Monday, February 8, 2010

The Development of Finnish National Identity and the most popular song on Finnish radio

Murheellisten laulujen maa

Syyttömänä syntymään
Sattui hän
Tähän maahan pohjoiseen ja kylmään
Jossa jo esi-isät
Juovuksissa tottakai
Hakkasivat vaimot, lapset, jos ne kiinni sai

Perinteisen miehen kohtalon
Halus välttää poika tuo
En koskaan osta kirvestä
Enkä koskaan viinaa juo
Muuten juon talon

Lumihanki kutsuu perhettä talvisin
Vaan ei tahdo tehdä koskaan lailla isin
Mut kun työnvälityksestä työtä ei saa
Hälle kohtalon koura juottaa väkijuomaa
Niin Turmiolan Tommi taas herää henkiin
Ja herrojen elkeet tarttuvat renkiin
Kohti laukkaa, viina kauppaa

Sen miehen epätoivoon ajaa
Kun halla viljaa korjaa
Keskeltä kylmän mullan hiljaa
Kylmä silmä tuijottaa
Kun kirves kohoaa

Keskeltä kumpujen
Mullasta maan
Isät ylpeinä katsovat poikiaan
Työttömyys, viina, kirves ja perhe
Lumihanki, poliisi ja viimeinen erhe

Tämä tuhansien murheellisten laulujen maa
Joka tuhansiin järviin juosta saa
Katajainen kansa, jonka itsesäälin määrää
Ei mittaa järki eikä kärkimäärä
Joka lauluissa hukkuvat elämän valttikortit
Ja kiinni pysyvät taivaan portit
Einari Epätoivosta ne kertovat

The Land of Mournful Songs

He happened to born
As an innnocent
In this cold norther land
Where even the ancestors
While being drunk, of course
Beat up the wifes, the children, if they catched them

Traditional man’s fate
That boy wanted to avoid
“I’ll never buy an axe
And I’ll never drink liquor
Or else I’ll drink the house”

At winter the snowbank calls the family
But he doesn’t want to ever do like dad did
But when there’s no job to get at the recruitment
Fate’s palm makes him drink alcoholic beverage
That’s how Turmiola’s Tommi wakes from the dead again
And the ways of the masters grip at the farmhand
Straight ahaed, to the liquor store

It drives that man into desperation
When frost collects the crop
Silently from the middle of cold dirt
A cold eye stares
When the axe rises

From the middle of the mounds
From the dirt of the earth
Fathers watch their sons with pride
Joblessness, liquor, an axe and a family
A snowbank, a police and the last mistake

This land of thousands mournful songs
In which’s thousands of lakes you may run
Distant people whose amount of self-pity
Can’t be measured in sense or in amount of tips
In which’s songs the life’s aces are lost
And the gates of heaven stay closed
They tell about Einari Epätoivo

Last week Chris and I went to a lecture given by Markku Jokisipilä. His lecture, the Development of Finnish National Identity, was designed for non-Finnish visitors to Turku. It was a very good lecture. Attempting to discuss "national identity" can easily lead to hokey generalizations and Jokisipilä was able to avoid stereotypes.

Jokisipilä covered the development of the historical, political, and cultural features of Finnishness. In the last 100 years Finland has transformed itself from an agrarian economy to a post+industrial information society. This transformation is fascinating when you know a little about Finland's history, particularly in World War II.

Jokisipilä said that one key factor in discussing "Finnishness" is the isolation of the nation caused by the lack of land connection to continental Europe and being encapsulated by the Baltic. The proximity of St. Petersburg, a city of 5 million (the same as the entire population of Finland) has exacerbated this isolation. Jokisipilä postulated that it was Russia's desire to protect St. Petersburg that led to the Winter War and the Continuation War.

The language too has contributed towards isolation, but is conversely an important factor in the strong national identity of Finland. The language used by Finland to communicate with the non-Finnish world has been at various times Latin, Swedish, Russian, German, and English.

Despite being ruled by Sweden and then Russia, Finland maintained its language and rapidly developed its Finnish language literature once Sweden was out of the picture. Under Sweden, Swedish was the language of education. Someone asked me why Runeberg was considered such an important Finnish poet if he wrote in Swedish. At that time everyone wrote in Swedish. Sweden controlled education. Once Finland became a Grand Duchy of Russia, the Russians emphasized the Finnish language as a way of diminishing the Swedish influence. Finns are very proud of their language.

Jokisipilä explained that the linguistic isolation has led to the peculiar Finnish sense of humor. He explained that the song above is played everyday on the radio in Finland. He then played the video embedded above with streaming subtitles. The lyrics are dark and depressing and he said that the audience was sitting in shocked silence until he explained that the song is actually considered somewhat humorous in Finland.

He may have summed up the Finnish national identity with this saying, "a pessimist doesn't get disappointed".


  1. In researching Folktales, I discovered that Finland is the number one country for folklore supposedly because it was ruled by so many other countries/nationalities; therefore, it kept it sense of identity through developing its tales and variations which were passed down through the culture.


  2. Kitas! (sp.?) for the Tatu and Patu authors' interview. I will get the English version for my Children's Library at L.A.City College