Monday, March 3, 2014

Finland: Is it really Nordic?

By Eli Mrozek

Today we think of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland as Nordic Europe, the northernmost regions of Europe. Out of these nations one stands apart as a completely unique and separate culture with a completely different heritage, being influenced by their own unique folk culture and their Russian neighbors who have ruled Finland in the past and wield considerable influence over the Finnish people and state. These differences lead us to the questions, is Finland a Nordic nation, and what does it mean to be a Nordic nation?

To the first question I would say the answer lies in Finnish culture and history. In its earliest days, Finland has been constantly fought over by Sweden and Russia, both greatly influencing the native Finnish culture. At first it was conquered by the Swedes, who brought Catholicism to the country, with Russian cultures also spreading orthodoxy farther West towards Finland, which eventually clashed. As Sweden incorporated Finland into its empire, Swedes began to move to Finland, who is now Finland’s largest minority. The Finnish people resented them as they saw the Swedes as aristocratic oppressors. This Swedish rule however brought Lutheranism to Finland and brought about the translation of the bible in Finnish, spreading literacy. This rule also made Finland a very poor country. Later in after the Great Northern War, Russia conquered Finland and made it an autonomous duchy, this being the first form of an independent Finland. This rule brought Russification, in other words the spread of Russian culture, ordered by the Grand Duke, Tsar Alexander I of Russia. This brought the Russian language to Finland, becoming the official language of the country. The orthodoxy grew and became official, and continues to receive special treatment and preference from the Finnish government along with Lutheranism. This Russian dominance further solidified Finnish identity and helped define what the Finnish nation was, gaining independence in 1917 as a result.

Flashing forward to today, we still see this Finnish separation from the rest of Nordic Europe in politics and in the populous culture. Finland is separated from the rest of Nordic Europe largely by language, whereas all other Nordic languages are Germanic and closely related. The Finnish language is part of the Finno-Ugric language family, originating in the Ural Mountains of Russia. To further show its distance linguistically from Nordic Europe, I’d like to note that the closest related languages to Finnish are Estonian and Hungarian. They all share similar sentence structure and all lack gender in speech. For example:
Finnish:            Elävä kala ui veden alla.
Estonian:         Elav kala ujub vee all.
Hungarian:      Eleven hal úszkál a víz alatt.
All of these sentences mean “the living fish swims underwater”

We can also see the separation of Finland in politics and society. Finland tends to be more socially conservative than the rest of Nordic Europe, with baby boxes (an alternative option to abortion in which a baby is left anonymously in a safe place to be cared for, with the mother being able to take it back in an 8 week period before adoption) being the norm instead of abortion, which is difficult to receive, and much more conservative in terms of sexuality as well. Finland has also recently become very Eurosceptic (distrust in the Eurozone and the European Union), with the True Finns party, a socially conservative party, making huge gains in recent months. Finland’s prime minister has also stated that Finland is prepared to leave the Eurozone due to damage upon the Finnish economy. Finland now mainly trades with Russia and in recent years has built stronger economic ties in business with Russians, this larger exchange being successful due also to the large number of Finns who speak Russian, on par with Eastern bloc countries.

Finland overall looks ready to take its own path, sharing links with both Nordic Europe and Russia, while being completely its own in culture and language. With many influences creating the modern Finnish state, I would not call Finland a Nordic nation, rather one in close association, like Estonia or Northern Germany. I find that Finland is impossible to group, like Romania of Hungary, because of its distance from its lingual relatives and its isolated culture that is highly individual. Due to these discrepancies between Finland and the rest of Nordic Europe, I see Nordic Europe as a natural region with cultures that affected each other greatly, not being a cultural link between all these nations, and following this rule, the region of Karelia in Russia is also Nordic, and many others for that matter. Due to this I would say a true definition of Nordic Europe is a loose one and I would generally say it always involves Scandinavia and occasionally the nations it has influenced greatly. So to all who read this, I want you to decide for yourselves, what does it mean to be Nordic?

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