National Geographic : 1938 Oct
THE FARTHEST-NORTH REPUBLIC Olympic Games and Arctic Flying Bring Sequestered Finland into New Focus of World Attention BY ALMA LUISE OLSON THE first time I visited Helsinki (Helsingfors) I had come by air from Stockholm, and it seemed to me that in this brief flight I had entered a wholly alien world, so unlike the West that it was hardly a part of it. In the language there was scarcely a word, a syllable, that suggested English, Latin, or anything Scandinavian, not to mention German or the Romance tongues. Everywhere the arrestingly Finnish way of life caught my attention. At the lively market along the shore line I saw weather-beaten faces, sturdy frames of fishermen, blue-eyed young girls with straight blond hair drawn back from the forehead and with pronounced high cheek bones tinged with a healthy glow, as if they had just stepped out of the Finnish steam bath (pages 525 and 531). There was something almost mystic in the striking contrasts-in the open Big Square with its reminders of tragedy and triumph in the fight for freedom from Rus sia, in the frosted gray dome of the Russian Church, in the mixture of extreme blond and swarthy types among the populace. We drank our hot tea, with lemon, from tall glasses, and the delicious pastry we munched naturally suggested Russia. "Oh, no, we really learned nothing from Russia," protest the Finns cheerfully, "ex cept to come late for dinner and to smoke between courses." SUOMI COMES OF AGE On a second visit to Helsinki, staying longer and talking with Government offi cials, bankers, and other business men, with women at work or in their homes, I heard insistently the brave story of a new state in the making-and the city which will be the world athletic capital when the Olympic Games are held there in 1940 (pages 526 and 531). "We have had much to do," said the leaders. "It was first in 1918, you remem ber, that we captured our independence as a nation. We have had to formulate our ideal of statecraft, establish a domestic and foreign policy, stabilize our currency. "Except for our forests and our water power, we have not been blessed by a bountiful Nature. We are studying new developments elsewhere and are adapting them to our native needs and national indus tries. We are still such a young country!" Noting the eagerness in their faces, I was often tempted to exclaim, "How Amer ican!" There was, however, one reservation: the tempo of life was more leisurely than in the United States. It happened to be election time. The total electorate was more than a million and a half. It was taking from ten days to a fortnight to count the re turns. On a third visit, following a tour of the Baltic states,* I came by boat to Helsinki, and this time, after the cities of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, it suggested a sort of homecoming. It reminded me of Sweden, where I had been living. THE SURGE OF NATIONALISM True, the names of the streets are in Finnish; but there is also the Swedish ver sion, just as "Helsingfors" has equal official status along with "Helsinki" as the name of the country's capital. With the breakfast coffee there was a morning newspaper in Swedish. In a pop ulation of more than 3,800,000 the Swedish groups in Finland constitute one tenth. The surge of Finnish nationalism is strong, and university instruction seems to veer toward more use of Finnish. As for the alleged refusal of taxi drivers and others to understand, even if they do know some words of the minority language, you can make your own test. Begin by speaking English-perhaps French or Ger man also evokes the miracle-and then if you do not make yourself understood you can tactfully and unobtrusively slip in a word of Swedish, and often the formula works. For centuries Finland was a buffer state, lying between tsarist Russia and the West, *See "Flying Around the Baltic," by Douglas Chandler, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, June, 1938.