Submitted by Prof. Jocelyn M. Hicks, President, IFCC
Finland was a Province and then a Grand Duchy under Sweden from the 12th to the 19th centuries. It became an autonomous Grand Duchy under Russia in 1809. It won its independence in 1917. Finland successfully resisted invasion from the Soviet Union and defended its freedom, albeit with some loss of territory, during the World War II. Since the war Finland has pursued a policy of neutrality and military non-alliance. Finland is a parliamentary republic with a multiparty political system. The President is elected by popular vote for a six year term, maximum of two terms, and a 200-member, single-chamber parliament elected every four years by direct elections and on the basis of proportional representation.
Finland is located in North-eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland, between Sweden and Russia. It occupies a land mass of over 300,000 sq. km. Finland is perhaps best known for its peacefulness and beautiful nature. Finland enjoys some of the most extensive and unspoilt natural environment in Europe. It is sometimes referred to as the 'land of the thousand lakes', but in fact there were a total of 187,888 at the last count.
Finland generally has a cold, but sub-artic temperature. The climate in Finland is unique, with four seasons, midnight sun in the summer and polar night "kaamos" in the winter.
Finland's population is about 5,250,000. About 17% of the population is aged 0-14y, about 67% is 15-64y, and about 16% is aged 65 or older. Life expectancy for males is 78y and for females 82y. The birth rate averages 1.7 children per woman. Ethnically, about 93% of the population is composed of Finns. Swedes represent 0.4%, Russians 0.4%, and Estonians 0.2% plus other minority groups. The religion is basically Lutheran National Church (84%), Greek Orthodox (1.1%), none (13.5%) and other (1.2%). Finland is officially bilingual: Finnish is the first language of 92%, and Swedish of 5.5% of the population. About 1,700 people in Lapland speak Sami (Lapp) languages.
The literacy rate in Finland is 100%, which is among the highest - if not the highest - in the world. This is a tribute to the effectiveness of the Finnish education system. The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which evaluates the educational achievement of children of school age in the OECD countries, placed Finland among the top countries in 2001, for example, and this is a status that is maintained from year to year.
The Finns, during the last 60 years, have made a remarkable transformation from a farm/forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy. Finnish industry has traditionally been based on forestry and the metal industry. The forest and metal product industries are still important, even if they face increased international competition, but manufacturing industries, engineering and high technology have also played a big economic role in recent decades. The main economic phenomenon of the last two decades has been the rise of telecommunications giant Nokia and the industrial cluster surrounding the IT business. The Institute for Management Development (IMD) ranked Finland second in the world and number one in Europe in overall competitiveness in 2003. Finland has been a member of the European Union since the beginning of 1995 and it was the only Nordic country to adopt the euro in 1999.
Finland is a model example of the benefits of globalisation, transparency and a working market economy in creating well-being. Today, Finland is one of the world's richest and most competitive industrial countries. The competitiveness is based on expertise, continued development and controlled expenses. The high standard of education of the labour force combined with the high standard of technology is one of the strengths of Finnish industry.
The Finnish Parliament celebrates 100th anniversary of the women's right to vote. Finnish women were the first ones in Europe and the second ones in the world, after New Zealand, to get the right to vote in general elections with full political rights.
Finland is also the land of the sauna and the Finns are a nation of sauna-enthusiasts. Finland has a 1.7 million saunas - one for every three inhabitants. The sauna is considered an age-old Finnish feature, and the Finns have kept the tradition of sauna bathing alive and adjusted it to their modern lifestyle. The traditional sauna is a wooden building where the bathers sit on benches splashing water on the hot stones of the stove and gently beating themselves with leafy birch whisks.
Finland is also known for Santa Claus. The Finns claim that the Santa Claus lives in the Finnish Lapland, in an old cabin made of grey log. The cabin stands in the out-back, beyond Korvatunturi Mountain, on the shore of a little, clear lake surrounded by the forest.
I have visited Finland (only Helsinki) only twice, and look forward to visiting the country again.