If I had access to a generous amount of financing and got the chance to do a documentary film on Finland, what would be the first images I would show you?
I would not start with a long and slow scene of dragonflies and insects dancing in the summer air above a pristine lake hugged by towering spruces, birches, firs and a few mountain ashes peppered here and there.
Wrong again. It wouldn’t be a full-bloom sunset radiating warmth in early spring, even if it is freezing outside. Nope, I wouldn’t attempt to picture how the full moon emits soft light as a soft pillow to lay your deepest thoughts inside a near-still autumn forest.
No, the documentary wouldn’t kick off with a scene showing modern architecture and of quiet and obedient buildings lined up in cities like Helsinki, Turku or Oulu. I wouldn’t even consider picturing a famous landmark like Finlandia Hall, or the paper mills of Tampere, which must have inspired the late Väinö Linna, the author of the Unknown Soldier.
The documentary would definitely not start with the rude rumbles of war and of scenes showing Karelian refugees abandoning their homes behind them – but not their dreams.
Definitely not: I wouldn’t start by asking an obvious question to President Tarja Halonen such as, “what would you like to tell the viewers,” never mind get into a heated debate with Finland’s last cold war President Mauno Koivisto. Forget Carl Mannerheim, Risto Ryti and Juho Paasikivi as well.
Possibly the documentary could kick off sportsmen like Paavo Nurmi, Lasse Viren, Mikko Ala-Leppilampi or maybe it is not such a good idea after all. What about Jean Sibelius? Mika Kaurismäki? Eeva Kilpi? Mika Waltari? Aino Kallas? Minna Canth? Lordi? What about a group of Finnish folk dancers entertaining a large crowd of Canadian Finns in Thunder Bay? No, no – and NO!
After the opening credits, the first image you would see is a truck transporting cut logs to a paper mill. As the forest industry got more efficient and produced more money for their owners such as the state, Finland didn’t become richer – but poorer.
Those old-growth forests that were once so abundant 50 years ago, are today like rare tropical islands in the Pacific untouched by mankind and womankind. Forests that are in their natural state, or close to it, cover 1.1 million hectares, or only 5.5% of forestland in Finland. Only 0.4 million hectares (2% of the land) have been protected.
Forest companies have devised new catchwords to justify the devastation they reap: metsätalous, which means in general terms felling your forest so it will generate the greatest economic wealth at the cost of biodiversity.
What about if you don’t want the woods to look like enormous planted fields, where trees grow like wheat or other cash crops? What about if you long to walk in forests that has free will and can decide for itself how it will grow, and die?
In the future, I fear our grandchildren and great grandchildren will have to visit “nature zoos” in order to see how natural forests once looked like.
The next scene would depict how global warming is challenging our country and way of life. It’s December 23 and the camera is focused on a thermometer outdoors: At 10am it’s 2C, but at 2pm the temperature soars to 17C, and finally rests at 35C at 4pm!
OK, so I’m exaggerating a bit, but temperatures have been steadily rising in Finland, increasing by 0.7°C (33.26F) since the previous century. By 2025, they are expected to rise by 2°C (35.6F), and during 2030-80 by as much as 4-6°C (39.2F-42.8F), according to a study by Finland’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
Of course these are very tentative predictions. By the time we get to 2025 or even sooner, we may notice that matters are in much worse shape than we expected.
Even though Finland will be hard-pressed by such challenges, our traditional way of life is being undermined by “global warming,” which is forcing us to change our lifestyles.
One of the greatest threats to the soul of this nation – and that of many others as well – are the negative matters that globalization such as excessive greed. Thirty years ago, Finland was another country with different values that didn’t always revolve around the size of your wallet.
So add to this the lethal variable of global warming and our destruction of our forests coupled with our insatiable desire to accumulate more wealth and comfort, and it is pretty clear to understand what is wrong with us.
Hopefully, when it is still not too late, we can look deep behind into time and rescue bits and pieces of where our ancestors and culture came from to rebuild a more lasting society – and world.
Dear reader, as you can see, I would have totally misled you about what Finland is if I’d only talk about the things I omitted at the beginning of the column.
In my opinion, the greatest challenge to our country is the destruction to our environment and biodiversity as well as our way of life.
So help us save Finland – and let’s not forget our planet as well.
Note: This column was published in Suomen Silta magazine.