06 December 2013

Subdued independence day

the finnish independence day is a reflective and peaceful holiday. they really are a humble people.

i think its helpful at this stage in the game (having lived in the country for almost a year now) to review some history...so, see below for that. but in direct relation to this independence holiday i will say its interesting, especially to contrast the american 4th of july. granted, americas celebration is in the summer so that affords an easier outdoor celebration but the partying, fireworks, and general patriotic 'merica-kicks-ass emotions that vibrate through the country as it celebrates are not felt here. part of that might have to do with the fact that we are now a world leading, dominate-in-many-ways country that has way more people and land than the country we won our independence from. plus we are political allies and stable with the UK, and they are across the ocean from us. this just isnt the case for finland.

they got their independence from russia in 1917. they didnt directly have to fight a war to win it, at the time, but there has always been lots of pressure and tension simmering at that border. in fact, knowing more about the history and relationship, im daily amazed at how this little (finland population: 5 million; russia population: 143 million; finland size: 338, 000 sq km; russia size: 17 million sq km) country was able to stave off the pressure to absorb the russian language, culture, and politics. if you look on a map of russias neighbors, finland is the only top-performing and certainly the only socialist nation. and also, finland is very, very close to st petersburg, and not terribly far away from moscow, the two most powerful cities in the country. how do these people do it? they manage to remain calm, diplomatic, and patient with the russians and their scary world decisions. their position is one that is delicately balanced on the head of a pin, any waves made could unnecessarily bring about unwelcome changes in the relations. thus, perhaps, their independence day isnt about glory fireworks, chest-beating patriotism, or arrogant 'we are finland' partying. even though they were able to fairly diplomatically gain their independence and later, brave and ballsy finnish soldiers kept the russians at bay at the border (during the winter war) and protected their country from invasion and conquering, they recognize that many died and it was a cold and brutal war which led to a hard post-war life. so, they choose not to celebrate, but to remember and commemorate. traditions seem to include televising war movies, enjoying blue and white treats, military parades and the government has a formal reception party. that is all.

additional side note: my finnish teachers father fought in the winter war with russia (after finnish gained its independence, but was threatened of invasion by russia). she said that if the choices for 'world leaders' are russia (or another communist country) and the US...she is certainly happy that the US is "in charge of the weapons and rules the world".

history of independence facts (please excuse any over-simplifying):

-3000 years ago: southern finland had 3 tribes: finns, häme, karelians (there were also the sami but they were artic circle nomads)

-700-ish years ago: "finland" became a province of sweden (finns were never treated as serfs)

-by the mid-1600s the swedes became more powerful in "finland"

-1788-1790: war between sweden and russia ended with russia gaining some land of "finland"

-1809: russia signed a treaty with sweden to make "finland" the "russian grand duchy of finland". this was basically a good thing because it meant lots of new buildings were built and care was taken to develop the land (under czar alexander II).

-however, under czar nicholas II (beginning rule in 1894) things got harsher

-february revolution (1917, in russia): czar nicholas II abdicated and was later executed

-october revolution (1917, in russia), aka 'red october': the bolsheviks overthrew the current russian government and paved the way for finland to ask for separation and independence

*russian rule of finland ended on december 6, 1917

-finnish civil war from 27 january to 15 may 1918 between the reds (social democrats) and the whites (non-socialist conservatives)

-after WWI, the u.s. sent food and a 10 million dollar loan to finland. finland was so faithful to its debt repayment that u.s. schoolchildren at the time were taught that "finland always pays its debts".

-winter war (1939-1940, during early WWII): soviets attacked finland looking to take back parts of finnish land on the border. finnish soldiers were bad asses and actually held their own, and the border. they were the ones who first created "molotov cocktails". eventually they gave some land back to russia to end the conflict. this cemented the challenging relationship these two countries have with each other.

-the $300 million in war reparations finland had to pay to russia post-WWII actually fueled finlands economy, in the long run, and started them on the path to the nation that it is today.

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