[photo © Fulbright Foundation]
As of 1 February 2013, there’s a little less than a month remaining before me taking off on a Fulbright Scholarship to Harvard University… This brings me back memories of May, last year, when all the scholarship recipients got together in the House of Estates (Säätytalo) in Helsinki for a formal award ceremony hosted by Jari Sinkari (Deputy Director General, Department for Communication and Culture, Ministry for Foreign Affairs). A happy day and a happy night!
Before the formal festivities in front of a general audience, the evening was opened by Mr. Sinkari’s introduction into what has recently become to be known as the country brand of Finland. Somewhat exotic as the name tag may sound, his talk amounted to a brief summary of the final report by the so-called Country Brand Delegation – published in November 2010 – by a group of leading cultural figures of Finland, originally appointed by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Stubb in 2008. Ranging from philosophers and artists to entrepreneurs and politicians, the delegation worked together for two years and was chaired by the former Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila.
Mr. Sinkari spent the bulk of his introduction talking through the three central points brought to the fore in the country brand report. These are, following my paraphrase of Sinkari’s wording, (1) Finland’s unique problem-solving ability; (2) Finland’s long-term cherishing of nature; and (3) Finland’s unyielding commitment to topnotch education. Before long, a handful of political pundits quipped in the national media at the report’s arriving at a most traditional country brand, which, surely, at least the second emphasis on nature can be understood to buttress.
One must think critically, however, even about the arguably traditional accents of the country brand. Take, in particular, the second emphasis. It goes without saying that Finland boasts vast spaces of virtually pure nature, with relatively clean waters for swimming even in the bigger cities and with a significant density of forests also within vicinity of urban environments. But how well is our country living up to the ideal of cherishing nature around us?
While environmental values are a living part of our culture, the past couple of years have also witnessed a few ecological setbacks created, in part, by an indifferent stance towards ecological sustainability shown by certain instances. I cite two examples if only briefly. First, the recent incidents centering around the Talvivaara Corporation – a mining company specializing in nickel and zinc to have produced a series of environmental disasters in Kainuu, Eastern Finland – seriously call into question the standards of ecological surveillance conducted in the mine area. Secondly, the Finnish values are not always greenest where nature around us is greenest; for one, things such as organic products or the Green Party (I mention the two in passing, but the point carries enough truth) still bear an unexpectedly exotic stamp in the minds of folks coming, say, from Northern Finland, where my own family roots reach as well…
The high level of Finnish education system, in turn, is a topic one frequently hears international friends ask about. I have no extensive critical remarks to make on that topic for now; the theme would deserve a post of its own (see the post below for a couple of remarks). And when asked about Finland’s unique problem-solving ability, Mr. Sinkari offered Finland’s experience in international conflict solving – exemplified, in a broader context, by President Martti Ahtisaari’s Nobel Peace Price in 2008 – as but one case of how we might contribute to a more pragmatic and negotiation-oriented co-operation within global communities.
As to what else this and other strengths of the Finnish country brands might mean, that will (or so I would humbly take it) remain the responsibility for us Finns to decide in our varying forays into the international venues.
Linda Haapajärvi about to deliver a speech in the award ceremony.
[photo © Fulbright Foundation]
[the other photos © H. A. Kovalainen]