Finland, country located in northern Europe. Finland is one of the world’s most northern and geographically remote countries and is subject to a severe climate. Nearly two-thirds of Finland is blanketed by thick woodlands, making it the most densely forested country in Europe. Finland also forms a symbolic northern border between western and eastern Europe: dense wilderness and Russia to the east, the Gulf of Bothnia and Sweden to the west.
A part of Sweden from the 12th century until 1809, Finland was then a Russian grand duchy until, following the Russian Revolution, the Finns declared independence on December 6, 1917. Finland’s area decreased by about one-tenth during the 1940s, when it ceded the Petsamo (Pechenga) area, which had been a corridor to the ice-free Arctic coast, and a large part of southeastern Karelia to the Soviet Union (ceded portions now in Russia).
Throughout the Cold War era, Finland skillfully maintained a neutral political position, although a 1948 treaty with the Soviet Union (terminated 1991) required Finland to repel any attack on the Soviet Union carried out through Finnish territory by Germany or any of its allies. Since World War II, Finland has steadily increased its trading and cultural relations with other countries. Under a U.S.-Soviet agreement, Finland was admitted to the United Nations in 1955. Since then, Finland has sent representatives to the Nordic Council, which makes suggestions to member countries on the coordination of policies.
Finland’s international activities became more widely known when the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which resulted in the creation of the Helsinki Accords, was held in that city in 1975. Finland has continued to have especially close ties with the other Scandinavian countries, sharing a free labour market and participating in various economic, cultural, and scientific projects. Finland became a full member of the European Union in 1995.
The landscape of ubiquitous forest and water has been a primary source of inspiration for Finnish arts and letters. Starting with Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala, the country’s great artists and architects—including Alvar Aalto, Albert Edelfelt, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Juha Ilmari Leiviskä, and Eero Saarinen—as well as its musicians, writers, and poets—from Jean Sibelius to Väinö Linna, Juhani Aho, Zacharias Topelius and Eino Leino—have all drawn themes and imagery from their national landscape. One of the first Modernist poets, Edith Södergran, expressed her relationship to the Finnish environment this way in “Homecoming”:
The tree of my youth stands rejoicing around me: O human!
And the grass bids me welcome from foreign lands.
My head I recline in the grass: now finally home.
Now I turn my back on everything that lies behind me:
My only companions will be the forest and the shore and the lake.
The notion of nature as the true home of the Finn is expressed again and again in Finnish proverbs and folk wisdom. The harsh climate in the northern part of the country, however, has resulted in the concentration of the population in the southern third of Finland, with about one-fifth of the country’s population living in and around Helsinki, Finland’s largest city and continental Europe’s northernmost capital. Yet, despite the fact that most Finns live in towns and cities, nature—especially the forest—is never far from their minds and hearts.
Finland is bordered to the north by Norway, to the east by Russia, to the south by the Gulf of Finland, to the southwest by the Gulf of Bothnia, and to the northwest by Sweden. Its area includes the autonomous territory of Åland, an archipelago at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia. About one-third of the territory of Finland—most of the maakunta (region) of Lappi—lies north of the Arctic Circle.
Finland is heavily forested and contains some 56,000 lakes, numerous rivers, and extensive areas of marshland; viewed from the air, Finland looks like an intricate blue and green jigsaw puzzle. Except in the northwest, relief features do not vary greatly, and travelers on the ground or on the water can rarely see beyond the trees in their immediate vicinity. The landscape nevertheless possesses a striking—if sometimes bleak—beauty.
Finland’s underlying structure is a huge worn-down shield composed of ancient rock, mainly granite, dating from Precambrian time (from about 4 billion to 540 million years ago). The land is low-lying in the southern part of the country and higher in the centre and the northeast, while the few mountainous regions are in the extreme northwest, adjacent to Finland’s borders with Sweden and Norway. In this area there are several high peaks, including Mount Halti, which is, at 4,357 feet (1,328 metres), Finland’s highest mountain.
The coastline of Finland, some 2,760 miles (4,600 km) in length, is extremely indented and dotted with thousands of islands. The greatest number of these are to be found in the southwest, in the Turun (Turku; Åbo) archipelago, which merges with the Åland (Ahvenanmaa) Islands in the west. The southern islands in the Gulf of Finland are mainly of low elevation, while those lying along the southwest coastline may rise to heights of more than 400 feet (120 metres).
The relief of Finland was greatly affected by Ice Age glaciation.The retreating continental glacier left the bedrock littered with morainic deposits in formations of eskers, remarkable winding ridges of stratified gravel and sand, running northwest to southeast. One of the biggest formations is the Salpausselkä ridges, three parallel ridges running across southern Finland in an arc pattern. The weight of the glaciers, sometimes miles thick, depressed the Earth’s crust by many hundreds of feet. As a consequence, areas that have been released from the weight of the ice sheets have risen and continue to rise, and Finland is still emerging from the sea. Indeed, land rise of some 0.4 inch (10 mm) annually in the narrow part of the Gulf of Bothnia is gradually turning the old sea bottom into dry land.
Drainage and soils
Finland’s inland waters occupy almost one-tenth of the country’s total area; there are 10 lakes of more than 100 square miles (250 square km) in area and tens of thousands of smaller ones. The largest lake, Saimaa, in the southeast, covers about 1,700 square miles (4,400 square km). There are many other large lakes near it, including Päijänne and Pielinen, while Oulu is near Kajaani in central Finland, and Inari is in the extreme north. Away from coastal regions, many of Finland’s rivers flow into the lakes, which are generally shallow—only three lakes are deeper than about 300 feet (90 metres). Saimaa itself drains into the much larger Lake Ladoga in Russian territory via the Vuoksi (Vuoksa) River. Drainage from Finland’s eastern uplands is through the lake system of Russian Karelia to the White Sea.
In the extreme north the Paats River and its tributaries drain large areas into the Arctic. On Finland’s western coast a series of rivers flow into the Gulf of Bothnia. These include the Tornio, which forms part of Finland’s border with Sweden, and the Kemi, which, at 343 miles (550 km), is Finland’s longest river. In the southwest the Kokemäen, one of Finland’s largest rivers, flows out past the city of Pori (Björneborg). Other rivers flow southward into the Gulf of Finland.
Soils include those of the gravelly type found in the eskers, as well as extensive marine and lake postglacial deposits in the form of clays and silts, which provide the country’s most fertile soils. Almost one-third of Finland was once covered by bogs, fens, peatlands, and other swamplands, but many of these have been drained and are now forested. The northern third of Finland still has thick layers of peat, the humus soil of which continues to be reclaimed. In the Åland Islands the soils are mainly clay and sand.
The part of Finland north of the Arctic Circle suffers extremely severe and prolonged winters. Temperatures can fall as low as ?22 °F (?30 °C). In these latitudes the snow never melts from the north-facing mountain slopes, but in the short summer (Lapland has about two months of the midnight sun), from May to July, temperatures can reach as high as 80 °F (27 °C). Farther south the temperature extremes are slightly less marked, as the Baltic Sea- and Gulf Stream-warmed airflow from the Atlantic keeps temperatures as much as 10 degrees higher than at similar latitudes in Siberia and Greenland. Winter is the longest season in Finland. North of the Arctic Circle the polar night lasts for more than 50 days; in southern Finland the shortest day lasts about six hours. Annual precipitation, about one-third of which falls as sleet or snow, is about 25 inches (600 mm) in the south and a little less in the north. All Finnish waters are subject to some surface freezing during the winter.
Plant and animal life
Much of Finland is dominated by conifers, but in the extreme south there is a zone of deciduous trees comprising mainly birch, hazel, aspen, maple, elm, linden, and alder. The conifers are mainly pine and spruce. Pine extends to the extreme north, where it can be found among the dwarf arctic birch and pygmy willow. Lichens become increasingly common and varied in kind toward the north. In autumn the woods are rich in edible fungi. More than 1,000 species of flowering plants have been recorded. The sphagnum swamps, which are widespread in the northern tundra or bogland area, yield harvests of cloudberries, as well as plagues of mosquitoes.
Finland is relatively rich in wildlife. Seabirds, such as the black-backed gull and the arctic tern, nest in great numbers on the coastal islands; waterfowl, such as the black and white velvet scoter duck, nest on inland lakes. Other birds include the Siberian jay, the pied wagtail, and, in the north, the eagle. Many birds migrate southward in winter. Finland is the breeding site for many water and wading birds, including the majority of the world’s goldeneyes and broad-billed sandpipers (Limicola falcinellus). Native woodland animals include bear, elk, wolf, wolverine, lynx, and Finnish elk. Wild reindeer have almost disappeared; those remaining in the north are domesticated.
Salmon, trout, and the much esteemed siika (whitefish) are relatively abundant in the northern rivers. Baltic herring is the most common sea fish, while crayfish can be caught during the brief summer season. Pike, char, and perch are also found.
The vegetation and wildlife of the Åland Islands is much like that of coastal southern Finland.
People of Finland
Excavations undertaken in 1996 have led to a radical reconsideration of how long people have inhabited Finland. Finds in a cave near Kristinestad in the southwestern part of the country have led some to suggest that habitation of Finland goes back at least 100,000 years. Ancestors of the Sami apparently were present in Finland by about 7000 BCE. As other groups began to enter Finland some 3,000 years later, the proto-Sami probably retreated northward. Archaeological remains suggest that this second wave of settlers came from or had contact with what was to become Russia and also Scandinavia and central Europe. Peoples of Uralic (specifically Finno-Ugric) stock dominated two settlement areas. Those who entered southwestern Finland across the Gulf of Finland were the ancestors of the Hämäläiset (Tavastians, or Tavastlanders), the people of southern and western Finland (especially the historic region of Häme); those who entered from the southeast were the Karelians. Scandinavian peoples occupied the western coast and archipelagoes and the Åland Islands.
Roughly half of Finland’s small Sami population live in the area known as the Sami Homeland (Sámiid ruovttuguovlu), which consists of the northernmost portion of the region of Lappi. In 1995 the Finnish constitution was amended to recognize the status of the Sami as an indigenous people and their right to maintain and develop their own language and culture. (See also Finnic peoples.)
Finland has two national languages, Finnish andSwedish, and is officially bilingual. Nearly nine-tenths of the population speak Finnish; the language is an important nationalist feature, although it is spoken in strong regional dialects. The Swedish-speaking population is found mainly in the coastal area in the south, southwest, and west and in the Åland Islands (where Swedish is the sole official language). According to the constitution of 2000, public authorities are required to provide for the needs of the Finnish- and Swedish-speaking populations of the country on an equal basis. Rights and obligations concerning the national languages were addressed in greater detail in the Language Act promulgated in 2004.
Russian and Estonian also are spoken by a very small percentage of Finns, and there is a tiny minority of Sami speakers in the extreme north of Finland. Of the 11 Sami languages, 3 are spoken in Finland: North Sami, Inari Sami (spoken only in Finland), and Skolt Sami. The Sami languages are related to Finnish, with North Sami being the most widely spoken, by almost four-fifths of the Sami population.
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Relationships between the various language groups in Finland are good, and the position of the minority languages is strong compared with that of minority groups in most other multilingual and multicultural countries. Although Sami is not a national language of Finland like Finnish and Swedish, its status as a regional minority language is guaranteed by the Sami Language Act (2004).
Religion of Finland
Christianity had entered Finland from both the west and the east by the 13th century. Finland is now one of the most homogeneous countries in Europe in terms of Christianity and has the highest percentage of church membership in Scandinavia. The great majority of the people belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, whose status gradually changed from an official state church to a national church beginning in the 19th century. The archbishop has his see at Turku (Åbo). Yet, despite the high proportion of church membership, only a small number of Finns attend church regularly. Nonetheless, the majority of the people are still baptized, married, and buried with the blessing of the Lutheran church.
A small minority of Finns belong to the Orthodox Church of Finland, the only other faith to have the status of a national church. It was granted autonomy from Moscow in 1920, and in 1923 it was transferred to the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. It has one archbishop, with his see at Kuopio. Members of the Pentecostal church constitute another relatively small religious group in Finland, and even fewer Finns belong to independent Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church. Small Jewish and Muslim communities date from the 19th century, when Finland was one of the few parts of the Russian empire where Jews and Muslims could practice their religion more or less freely; however, Jews were granted full rights as citizens only after Finland became independent in 1918. With the founding of its first Islamic congregation in 1925, Finland became the first European country to officially recognize an Islamic congregation. The religious orientation of about one-fourth of Finns is unknown.
Increased industrialization in Finland has steadily raised the proportion of the population living in urban areas; by the early 21st century, more than four-fifths of the total population lived in cities and towns. Farms are most commonly located in the meadowland regions of the southwest, where the fertile land is suitable for mixed agriculture. In the north farmers usually concentrate on small dairy herds and forestry. In Finnish Lapland there is some nomadic life based mainly on the reindeer industry.
The major urban settlements are all in the southern third of the country, with a large number of cities and towns concentrated on the coast, either on the Gulf of Finland, as is the capital, Helsinki, or on the Gulf of Bothnia, as are Vaasa and Oulu (Uleåborg). The only town of any size in the north is Rovaniemi, capital of the region of Lappi. Helsinki is the largest city, with a population that is significantly larger than those of Tampere (Tammerfors) and Turku, the country’s capital until 1812.
There are three principal regions in Finland: a coastal plain, an interior lake district, and an interior tract of higher land that rises to the fells (tunturi) of Lapland.
The coastal plain comprises a narrow tract in the south, sloping from Salpausselkä to the Gulf of Finland; the plains in the southwestern part of the country; and the broad western coastal lowlands of the region of Pohjanmaa (Ostrobothnia) facing the Gulf of Bothnia. The coastal region has the most extensive stretches of farmland; this region also is the site of the longest continuous settlement and has the largest number of urban centres. Associated with it are the offshore islands, which are most numerous in the Turun archipelago off Turku on the southwest coast. Farther to the north in the Gulf of Bothnia another group of islands lies off Vaasa (Vasa).
The lake district, with its inland archipelagoes, is the heart of Finland. It has been less subject to external influences than the coastal region, but since the end of World War II its population has increased, and it has become considerably industrialized.
The higher land in the northeast and north constitutes what may still be called “colonial” Finland. These are the country’s areas of expansion and development where many economic and social interests conflict, including, in the far north, the area of saamelaisalue, or Sami territory.
The Åland Islands is a region entirely distinct from Finland, not only because of its geographic separation but also because it is surrounded by the sea. The islands—whose inhabitants are almost entirely Swedish-speaking—are autonomous, have their own parliament, and fly their own flag. On the islands farming is a more usual occupation than fishing; there are mixed farms, as in the southwest of Finland, but fruit is also grown. Mariehamn (Maarianhamina) is the capital and only large town.
Until the 1990s emigration exceeded immigration, with Sweden being one of the most attractive destinations for Finnish emigrants. Following World War II, hundreds of thousands of Finns emigrated, while immigration was practically nil, owing to government restrictions. Since 1990, however, Finland has become a country of net immigration. As a result of increasing Finnish prosperity, the fall of the Soviet Union, and a liberalization of Finnish asylum and immigration policy, the number of immigrants rose dramatically at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, with the largest numbers coming from Russia, Sweden, Estonia, and Somalia. Internal migration since the 1950s has been steadily toward the large towns and cities.
Economy of Finland
Finland’s economy is based primarily on private ownership and free enterprise; in some sectors, however, the government exercises a monopoly or a leading role. After World War II, Finland was not fully industrialized, and a large portion of the population was still engaged in agriculture, mining, and forestry. During the early postwar decades, primary production gave way to industrial development, which in turn yielded to a service- and information-oriented economy. The economy grew rapidly in the 1980s as the country exploited its strong trading relations with both eastern and western Europe. By the early 1990s, however, Finland was experiencing economic recession, reflecting both the loss of its principal trading partner with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a general European economic slump. The economy began a slow recovery in the mid-1990s as Finland continued retooling its industry and refocused its trade primarily toward western Europe.
Unemployment was relatively low in Finland until 1991, when it increased rapidly. After peaking at nearly 20 percent of the workforce in 1994, the unemployment rate gradually began to decline again, falling in line with continental trends by the end of the 20th century.
Finland has subscribed to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade since 1949 and to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development since 1969. It became first an associate (1961) and later a full member (1986) of the European Free Trade Association before leaving that organization to join the European Union (EU) in 1995.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
The steadily decreasing portion of the labour force working in agriculture is indicative of the sector’s declining role in Finland’s economy. Much land has been taken out of agricultural production, and most farms consist of smallholdings. Finland has been self-supporting in basic foodstuffs since the early 1960s. Meat production roughly equals consumption, while egg and dairy output exceeds domestic needs. Grain production varies considerably; in general, bread grain (mainly wheat) is imported and fodder grain exported. The climate restricts grain farming to the southern and western regions of the country.
Animal husbandry in Finland traditionally concentrated on the raising of dairy cattle, but cuts were made after years of overproduction. As a result, the number of milk cows has declined. The keeping of pigs, poultry, and reindeer also is important, while sheep farming and beekeeping are of minor economic significance. The number of horses also declined until the late 1970s but then became generally stable, with the subsequent increase in the number of Thoroughbred horses raised.
Since World War II, fur farming has made great strides in Finland. Practically all furs are exported; Finland is one of the world’s main producers of farm-raised foxes, and its mink furs also have a very good reputation on international markets.
Finnish agriculture was heavily subsidized before the country entered the EU, and as a result of negotiation, Finland remains among the most subsidized under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Finnish farmers rely heavily on direct payments based on the amount of land under cultivation. Those farmers north of the 62nd parallel receive especially generous subsidies.
Despite the abundance of forest resources, the forest industry faces increasing production costs. The private owners of more than four-fifths of Finland’s forests effectively control domestic timber prices; nonetheless, forest products (notably paper) are a major source of the country’s export earnings.
Commercial fishing has gradually become less significant to the economy. Among the fish in Finland’s catch are salmon, sea and rainbow trout, whitefish, pike, and char. River pollution, as well as dams built for hydroelectric works, have adversely affected natural spawning habits, especially those of salmon and sea trout, and Finland has established a large number of fish-breeding stations at which artificial spawning is induced. There is some trawling for Baltic herring, which also are taken in the winter by seine fishing (dragging nets under the ice) around the offshore islands.
Resources and power
Trees are Finland’s most important natural resource. Some three-fourths of the total land area is forested, with pine, spruce, and birch being the predominant species. Government cultivation programs, among other measures, have prevented forest depletion; and acid rain, which has devastated forests in central Europe, has not had any serious consequences in Finland. About one-fifth of all energy consumed in Finland is still derived from wood, though over half this total is waste sludge from pulp mills, and roughly another one-fourth consists of other forest-industry waste (bark, sawdust, etc.) rather than logs.
Peat deposits cover nearly one-third of the country, but only a small fraction of that land is suitable for large-scale peat production. Although expensive to ship and store, peat nevertheless provides a small percentage of Finnish energy and is also used in agriculture.
A diversity of minerals occurs in the Precambrian bedrock, but mining output is modest, owing to the small size of the deposits and the low metal content of the ore. Most mines are located in the north. Iron is the most important of the industrial metals. The main nonferrous metals are nickel and zinc. Chromium, cobalt, and copper are also economically important. Gold, silver, cadmium, and titanium are obtained as by-products. There is no naturally occurring coal or oil in Finland. Some mica is quarried, mostly for export.
Because of the cold climate and the structure of the country’s industry, Finland’s per capita energy consumption ranks among the highest in the world. Industries account for about half of total energy consumption, a much higher proportion than the European average. Domestic energy sources meet only about one-third of Finland’s total energy requirement, and all fossil fuels must be imported.
Much of Finland’s power comes from hydroelectric plants, but the low fall of water makes dam building necessary. The loss in 1944 of Karelian hydroelectric resources turned attention to the north of the country, where plants were built on the Oulu and Kemi rivers. Thermal-generated power is also important. Wind power is of lesser importance than it is in some other Scandinavian countries, but it is becoming more prevalent in the windier coastal areas. Finland’s electricity grids are linked with those of Sweden and Russia, and electricity is imported. Fortum, the predominantly state-owned electric power company, operates a nuclear plant at Loviisa, east of Helsinki; nuclear power now constitutes about one-fourth of all power generated.
Finland’s northern location imposes certain limitations on industrial activity; severe winter conditions make the costs of construction and heating high, and ice and snow are obstacles to transport. Industrialization in Finland began in the 1860s, but the pace was slow, and early in the 20th century only some 10 percent of the population derived its livelihood from manufacturing. It was not until the mid-1960s that manufacturing overtook farming and forestry together as an employer.
Forest products remain a vital sector of the Finnish economy. In the course of development, the traditional manufactures of vegetable tar and pitch have given way to sawn timber and pulp and later to converted paper products, building materials, and furniture.
Reparations payable to the Soviet Union after World War II, at first a desperate burden, eventually proved a boon to Finland; their payment necessitated the development of heavy industry, which later found markets in western as well as eastern Europe. The technology industry is the largest component of the industrial sector in Finland. Biotechnology has also come to play an increasingly important role in the Finnish economy. Metals and engineering constitute another large sector of Finnish industry. Finland holds a leading international position in the building of icebreakers, luxury liners, and other specialized ships and in the manufacture of paper-processing equipment. Finland’s chemical industry has also grown rapidly to become a very important part of the economy. An important branch of the chemical industry is oil refining, the production capacity of which currently exceeds domestic oil requirements.
At the end of the 20th century, Finnish industry embraced new technological developments with great enthusiasm. The manufacture of products related to information technology and telecommunications, led by such firms as Nokia, became increasingly important.
Textile factories are located at Turku, Tampere, Vaasa, Forssa, and Hyvinkää. Helsinki has one of Europe’s largest porcelain factories, while Karhula (Kotka), Iittala, and Nuutajärvi are known internationally for glass. Leather and pewter goods, beer and vodka, and cement are among other important products. Food and drink, including functional foods (those that are both nutritious and prevent illness), constitute one of the country’s largest industries. Liqueurs, soft drinks, and various sweets are made from domestic cloudberries, currants, gooseberries, and lingonberries.
From 1980 the Finnish financial market underwent rapid change. The state’s role in the money market declined, and the economy became more and more market-oriented. Foreign banks were first allowed to operate in Finland in the early 1980s and were permitted to open branch offices there in 1991.
The Bank of Finland (Suomen Pankki), established in 1811 and guaranteed and supervised by the parliament since 1868, is the country’s central bank and a member of the European System of Central Banks. In 2002, the EU’s common currency, the euro, replaced the markka, which had been Finland’s national currency since 1860. Compared with other European countries, Finland has relatively little currency in circulation because Finns are accustomed to banking electronically.Deposit banks are organized into three groups: commercial, cooperative, and savings. Securities trading is handled by the Helsinki Stock Exchange; foreign investors were first allowed to trade there in the early 1980s.
Because of Finland’s relatively small domestic market, specialized production, and lack of energy sources, foreign trade is vital for the economy. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and its loss as Finland’s chief trading partner was a severe blow to the Finnish economy. Trade with Russia, while still significant, has been overshadowed by that with the countries of the European Union. In addition to Russia, Finland’s chief trading partners are Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, China, and the United States. Although the traditional exports of paper and paper products and wood products remain important, heavy machinery and manufactured products now constitute the largest share of Finland’s export trade. Imports consist mainly of raw materials for industrial use, consumer goods, and mineral fuels.
By the beginning of the 21st century, government services made up as much as one-third of the service sector in Finland, but private concerns, especially business and information technology (IT) services, grew at a faster rate than public services. Unlike most other European countries, the service sector’s share of Finland’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employment has not increased as quickly as that of manufacturing. The Finnish government uses indirect methods, such as grants, loans, and investments in equity, as well as employee development and retraining, to promote investment in areas deemed to be in need of development. Founded in 1983, the Technology Development Centre (now the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology) played an important role in the 1980s and ’90s in Finnish technological advancement by funding research and development. By the end of the 20th century, the government had earmarked almost one-third of its total spending for research and development.
Labour and taxation
By far the majority of Finns (roughly two-thirds) are employed in the service sector. The next largest source of employment and still significant is manufacturing, while the proportion of those involved in the increasingly marginalized agricultural sector is very small. Finland’s largest employer organization is the Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers (formerly called the Finnish Employers’ Confederation); the largest trade union groups are the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions and the Confederation of Unions for Academic Professionals.
Employment has long been seen as a self-evident right for women in Finland, which has one of the highest rates of employment for women in Europe, with about nine-tenths of Finnish women employed full-time. On the whole, women workers are slightly better educated than their male counterparts and are more unionized; however, Finnish women are still paid only about seven-tenths of what men earn for the same job. To support the participation of women and parents in the workplace, Finland has a comprehensive system of maternal and paternal leave for new parents.
Income taxes in Finland are higher than those for many other industrialized countries, with the taxation of above-average incomes especially heavy. Finland’s value-added tax is among the highest in the European Union. Excise duties on liquid fuels, automobiles, alcohol, and tobacco are also high, while those on food, public transportation, books, and medicine are typically reduced.
Transportation and telecommunications
Until the mid-20th century the problems posed for internal communications and transport by Finland’s difficult terrain and weather conditions had hardly been tackled, and many communities remained isolated. External communications were mainly by sea, which, especially as a result of the period of Swedish rule, accounts for the series of well-developed ports on the Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland.
The country also has an extensive network of navigable waterways comprising lakes, rivers, and canals. Many thousands of miles of additional waterways are suitable for the flotage of felled timber, but truck and rail transport is rendering this practice obsolete in many areas. In 1963 the Soviet Union leased to Finland the Soviet end of the canal linking Lake Saimaa with the Gulf of Finland; it was opened in 1968. Most of Finland’s overseas cargoes are carried in its own merchant marine. The country has a passenger-liner service, and car ferries operate to Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Estonia, Russia, and Poland.
Finland now has a good system of highways and roads—of which about two-thirds are paved—but the lakes in the southeast tend to make routes indirect there, while north of the Arctic Circle the roads are still few. Bridges and car ferries assist road travel in the lakeland areas and in the island archipelagoes. The bus system is highly developed throughout Finland and is widely utilized.
The railway system is much less adequate than that of the roads; the southwestern part of the country is the best-served area. The railways, which provide connections with Russia, are state-owned; about one-third of the rail lines are electrified. In 1982 Finland’s first subway was inaugurated in Helsinki.
In addition to the international air terminal near Helsinki, Finland has domestic airports, the most northerly of which is at Ivalo, at Lake Inari. Finnair, the national airline, offers domestic and international service.
Not only was Finland quick to develop its telecommunications and information technology industry, but Finns also rapidly made new technology part of their lives. At the turn of the 21st century, Finland had the among the largest per capita numbers of mobile telephone and Internet users in the world.
Government and society
Finland adopted a republican constitution in 1919; it has been amended several times, notably in the mid-1990s. Legislative power rests in the unicameral parliament (Eduskunta), whose members are elected for four-year terms, and in the president, whose term is six years. Executive power is shared by the president and the Council of State, or cabinet, the meetings of which are chaired by the president. The president appoints the prime minister and the cabinet. A clause in the constitution stresses that government ministers are responsible to the parliament.
The six-year term of office and the possibility of reelection enhance the president’s powers and provide the country with an important source of stability, in view of the frequent changes of government caused by the multiparty system. In cases of complete deadlock, the president can appoint a nonpolitical caretaker government. Government bills can be introduced into the parliament in the president’s name; the president can refuse to sign a bill but must endorse it if it is passed in a subsequent parliament. The president also can dissolve the parliament, has certain decree-making powers, and is the head of the armed forces. Moreover, the president conducts the country’s foreign policy, but decisions on major treaties and questions of war and peace must be validated by the parliament.
Finland is divided into 19 maakunnat (regions; singular maakunta), including the autonomous region of Åland (Ahvenanmaa). Each regular maakunta is governed by a council. The country was divided into 12 läänit (provinces) until 1997, when that number was reduced to five, plus the autonomous territory of Åland, all of which were subdivided into maakunnat. In 2010, however, the läänit were abolished, and the existing maakunnat divisions became the primary administrative units. To aid with the transition, six regional state administrative agencies were established that same year to work with the local authorities. The regional state administrative agencies assisted in such areas as basic public services, health, safety, and environmental protection. Finland is further divided into more than 300 local authorities (municipalities), the majority of which have fewer than 10,000 residents.
Åland has special status as a demilitarized, self-governing region. The Act on the Autonomy of Åland (1920), settled by a decision of the League of Nations (1921), provided for Finnish sovereignty over Åland, predicated on a division of political power between the islands and the rest of Finland. Åland has its own parliament (Lagtinget), flag, and representative on the Nordic Council.
Justice of Finland
The Finnish judiciary is independent of the legislature and executive; judges are removable only by judicial sentence. There are local, municipal, and rural district courts (käräjäoikeus) held in cities and towns by the chief judge (oikeuspormestari) and assistants and in the country by a judge and jurors. Appeal from these courts lies to courts of appeal in Helsinki, Turku, Vaasa, Kuopio, Kouvola, and Rovaniemi. The Supreme Court (Korkein oikeus), in Helsinki, appoints the district judges and those of the appeal courts. The chancellor of justice (oikeuskansleri) is the supreme judicial authority and also acts as public prosecutor. The parliament appoints a solicitor general, who acts as an ombudsman. The Supreme Administrative Court (Korkein hallintooikeus) is the highest tribunal for appeals in administrative cases.
Suffrage is universal in Finland for those age 18 or older. The president is directly elected. To be elected president, a candidate must win a majority of the vote in a first round of balloting; otherwise, a run-off is held between the two candidates receiving the most votes in the first round. Parliamentary elections are conducted by a system of proportional representation.
Proportional representation has led to a proliferation of political parties, including the Social Democratic Party, the Left-Wing Alliance (formed in 1990 from the People’s Democratic League and the Finnish Communist Party), the National Coalition Party, and the Centre Party (or Finnish Centre; formerly the Agrarian Union). The People’s Democratic League and its successor have been important parts of the government since World War II. Minor parties include the Swedish People’s Party, the environmentalist Green League, and the True Finn Party (formerly the Finnish Rural Party, a splinter of the former Agrarian Union). Women have played a crucial role in Finnish politics since 1906, when they first became eligible not only to vote but to serve in the parliament. In the early 21st century women held some two-fifths of the seats in the parliament, and in 2003 Finland became the first European country to have a woman president (Tarja Halonen) and a woman prime minister (Anneli Jäätteenmäki) hold office at the same time.
By the Treaty of Paris (1947), made with the Allied Powers after World War II, Finland was permitted to maintain an army of 34,400 individuals, an air force of 3,000 individuals and 60 combat aircraft, and a navy of 4,500 individuals, with ships totaling 10,000 tons. The transformation of Russia, the EU, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st has affected security and stability in Finland’s environs in northern Europe. The NATO membership of the country’s Baltic neighbours Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania is generally viewed by Finns as a stabilizing factor. All male Finns between the ages of 17 and 60 are liable for military service, but civil service duty is available to conscientious objectors.
The police authorities are subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. The cities pay to the state a part of the expenses for local police forces.
Health and welfare
Health centres, run by local authorities, supply free medical treatment to Finns, but there are also licensed private practitioners. The country is divided into hospital districts, each with a central hospital maintained by intermunicipal corporations. There are also smaller regional hospitals and a few private hospitals. The patient pays only a small daily hospital charge. In addition the state reimburses a large percentage of the patient’s expenditures on drugs. The Finns are known as a healthy and vigorous people and are characterized by their penchant for sauna baths. Indeed, the life expectancy for Finns is among the highest in the world.
Social security in Finland comprises a system of pensions and care for the aged, unemployment benefits, health care, and family welfare plans. The state pays disability pensions and old-age pensions to persons age 65 and older. The cost of these pensions is met from premiums originally paid by the beneficiaries and payments by employers and by the central and local governments. The Central Pensions Security Institute administers an additional earnings-related old-age pension, which is also available to farmers and other self-employed people. The National Board of Social Welfare provides care and attention for the elderly, including recreational centres to provide social amenities. Other social programs include unemployment benefits and compensation for industrial accidents, maternity benefits, and family allowances for all children under age 16.
The National Board of Housing addresses problems of housing supply and development. There is a general housing shortage in Helsinki. About three-fifths of Finns own their own houses or flats, and the right to adequate housing was incorporated as an amendment into the Finnish constitution. Low-income families in Finland are eligible to obtain state-subsidized flats, and government loans for mortgages are also obtainable. Brick and
concrete are surpassing wood as building materials, although many Finnish families have vacation cottages, typically modest lakeside dwellings of traditional log or timber construction.
All Finnish municipalities are required to provide preschool instruction for all six-year-old children, but attendance is voluntary; school attendance in Finland is compulsory beginning at age seven. The national and local governments support the schools, and tuition is free. The introduction of a new nine-year comprehensive school system, consisting of a six-year primary stage and a three-year secondary stage, was completed during the 1970s. The English language is taught beginning in the third year, but students can also have the choice of studying other foreign languages. Finland’s nine-year comprehensive school system is followed by either a three-year upper secondary school or a vocational school.
The Finnish higher-education system is composed of two parallel sectors: universities and polytechnics. The only higher-education institutions in Finland that were founded before the country achieved independence are the University of Helsinki, founded at Turku in 1640 and transferred to Helsinki in 1828, and the Helsinki University of Technology, founded in 1849. Instruction is offered in Finnish, Swedish, and often in English. State aid for higher education is available. Adult education and continuing education are also popular in Finland, with adult education leading to certification and reemployment education free of charge.
Finland is one of the most ethnically and culturally homogeneous countries in Europe. Nevertheless, Finns have been quick to incorporate ideas and impulses from Russia, elsewhere in Scandinavia, and continental Europe, particularly in the arts, music, architecture, and the sciences, but in each instance these influences have evolved into a form that is typically Finnish.
Despite their strong neighbours to the east and west, Finns have preserved and developed the Finnish language, while adapting it to new terminology as needed; for example, the word tietokone (“knowledge machine”) was coined as the Finnish word for “computer” instead of adopting a variant from another language.
Finns also have kept their cultural identity intact despite the powerful outside influences of neighbouring Finnic, Baltic, and Germanic peoples. Indeed, the traditional region of Karelia (now divided between Finland and Russia), where the songs of the Finnish national epic Kalevala originated, bears little influence from either Swedish or Russian culture.
The best-known Finnish regional groups are the Savolainen, Karjalainen, Hämäläinen, and Pohjalainen (from the Savo, Karelia, Hame, and Ostrobothnia regions, respectively). These groups are often characterized with standard descriptors; for example, the Karjalainen are frequently referred to as “talkative.” Other regional stereotypes exist for those from Kainuu, Finland proper, and the Satakunta region, but these characterizations are not nearly as common in popular media as are those for the first four groups.
Daily life and social customs
Many Finnish customs are closely associated with forests, which Finns have historically seen not as dark foreboding places but rather as offering refuge and shelter. In one of Finland’s signature literary works, Seven Brothers, 19th-century writer Aleksis Kivi depicts the socially inept brothers’ flight to the protection of the woods. Today, on weekends and during holidays, Finns flee from urban stress to their forest summerhouses.
Other customs associated with trees and wood are alive and well in Finland. Bonfires are lit at Midsummer, the doorways of houses are decorated with birches, and leafy birch whisks are still used in the traditional wooden sauna. On Easter, mämmi, a pudding made from malt and rye flour, is traditionally eaten from containers made of (or made to resemble) birch bark. In late winter, while snow covers the ground, birch branches are brought indoors to remind the household of the coming spring.
Although Finns consider Santa Claus to have his permanent home in Korvatunturi, in northern Finland, the spruce Christmas tree is a relative newcomer to the country, having made its first appearance in the 1820s. Now the Christmas tree is a fixture of Finnish Christmas celebrations, which also involve special foods, including rice porridge (made with milk and cinnamon), a baked glazed ham, and a potato and carrot or rutabaga gratin. The holiday is not complete without a Christmas sauna bath.
New Year’s Eve is celebrated with private and public fireworks displays. Large crowds also gather in Helsinki’s Senate Square to hear speeches and music. Perhaps the most-interesting Finnish New Year’s Eve tradition is the melting of tin: small bits of tin (or lead), usually shaped like horseshoes, are melted and then thrown into cold water, with the resulting shape or its shadow interpreted as a symbolic harbinger of the future.
Another of the most important holidays in Scandinavia, Midsummer—which celebrates the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice—is known in Finland as Juhannus (a name that is derived from the feast of St. John the Baptist). The solstice falls on June 20 or 21 and is officially celebrated in Finland on the Saturday that falls between June 20th and 26th, with the three-day weekend national holiday beginning on Friday, Midsummer’s Eve. Typically, the celebration involves music, dance, and the lighting of bonfires, as well as trips to the country for city dwellers.
Vappu, which effectively combines the celebration of Walpurgis Night and May Day, is yet another important holiday in Finland. The celebration of that holiday, which dates to at least the 18th century, begins on the evening of April 30, usually with merrymaking related to the drinking of alcoholic beverages, and continues the following day, including more family-related activities.
Wood is an essential component of the typical Finnish sauna, which is almost universally constructed out of birch or other sturdy wood beams. Bathers sit on wooden benches, splashing water on the hot stones of the stove and whisking each other with birch branches, just as their ancestors would have done millennia earlier. Traditionally, the sauna was a sacred place for the Finns, used not only for the weekly sauna bath but also for ritual purposes. This was particularly the case for those rituals performed by women, such as healing the sick and preparing the dead for burial. The sauna was also used for doing laundry and for key farming activities, such as curing meat and fermenting and drying malt. Given its importance to the farm economy, it is logical that the sauna was originally built within the enclosure surrounding the farm’s outbuildings. The current placement of most saunas on a lakeside or coastal inlet goes back only to the early 20th century, following the fashion of the gentry’s villas.
For a long time the sauna (whose name comes from a Finnish-Sami word) was usually heated only once a week, because it took a whole day to prepare it to stand several rounds of bathers (with men and women bathing separately). Many Finns believe sauna baths provide healing for the mind and body, and they are taken with almost religious reverence. Although not playing the central role it does in Finnish culture, the custom of sauna bathing is also widespread among the other Finnic peoples in the Baltic region—the Estonians, Karelians, Veps, and Livonians—as well as among Latvians and Lithuanians.
The arts of Finland
Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala, compiled in the 19th century by the scholar Elias Lönnrot from old Finnish ballads, lyrics, and incantations, played a vital part in fostering Finnish national consciousness and pride. Indeed, the development of almost all Finland’s cultural institutions and activities has been involved with and motivated by nationalist enthusiasm. This theme can be demonstrated in the growth and development of Finnish theatre and opera, in literature and music, in art and architecture, and also in sports. The festivals of various arts, held annually at places such as Helsinki, Vaasa, and Kaustinen, and Finland’s many museums show an awareness of the individuality and importance of Finland’s contribution to world culture. Savonlinna, in particular, is celebrated for its annual opera festivals.
Theatre, opera, and music
Drama in Finland is truly popular in the sense that vast numbers act in, as well as watch, theatrical productions. Besides the dozens of theatre companies in which all the actors are professionals, there are some in which a few professionals or even the producer alone are supplemented by amateur performers. And there are amateur theatrical companies in almost every commune.
The country’s most important theatre is the National Theatre of Finland, established in 1872 with Kaarlo Bergbom as producer and manager; its granite building in Helsinki was built in 1902. There are also several other municipal theatres. One of the most exciting in the country is the Pyynikki Open Air Theatre of Tampere, the revolving auditorium of which can be moved to face any of the natural sets. There are innumerable institutions connected with the theatre in Finland, including the Central Federation of Finnish Theatrical Organizations. There is a wide repertory of Finnish as well as international plays. The Finnish theatre receives some degree of government assistance.
The main centre for opera is the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki; the Savonlinna Opera Festival takes place every summer. The international success of Finnish singers such as Karita Mattila, Jorma Hynninen, and Soile Isokoski has added to the continuing national enthusiasm for opera. Several Finnish operas, including The Last Temptations by Joonas Kokkonen and The Horseman by Aulis Sallinen, gained notoriety in the late 20th and early 21st century.
The dominant figure in Finnish music during the first half of the 20th century was Jean Sibelius, the country’s best-known composer, who brought Finnish music into the repertoire of concert halls worldwide. Other renowned composers include Magnus Lindberg, Kaija Saariaho, and Einojuhani Rautavaara. The Sibelius Academy in Helsinki is a world-famous centre of musical study. The city is also the location of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The Sibelius violin competition and Mirjam Helin song competition are held there every five years. There are annual music festivals in Helsinki and several other cities. Internationally known Finnish conductors include Paavo Berglund, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, and Osmo Vänskä.
Epic prose has played and continues to play an important role in Finnish literature. Seitsemän veljestä (1870; Seven Brothers) by Aleksis Kivi is considered to be the first novel written in Finnish. Other early leading prose writers include Frans Eemil Sillanpää, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1939. Although Mika Waltari represented newer trends in literature, it was his historical novels, among them Sinuhe, egyptiläinen (1945; The Egyptian), that brought him fame. Väinö Linna, a leading postwar writer, became known for his war novel Tuntematon soltilas (1954; The Unknown Soldier) and for the trilogy Täällä Pohjantähden alla (1959–62; Under the North Star). Other novelists have written in shorter forms, but the broad epic has remained popular, particularly among writers describing the contradictions in Finnish life from the turn of the century to modern times. One of the central figures in the Finnish modernist movement of the 1950s was poet and playwright Eeva Liisa Manner, perhaps best remembered for her poetry collection Tämä matka (“This Journey,” 1956). Other well-known Finnish authors include Kari Hotakainen, Leena Lehtolainen, Rosa Liksom, Asko Sahlberg, and Johanna Sinisalo.
Literature written in Swedish has had a long tradition in Finland. Among 19th-century writers, Johan Ludvig Runeberg, the national poet, and Zacharias Topelius played leading roles. Later 20th-century poets such as Edith Södergran had a strong influence on the modern poetry of both Finland and Scandinavia. One of Finland’s most beloved and widely translated authors, Tove Jansson, wrote her many books about the Moomin family in Swedish. The Swedish language continues to be used in Finnish literature, and writers such as Kjell Westö, Märta Tikkanen, Monika Fagerholm, and Jörn Donner are widely read in Finland and abroad.
Art, architecture, and design
From the time that the Kalevala inspired the paintings of Die Brücke Expressionist Akseli Gallen-Kallela, there has been a distinctive school of Finnish painters, but the Finnish artistic genius has been continually drawn to three-dimensional work. Sculpture is important, highly abstract, and experimental; Eila Hiltanen’s monument to Sibelius in Helsinki is composed of chrome, metal, and steel tubes.
Modern Finnish architecture is among the most imaginative and exciting in the world. Its development was closely allied to the nationalist movement, and among its pioneers were the internationally renowned Eliel Saarinen, whose work is exemplified by the National Museum and the Helsinki railway station, and Lars Sonck, whose churches in Helsinki and Tampere are particularly notable. Finnish women were also early innovators as architects, including Wiwi Lönn and Signe Hornborg, the latter one of the first formally trained female architects in the world.
In the 20th century the idea of functionalism was developed by Gustaf Strengell. In the 1920s Alvar Aalto and Erik Bryggman began experimenting with regional variations on the International Style. Among the most striking examples of Aalto’s work are the Paimio Sanatorium, the library at Viipuri, and Finlandia Hall, a concert and congress hall in Helsinki. There is general experimentation, using concrete and metals, in Finnish industrial buildings and flats and in environmental design, as at the garden town of Tapiola outside Helsinki. The new generation of architects has continued these standards. Architects such as Juha Ilmari Leiviskä, known for his innovative churches, and Pekka Helin and Tuomo Siitonen, whose flexible and adaptive working spaces are intended to encourage creative thinking, have been lauded at home and abroad.
Finnish design—especially in glass, porcelain, and textiles—became internationally known during the postwar period. Factories such as the well-known Arabia and Marimekko in Helsinki have given artists a free hand to develop their ideas and skills. Tapio Wirkkala, Kaj Franck, and Timo Sarpaneva in glassware, Marjatta Metsovaara in textiles, and Dora Ljung in ryijy, a type of knotted pile-weave rug, are among the best-known designers.
Finland’s public cultural institutions are made up of a big, varied, and comprehensive network. The institutions are largely supported, planned, and organized by national and local authorities. The planning of cultural policies is in the purview of the Finnish Ministry of Education. Finnish arts and cultural activities are considered important not only to a strong national identity but as a valuable export and source of international interest. Since 1969, Finland has administered a system of artists’ grants that allocate a tax-free monthly stipend (for a variety of periods) to artists working in architecture, motion pictures, crafts and design, dance, literature, music, theatre, photography, and other visual arts. Public support for artists is also made available through grants and subsidies for “high-quality productions”—including films, photographic art books, and crafts and design—and by purchasing works of art for public buildings and spaces.
Finns are also active in creating culture on an amateur basis. People participate eagerly in cultural clubs and organizations, local choirs and orchestras, and local dance, theatre, and dramatic societies, along with other similar groups. These groups organize a wide variety of year-round local and regional cultural events throughout the country.
Of Finland’s more than 1,000 museums, about 200 are dedicated to the arts. The national art museum is the Finnish National Gallery, composed of the Ateneum Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, and the Central Art Archives. There are also a number of regional art museums.
Libraries are especially important cultural institutions in Finland, and Finns are among the world’s most avid library users. Since the founding of its first library, in 1794 in Vaasa, Finland has developed a comprehensive network of tens of millions of books and other items in its plentiful public libraries, including a seagoing library to serve the needs of islanders. Because of their important role in public education and service, especially in their use as civic meeting places and cultural centres, libraries are highly regarded and well funded by the Finns. The Helsinki University Library is also the National Library of Finland.
Sports and recreation
In Finland the basic national sport—which originally was a necessary means of winter transportation—is cross-country skiing. Nationalism also encouraged the development of special proficiency, which was fostered by ski fairs and competitions held at Oulu beginning in the late 1890s. A century later, Finns were still making their mark on the sport, not least being Marja-Liisa Hämäläinen, who won seven Olympic gold medals in the 1980s and ‘90s.
An interest in other athletics developed from the time that the Finns took part in the interim Olympic Games held in Athens in 1906. Finland has excelled in Olympic track and field as well as winter sports, especially in distance running, in which the tradition of “Flying Finns” includes Hannes Kolehmainen, Ville Ritola, Lasse Virén, and Paavo Nurmi, who won nine gold medals in Olympic middle- and long-distance running events in the 1920s, becoming a national hero. Other popular sports are waterskiing, riding, fishing, shooting, ice hockey, and pesäpallo, a Finnish version of baseball.
Media and publishing
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the 1919 constitution and the Freedom of the Press Act (also 1919); both contain provisions safeguarding editorial rights and outlining press responsibilities. The Supreme Court can suppress publications under certain circumstances, but in general there are few restrictions apart from those governing libel and copyright.
Newspaper publication began in Finland in 1771 by the learned Aurora Society, and the Åbo Underrättelser, published in Swedish, has been in operation since 1824. Finns are among the world’s most voracious newspaper readers, and the country ranks near the top of newspapers sold per capita. Most of Finland’s many newspapers are independently owned and operated. The national Finnish News Agency (Oy Suomen Tietotoimisto; founded 1887) is independent and owned by the press.
The state-run Finnish Broadcasting