Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen

One hundred years – so what?

Celebrations of Finland's centenary year culminate on Independence Day, 6 December. What makes this hundred-year period significant? One researcher feels that 100 is simply a number, and that the period should be examined not so much as chronological time as historical time.

One hundred years is a conveniently round number. On the one hand, it is an impressively long period in terms of a human lifetime, but on the other hand, as the age of an independent state it might be seen as a fairly short one. There are many angles for handling the subject, and the philosophical angle is one of the most versatile.

The challenge to ponder the significance of 100 years was accepted by  Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oulu.

In his view, celebrating 100 years of Finland is simultaneously as obvious a thing to do as it is ridiculous. The significance could be mainly psychological.

"One hundred is a round number, and we are in the habit of celebrating things like that. It is an occasion for celebration in the same way that it is when a person turns 50 or 80. On the other hand, it is just a number - so why shouldn't we celebrate Finland at the age of 89 or 104.5 in the same way?"

Kuukkanen got a wise response from his 13-year-old son who feels that celebrating 100 years is important because people have 10 fingers. "This is probably why we use base 10, but if we had seven or twelve fingers, it could well be that the big celebrations would come at different times", he says, with a laugh.

A period of unity?

Another point of view for depicting a period in time is periodization. The past can be divided into different categories, such as the enlightenment, the Cold War, Victorian Britain, the Third Reich, or Finland under President Kekkonen.

Kuukkanen feels, nevertheless, that chronological time and historical time need to be seen as separate.

"Seeing a particular period of time as one, or as a unified period requires that it should have some kind of a unifying core or internal coherence. How often is this kind of coherence consistent with chronological time? Hardly ever, or at most, by coincidence."

We also must make a choice on what that unifying factor might be. It can be a war, a ruler, a change in a production or business structure, or other similar factor.

Does Finland's 100-year period of independence constitute such a factor? "It is hard for me to see anything like this. It would seem more sensible to divide Finland's 100 years into periods for different reasons."

These suitable grounds for periodisation in Finnish history could include the structure of trade and industry, political development, relations with Russia, gender equality, and possibly social policy. For instance, the structure of trade and industry could be divided into agrarian Finland, the period of industrialisation and the post-industrial period.

"If we take the environment as a basis, the division would certainly be interesting", Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen ponders.

What really happened?

As Independence Day approaches, the past is usually examined from the point of view of what kinds of advances the country has made and what significant things have occurred in this time. This centenary year has served as a good review of history for everyone who follows his or her time and the media. 

So what has actually happened? How has Finland changed in 100 years?

There has been tremendous development in international relations. Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen takes as an example Finland's second president Lauri Relander who was called "Travelling Lasse" because of his frequent foreign travel. During his term in office, Relander made a total of five trips abroad. This is fewer than the number of trips that an ordinary Finnish family makes in the same amount of time.

"The ease of travel and maintaining contact, and the linguistic skills of the Finnish people are noticeable. Finland is not necessarily a remote country on the edge of Europe anymore."

Finland has also prospered to the point that it is one of the richest countries in the world. The change is great when comparing the present day with the early years of our independence, and with the post-war period when Finland was a poor and predominantly agricultural country.

Athletes no longer need to run Finland onto the word map, as we have ideas and innovations to offer the whole world. 

"Somehow I get the feeling that we are more self-confident as a nation. Although we could certainly be more than that", Kuukkanen observes.

Nationalist feelings have resurged in the 2010s. "It is actually reminiscent of the time before the wars, although there is a difference in proportion. Perhaps it is some kind of an adaptation reaction to the fact that we live in a global world, and no longer in a local one."

Kuukkanen says that up until the 1990s Finland had been a relatively collective and homogeneous country  where the identity and possibilities for life among the residents were defined by a group, or membership in that group, such as social class, professional group, gender, or nationality. "In the past 25 years this has gradually taken a more individualised, more individualising, and more diverse turn", he ponders.

The population is currently more heterogeneous, and the rights for different types of lifestyles and minorities are better secure.  "I am afraid, or I hope, that we will not bring back the old models in this respect, by defining, for instance, a right way to live. In this respect nationalism can be a threat."

A future without vision?

Do Finns still have visions or hopes for the future now that our country has achieved so much? What is it that we are striving for as a nation at this point?

According to Kuukkanen Finns no longer have visions for prolonged development, such as developing into an independent nation, reconstruction, or the building of a welfare state. There are also no clear short-term goals, such as recovery from a war or taking a westward course.

"We no longer have utopias. Our time appears to be structured by reactivity - we react to problems and make do in spite of our imperfections. As if the future would be no worse than the present day. If we find a utopia which is not absolute, and which everyone will fit into, it could be a happy event from the point of view of the future of our country. "


Photo: Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oulu.



Last updated: 27.3.2018