Finland is a relatively young country. While other countries, like Sweden and France, have been independent for centuries Finland gained its independent in 1917 from Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. Before Russian regulation, Finland was under Swedish rule for hundreds of years, starting around 1100. In 1809, due to the fact that they had rapidly lost a war initiated (ingeniously!) against Russia, Sweden rather casually handed over Finland as conquerors spoil. Luckily, Russia turned out to be an unusually kind colonizer, giving Finland autonomic rule. It was at this period that Finnish culture began to blossom and had a chance was given to the nation to develop a unique thoughts and a national identity. During the Swedish rule this had been impossible. Finnish people also, under the Czarist rule, began to demand an independent state and recognized language.
Whether under Sweden or Russia, it has never been easy to be a Finn. Sweden for instance, during the many wars they engaged in as an imperial power, send proportionally more Finnish soldiers to the battle fields then Swedish ones (this little tale of injustice towards Finns is an often overlooked item in Swedish history class!). The Russians, as well, had done their share of cruelty, including the outlawing of the Finnish language.
Finland, since its independence, has had its share of rough times: a bloody civil war, an invasion from Russia during second world war (called the Winter war) and a re-eruption of that war (called the Continuation War) only slightly later. After the wars completions, repayments (in the treaty deals, which are “you pay because you lost” deals) and rebuilding of the country caused enormous and widespread poverty.
Still Finland was been able to pull itself together in the years which followed. It became, in 1907, the first country in Europe to give women the right to vote(being the second country in the world to finally accede to this right!), they rank as number one in education and school systems, and are known all over the world for Nokia. Finnish people are, after all pretty tough. Yet they let themselves get wrapped up in strange self-loathing.
Finland is a country which suffers from the stereotype that it is a violent and intolerant nation. There is always a lot of talk about how Finnish people abuse alcohol and beat their wives, or others, in the violent haze of intoxication. Finland is also constantly attacked for being anti-immigrant and homophobic. The strangest thing is that it is usually Finnish people, or people of Finnish descent, who use and perpetuate these stereotypes in the most significant and harsh way. Finns tend to elaborate this thinking about of themselves and contribute to the perpetuation of the clique by painting a very dark image of themselves to others. Writers like Susanna Alakoski, who spent her childhood in Sweden raised there by Finnish parents, has written two books in which the Finns seem to populate the novels by doing nothing, getting continually wasted, and wagering with one other constantly (gambling is assuredly for the lower classes). Mikael Niemi, continues the idea and uses the same plethora of stereotypes in his novel (and movie, later) “Popular music from Vittula”. But the most bizarre and offensive self-loathing act preformed by Finns to date is their new task (which they have “scientifically set for themselves) of “genetic research” to find the biological basis of this set of “behaviors”.
You see, scientists in Finland have begun research to find a so called mutation in the genes of Finnish people. This gene would be the supposed reason why certain people become violent after drinking too much alcohol. The idea being that they could warn the ones carrying this gene. Words can’t describe what a mess this idea is. I would not mind if researchers where looking for proof of this gene which could be carried by people of ALL NATONALETIES might be carrying, but the Finnish Scientists propound that the gene, or sequence of genes, is sought after because it is most likely carried by the Finnish National Populace. This Biology of Value-Judgment is really a demonization of the Finns and their culture.
How this Finnish gene which causes this behavior would have gotten mutated only within the Finnish population is more than odd and stretches plausibility. According to the researchers, the mutation would have been a result of close inbreeding (i.e. the Finns only “did the deed” with other Finns) just doesn’t hold. Finland was colonized by both Sweden and Russia until the early 20th century. It seems highly unlikely that neither any Swedes nor Russians would have ended up in the beds of Finns at times, as well as the fact that during second world war German soldiers did impregnate hundreds of Finnish ladies. Even now many couples in Finland are cross ethnic with children to show for it. So even if this mutation in the gene would have happened, it wouldn’t be because Finns have only been doing it with other Finns. Also, the scientists state that they suspected that only/mostly males carry this gene. The story becomes more perplexing at every turn. The summery of this behavioral gene would then be: it makes it more likely a Finnish man will get violent and dangerous if he consumes alcohol. Meaning, Finnish guys have a scary spooky evil gene which turns them into raving lunatics at the sight of drink.
I understand that Finns want to find solutions and ways to end domestic violence, but saying that it is in a special gene only Finns have is NOT the way towards a solution! Finding solutions to the problem of domestic violence doesn’t come from making the men of Finland into quasi-monsters who in the midst of alcohol can’t “help” their violence. Finns are not dangerous creatures that will spin out of control the by the mere touch of alcohol. Finns are human beings, no better or worse than any other people of the world and as with all cultures have their set of difficulties fostered within the system which must be dealt with! The cultural problems of violence and substance abuse are difficult enough for a society to deal with and become needlessly contorted when the populace, or a segment of it, starts viewing themselves and others as a potential threat to the world at birth. Saying that domestic violence is a problem which causes can be found in a gene won’t solve the difficult problems a society must confront. If anything, it will make the men that “have this gene” be able to find excuses for their behavior: “I didn’t mean to hit you honey, but you know we Finnish guys have it in our DNA!” The society, as well, will be able to blame it’s problem of violence on biology, thus not have to deal with the real reasons for the issue and, as happens all too often, find ways to avoid confronting the problems within itself and its culture.
If we were to apply this odd and overbearing notion of the “DNA of Behavior” to all races, cultures and times, wouldn’t we be curious why white South Africans where so cruel and vicious to the black South Africans during the Apartheid? All that brutality, surely there must be some gene we can find in the whites of South Africa that proves that when in contact with different ethnicities they will automatically, through biological necessity, start to oppress and abuse the different people? What about Americans, surely if we did some research, we could find a gene which shows that fire arms are like magnets to them?
Finns suffer a lot from the lack of self-esteem and the constant belief in the negatives stereotypes. Finns, even the men, are not mindless biological machines carrying out the need to” do nothing but drink” and the compulsion to give a sound “beating” to all around.
But it really comes to this: Would a nation of abusive drunks be able to create such a success as Nokia or have the best educational system in the world? According to “Newsweek”, Finland is the number one place to live. Would anybody, let alone a wildly read magazine, say such a thing if the land was full of alcoholics and dangerous violent men? No. Finns need to stop obsessing over the image of Finns as good for nothing drunks and be more proud of who they are. Not that they should be overly nationalistic, just recognize that even if there exists a large and extant problem of domestic violence (which every single other country in the world has as well!) it is a nation that has been through a lot and done pretty darn well. For instance, it is one of the few countries that has had a female prime minister, and not only once, but twice. The election of women to positions in the government, half of the world’s population, still hasn’t happened in many countries, and even in Sweden, but in Finland this has occurred but two times. Finland is, also one of the few countries that elected a woman president who has had a child outside the religious/institutional frame of marriage (how conservative is the world?). Lastly I cannot help but to mention one of Finland’s most popular and famous writers, at the moment, is Sofi Oksanen, is a an outspoken feminist, motivated Goth and writes about bravely and strongly about Estonia’s tragic recent history. Wow, how can you not be proud of being Finnish?
Lastly, I would like to say my take on domestic violence in Finland. Is it a common problem? Absolutely. But are the majority of Finnish men to blame for it? Heavens no. Every country on the planet earth has a problem with some form of violence against women. Whether it’s domestic violence, rape, honor killing, you name it, the world and all of the countries which compose it should find ways to end this terrible crime against humanity. But demonization won’t help. We need, as human beings, to reconsider how men in general view women and talk more about the lack of respect towards women by all of us. This is a serious problem in the world and more discussion should be made. However, it is also important that we don’t give up facing complex reasons behind this frightening phenomena and break to “it’s in an X’s nation’s men’s genes!”
So, bottom line: Finns, stop beating yourselves up! Acknowledge the great things in your culture, not only the bad things! Be proud of what you’ve accomplished! And World, face your crisis of violence towards all beings!