Today Finland celebrates its independence. After the fall of Russia's imperialist system in 1917, Finland's allegiance to the Czar no longer bound it to that country and the Finnish parliament declared its withdrawal. Finland's new independence was off to a rocky start, though, as the country immediately engaged itself in a civil war between the bourgeois Whites and the communist Reds. When the Whites triumphed, most of the Reds moved to Russia or the US, leaving behind a nation composed mainly of people who clearly did not want to join the big happy USSR utopia that eventually engulfed the rest of the Baltic states. A little over twenty years later, its status as an independent country was tested heavily with the invasion of Russia, who had decided that Finland's borders were a little too close to St. Petersburg, and that the best solution for this was to not have those pesky borders at all anymore. Thus began the Winter War, and with minimal help from outside nations, Finland successfully defended its sovereignty against the aggression of the largest and most powerful army of its time.
Finnish celebrations for today include lighting two blue-and-white candles in the windows of homes, which originally indicated an offer of food and lodging for friendly soldiers. There is also a presidential ball, a huge party held at the presidential palace that is attended by Finland's politicians and famous faces. Like the Oscars, the real point of the broadcast is to establish the fashion themes for the coming year. Some people I know are having dinner parties tonight, but on the whole, it's not the riotous opportunity to party and shoot fireworks that Independence Day is in the States. Perhaps because there are plenty of pikkujoulu parties going on this time of year where people can get all partied out, or perhaps because of the solemnity of independence celebrations for a young country: there are still veterans of the Winter War around for whom the idea of independence from an oppressive invader is still a very real, living memory, not distant events that one reads out of a history text that occurred over two hundred years earlier.
Yesterday's candle-making workshop also included blue dye this time, so I made a couple of blue and white independence candles as well. It seems a little strange to be celebrating the independence of another country, even if it's my adopted one. But I do feel pretty strongly about the veterans who ensured that I would be in fact living in Finland and not western Russia, and the society which after the war, paid all of its debts and then went on to transform a farming and logging economy into one of the most prosperous and technologically advanced countries in the world. Of all the triumphs of history, Finland's is one of the most unlikely and also most under-appreciated. So hats off to you, Finland, and the generation that made it possible for me to be here at all.
Most of today I'll be studying for the Finnish exams I have coming up next week. I'm going to have to be an expert in forming imperfect and negative imperfect versions of all six verb types by Tuesday. And then there's the mountain of vocabulary. This evening, though, my friend JP is organizing a peaceful candlelight protest in front of Turku cathedral against racism, in support of both Finnish culture/independence (Finns themselves having been used as a human shield by either Sweden or Russia as they fought each other over the past thousand years) as well as those countries who haven't fared as well and are still suffering ethnic oppression today. It's something to do that's a little more meaningful than sitting around watching some people in Helsinki wearing nice dresses.