Celebrating 100 years of Finnish culture


Jackie Kennedy wore Marimekko

Originally an oil-cloth factory, Marimekko turned to garment design in the mid-1950s after founder Armi Ratia asked artist friends to add graphic prints to the textiles. The rest, as they say, is history, as Marimekko has gone on to define Finnish fashion. On a simply-cut dress, the wild graphics pushed boundaries - and changed the way that women, including Jackie Kennedy, dressed.


Tom of Finland

Artist Touko Laaksonen became a gay cultural icon for his homoerotic drawings of fetishistic art. Best known as Tom of Finland, the artist's sketches have adorned everything from bedding to clothing by a company of the same name. A documentary released in 2017 looks at his life and the controversies his work have caused, especially in the US, where attempts were made in the 1960s to censor it.


Tove Jansson and her 'Moomins'

Tove Jansson was part of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland so many mistake her trademark works as originating from the country's western neighbor. While Jansson wrote inspiring fiction, she is best known for the Moomins, a children's series she wrote and illustrated. Moomin Valley, where the stories take place, is reminiscent of Finland, with its lakes, forests and long, dark winters.


Finnish sauna

The sauna as we know it originated in Finland — the word as well as the concept. Although many European countries have adopted the smokehouse-style tradition after being introduced to it during World War II, in Finland they say more decisions are made in the sauna than in meetings. Just don't forget your vasta — the bundle of fresh birch twigs to hit yourself with is said to be good for your skin.


Aki Kaurismäki's cult films

At the 2017 Berlinale, director Aki Olavi Kaurismäki announced that his Silver Bear-winning film on the struggles of a Syrian refugee to integrate in Finland, "The Other Side of Hope" (photo), would be his last. The director, who'd won the Cannes Grand Prix in 2002 for "The Man without a Past" is one of the best known Finnish film directors. He's also responsible for the Leningrad Cowboys.


Leningrad Cowboys

What started as a joke by director Aki Olavi Kaurismäki grew into a 13-member comedy rock band that still plays live 30 years after its debut. Sporting troubadours and tuxedos, the Leningrad Cowboys have starred in a number of Kaurismäki movies. Though their unique look may be more memorable than their music, they still fill concert halls as they poke fun at world politics with remade covers.


Hard Rock Hallelujah!

Perhaps the most memorable band to come out of Finland in recent years is Lordi, who won the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest with "Hard Rock Hallelujah." While their win may have taken some by surprise - ESC is more sugar-pop than death rock - Finland has had a long tradition of producing influential hard rock acts. In the 1980s, the glam rock band Hanoi Rocks is said to have inspired Guns N' Roses.


Finland's own emojis

One of the world's most technologically-advanced countries, Finland was the first to create its own set of emojis. The symbols, found online at ThisisFinland.fi, reflect natural phenomenon like the white nights and snow in summer as well as popular free time activities, like the midsummer bonfire and sauna. We couldn't expect less of a country which made broadband access a legal right.


Baby in a box

The second best country in the world for mothers according to Save The Children, Finland also has an unusual tradition: the baby box. Since 1949, new parents have been given a box with baby essentials, including diapers, snowsuit, a baby thermometer and condoms. Once the welcome gifts are unpacked, the box can serve as a bed for the infant, wrapped in the receiving blanket already tucked inside.


A photographer's delight: the Northern Lights

Lapland, the northernmost region of Finland, covers nearly 30 percent of the country's landmass, yet it only houses three percent of the population. Long, snowy winters are one of the reasons; while in the south of the country, the sun rises for six hours a day in December, in the north, darkness prevails. The night sky allows for a polar glow, the beautiful natural light show, Aurora Borealis.

Since 1917, Finland has gone from an agrarian backwoods to the world's best. From music to art to saunas, Finland has made major contributions to culture in the 100 years since its independence.

The best quality of life in the EU. World's Best Country for Human Capital. The most stable country in the world. Cleanest air. Second best country for mothers. Second happiest nation on earth. Second place on the Good Country Index in 2014.

Finland has racked up its share of distinctions over the last decade, ranking at or near the top of numerous surveys for its gender equality, public education system, press freedom and quality of life.

That success hasn't come without a fight. When Finland declared independence from the Grand Duchy of Russia, officially on December 6, 1917, a civil war broke out that, although quickly over, continued to divide the country for decades.

After independence, the young nation began a series of reforms that helped to make Finland what it is today. A series of clinics were opened in the 1920s to look after the health of children and new mothers. Education as a right for all was implemented. Land reforms gave citizens without their own acreage a plot of land as a means of doing away with a divisive class system. 

Audios and videos on the topic

DW Sendung Euromaxx Emojis
04:00 mins.
Euromaxx | 05.03.2017

Finland-themed emojis

Although the reforms stalled at the beginning of World War II as the country fought off the Soviet Union in what is known as the Winter War from 1939-1940, Finland remained independent —  and true to its original ideals.

Finnland Wald spiegelt sich im Immeljaervisee

The blue in Finland's flag represents the country's 75,000 lakes

Culturally wealthy

Those ideals have helped create one of the best-educated, gender-equal countries in the world. They've also paved the way for the country of less than six million inhabitants to have an outsized influence on modern culture, especially in Europe. Many of these cultural contributions that have made their way to Europe and North America are a direct result of the country's politics.

With a focus on inclusive, state-funded basic education that lasts at least nine years, Finland has become a country that all others look to as a role model.

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It's also helped turn the agrarian backwater into an economic powerhouse, ranked as one of the best places for technology firms to do business due to its citizens' technical know-how. The computer operating system Linux was invented there, as was the original Nokia mobile phone and the wildly popular video game Angry Birds.

A further emphasis on music education has meant that Finland has given classical music a number of the best conductors and composers working today. It's also - somewhat surprisingly - been a boon to the heavy metal and hard rock scene, with lesser-known bands like Hanoi Rocks providing inspiration for Guns N' Roses.

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The gay community has likewise drawn inspiration from Finland, with the sketches of ground-breaking artist Touko Laaksonen, who called himself "Tom of Finland." His homoerotic drawings featured muscular men in various stages of undress and clad in fetish gear. The art was boundary-pushing in the 1950s and 60s and led to attempts to censor it in the US. The drawings, which have become standard in the gay community, are now part of modern art collections in the US and UK. 

Proud of its cultural heritage, Finland has created a centenary program filled with events and exhibitions that highlight the contributions of its citizens, including that of "Tom of Finland." A documentary focusing on Laaksonen's life and work was released in early 2017 and is showing across Europe throughout the year. As well, there is an exhibition of his work taking place in Berlin and Turku as well as a musical in the southwestern city in Finland. 

Internationales Trickfilm-Festival in Stuttgart Die Mumins an der Riviera

Perhaps the most famous Finnish exports, the Swedish-speaking Moomins

A year of celebrations

Tom of Finland isn't the only artist getting special attention in 2017. An exhibition of works by Finnish artists including Helene Schjerfbeck —  known as the Anteneum Collection —  made its way across the country as part of the centenary program.

Although the official day marking independence is December 6, the anniversary was celebrated across the country and different exhibitions focusing on Finnish culture were held around the world throughout the year. 

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