This week Finn’s across the world celebrated their nation’s 99th Independence Day anniversary.
Next year’s centenary promises to be a big occasion.
Now Finland isn’t that much different from Wales.
Her population is less than 5½ million, and she has a long history of being subjugated to foreign rule.
In a series of three informative and instructive blog posts Pekka Kamarainen writes about his nation – from the time before independence, to building the nation, to its first decades as an independent state, and the similarities between both nations are striking.
The story of Finland should give us hope that we can too aspire to be like the Finns.
Pekka starts by describing Finland’s “long history under Swedish rule”.
“When the Swedish vikings conquered Finland centuries ago, there was no concept of ‘Finland’ (Suomi – as we say it) as a national entity.”
Finland came under Swedish rule in the mid twelfth century, more than 100 years before Wales was conquered by England.
Wales, like Finland, also had trouble with the concept of its own ‘nationhood’. It existed culturally, in as much as people spoke a common language, and had common practices, but it was also a patchwork of kingdoms, before the ‘Britons’ were divided, with one group hemmed in to one corner of Ynys Prydein (the Island of Britain) by both Aethelbald and Offa (this is an outrageously broad generalization of what was happening 1500 years ago!).
He then explains,
“At a certain point the Swedes promoted Finland into Grand Duchy (one of the Swedish princes being the Duke). But the legislation was that of Sweden and the centre of administration was in Stockholm”
Again, this has echoes of the ‘Prinicpality’ status which was foisted on Wales.
He explains how Finland was considered a ‘periphery’, a border province to keep Russians out. While this might not immediately be recognizable to us, Wales was also used much the same as a buffer zone to protect England should the French, or others, invade (think Jemima Nicholas, and the 1797 battle of Fishguard).
His next historical reference is a near perfect reflection of our own history here. Indeed, all you need to do is change ‘Sweden’ to England’ and ‘Finland’ to ‘Wales’,
“when Sweden was expanding during central European wars, Finland sent soldiers to Swedish armies. Finnish forests provided wood and tar for ship-building. But not much more was thought on the province. The ruling Lutheran church was keeping the ordinary people in discipline with religious teaching and preaching in Finnish. But the language of education and culture was Swedish. And if things would have continued this way, it would have been more likely that the Finnish language would have disappeared rather than emancipated as a national language.”
However, Sweden ‘lost’ Finland to Russia during the age of Napoleon. Finland was Russia’s plunder in the Russian – Swedish war in 1808-09. Wales has continued to remain the play thing of England (also known as Great Britain/UK)
Pekka explains how Finland saw rapid industrialization, much like Wales, with:
“good infrastructure due to good railway connections and many channels that connected inland lakes to routes towards St. Petersburg.”
This rapid industrialization led to Finland “becoming more and more self-governing and self-reliant”.
Some might argue that this didn’t happen in Wales, and the big difference is that we didn’t have our own civic structures here.
Nevertheless, there was increased awareness of Wales as a unit in its own right. The Presbytarian Church of Wales was established during the first half of the nineteenth century. In the latter half we saw the establishing of the Football Association of Wales. And towards the end of the century Tom Ellis, MP for Merioneth (as it was) and Glamorgan East MP Alfred Thomas unsuccessfully put forward the National Institutions (Wales) Bill, which proposed to create a Welsh Office, a Welsh National University, and a National Museum of Wales as well as a Welsh Parliament, (which was to be based in Aberystwyth).
And of course, in 1886 the Cymru Fydd campaign was established, which was created to gain self-government for Wales.
Much of this history is glossed over, or worse still forgotten. But Wales was in tune with political developments across Europe.
Finland today are at the top in world innovation; is one of the world’s most generous welfare states; and has higher literacy levels than almost any other country. Its education system is the envy of the world. They are successful trail blazers.
This and much more has Finland today is considered one of the most successful and contented nations in the world.
But they started from a base not dissimilar to ours. Their history of colonial rule, subjugation, loss of cultural identity, and the stealing of resources is reflected here in Wales.
Yet Finland shook off her colonial shackles and has since shown what an ambitious small country can achieve.
There is no reason that Wales can’t emulate the Finns, and become trailblazers in our own right. An independent Wales leading the world.
This was only a dream for a handful of Finns 150 years ago, which quickly became a reality.
Let’s do the same in Wales.
Here’s one of our national heroes, lewis Valentine’s beautiful ‘Gweddi dros Gymru’ (Prayer for Wales) sung to Sibelius’ Finlandia: