All posts by Henna Nevala

The many layers of independence

This blog post touches on the subject of independence and its meaning to the Finnish people. I actually seriously considered, for a moment, to title my blog ”The Onion of Independence”, due to the different layers of this complicated concept which makes up such a big part of who we are.

Much like an onion, the Finnish concept of independence is down to earth, tough, sometimes hard to get close to, and makes grown people cry.

The country

Finland became an independent nation in December 1917, after centuries of being subservient to alternately Sweden or Russia. Finland fought hard for its independence, which made it all the more valuable. Independence is celebrated solemnly, with candles and annual viewings of both ’The Unknown Soldier’ and the televised presidential gala.

Even though the war times are long gone and only told about as second-hand stories by those who were born after, the idea of hard-won independence is still quite strong in the Finns’ collective psyche. Standing strong and self-reliant is important; having to rely on someone else is not easy, and for many Finns, it is a question of honor that favors are rarely asked, and when asked, are returned fully.

The people

The concept of independence does not only concern the state; as a nation, we recognise people’s rights to be independent as individuals. Young Finns move to live on their own quite early. Gender equality in Finland is among the best in the world, and the rights of minorities are generally high in the ranks. Women in my family are fiercely independent, sometimes to a fault. We stand on the shoulders of generations of strong women, whose role in Finnish societies all the way back in prehistoric times has been that of mystic gatekeepers: capable of producing new life, standing between the land of the living and the land of the dead.

Finland was named the happiest country in the world for the 4th time in a row in 2021. What does independence have to do with it? Behind the happiness and feelings of contentedness is the view that every individual should have the right to rule over their own life. When one has such autonomy, they feel more content with life and more in charge of what happens to them. That is something to cherish.