Thursday, December 06, 2007

From somewhere

015 Finland: A Cottage
Originally uploaded by vanion
It is 7 minutes past midnight, I sit in a hotel room in Berlin and in 53 minutes (local time), my home country starts its celebration for the 90th anniversary of independence. What does this all mean - to me?

Two days ago a Finnish friend of mine was visiting Amsterdam and we sat in a cafe with a group of friends when the discussion shifted to nations and nationalities. One of the people around the table described his feelings a fortnight ago when he received his Dutch nationality and passport. He said that he felt confused being rewarded something like that rather quickly and being surrounded by Turkish and Moroccan old ladies who had been in the Netherlands for 30 years and just now got their full rights. My friend described how tired the women look, nearly like they had already given up hope. Nationaly can be a mixed set of feelings.

I mentioned in that discussion that I nowadays introduce myself as being from Amsterdam. I would not say that I am from the Netherlands but from Amsterdam. At the same I do feel Finnish. One could easily go into the blah-blah on the death of nation states and state that passport is just a document. But at least for me giving up my Finnish passport for instance for a Dutch one would mean losing something that has always been there. The Finnish passport is a sign of my roots, it shows my soil.

Usually the Finnish independence day speeches stress the struggle the nation went through defending its independence 1939-1945 and the high price paid for it. I have this experience even in my immediate family - when Finland lost the Carelia region, my then 17-year-old grandmother was amongst the half a million people who needed a home when the border shifted West.

My Finnish identity has never been contested. I was given it and no one has tried to take it away from me. I have lived my whole life with a safety net provided by my family and my country. It has allowed my to jump because I have always known that there are mechanisms and people to catch me.

What does being Finnish then mean to me? It is not a flag, it is not a winned battle. I and I think most of my generation find it difficult to grasp these concepts that define the nations and the EU for the baby boomers. For me being Finnish means a sincerely loving family, it means being comfortable in nature, it means a language that allows one to invent words that others understand, it means being comfortable with nudity, it means appreciating the simple, it means taking care of the smallest and the weakest, it means being able to leave your bag on the chair when you go to the toilet in a cafe, it means school lunches, it means not cheating nor lying and it means giving space.

My Finnishness does not require living within its borders. The things listed above are not mentioned in my passport or in the constitution. That is why my sense of being Finnish does not contradict with being from Amsterdam.

Happy birthday, homies.

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