Finland was born 99 years and 364 days ago. Tomorrow we celebrate our 100th year of independence. Finland separated from the Russian empire during their own revolution, and was eventually recognised as an independent nation by their leader, Vladimir Lenin and his council. The declaration of independence was ratified in the Finnish parliament on December 6th, 1917.
Immediately after we became independent, our new born nation was plunged into a bloody and bitter civil war – neighbour against neighbour. It was a war between two factions, the reds who were promoting the communist agenda, and the whites who wanted to follow a more capitalist model. It was a dark time for our nation and people, and it can be said that the first concentration camps in Europe were created in Finland at the end of the civil war when the reds were put into prison camps with horrible conditions. By no means was our beginning glorious.
Before the second world war we tried to put our economy together and suffered hard times like the rest of Europe. When the 30’s approached the end, the world political situation had a huge impact on Finland. Our country became a pawn between the Soviet Union and Germany who had a secret agreement between themselves where countries were “assigned” to each of them. The Soviet Union turned their eyes to our country and the winter war of -39 started.
The Second World War
We were up against a nation with vast resources both in manpower and war machinery. Against all odds we held our ground and fended off the attacking forces, with 10:1 odds against us. It was a particularly cruel winter with temperatures frequently hovering at -30 celsius, to which the soviet union army was not well prepared. A peace treaty was signed in the Spring of 1940. The threat of further conflict was still very much alive.
The winter war and some of its battles are still taught in military academies around the world. The war galvanised the nation and old grievances were put aside. It was a true testament for the Finnish word “sisu”. Sisu cannot be directly translated into English, but it embodies grit, determination and getting something done no matter what. Sisu is ingrained into Finnish people. We’ve come from harsh conditions, forged in ice and snow, we still live in harsh conditions and without sisu we couldn’t have succeeded as we have – “Winter is coming” is received with joy in Finland. When a Finn decides something needs to be done – it will get done. This is still visible in our working ethics. If you get a promise from a Finn, you can basically forget what you requested, because it will get done.
After the War
After the second world war, where we fought the soviets a second time and later on fought Germans, it was again possible for life to start. In the Paris treaty Finland was on the losing side as we had allied ourselves briefly with Germany, so we received hefty war time reparations. Finland is the only country in the world that has paid the reparations in full. It’s all about integrity. Finns do not shy away from responsibility. Paying the reparations helped us bootstrap our industry and it paid dividends later on.
Coca-cola was introduced to the Finns in 1952 during the Helsinki Olympics. The first hamburger restaurants a lot later. I still remember the time when my dad took me to McDonalds in Helsinki. A shiny new thing and weird food. Who eats patties between a bread? And who put that green stuff inside? Kebab came to our shores even later. I was already an adult when I tasted my first kebab and of course I burned my mouth. Now the same chilies taste salty, not spicy.
When I was a kid, Finland was still a backward nation. Even a trip to Sweden was an eye opener, the difference was quite substantial. But things started to change due to investments into e.g. higher education and growth of our economy. Parents in particular were adamant on getting their off-spring properly educated. And the whole school system was and still is – free of charge, all the way to the university level. Investments into R&D were backed by the government, and even today the government funding agency plays an important role for startups or companies developing new technologies. Today, the education system produces a lot of highly trained people.
Finns Are Weird
Finland is a weird nation. As a Finn, it wasn’t obvious to me until I lived in Italy for 3 years. The difference between Italy and Finland could be described as follows: In Italy nothing works, but everthing is possible. In Finland everything works, but nothing is possible. We follow rules. It boils down to honesty. We are an honest people. My friend in Italy laughed at me complaining that no one can be that blue eyed – honest and perhaps “a bit too” trusting. But that’s how we are raised up. Ask a Finn a small talk question like “How are you?” and you’ll get an honest answer. I once replied to a colleague “it’s frigging raining slush vertically, my feet are wet, so I’m pissed off”. She was not a Finn. Oops.
Our country is something else. Let’s count where we are the best country in the world: The most stable, most free, safest, least organised crime, etc… Don’t believe me? Click here. In 2016 the police had to fire a gun 6 times. Not a police, the whole police force for the whole of 2016. Despite the harsh conditions outside, Finns seem to be very happy. Our healthcare and education system works, and is free. We have more trees than any other nation in Europe. Only Sumatra has a denser tree population than Finland. It’s obvious when you drive through one of the biggest cities in Finland, Espoo where our offices are located. You would think that Finns are actually Ewoks – living in trees. In Finland you will never be more than a few steps away from nature. Bored of walking in the forest – then dip into one of the 180 000 lakes we have. Though at this time of the year a survival suit is recommended, sometimes also during the summer.
Our technology sector is booming. Finland is the best place for startups. We make the best mobile games in the world. Our information security products are world class. Why’s that? Well… we love technology. This is a geek country. IRC, Linux, MySQL, MariaDB, SMS, SSH just to name a few things. Finns consume more mobile data than any other country – though I’m not sure it’s a great thing. So – geek country.
What you should take away from this is that the unassuming, silent, perhaps a bit geeky Finn you encounter will be honest, friendly (in not so many words), and will got your back and will go to hell and back for you if needed– though I recommend becoming friends first. In business the most trustworthy partner is a Finn or a Finnish company. If you are considering investing, Finnish companies are no nonsense, get things done and create something new –kind of places. If you are considering a life change – there’s no better place to come to than Finland. But dress warmly! In 2017 our summer was on Tuesday in June.