Suomi on ruotsalainen
[Finland is Swedish]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2014. 321 pp.
Finland was a part of the Swedish kingdom from the deep Middle Ages until 1809, when for a hundred years it was incorporated into Russia. The Swedish period left profound traces in Finnish society, and these were examined – with lively discussion – in the television series Finland is Swedish. Now the series scriptwriter and editor Marjo Vilkko has provided a more thoroughgoing treatment of the topic in her book. Although Finland is a country that shares Western and Nordic values, it differs from Sweden in several respects. For historical reasons and due to the presence of a significant Swedish-speaking minority, Swedish is still an official language; many things have moved from Europe to Finland via Sweden. However, at times the differences in Finland’s development have been emphasised by those wishing to propagate ‘original Finnish’ characteristics. With the use of fascinating examples and reflections drawn from history, Vilkko shows, for example, how Finland’s local government, legal system and Lutheran religion are to a large extent an inheritance from the Swedish period, with a continuous mutual interaction. The book moderately propagates the recognition of a common heritage and support for mutual understanding.
Translated by David McDuff
Kuka on saamelainen ja mitä on saamelaisuus – identiteetin juurilla [Who is a Sámi and what being Sámi means – looking for the roots of identity]
Kuka on saamelainen ja mitä on saamelaisuus – identiteetin juurilla
[Who is a Sámi and what being Sámi means – looking for the roots of identity]
Toim. [Ed. by]: Erika Sarivaara, Kaarina Määttä & Satu Uusiautti
Rovaniemi: Lapin yliopistokustannus (Lapland University Press), 2013. 182 pp.
This anthology updates one of the most burning questions, one which also has political consequences: who has the right to belong to an indigenous people, and who is entitled to define it? Of the approximately 100,000 Sámi – the only indigenous people in the European Union – around 7,000 live within Finnish territory. The writers represent Sámi research at the Lapland University, and they examine the definition of ‘the Sámi without a status’, i.e. people not included on the election list for the Sámi Parliament. The book questions the prevailing discourse, which characterises Sámi history as a withdrawal from the progress of civilisation; this is interpreted as a survival strategy, and the Sámi are not primarily regarded as the victims of colonialism and modernisation. The work also highlights the inner hierarchies of the Sámi and analyses both the reindeer-farming Sámi, regarded as elite, as well as the marginalia, the Sámi who engage in forestry and agriculture to make a living. Articles are sensitive, sometimes provocative, and they shine a spotlight on every ethnic group as well as the fundamental questions of the individual, the right to one’s own identity, language and history.
For more than 20 years journalist Leena Liukkonen has been thoroughly involved with Russian culture, commerce, language and psyche. The subtitle of her new book of essays Venäläiset tulevat! (‘The Russians are coming!’) is ‘What we think and know about them’, and refers to the fact that the Finns do not really know their eastern neighbours very well. Liukkonen writes with insight about the differences in history, mentality and world view
Extracts (under original subtitles) from Venäläiset tulevat! Mitä me heistä luulemme ja tiedämme (Siltala, 2013)
WAR, REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING
In café conversations with other visitors to Russia, we often react with exasperation to the fact that discussions in Finland only ever start with the Winter War. Sometimes we wonder why the threshold between us and our neighbour to the east is still so high. My own living contact with the past, however, makes it clear to me that everything the elderly carry round with them could not have been simply shaken off with the passage of time. Nor can the next generation just break away from it. My own experience also reminds me how distant our eastern neighbour was during peacetime. After all, a very few have made the long journey to the country next door. To many people, the old story was the only story there was about Russia. More…
12 April 2013 | Letter from the Editors
Finnish is spoken mostly in Finland, whereas English is spoken everywhere. A Finnish writer, however, doesn’t necessarily write in any of Finland’s three national languages (Finnish, Swedish and Sámi).
What is a Finnish book, then – and (something of particular interest to us here at the Books from Finland offices) is it the same thing as a book from Finland? Let’s take a look at a few examples of how languages – and fatherlands – fluctuate.
Hannu Rajaniemi has Finnish as his mother tongue, but has written two sci-fi novels in English, which were published in England. A Doctor in Physics specialising in string theory, Rajaniemi works at Edinburgh University and lives in Scotland. His books have been translated into Finnish; the second one, The Fractal Prince / Fraktaaliruhtinas (2012) was in March 2013 on fifth place on the list of the best-selling books in Finland. (Here, a sample from his first book, The Quantum Thief, 2011, Gollancz.)
Emmi Itäranta, a Finn who lives in Canterbury, England, published her first novel, Teemestarin tarina (‘The tea master’s book’, Teos, 2012), in Finland. She rewrote it in English and it will be published as Memory of Water in England, the United States and Australia (HarperCollins Voyager) in 2014. Translations into six other languages will follow. More…
In his new book Miksi Suomi on Suomi (‘Why Finland is Finland’, Teos, 2012) writer Tommi Uschanov asks whether there is really anything that makes Finland different from other countries. He discovers that the features that nations themselves think distinguish them from other nations are often the same ones that the other nations consider typical of themselves…. In Finland’s case, though, there does seem to be something that genuinely sets it apart: language. In these extracts Uschanov takes a look at the way Finns express themselves verbally – or don’t
Is there actually anything Finnish about Finland?
My own thoughts on this matter have been significantly influenced by the Norwegian social scientist Anders Johansen and his article ‘Soul for Sale’ (1994). In it, he examines the attempts associated with the Lillehammer Winter Olympics to create an ‘image of Norway’ fit for international consumption. Johansen concluded at the time, almost twenty years ago, that there really isn’t anything particularly Norwegian about contemporary Norwegian culture.
There are certainly many things that are characteristic of Norway, but the same things are as characteristic of prosperous contemporary western countries in general. ‘According to Johansen, ‘Norwegianness’ often connotes things that are marks not of Norwegianness but of modernity. ‘Typically Norwegian’ cultural elements originate outside Norway, from many different places. The kind of Norwegian culture which is not to be found anywhere else is confined to folk music, traditional foods and national costumes. And for ordinary Norwegians they are deadly boring, without any living link to everyday life. More…
Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Approximately five per cent of the population (290,000 Finns) speak Swedish as their native language. All Finns learn both languages at school, and students in higher education must prove they have an adequate knowledge of the other mother tongue. But how do native speakers of Finnish cope with what is, for many of them, a minority language that they will never need or even wish to use? We take a look at bilingual issues – and a new book devoted to them
‘In many parts of the world, language can be a fiery and divisive issue, one that pits the powerless against the powerful, the small against the big. The Basques battle the Spanish. The Flemish tussle with the Walloons. The Québécois scuffle with the rest of Canada.’
That is how Lizette Alvarez illustrated her theme in her article ‘Finland Makes Its Swedes Feel at Home’, published in the New York Times in 2005.
In Finland, language has been a fiery issue at times, though things have cooled down a bit since the early 20th century. The use of Finnish as a written language dates back to the 16th century, but the territory of Finland was part of the Swedish Empire until 1809. Swedish was spoken by the nobility as well as most of the peasant class – the mechanism of the state did not serve Finnish-speaking peasants or other segments of the population in Finnish. More…
Kauaksi kotoa. Muutoksen sukupolvi kertoo
[Far from home. Stories of the change generation]
Toim. [Ed. by] Anja Salokannel & Kaija Valkonen
Helsinki: Kirjapaja, 2012. 320 p.
The post-war period in Finland was a time of hope and reconstruction, of procreation and tough, grey heroism. Finland picked itself up by the bootstraps, as fathers who had been ‘driven mad in the war’, who took to drink or spat blood because they had shrapnel in their lungs, built veterans’ houses around the small towns and cleared fields in the backwoods. More than 83,000 men were killed in the wars (Winter War 1939–1940, Continuation War 1941–1944).
Mothers worked like men. The baby boomers – the demographic peak which consists of those born between the war years and 1950 (in 1946–1949 more than 100,000 babies were born each year, compared to some 60,000 in 2011) – had to be fed and clothed and educated for a better and more prosperous future.
Now the baby boomers have started to retire. Editors Anja Salokannel and Kaija Valkonen (baby boomers themselves) have compiled the book Kauaksi kotoa. Muutoksen sukupolvi kertoo (‘A long way from home. Stories of the change generation’), in which 21 men and women talk about their lives during the decades of change. More…
18 December 2009 | Reviews
Red. [Ed. by] Charlotte Sundström & Trygve Söderling
Helsingfors: Schildts, 2009. 288 p.
De andra. En bok om klass
Red. [Ed. by] Silja Hiidenheimo, Fredrik Lång, Tapani Ritamäki, Anna Rotkirch
Helsingfors: Söderströms, 2009. 288 p.
Me muut. Kirjoituksia yhteiskuntaluokista
Helsinki: Teos, 2009. 267 p.
At some time in their lives, all members of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland have been confronted with the phrase ‘Swedish-speaking better people’ [Svenska talande bättre folk], uttered in tones of contempt. Encouraged by news and entertainment media with little regard for the consequences, Finland’s Finnish-speaking majority is hopelessly fascinated by the image of us Finland-Swedes as a uniform and monolithic haute bourgeoisie that resides in the coveted Helsinki neighbourhoods of Eira and Brunnsparken. More…
In Finnish fiction of the present decade, both in poetry and in prose, there seems to be at least one principle that cuts across all genres: an overt expression of gender, writes the critic Mervi Kantokorpi in her essay
Relationships and family have always been central concerns of literature; questions about gender and individual identity have received a new emphasis in Finnish literature from one season to the next. The gender roles represented in contemporary literature appear to become ever more stereotypical. The question is no longer only of the author consciously setting his or her gender up as the starting point for expression, as has already long been the case with modern literature written by women. More…