Culture

Society

Don't mention the Swedes— Finland

Preface

A Finnish documentary series has drawn some uncomfortable and controversial conclusions regarding Finland’s national identity.

Helsinki, Sweden, Uppsala, Same-sex marriage

28 March 2013

There was someone who said that if you want to cause outrage in Finnish society the themes that always work are class, ethnicity, sexuality or the Finnish achievements in the Second World War.

We Finns often like to think that there is no class system in our country whatsoever, even though a long weekend in Helsinki will make it very clear that even Finland consists of different societal layers. And the thing about the Second World War? Well, the most important lesson is never to question Finnish successes and the right and justified motives behind all the actions.

Both sexuality and ethnicity have been very much in the spotlight this year. The campaign for a same-sex marriage law has been going on for years and it’s on this topic that you can see just how close Finland is to Russia – my home country is the only Nordic country that still does not recognise same-sex marriage.

Which leads me to the theme of ethnicity. There was recently a documentary series on Finnish television that managed to touch Finns in a way no other programme has managed before. Suomi on Ruotsalainen, which translates as Finland is Swedish, concentrated on the characteristics of Finnish society that can actually be traced to Sweden and the times when Finland was still a part of Sweden. And man, there were lots of them. When watching the programme, you actually started to wonder what was left that was originally Finnish.

For example, take our national symbol: the lion. The first known lion symbol can be found on the wall of a church in Uppsala, Sweden. The same pattern was repeated when looking at our world-famous school system, legal system, banking system, arts: deep down they all had strong connections and origins in Swedish culture.

The conclusion of the documentary makers: because Finland was a part of Sweden for so long, our cultures and societies are intertwined and we share more than we might think.

The conclusion of the Finnish audience: outrage. The programme was considered unpatriotic; some even thought it was propaganda from Sweden. Some thought it was simply offensive. The papers and internet were full of discussions about how the Finnish Broadcasting Company could bring itself to broadcast something like this into our living rooms. Of course there were loads of Finns who loved the show. Too bad they didn’t pipe up quite as loudly. Oh well.

Funnily enough, when Finland finally gets same-sex marriage, it will be something that can easily fit into the next series of Finland is Swedish: Sweden introduced it years ago.

Markus Hippi is a presenter and producer for Monocle 24.

Monocle 24

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