Monday, 6 December 2010

Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää! [Fin: Happy Independence Day]

In 1848 a certain Johan Ludvig Runeberg wrote (scroll to the end for the translation):
Vårt land, vårt land, vårt fosterland,
Ljud högt, o dyra ord!
Ej lyfts en höjd mot himlens rand,
Ej sänks en dal, ej sköljs en strand,
Mer älskad än vår bygd i nord,
Än våra fäders jord.
69 years later, on December 6 1917, in the midst of political unrest, the Finnish Parliament declared Finland an independent and sovereign nation state, which would no longer be an autonomous grand duchy of the Russian Empire. Ironically, the first person to acknowledge the country’s independence was named Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

The country has walked a long and rocky road to get where it is today: a civil war in 1918 left deep wounds in the population, and these would not heal until the three wars in 1939-1945 (the Winter War, the Continuation War and the Lapland War). The situation after the wars was tough; war debts had to be paid, the economy had to get back on its feet, and the relationship with the Soviet Union was tense.

Today Finland is a good country to live in (says the one who got away). It’s not perfect, and there is a lot that could be improved, but I think that today is a day to remember the past and to be grateful for everything we have today. What we have now was accomplished with a lot of hard work, sisu and stubbornness. Tomorrow we will think about the future.

On days like this, even a pacifist finds beauty in the following poem (which happens to be the honorary march of the Finnish Defence Forces). This poem was actually written by the same J.L. Runeberg. The translation, from 1901, is by an unknown person, and quite honestly, it doesn’t have the same glow as the Swedish and Finnish versions (* I took the freedom to swap the word "race" for "people"):
Sons of a people* whose blood was shed,
On Narva's field; on Poland's sand; at Leipzig; Lützen's dark hills under;
Not yet is Finland's manhood dead;
With foemen's blood a field may still be tinted red.
All Rest, all Peace, Away! begone!
The tempest loosens; lightnings flash; and o'er the field the cannon thunder
Rank upon rank, march on! march on!
The spirit of each father brave looks on as brave a son.
No nobler aim
Could light us to the field;
Our swords are flame;
Nor new our blood to yield;
Forward each man, brave and bold!
Lo! the glorious path of Freedom, centuries old!
Gleam high! thou banner Victory-sealed!
In the grey bygone days, long since, all battle-worn,
Be still our splendid colours, though tattered, onward borne!
Of Finland's ancient Standard there's yet a shred untorn.

This is the translation of the Finnish version of the poem (i.e. it’s not an exact translation of the original Swedish version). This is also the national anthem of Finland.
Oh our land, Finland, birthland,
echo loudly, golden word!
No valley, no hill,
no water, shore more dear
than this northern homeland,
this precious land of our fathers.

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