Close

Discovering Finland

Recommend

A peninsula situated in Northern Europe, between Scandinavia and Russia, Finland acts as the symbolic border between Northwestern and Northeastern Europe -- and in its psyche, it carries a bit of both. The country of the Aurora Borealis and the Midnight Sun is also the most religious country in all Scandinavia, the first to introduce a basic universal income for the unemployed and the second best in the world for gender equality (as of 2017). After some brief financial difficulties from 2009 onwards, Finland’s economy is once again on the rise making this a very happy country to live in, despite the long winters and harsh temperatures.

The place and the people

Although Finland has been populated since the Stone Age (as the ice from the last Ice Age receded), it first became an independent nation in 1917, after a long Swedish occupation that started in the 12th century and a subsequent century under the Russian Empire. These cultures have been interwoven with the Suomi DNA, both when it comes to language and when it comes to religion: the country’s official languages are Finnish and Swedish (with Sami coming up third) and there’s a Christian Orthodox Church apart from the prevailing Lutheran one. Finland’s current government is a parliamentary republic.

Because of the harsh climate up north, the biggest chunk of Finland’s 5.4 million population lives in the southern part of the country. This may be one of the reasons why the natural beauty of Finland remains wild and undisturbed, and therefore a magnet for travellers and tourists. The Northern Lights, visible from the Finnish Lapland for about 200 out of the 365 nights of the year, is but one of the country’s many attractions. The Midnight Sun (which, in the Arctic Circle, doesn’t set for 70 days straight), the 188,000 lakes, the sauna (a Finnish invention), the ski resorts, Santa Claus’ village (Rovaniemi) and the magnificent wildlife are some of the other facets of Finland’s appeal.

The economy

Finland relies equally on the past and the future to survive. Despite the fact that its climate and soil make growing crops challenging, the country has been self-sufficient when it comes to basic food-stuff since the 1960’s. Finland’s most important natural resource is trees, with timber being one of its biggest industries -- the country is one of the world's leading wood producers. That being said, most of the country’s GDP comes from the service sector (66%) whereas research and development play a vital part, with the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology having made big strides during the 80’s and the 90’s towards establishing Finland as a country that values and understands technology. This is, after all, the homeland of companies such as Nokia and Rovio (creators of the Angry Birds game).

Before the global financial crisis in 2009, Finland had been one of the best performing economies within the EU. Its banks and financial markets managed to avoid the worst of it, but exports and domestic demand were severely affected and that caused Finland’s economy to go into recession from 2012-14, which in turn affected government finances and the debt ratio. The economy returned to growth in 2015, with the unemployment rate standing at 8.8% in 2016, having decreased from 9.4% in 2015.

The culture

The struggle to find the Finnish identity after extensive occupation by Sweden and Russia has been a constant driving force -- particularly so when it comes to arts and culture. A good example of that is the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic; a compilation of old Finnish ballads, incantations and lyrics compiled by the scholar Elias Lönnrot in the 19th century. But this theme of nationalistic enthusiasm can be found across cultural genres -- from the development of Finnish theatre and opera to literature and music, art and architecture, and even in sports.

Theatre is very popular in Finland: vast numbers of people act in, as well as watch theatrical productions -- some of which are helmed or at least supplemented by amateur performers. The National Theatre of Finland, established in 1872, is the country’s most important theatre, and the main centre for opera is the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki. When it comes to music, the dominant figure during the first half of the 20th century was Jean Sibelius, the composer who made Finnish music worldwide known. Today, the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki is a globally renowned centre of musical study. But the performing arts are not the sole proprietors of Finnish culture: literature is very important, and libraries are considered cultural institutions -- Finns are among the world’s most avid library users.

As for the visual arts, Finland always veered towards three-dimensional work: sculpture is important, highly abstract, and experimental. Modern Finnish architecture is among the most imaginative and exciting in the world (one of the first formally trained female architects in the world was Finnish). Finnish design has been, since the postwar period, a force to be reckoned with, mostly thanks to factories such as Marimekko who have been allowing artists to develop their ideas and skills freely.

Last but not least, festivals (held annually in Helsinki, Vaasa, and Kaustinen, among other places) are a very integral part of Finnish cultural life, as are the country’s many museums. When you visit them, you’ll get a sense of Finland’s individuality and its significant contribution to world culture.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
Recommend
expat.com Your favourite team
Member since 01 June 2008
Small earth, Mauritius
Write a comment

See also

Whether youre after adrenaline-rising outdoor activities or sophisticated cultural outings, Finland has something for you.
Finland offers many great relocation services, that can help you out with anything from moving your belongings to the documents you need.
EU nationals are able to convert their licence to a Finnish one, but in some cases you may need to take the driving test.