A Hundred Reasons to Celebrate Finland

This is a year of celebration for all Finns and friends of Finland. Finland is a real success story. Nobody could have anticipated this in 1917, when our country gained independence. Or even 50 years ago. I was ten years old when we celebrated 50 years of independence. In every school, there was an essay competition, including my little village school in Northern Finland. I wish I had saved that essay! A fir tree was planted in the grounds of all official buildings and many private homes as well. Finland was still poor in comparison to our Nordic neighbors, but well on its way to growing into what we are today. Like the fir trees.

Our history has been difficult at times, and that is why we truly appreciate what we have today. The newly independent Finland survived a civil war, and two decades later the Second World War embroiled us. After this, Finland had to rebuild and reinvent itself. The country decided to focus and invest in one of its best resources: our people. I believe this investment has much to do with the fact that now, year after year, Finland tops various rankings that measure things such as equality, transparency, competitiveness, innovativeness and press freedom. In one of the rankings we are at the bottom: we are the least fragile state in the world!

I am particularly happy that Finns see themselves and their country as part of the bigger global community. We participate actively in strengthening security and prosperity in the world at large. The theme “Together” suits our centennial celebration perfectly in this regard as well. Finland has succeeded because we have worked together and built our country together. We continue to work together with our Nordic neighbors, with our EU and transatlantic partners and with the global community as a whole.

Our goal in the United States is to celebrate the centennial together with all friends of Finland, all around the country, with a myriad of events from concerts, exhibitions and other cultural events to seminars, workshops and street festivals. These events are mostly organized by volunteers and underscore the diversity of the Finnish community in the U.S.

Some of the themes that we have decided to focus on in our celebrations in Washington, D.C., are the Finnish education system, our fantastic design and architecture talents, as well as “snow how”. The latter ties in well with the Arctic Council Chairmanship which we took over from the United States this May. This is one particular area in which we look forward to collaborating closely in the coming years with the United States.

I am joining several centennial events in the United States. The year was kicked off in Minneapolis in January where I inaugurated the Traveling Sauna, Sisu, a wonderful centennial mascot which will travel around the U.S. It is a real Finnish sauna, traveling from west to east, north to south, and ending up in Washington, D.C., in December. I hope you follow Sisu on its website, and that you also acquaint yourselves with the other interesting materials we have on our webpages and social media sites. There are wonderful video greetings from a variety of personalities, as well as a 12 part Story of Finland about our history. There is something for everybody, throughout the year!

We hope that many Fulbrighters and alumni will join our centennial celebrations!