White steamboats bobbing on the waves of deep blue lakes... thousands of green islands... Travel advertisements of the past decades commonly portray Finland through its unique nature scenes. Today, however, nature and sustainable development, education and know-how, functionality and wellbeing all count as Finland's distinctive features. Finland ranks high in many international comparisons in terms of quality of life, freedom of expression, and education and training.
Moulded by the harsh northern climate, the Finns are known as a tenacious, purposeful and down-to-earth people. No matter the weather or other circumstances, things just have to work. In the midst of transformation, the Finns have always been ready to try out new things and embrace change. They have been prepared to relocate from rural areas to cities, and to rise from poverty to prosperity through education.
In a rapidly changing world, history allows us to see patterns of continuity. Finland and Finnishness have emerged and evolved as part of European history. Finland became an integral part of the Nordic region during almost 700 years under Swedish rule, up to the 19th century. A Finnish national identity finally emerged under the wave of nationalism that swept Europe in the 1800s. The dramatic historical events of the early 20th century left a deep imprint on the country. Then, post-war economic growth laid the foundation for a Nordic welfare state. Following the end of the cold war, Finland joined the European Union in 1995.
Large swathes of Finland are covered by forests or water. Yet people are scarcer. That has made us believe strongly in equality, in caring for other people and in doing things together. Finland was the first country in Europe to grant universal suffrage. It was also first in the world to make everyone eligible to stand for election. We've learned that the only way to succeed is to work together.