Today my home country, Finland, celebrates its 97th Independence Day. Traditionally, this day is not a joyful festival of colour and carnival à la française, or hot summer barbecues in the American fashion. No, the Finnish independence is serious and solemn. A day to quietly give respect to the generations who sacrificed a lot to fight for this for us. I should know, being the daughter of a man, who at the tender young age of 17 was sent to fight for his country, and had devastating stories of war to tell, as he was one of the lucky ones to get home in one piece afterwards. Or the granddaughter of a village police officer very close to the Russian border, who courageously even held Russians spies at gun point in his home, with his wife and two young daughters (one of them my mum) fearing for their lives.
Having lived most of my life in a bicultural family, I find the concept of national independence rather problematic. The feeling of patriotism so easily turns into a fervent ‘us and them’ mentality, and the exclusion of those who are not considered original, authentic Finns. You would think, the 21st-century reality of constant migration around the world, would have made people more open to accepting, even welcoming, new-comers in their midst. But sadly, what I still see all around me, here and elsewhere, is suspicion, prejudice and fear of the unknown. The “when in Finland , do as the Finns do” attitude is alive and well, and too often it leaves no place for curiosity or learning about a different mindset and way of life. Conform or you will be ostracized and excluded. Learn the language perfectly, or suffer the consequences – and anonymous notes in your letter box of “Finnish being the only official language around here”.
To my mind, the restrictive and exclusive concept of 20th-century nationalism has far outlived its time. I want to believe in the utopian dream world of global citizens, living in peace and harmony. Hippie stuff – yeah totally! True, I should study sociology, social psychology and history in more detail to grasp the human condition more clearly. I’m just following hunches based on personal and limited feelings and experiences. And really, how would the complex modern world function, without the structures of local and national government? Yet, keeping the status quo is hardly feasible either. Just think about the movements in Europe of restricting immigration and closing borders, let alone regions inside existing states striving for independence.
My family history calls for me to be proud of this day, and the almost 100 years of independent Finland. But in my heart, I hear the call of the world. There is an old Finnish proverb, “Your own country is a strawberry, another country is a blueberry”, meaning roughly the same as ‘east, west, home is best’. In the end, I guess my problem really is that I like both strawberries and blueberries just as much!