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Finnish Society

Finns were exposed to Swedish cultural and societal values for hundreds of years. Swedes frequently emphasize that much of what is said and done in their country is motivated by the concept of lagom, meaning "moderation" or "just right". Throughout Sweden's history, ascending groups have moderated their demands while receding groups have surrendered privileges. Sweden is not an ideological society. Norms emphasizing tolerance and moderation were compatible with the factory life or work in an increasingly urbanized Sweden. Of course, these values influenced the nature and quality of social relationships in neighboring Finland; However, the making of the twentieth century corporatist state in Finland can not be convincingly explained using the concept of lagom.

Interlocking political/economic structures and consensual decision-making do not seem inevitable in a society that so greatly values privacy and autonomy. And unlike Sweden, Finland's recent history is hardly devoid of ideology. Class differences, mixed with strong political identity exploded in the Finnish civil war (1918). This event was inspired by a much larger conflict between Red-White and left-right forces in neighboring Russia.

Interestingly, the geographical and ideological challenges posed by the Soviet Union, which excited division in Finnish society in the early decades of the century, unintentionally helped to unite citizens in later years. Left/right, rural/urban, Finnish-speaking / Swedish-speaking divisions were substantially mended during the Winter War (1939-1940) and subsequent Continuation War (1941-1944) with the Soviet Union. As a defeated nation, Finnish private commercial entities, agrarians, the state, and other social actors were drawn together to meet the terms of the war indemnity to the Soviet Union.

However, social cleavages sometimes reopened in the post-war period. For example, tensions flared between Communists and Social Democrats in the labor movement well into the 1960s. These strains eased as Communism's popularity waned in the 1970s and especially in the 1980s as overt Soviet interference in Finnish politics subsided and the Finnish economy thrived. Consensualism between organized interests and the state were enhanced by universal improvements in the Finnish quality of life. Finnish stakeholders were brought together not only by a desire for ever-increasing income but by a broadly shared desire for equitable income redistribution and a decent standard of living for all Finnish citizens.

The corporatist state in Sweden and especially Finland must be understood in the context of the forest industry. In Finland, 40 percent of the economy's total export value was derived from forest-based products, with the greatest portion generated by sales of pulp and paper. The pulp and paper sector with its great reliance on indigenous natural and human resources, including wood, chemicals, machinery, labor, and ideas, assured that a wide range of social actors, including entrepreneurs, foresters, engineers, chemists, bankers, and factory floor workers, among many others were united in nurturing a healthy forest-based economy. Widespread mutual interest in the good fortune of the forest industry is one value amonga wide range of values associated with a natural resource that so tightly binds stakeholders. The forest has a central place in Nordic peoples' language, religion, myth, aesthetics, and in troubled times, even the national diet.

The culture of consensus in Finland results in having one big player dominate every field of Finnish society, rather than competition. For example, there is only one big newspaper with national circulation, the Helsingin Sanomat. There is one big commercial TV station (MTV3) and one big house and kitchen, design and production company, Iittala. Even in politics there is a clear idea of consensus. There are three major parties, which compete vigorously, but according to the experts, there is no significant difference in their opinions or ideologies.

Having one big company producing very high quality products helped Finland to become one of the richest and developed countries in the world. But is this strategy the best for the country currently, or in the future?

According to many discussions with Finnish people, the low electoral participation of around 40% can be attributed to peoples' general attitudes that everything in the system works, and they don't need to change anything. But officials, experts and Finns showed that they want the country to go to the next level economically, and to promote Finland's name worldwide.

To achieve this, Finland will need to address many aspects: most importantly implementing the famous marketing strategy "Unique Positioning Strategy" to promote a unique identity for Finland away from its Nordic neighbours, and establish more competitive brands to boost the quality of products, and reduce the costs for consumers. They should also promote education and research by encouraging more international students and scholars to study in Finland by boosting more courses in English and other foreign languages.

There are concerns among the Finnish community that opening the doors to more immigrants could have negative impacts on the Finnish culture and society, especially in the time of the current financial crisis and rising unemployment, but if Finland wants to get to the next level, it should take more risks and create a more open and competitive society.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:57:13 ZULU