Only Finland — superb, nay, sublime-in the jaws of peril — Finland shows what free men can do. (Winston Churchill, 1940)
Today is itsenäisyyspäivä, Finnish Independence Day and we are sitting watching the President’s Reception on TV. Ambassadors, politicians and celebs, waltz around the President’s Palace in their frocks and finnery.
Apart from the ubiquitous Finnish flags, the day is traditionally marked by putting two candles in the window. The legend has it that young men who were clandestinely travelling to join the German Jäger brigades during World War I would know they could get shelter in houses where two candles were lit. Another version has it that the two candles indicated the route to the ships that would take them to Germany. The military training the young Finns received from the Germans was intended to be used in the expected independence struggle with Russia. In the event, the Russian Revolution of 1917 precipitated the granting of Finnish independence without bloodshed. The Jägers skills were instead used against their fellow countrymen in the the bitter civil war between the Whites and the Reds.
It was over twenty years later in 1939 that the real conflict broke out with Russia, which then as the Soviet Union under Stalin, made a grab to take Finland back. That Finland kept its independence in such an apparently unequal conflict still seems something of a miracle.
My Finnish Language teacher pointed out to me that we don’t have an independence day for England — we’ve been independent for so long — well ever since the Roman’s left…if you ignore the Normans…and, er, the Scots. It is often remarked upon that we don’t really celebrate a national day, and that English nationalism has been appropriated by the far right and the rest of us find patriotism faintly embarrassing (unless it involves Football or Cricket).
But anyway, here in Finland, the band at the ball plays Michael Jackson’s “Blame it on the Boogie” and clearly, at least the dress shops and the hairdressers have had a welcome boost in these dark times. And if I was a Finn, I think I might allow myself at least a gentle satisfied smile that my country is still going strong after 92 years.