The Washington Post has sent two reporters to Finland for several weeks to find out why Finland has "the world's best educational system, produces such talented musicians and architects, and has more cell phones per capita than Japan and America." They are writing a blog about their findings.
Sitting here in my pajamas in America, I could have saved the Washington Post all the expense. The most important reason why Finland is so Finlandy is because it is full of Finns.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the population of Finland is 93.4% Finnish. The big minority group at 5.7% is ... Swedes. Then comes Russians at 0.4%, and Estonians at 0.2%. Then there are the Sami (Laplanders) at 0.1%, and from what little I've heard about these semi-Asiatic reindeer herders, they sound OK to me. Roma (Gypsies) make up 0.2%, but lots of European countries have even more.
The number of Muslims in Finland was estimated at 15,000-20,000 as of 1999, which is a fraction of one percent, far less than in most other Western European countries.
At the very bottom of the Washington Post's Finland blog, in an interview with some Finnish philosopher about the wonderfulness of Finland, comes this exchange:
* Immigration. Do you have immigration? From where? How are immigrants treated? Do foreigners seek to become citizens of Finland? Is that possible?
A. We have immigration in relatively small numbers so compared to the US Finland is a very homogeneous society, which I think is a limitation. Immigrants can become citizens of Finland but here our attitudes should get much more open.
In other words, it ain't broken, so let's break it.
The possibility that Finland is so Finlandy precisely because it maintains its borders and thus can evolve a governmental and social system well-suited to a population that is 99% Scandinavian can only be hinted at in the American press.
A reader from India writes:
Finland is a bizarre country where the head of Nokia was once fined $250,000 for exceeding the speed limit on a highway (the Finnish fines are linked to the income of the offender). It is a country where pretty much everything runs like clockwork.
Would I want to live in Finland? No. Too boring. There is just something exciting about chaotic traffic, traffic jams, rampant corruption, politicians hurling chairs at each other, fistfights in state legislatures, dangerous criminals running the governments of some states, pollution all over the major cities, dry dusty country with no electricity for miles and full of villagers who never travelled more than 10 miles in their lifetime, bad roads with potholes that could swallow a few Ford Explorers, 100,000 people packed into a stadium with a capacity of 60,000 to watch a cricket match in which India plays Pakistan, atrocious movies that now pass for "Indian culture" with absurd dance routines and hideous storylines, teenagers with atrocious manners flaunting Daddy's money......etc etc etc.
If you've made your money, then you can relax in India, take a "ring-side seat" if you will and watch the fun. India offers more entertainment per day per capita than any nation in this world. Finland is boring. I'd die of boredom if I were in Finland.
An American reader writes:
Your Indian correspondent is right about Finland being boring, but the Finns are more aware of this than anybody and it forms a significant part of their humor. There was even a television series ca. 15-20 years ago about how excruciatingly dull this "average" Finnish man's life was. It made an appearance on either VH1 or MTV.
I lived and studied in both Denmark and Finland back in the '80s, long enough to get a feel for the peoples. Both are rare among Europeans in having a true sense of humor; most of the Continent tends to one of the extremes, i.e., crude slapstick, or bitter and way-too-vicious satire. But Danes, like their world-champion-humorist cousins in Britain, go for understated, droll irony, and Finns are the masters of deadpan. Imagine a whole country of Steven Wrights.
A Swedish reader writes:
If I'm not mistaken, Sweden, not Finland, always used to be on top on these education level rankings until we let in too many immigrants. The Swedish schools suffer from a kind of "no kid left behind" policy which pretty much means that, to some extent, the difficulty level of the education is lowered so that the "less talented" kids can pass. Of course the influx of many mid-eastern and African immigrants haven't helped much. I went to a "science & math" class in the Swedish equivalent to American High School in the late 90's. About 1/3 of the class was of non-European origin and most of the immigrant mid-eastern boys spent the lessons sitting in the back of the classroom talking loud. And this was supposed to be the most serious of them!
Back to Finland. Although only 5-6% of Finnish citizens nowadays speak Swedish, it used to be 15-20% 200 years ago. Many Finnish-speaking Finns in Western Finland have a lot of Swedish blood (and a lot of Finland-Swedes have some Finnish blood). These Swedes are to a large extent descendants of the Swedes that ruled Finland for 700 years until it was conquered by Russia in 1809...
In contemporary Finland there are, somewhat simplified, pretty much two kind of Swedes. First there are some 100 % Swedish rural provinces on the coast and the island province of Åland. Then there are the small minority of upper- and middleclass Swedes in the big cities (I think they are 10% in Helsinki and 25% in Turku, the old pre-1809 capital). Many of the most famous Finns belong to this group, e.g. Linux-guru Linus Thorvalds (who singlehandedly programmed the Linux kernel as a 20 year old), composer Sibelius, Moomin author Tove Jansson (she looks quite Finnish however) and Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, the great general who first won the Finnish civil war and later defended Finland twice from Stalin's forces in 1939 and 1944. It has been estimated that the Russians suffered 400,000 losses in total while Finland only lost 25,000 soldiers.
Although nobody in America knows his name, Mannerheim was one of the great heroes of the first half of the 20th Century, a patriot who did as much good for his county as any man in the first half of the 20th century. He was a general in the Imperial Russian army during WWI. When everything fell apart in December 1917, after Lenin's Bolshevik putsch, he went home and pulled Finland out of Russia before it descended into the maw of madness. He then won the short Finnish civil war against the Communists (his victory is why the American Communist Party, such as their perennial Presidential candidate Gus Hall, was heavily made up of Finns). He avoided getting to friendly with the Germans, which helped Finland's independence be approved by the victors at the Versailles conference. He then lost the first Presidential election, and eventually retired to private life.
He was recalled to command, and electrified the world by his defeat of the first Soviet attack in late 1939, before being overwhelmed by weight of numbers and having to give up some territory in 1940. Beginning in 1941, Finland fought the Soviet Union alongside Germany. German liaison officers rated the Finns as slightly better soldiers than the Germans, which means the Finns were the best soldiers in WWII. In 1944, Mannerheim negotiated with Stalin the end of the war. Mannerheim had kept Finland from getting too entangled with Germany, so Finland was the only country on the losing side that escaped occupation at the end of the war. It had to submit to supporting Soviet foreign policy, but Finland kept its domestic freedom.
Anyway, it is believed that the Finns struggling wars for independence in the last century has a lot to do with the fact that they are so resistant to letting in immigrants. Of course the Finnish climate and the difficulty of learning Finnish (a non-IE language) is not very tempting for most immigrants either. But the most important reason to why Finland hasn't received much immigrants compared to its Scandinavian neighbours is that is has been a much poorer country. In fact Sweden received hundreds of thousands of poor Finnish immigrants in the 50's and 60's. With the huge success of Nokia in the 90's the Finnish economy was suddenly much stronger and not surprisingly they began letting more immigrants in. I'm pretty sure that, with the possible exception for some Chiquita Banana Republic, there is no single country in the world that is so much depending on one single company as Finland is depending on Nokia.