Matti Klinge's book Let Us Be Finns - Essays on History was first published in 1991 by the Otava Publishing Company of Helsinki and translated by Martha Gaber1Abrahamsen, Mary Lomas, Mirja Lavanne and David Morris.
Klinge has taken on a huge task in this small book when he attempts to piece together the many factors and influences which were present throughout the history of this northern region of the world. He also defines how these factors finally came together in the forming of the nation called Finland and the impact of these influences on the psyche of the Finnish people.
I felt that the reader, perhaps because of Matti Klinge's undoubted knowledge of his subject, was given so much information in such a small amount of space, that the book became a little ponderous, and the joy of learning about these ingenious and hardy people almost disappeared beneath the sheer weight of words.
The book encompasses every aspect which could possibly be relevant to the theme. It looks at the geographical location of the austere North and its influences, the nature of the Nordic person, religion and its effects and the people's relationship to the land. At the same time it discusses the historical events which occurred throughout, from the 16th century through to the 20th century, by way of explaining the conditioning of the populace. How Finland's larger and more powerful neighbors swayed its history was emphasized, with one example being that of the creation of the capital city of Helsinki. It was brought into being purely because of its location and thereby its usefulness to any more powerful nations who might want to utilize the strategic position of the port to advance their own political needs.
The birth of Finland's national culture came about in 1809, when it was torn from the bosom of Sweden, its past mentor and cultural soulmate, and became a Grand Duchy under the Russian Emperor. It was able to have its own central administration and was allowed autonomy, except for matters of foreign policy and war. Isolated from its past associations and now exposed to the Russian lifestyle, albeit the more liberal one of St Petersburg, Finland began to develop its own unique culture. It retained many of its old customs but also took on fresh ideals from its new overlord and, in some cases, Russian thinking on subjects such as rationalism and neo-humanism fitted in very well with Finnish traditional values.
Sweden went its own way, looking more towards Europe with its romantic idealism and following that path, thus making the two countries divergence even more decisive. Finland took from both Russia and Sweden what it could best use and discarded those things which did not suit its evolving sense of self.
Finland kept on advancing independently. It set about creating common values and traditions, using as a starting point those basics with which all Finnish people felt a connection. For instance, even though they might be different in many ways they shared the same ruler, along with a shared sense of deep respect for the monarchy. Finland used its schools to teach and disseminate these common values across the land. Slowly but surely, a history which melded them with the past and would support in the future, was developed for those people living together in the one region from 1809 and onwards.
Lonnrot's Kalevala, a collection of epic poems taken from ancient tales, Snellman's doctrines, Runeberg's poetry about the ordinary peasant, combined with his national anthem Our Land and Porthan, who had preserved the old stories and folk poetry of the nation, were all instrumental in the creation of a sense of national unity and consciousness amongst the masses.
Finally, united by an awareness of their common experiences, the inhabitants of the region came to the conclusion that they wanted to stand alone and be judged on their own merits. They knew that they were 'Swedes no longer' and that 'Russians [they] would never be', so they announced' Let us be Finns' (p. 94), and this became the catch-cry of the day.
The union between Finland and Russia came to an end with the Russian Revolution and the takeover by the Bolsheviks in 1917. Finland did not want to follow that ideology and declared itself independent in 1917 and in 1920 Soviet Russia recognized Finland's sovereignty and its borders. In 1919 the Constitution of Finland was signed creating the Republic. This Constitution, although not very different from the old Swedish Constitution of 1772 which had stayed in use, did however extend extensive powers to the President of the Republic.
Today, after many struggles, Finland remains independent and its economy buoyant. The old notion of quiet strength, simplicity and a deep love of nature and place still pervades the character of the people. Finland maintains close ties with Sweden, as of old, and its relations with Russia are peaceful and their trading arrangements are mutually beneficial. It is a neutral country and avoids involvement in the major power conflicts, but is active and much respected in its contribution to international politics.
Klinge's book is an in-depth look at the history of Finland and conclusively explains My Finland is what it is today. It discusses how the people, despite their ongoing vulnerability, quietly and resolutely developed their own cultural identity and sense of nationhood, and then declared their independence knowing that they would, in all probability, have to defend their right to be completely free.
I thought the book to be very instructive, but lacking animation, and I found myself plodding through the sea of facts presented. I affirm my agreement with Matti Klinge on the pragmatic nature of the Finns, because this same characteristic seems evident to me in his own style of writing.