't at all. My grandmother's husband went to army. That hasn't changed. One of the things hasn't changed. – Matti, 19, Helsinki

“Friend and foe alike would agree that the cornerstone of Finnish policy since 1945 has been a consciousness of the constraints imposed by geography.” Kwak (1984), 35.

The big current problems are not military, I would say. It's economics and the refugee crisis. Of course army has to be a part of the refugee crisis. During that war threats, I think. Of course, the crisis of Ukraine has showed us that world today isn't a peaceful place – Matti, 19, Helsinki

I think we're a lot more international. Yeah, because of social media and other things. That we know more languages and we know more about the rest of the world. Also, we get to read the thoughts of others from other places. What they think about everything and then that makes us really think about other stuff. – Sabina, 15, Helsinki


  1. What complications impact Finland's ability to solve their several present problems?
  2. American audiences: In what ways does Finland's present resemble America's current state of affairs - or is the Finnish experience markedly different?
  3. Finnish audiences: What problems do the Finnish students and teachers fail to identify that are integral to understanding the country today?
  4. Discuss how Kwak's 1984 claim that Finnish policy "has been a consciousness of the constraints imposed by geography" explains Finland's present.
  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?
Northern Ostrobothnian forest / Yli-li / 12 Feb 2016

Northern Ostrobothnian forest / Yli-li / 12 Feb 2016