Between Landscape and Language : The Finnish National Self-image in Transition

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Scandinavian Journal of History Volume 25 Number 4, December 2000, p. 265-280

Title: Between Landscape and Language : The Finnish National Self-image in Transition
Author: Peltonen, Matti
Contributor organization: Yhteiskuntahistorian laitos
Date: 2000
Language: eng
Abstract: I have already depicted the Finnish national self-image in terms of a bipolar model. Finnishness was first perceived as the antithesis of Swedishness using languagebased stereotypical concepts. Later, the Finnish wilderness was contrasted with the European urban culture and its long history. As observed in an article by Juri Lotman and Boris Uspenski (1985) dealing with bipolar models in Russian cultural history, the new is never simply the old turned on its head, nor is all of the old automatically wiped away. Despite the powerful nature of experiences associated with transitions and turning-points, the semi-subconscious continuities of history exert a compelling force all their own. The most enduring feature of the Finnish self-image is that even at its most favourable, even in Topelius's "Matti", Finnishness is defined as a lack of intellectual capacity. On the other hand, however, periods of transition are highly interesting because at these junctures, what start out as seemingly insignificant events may prove to be crucial in guiding activity onto the course it will take for some time. At historical turning-points, the mythical elements of older stereotypes are transformed in exciting ways. The turning-points for the Finnish self-image, that is, the turn of the last century and post-war years, were periods of dramatic change in terms of Finland's position in the international community and internal power relations. These external and internal aspects are also tightly interwoven in our national stereotypes. The fears and anxieties of the elite engaged in defining these stereotypes were projected onto the "folk" and were transformed into the "folk's" problematic qualities, intellectual incapacity and cultural immaturity. It is possible to conjecture that a new geographically bipolar image of Finnishness founded on mythical concepts may have taken shape in the 1990s. The regional distribution of the votes for and against European Union membership was one of the most reported aspects of the referendum results. In addition, many bargaining issues and administrative arrangements have brought regional groupings into the public eye. At the level of imagery, Finland has already been repeatedly divided into two parts which could become known as "Euro-Finland" and "Forest-Finland". We are clearly reverting to the Porthanian division of the 1700s, which was founded on the distinction between the civilized and forward-looking inhabitants of the coastal regions, and the reserved and backward population of the hinterlands. The significant difference is, however, that now the "Forest-Finland" tends to reach the coast even in the capital region and the "Euro-Finland" is in danger of falling entirely outside Finnish borders.
Subject: Finland
national self-image

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