The True Finns, The True Story

The True Finns, The True Story

In the UK, if I was to diverge, as I am about to do, from the designated 'Culture Path' granted by correspondent privileges, then I would probably be reprimanded by the authorities. This is, in essence, the 'big issue' with conservative English attitudes towards the discussion of politics in the UK. We do not regard politics as culture. Politics is dirty and corrupt and culture is sophisticated and intrinsically fulfilling. They don't go together at all!

Well, I beg to differ and I have a strong feeling that a lot of Finns agree with me!

I choose to discuss the contrasting attitudes the UK and Finland have towards their own political cultures because of the wonderful release I have been given since coming to live here. In the UK, people don't want to discuss politics and if they do, very quickly they get agitated if the person they're discussing an issue with provides them with a perfectly valid, but alternative, view. In contrast, Finland seems entirely comfortable with this healthy disagreement and looks forward to a constructive compromise - Hallelujah!  

The question spectators from outside often ask, is, "How on earth do the Finns deal with those lying, corrupt politicians?" The answer - they vote! 

So, while the Greeks riot and the British quietly give themselves an aneurysm, the Finns casually go to the polls and demonstrate with reassured efficiency what they want their politicians to do. How dare they provide an example of an effective system of politics! Something must be wrong; we must find a flaw in this seemingly idealistic system. Right, I've found it! Here we are.... they've elected the True Finns!

One problem though. Whilst my peers in the UK are painting these guys with swastikas and holding them up as the rise of the right in European politics, something doesn't quite fit? Politically, they are far removed from your A-typical, right wing fascist that characterise the traditional Nationalistic leadership. They are nothing like the extremist xenophobic Nick Griffin of the BNP, and they don't even seem to be anything like the savvy, yet suspicious, Marine Le Pen of the French right. The fact is they are even further to the centre than some of the UK's mainstream conservatives.

It's true that they are anti-immigration and anti-globalisation, but the simplistic 'left-right' analysis is unhelpful in this situation. Have a look at the BBC's Newsnight report that I've provided a link for ( It tells you everything you need to know. Timo Soini characterises the disgruntled, average Finn irritated by the other European nations who 'flout the rules' set down by the EU. To illustrate this passion for the rules, when I first came here and I crossed the street before the Green Man gave me permission. Despite the fact there wasn't a car in sight I was given a bemused glare by the woman on the other side of the street. At first I rebelled against this regimental attitude, but now, after seeing the positive effect with which Finns use the system to empower the people, the Green Man is alright in my book! And if the True Finns are ineffective or go further than the public is comfortable with, then watch out come election time Timo!

So, Finland, don't forget, when you talk to tourists about Finnish culture, when you're jumping from the sauna to the snow, or when you're toasting the Leijonat victories against the old enemy, spare a thought for your political culture - definitely something to be proud of!

written on 20.05.2011 - 15:58

This is a great article, and I completely endorse Andrew's viewpoint expressed herein. However, I have a different perspective on the subject, having lived in Finland and in the US - specifically, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where Finnish Americans constitute the largest ethnic group. Most of these Finnish American families have been here since the late 1800s, many of them still speak Finnish in the home, and it is actually taught as an elective in some of the public schools in the area. However, they do not resemble the "true Finns" that Andrew writes about in this blog.

Politically, the Finnish Americans here in the Upper Peninsula are very right-wing conservative. Indeed, many of them are supporters of the libertarian Tea Party and Sarah Palin. To them politics is very much a "dirty and corrupt" business.

It is interesting, then, to see what happens to any group of people who immigrate to another country. In some ways their culture becomes frozen in time, you might say. There was a wave of Finnish immigrants who came here as political refugees after the Finnish civil war, mostly they were socialist or communist fleeing reprisals. But they were gradually absorbed by the older group of the established Finnish community who had arrived in the late 1800s, and who were primarily made up of Lestadilaiset Apostolic Lutherans seeking religious tolerance in America. Basically, the "Church Finns" out-bred the "Red Finns", and over time it was the former who became the overwhelming majority of Finnish Americans in this area.

Back home in Finland the nation developed and evolved throughout the 20th and into the 21st Century - but here in America the transplanted Finns stayed the same, evolving not along the same lines as their Finnish cousins back home, but along the lines of their new homeland - the United States.

So, I totally agree with what Andrew is saying - that Finns in Finland today represent a very open-minded political attitude generally, I just had to put in a caveat here: this is not a genetic trait unique to Finns - it doesn't carry over to their American cousins.