What would Finland need as a 100th birthday present?
Government has yet to set up a jubilee committee
By Jukka Petäjä
There might be those who say "But you only just celebrated one jubilee!", but the truth is that in nine years from now Finland will mark up one hundred years of independence.
Nine years is not necessarily a very long time, in the case that one wishes to celebrate the event with something tangible - a large public building, for instance.
At least it isn't a long time if we have learned anything at all from the painful delays and setbacks to the capital's Music Centre project.
The Prime Minister's Office has yet to appoint a committee or working party whose task will be to plan the "Suomi 100" programme and projects. The committee will be named, however, in the course of this government term.
For all that no moves have been made, there have already been some public suggestions as to what the old girl should get for her 100th birthday.
The City of Helsinki has proposed that a new Central Library on the shores of Töölönlahti would be an excellent centennial symbol.
Mayor Jussi Pajunen backed the idea in Helsingin Sanomat on March 13th, arguing that a new library complex would combine to show off our high-quality education system, Finland's consistent success in PISA surveys, and our technological knowhow.
Olli Lehtovuori, an architect and former senior official at the Ministry of the Environment, thinks on the other hand that what Finland needs is a History Museum, whose basic frame of reference would be the time of the Autonomous Grand Duchy under the Czars, and Independent Finland from 1917. Lehtovuori broached the subject in January in another Helsingin Sanomat article.
The museum would open its doors in December 2017, and Lehtovuori thinks Finland urgently needs such an establishment, because the National Museum is for all practical purposes more of a culture & artefacts ethnological showcase.
Olli Lehtovuori has suggested that a suitable model for what he has in mind would be the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum), which was opened to the public in the Zeughaus in Berlin last year. The German press immediately dubbed the museum as the nation's memory-bank.
This suggestion receives flanking support from historian Prof. Matti Klinge.
Klinge agrees that Finland would deserve to have an active history museum to go alongside the National Museum and document Finland's position in international superpower politics during the time of the Grand Duchy and thereafter. He argues that Finnish history cannot be oberved in a vacuum.
Professor Klinge does have his own misgivings about the timing, however:
"Of course I take a slightly reserved stand on the 2017 side of things. From the Finnish perspective, 1809 is a more significant milestone than 1917, when the declaration came and the fledgling state waited to see if any other countries would acknowledge Finland's sovereignty and independent existence", says Klinge.
"In fact, if we are really scientific about it, the changes that took place in 1917 were of a much lower order of magnitude than those of 1809", he goes on.
In Klinge's view a new museum of Finnish history would nevertheless be an ideal gift for the 100-year-old republic. He does offer the caveat, however, that it should not be "just a military museum".
When Finland celebrated its 80th and 90th birthdays, there were no large and ambitious projects on the table.
The resources were not there: in 1997 the budget was two million markka, and last year it was EUR 400,000. And one does not get a museum for that sort of money.
But now the mood is for something appreciably larger and more concrete - something like the 50th anniversary in 1967, when the major event was the establishment of SITRA, the Finnish National Fund for Research and Development, an independent public foundation which operates directly under the supervision of Parliament.
Historian and historical novelist Kaari Utrio was on the committee that planned the 75th anniversary celebrations in 1992.
She also warms to the historical museum idea, which she thinks would also have public drawing power.
"But as a realist I think the museum could concentrate on the post-independence history of Finland, particularly as any committee is likely to be charged with doing something related to the last 100 years of Finnish history."
Kaari Utrio thinks is it important that such a museum should not adhere solely to the broad brush-strokes of historical writing, but that it should also dare to dive into the everyday lives of people.
"The new museum ought to be just as much a window on children and women and Finnish language and literature as it is a traditional museum of history", she argues.
Kaari Utrio also hopes that the committee when it comes to be appointed will also look into smaller projects that could serve as a springboard for something more permanent than a one-off 2017 event.
There was a good example of this in 1992, when the then organising committee put money into the arranging of a conference in Finland for foreign translators. This is still going on on a regular basis.
Ritva-Sini Merilampi from the Ministry of Education provides a warning reminder that the "Suomi 75" event was a big-ticket item, with a budget of FIM 22 million, and that even so it did not manage to establish anything permanent on a large scale. One of the most important ventures at that time was a programme to preserve old-growth forests.
The mooted new History Museum is actually written - or more precisely drawn - into the plans for the National Museum.
Olli Lehtovuori notes that back in 1902, when the architect trio of Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen presented their winning design, later extensions to the building had already been thought out and drawn in advance.
Now, 106 years on, it might be the right moment to get things moving.
In the report to be published this week on the 90th anniversary goings-on, the outgoing committee will give some advice for their as-yet-unamed successors, and a reminder that a clear project organisation should be set up in plenty of time.
"The Suomi 100 celebrations are unlikely to be carried off as a low profile exercise. When the project is launched, it is to be expected that the public will become awakened and some very ingenious public initiatives will be put forward for consideration", the report forecasts.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 26.4.2008
JUKKA PETÄJÄ / Helsingin Sanomat