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By Terttu Leney
Bravo LtdCopyright © 2005 Kuperard
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LAND & PEOPLE
Finland is a land of forests and undulating countryside. The Finns are very proud of their forests, calling them their "green gold." As raw material for the paper and cellulose industries, trees have been, and continue to be, a major source of wealth. They are a renewable resource, and there is more forest now than ever before. Finland leads in the international field of forestry research and sustainable development.
Most of the country is topographically low. The highest hills are in Lapland. Eastern and southeastern Finland are characterized by the large number of lakes, and the west coast is very flat and prone to flooding. The land is still rising after the last ice age. A glacier molded the country during the last ice age, which came to an end only 10,000 years ago; you can see the large granite boulders left behind when the glacier melted.
The total area of Finland is 130,500 square miles (338,000 sq. km). The distance from Hanko on the south coast to Utsjoki in northern Lapland is 719 miles (1,157 km). The longest distance east to west is 336 miles (542 km). Finland is situated in the north of Europe between latitudes 60° and 70° and between longitudes 20° and 32°. The Arctic Circle runs through northern Finland, just north of Rovaniemi, and most of Lapland lies above the Arctic Circle.
Finland shares 381 miles (614 km) of land border with Sweden. The border with Norway is 457 miles (736 km) long. The border with Russia is the longest at 833 miles (1,340 km), and is patrolled by both Finnish and Russian border guards. This border marks the boundary of the European Union with the Russian Federal Republic, and has been the backdrop for many spy novels set in the Cold War era. In the south, Finland borders on the Gulf of Finland and in the west the Gulf of Bothnia, which are both parts of the Baltic Sea. The length of the entire coastline is about 2,860 miles (4,600 km).
Water makes up around 10 percent of the total area of Finland. Forests, mainly pine and spruce, cover 68 percent, and 6 percent of the land is under cultivation, with barley and oats as the main crops. The remaining terrain includes a great deal of marshy land. There are 187,888 lakes in total, so the name "land of thousands of lakes" is no myth. The 179,584 islands range from small skerries and outcrops to large inhabited islands. Nearly 100,000 of these islands are located in the lakes. Owning an island — or even several — is not unusual in Finland, and every Finn dreams of a house on a lake or by the sea.
Europe's largest archipelago lies off the southwest coast of Finland, and includes the Åland islands (Ahvenanmaa in Finnish), which are an autonomous province of Finland situated between Finland and Sweden. Their status as a demilitarized zone was decreed by the League of Nations in the 1920s. More than 90 percent of the population speak Swedish as their mother tongue.
The largest lake, Saimaa, is situated in southeast Finland. The main Finnish lakes form five long, navigable networks — in fact it is difficult to determine where one lake stops and another starts. There are still some car ferries in the more remote parts of the lakes, but bridges have replaced them in more densely populated areas. It is worth remembering that roads have to go around the largest lakes, making journeys long.
The numerous rivers provide hydroelectric power for the country. Salmon gates have been built on the traditional salmon migratory rivers. There are 5,100 rapids in Finland, the largest being at Imatra on the Russian border. These are now harnessed, but are sometimes released on a Sunday for the pleasure of tourists, and are a magnificent sight. From nearby Lappeenranta you can travel along the Saimaa Canal to Viipuri. If you want to do this trip, ask your travel agent whether or not you need a visa. The canal is leased to Finland by Russia, and runs through Russian Karelia to the Gulf of Finland, providing access from inland lake harbors to the oceans of the world. The city of Viipuri, which was the second-largest city in Finland before the Second World War, was ceded to Russia after the war.
There are four distinct seasons in Finland, and they are startlingly different from one another. The longest season is winter, when frost and snow turn most of the countryside into a picture postcard. In Lapland the first snow can fall as early as September, and the winter does not come to an end until April or May. In the south the winter is much shorter and milder Inland, the country is much colder and drier than the coastal areas. The temperatures in the north can fall as low as -40°F (-40°C). Lakes and coastal waters freeze in the winter, and the ice usually becomes thick enough to support traffic, which considerably shortens some journeys. The snow is at its thickest in March. Large quantities of snow are removed from the city centers to the outskirts for ski tracks and skating rinks. Icebreakers keep the main shipping routes open. The cost of the winter is huge to the Finnish economy.
Spring is dramatic, and can arrive suddenly, the ice on the lakes melting quickly. The summer can be very warm and dry, especially away from the coast, and daytime temperatures can rise to 86°F (30°C). Record temperatures are due to the continental weather coming in from the east. The west wind brings milder, wetter weather. Without the effect of the Gulf Stream, Finland would be a very cold and inhospitable country.
The Finns adore their short, precious summer, and enjoy every minute of it. Cafés spread out on to the streets, beer is consumed in large quantities on terraces, and sun worshipers fill the beaches. The gloriously colorful fall is a very popular time to go trekking in Lapland.
Because the lakes are shallow, the temperature of the water can be as warm as 68°F (20°C), making swimming in the summer a very pleasant experience. However, the Finns also swim in the lakes in winter — a hole is cut in the ice specially for them. This invigorating activity is said to cure many ills, and is certainly not for the fainthearted! The annual world ice-swimming championships are held in Finland every winter.
The weather is very variable, and talking about the weather is something of a national pastime. Every household has an outdoor thermometer, because it is important to know how much or how little clothing you will need outside. Temperatures can change very quickly. Thunderstorms are common in the summer.
Days are short in the winter and long in the summer. In the north, the Polar night means that the sun doesn't rise at all for several weeks. In summer there is continuous daylight in Lapland for about two months. Even in the south the sun only sets for a short while in midsummer. The magnificent light show of the aurora borealis, or the northern lights (the Finns call them "fox fire"), can be seen on clear, dark nights, on average three out of four nights. The best and most frequent views are from the Kilpisjärvi region, in Lapland, but the lights can sometimes be seen in the south of the country as well.
The abundance of water and the warmer weather bring the curse of the Finnish summer: the mosquitoes. These irritating creatures are not so common in towns, but are all the more voracious near lakes and marshes and in the forests, and are particularly plentiful in Lapland. Although these mosquitoes do not carry any diseases, some people have a severe reaction to their bites. If this is the case, seek advice from a pharmacist, who will recommend repellents and ointments. Some Finns swear that beer is the best repellent, but you have to drink large quantities for it to be effective! World mosquito-killing championships are held every summer, the winner being the one who kills the most, using hands only, in a given time. Finns are well practiced at this sport.
There are no polar bears in Finland, contrary to statements made in some guidebooks, but there are brown bears. Most of these are in eastern Finland, but there have been sightings as far south as the outskirts of Helsinki. They present no danger to humans, but can be very bold when they have cubs, and hungry bears are known to kill domestic animals. The ancient Finns worshiped the bear as the king of the forest, and Finnish has more than fifty words for bear — it was believed that you had to refer to him by euphemisms; otherwise the bear thought he was being called, and that was the last thing anyone wanted. Recently, a bear on the runway at Joensuu airport held up domestic flights.
Finns also worshipped the elk, or moose. Some of the earliest cave paintings depict elks, and some of the earliest decorative objects are in the shape of an elk's head. The modern Finns hunt elk. A foreigner wishing to hunt in Finland will need to pass a hunter's test and have the appropriate permit and a Finnish guide. All elk hunters have to wear red or orange hats to avoid shooting each other! The number of permits varies according to the elk population. These large animals are a major hazard on the roads, as are reindeer in Lapland.
There are also many wolves, again predominantly in eastern and northern Finland, but frequent sightings occur all over the country. The rarest mammal is the Saimaa seal, found in the waters near Savonlinna and Linnansaari. Wildfowl include ptarmigan and grouse, and bird migration to the Arctic regions provides birdwatchers with plenty to see in the spring and fall. The ornithologists' paradise is Hangonniemi, the southernmost point of Finland, where the birds rest after crossing the Baltic Sea. The migration of the swans is said to have inspired the first symphony of Sibelius.
The Finnish lakes and coastal waters teem with fish. Pike, perch, and pikeperch are some of the most commonly caught freshwater fish, together with different species of salmon, including the vendace, which is caught by trawling.
A BRIEF HISTORY
From Ice Age to Iron Age
Who are the Finns, and where did they come from? Finns were first mentioned by the historian Tacitus in his history of Germany, but there is very little written evidence about them before the Romans occupied the area. It is known that Finnish hunters traded furs with the Germans, who sold them to the Romans.
The migration of Finnic peoples can be traced through linguistic loans and similarities with other peoples around the eastern Baltic, along the Volga River in Russia, and all the way to the areas around the Ural Mountains, where languages related to Finnish are still spoken. There are many peoples, including the Estonians, the Ingrians, the Votyaks, and others, who share a linguistic past with the Finns. With modern DNA analysis it has been established that the Finns share around 75 percent of their genes with the Europeans of the Baltic region, and only about 25 percent of the genes come from the East or are of Asian origin. The Hungarian language is also remotely related to Finnish.
There are still many unanswered questions about the Finns and the Sami people. Did the Sami people, who now speak a language related to Finnish, speak some other language before? Who were the Battle-Axe people, and what language did they speak?
Archaeological finds would indicate that the first people — probably hunter-gatherers — arrived in Finland around 8000 BCE, some time after the end of the last ice age. We don't know who these people were, or what language they spoke. The area may have been populated before then, but the glacier would have destroyed any evidence. New finds are being made, and historians may have to reassess the prehistory of the area.
The Finns moved to the area that is now Finland from the south, across the Gulf of Finland, and from the east, along the Karelian Isthmus. There was also some migration from the east coast of Sweden to the coastal areas of western and southwestern Finland along the gulf of Bothnia. The Åland Islands were also inhabited very early. All these areas are still predominantly Swedish-speaking.
There have been some very interesting prehistoric finds in Finland, including some spectacular cave and rock paintings. In addition to the archaeological finds, there are the tales of the Kalevala, which tell the story of the heroes of the North fighting battles and carrying out feats of power and intelligence.
The pagan Finns had their own gods. The chief god, Ukko, remains in the language as the word for thunder. Many place-names refer to sacrificial grounds and burial places. Modern methods of research and scientific analysis are constantly revealing more about the past.
The Vikings traveled through Finland on their long journeys to the East. The ancient trading routes still exist, mainly the Kuninkaantie, the King's route, which passes through southern Finland from Stockholm via Turku and on to Russia. Parts of this are a heritage trail today.
From First Crusade to Grand Duchy
More is known about Finland after the Northern Crusades reached the country. Christianity probably arrived in Sweden with Irish monks. The first crusade to Finland took place in 1155, according to legends dating from the end of the thirteenth century, led by St. Henry, the bishop of Uppsala, and King Eric of Sweden.
The papal power was extending its reach from the west; meanwhile the Orthodox faith was actively converting from the east. Sweden wanted to secure the area of Finland, not just for the Catholic Church, but also politically as its frontier toward the east. Ever since then, Finland has been between these two interest groups. The western Finns aligned with the Catholic Church, and the Karelians in the east with the Orthodox faith prevalent in Novgorod, the predecessor to the state of Russia.
The emerging Swedish state tied Finland closer to itself, the first documentary evidence regarding Finland as a part of Sweden appearing in a papal document in 1216. Sweden built fortifications in Häme, Vyborg, and on the south coast. Vyborg Castle, built in 1293, still stands, and is now in Russia. Castles were also built in Turku and Savonlinna, both of which still stand.
In 1323, under the Treaty of Pähkinänsaari, Sweden and Novgorod divided Finland between the two kingdoms. Karelia came under the Novgorod rule, and the west and south of Finland remained within the western culture and the Catholic Church as a part of the Swedish state.
Turku became the capital of the Swedish province of Finland. The Swedish legal system, taxation, and other tools of the state were established. The bishop of Turku became the spiritual leader of the country. Finns had a right to send representatives to the Diet in Sweden in the sixteenth century.
The Reformation and the Lutheran Protestant Church were established in Finland, as elsewhere in Scandinavia, in the first half of the sixteenth century. As Sweden's power grew and expanded eastward, Finland increasingly became a battleground, and hunger and wars taxed the population. Swedish controls were tightened, and Swedes held all the high offices of state.
The glory of the Swedish empire came to an end in the Great Northern War (1700–21). Russia occupied Finland in 1714, when Swedish attention was elsewhere. Then followed the so-called period of the Great Wrath, ending in the Peace of Uusikaupunki in 1721, and southeast Finland became part of Russia. Further battles followed, and Russia's sphere of influence pushed ever further west. There were some fledgling feelings for a Finnish state at this time, and some talk of separating Finland from Sweden. The university in Turku was the center of intellectual activity, but there was still a long way to go before Finland was ready to be a nation-state.
During the reign of Gustavus III (1771–92), there were some improvements in Finland. Work started on the fortification of Viaborg, just outside Helsinki, now known as Suomenlinna. This fort has been attacked only once — by the British during the Crimean War.
This was a period of renaissance for Finland, with improvements in government and the economy, and new towns founded. Some of the officers involved in the war against Russia (1788–90) advocated separation from Sweden, but received little support for their ideas.
Napoleon was enlarging his empire in Europe. In 1807 he met Alexander I of Russia in Tilsit, in Poland. They agreed that Sweden should be coerced to join the blockade against Great Britain, and to force Sweden's hand Russia attacked Finland. This war (1808–9) is known as the War of Finland. The fictional description of the war by Johan Ludvig Runeberg in his narrative poem "The stories of Ensign Ståhl" inspired the Finnish romantic movement, which in turn fueled the nationalist movement of the nineteenth century. The Russians defeated the Swedes, and occupied Finland.
Tsar Alexander I was eager to secure the defenses of St. Petersburg, and it was important to have Finland as part of Russia. After the peace was agreed to in 1809, Alexander I came to Finland and opened the first session of the Finnish Diet in Porvoo. The Finns swore allegiance to Russia, and in return were allowed to keep their Lutheran faith, constitutional laws, and rights established during the Swedish reign. Finland became part of Russia as an autonomous Grand Duchy. Alexander I was a constitutional monarch, and his representative in Finland was a governor-general. The Finnish senate was established with a four-estate Diet. For the first time, Finland had the machinery of a state. The Tsar favored a strong Finland to weaken Sweden further.
Helsinki became the capital of Finland, and grew rapidly. Viipuri, which had been established as a trading town during the Hanseatic League, flourished, and became the most cosmopolitan town of the Grand Duchy. It was said that many of the citizens of Viipuri were fluent in four languages — Russian, German, Swedish, and Finnish.
Excerpted from Finland by Terttu Leney. Copyright © 2005 Kuperard. Excerpted by permission of Bravo Ltd.
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Table of Contents
About the Author,
Map of Finland,
Chapter 1: LAND AND PEOPLE,
Chapter 2: VALUES AND ATTITUDES,
Chapter 3: FESTIVALS AND CUSTOMS,
Chapter 4: MAKING FRIENDS,
Chapter 5: THE FINNS AT HOME,
Chapter 6: TIME OUT,
Chapter 7: TRAVELING,
Chapter 8: BUSINESS BRIEFING,
Chapter 9: COMMUNICATING,