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Suomen tasavalta
Republiken Finland
Republic of Finland
Flag of Finland Coat of arms of Finland
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem:  Maamme  ( Finnish)
Vårt land  ( Swedish)
"Our Land"

Location of Finland
Location of  Finland  (dark green)

– on the European continent  (light green & dark grey)
– in the European Union  (light green)  —  [Legend]

(and largest city)
Official languages Finnish, Swedish
Recognised regional languages Sami
Demonym Finnish, Finn
Government Parliamentary republic1
 -  President Tarja Halonen ( sd)
 -  Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen ( c)
 -  Speaker Sauli Niinistö ( nc)
Independence from Russian Empire 
 -  Autonomy March 29, 1809 
 -  Declared December 6, 1917 
 -  Recognised January 4, 1918 
EU accession January 1, 1995
 -  Total 338,145 km² ( 65th)
130,558  sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 10,0
 -  2008 estimate 5,314,303 ( 111th)
 -  2000 census 5,155,000 
 -  Density 16/km² ( 201st)
40/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2005 estimate
 -  Total $163 billion ( 52nd)
 -  Per capita $34,819 ( 12th)
GDP (nominal) 2007 estimate
 -  Total $245.491 billion ( 31st)
 -  Per capita $46,602 ( 12th)
Gini (2000) 26.9 (low
HDI (2007) 0.952 (high) ( 11th)
Currency Euro ( €)² ( EUR)
Time zone EET ( UTC+2)
 -  Summer ( DST) EEST ( UTC+3)
Internet TLD .fi, .ax ³
Calling code +358
1 Semi-presidential system
2 Before 2002: Finnish markka
3 The .eu domain is also used, as it is shared with other European Union member states.

Finland, officially the Republic of Finland ( Finnish: Suomi; Swedish: Finland ), is a Nordic country situated in the northern Europe. It has borders with Sweden to the west, Russia to the east, and Norway to the north, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland. The capital city is Helsinki.

Around 5.3 million people reside in Finland, with the majority concentrated in the southern part of country. It is the eighth largest country in Europe in terms of area and the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. The native language for most of the population is Finnish, a member of the Finno-Ugric language family most closely related to Estonian and one of the four official EU languages not of Indo-European origin. The second official language, Swedish, is spoken by a 5.5 percent minority. Finland is a democratic, parliamentary republic with a mostly Helsinki-based central government and local governments in 415 municipalities. Greater Helsinki (including Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen) totals a million residents and a third of the GDP. Other major cities include Tampere, Turku, and Oulu.

Finland was historically part of Sweden and from 1809 an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire. Finland's declaration of independence in 1917 from Russia was followed by a civil war, wars against the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and a period of official neutrality during the Cold War. Finland joined the United Nations in 1955 and the European Union in 1995 and participates in the Eurozone. Finland has been ranked the second most stable country in the world, in a survey based on social, economic, political, and military indicators.

Finland has seen excellent results in many international comparisons of national performance such as the share of high-technology manufacturing, the rate of gross domestic product growth, and the protection of civil liberties.



According to archaeological evidence, the area now composing Finland was settled at the latest around 8500 BCE during the Stone Age as the ice shield of the last ice age receded. The settlers came from the areas of today's Estonia and Russia. The earliest people were hunter-gatherers, using stone tools. There is also evidence of carved stone animal heads. The first pottery appeared in 3000 BC when settlers from the East brought in the Comb Ceramic culture. The arrival of the Corded Ware culture in southern coastal Finland between 3,000–2,500 BC coincided with the start of agriculture. Even with the introduction of agriculture, hunting and fishing continued to be important parts of the subsistence economy, especially in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

The Bronze Age (1500–500 BCE) and Iron Age (500 BCE–1200 CE) were characterised by extensive contacts with other cultures in the Fennoscandian and Baltic regions. There is no consensus on when Finno-Ugric languages and Indo-European languages were first spoken in the area of contemporary Finland.

The first verifiable written documents appeared in the 12th century.

Swedish era

Sweden in 1658.
Sweden in 1658.

Sweden established its official rule of Finland in the 13th century. Swedish became the dominant language of the nobility, administration and education; Finnish was chiefly a language for the peasantry, clergy and local courts in predominantly Finnish-speaking areas. The Bishop of Turku was the most socially pre-eminent person in Finland before the Reformation.

During the Reformation, the Finns gradually converted to Lutheranism. In the 16th century, Mikael Agricola published the first written works in Finnish. The first university in Finland, The Royal Academy of Turku, was established in 1640. In the 18th century, wars between Sweden and Russia led to the occupation of Finland twice by Russian forces, known to the Finns as the Greater Wrath (1714–1721) and the Lesser Wrath (1742–1743). By this time Finland was the predominant term for the whole area from the Gulf of Bothnia to the Russian border.

Russian Empire era

On March 29, 1809, after being conquered by the armies of Alexander I of Russia in the Finnish War, Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire until the end of 1917. During the Russian era, the Finnish language started to gain recognition. From the 1860s onwards, a strong Finnish nationalist movement, known as the Fennoman movement, grew. Milestones included the publication of what would become Finland's national epic, the Kalevala, in 1835, and the Finnish language achieving equal legal status with Swedish in 1892.

The Finnish famine of 1866–1868 killed 15 percent of the population, making it the last and one of the worst famines in European history. The famine led the Russian Empire to ease financial regulations, and investment rose in following decades. Economic and political development was rapid. The GDP per capita was still a half of United States and a third of Great Britain.

In 1906, universal suffrage was adopted in the Grand Duchy of Finland. However, the relationship between the Grand Duchy and the Russian Empire soured when the Russian government made moves to restrict Finnish autonomy. For example, the universal suffrage was, in practice, virtually meaningless, since the emperor did not have to approve any of the laws adopted by the Finnish parliament. Desire for independence gained ground, first among radical nationalists and socialists.

Civil war and early independence

On December 6, 1917, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Finland declared its independence, which was approved by Bolshevist Russia.

Months after in 1918, the violent wing of the Social Democratic Party started a coup, which led a brief but bitter civil war that affected domestic politics for many decades afterwards. The civil war was fought between " the Whites", who were supported by Imperial Germany, and " the Reds", supported by Bolshevist Russia. Eventually, the Whites overcame the Reds. The deep social and political enmity between the Reds and Whites remained. The civil war and activist expeditions (see Heimosodat) to the Soviet Union strained Eastern relations.

After a brief flirtation with monarchy, Finland became a presidential republic, with Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg elected as its first president in 1919. The Finnish–Russian border was determined by the Treaty of Tartu in 1920, largely following the historic border but granting Pechenga ( Finnish: Petsamo) and its Barents Sea harbour to Finland. Finnish democracy didn't see any more Soviet coup attempts and survived the anti-Communist Lapua Movement. The relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union was tense. Finnish ethnicity was targeted by genocides in the Soviet Union. Germany's Nazism led to a deterioration of relations with Germany. Military was trained in France instead and relations to Western Europe and Sweden were strengthened.

In 1917 the population was 3 million. Credit-based land reform was enacted after the civil war, increasing the proportion of capital-owning population. About 70% of workers were occupied in agriculture and 10% in industry. The largest export markets were the United Kingdom and Germany. The Great Depression in the early 1930s was relatively light in Finland.

World War II

Areas ceded by Finland to the Soviet Union after the Winter War in 1940 and the Continuation War in 1944. The Porkkala land lease was returned to Finland in 1956.
Areas ceded by Finland to the Soviet Union after the Winter War in 1940 and the Continuation War in 1944. The Porkkala land lease was returned to Finland in 1956.

During World War II, Finland fought the Soviet Union twice: in the Winter War of 1939–40 after the Soviet Union had attacked Finland and in the Continuation War of 1941–44, following Operation Barbarossa, in which Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Following German losses on the Eastern Front and the subsequent Soviet advance, Finland was forced to make peace with the Soviet Union. This was followed by the Lapland War of 1944–45, when Finland forced the Germans out of northern Finland.

The treaties signed in 1947 and 1948 with the Soviet Union included Finnish obligations, restraints, and reparations as well as further Finnish territorial concessions (cf. the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940). Finland ceded most of Finnish Karelia, Salla, and Pechenga, which amounted to ten percent of its land area and twenty percent of its industrial capacity. Some 400,000 evacuees, mainly women and children, fled these areas. Some were left behind and were not able to immigrate in Finland until the Soviet Union collapsed (after which they formed a large immigrant group).

Finland had to reject Marshall aid. However, the United States provided secret development aid and helped the still non-communist SDP in hopes of preserving Finland's independence. Establishing trade with the Western powers, such as the United Kingdom, and the reparations to the Soviet Union caused Finland to transform itself from a primarily agrarian economy to an industrialised one. Even after the reparations had been paid off, Finland continued to trade with the Soviet Union in the framework of bilateral trade.

Cold War

In 1950 half of the Finnish workers were occupied in agriculture and a third lived in urban areas. The new jobs in manufacturing, services and trade quickly attracted people to the towns. The average number of births per woman declined from a baby boom peak of 3.5 in 1947 to 1.5 in 1973. When baby boomers entered the workforce, the economy did not generate jobs fast enough and hundreds of thousands emigrated to the more industrialized Sweden, with emigration peaking in 1969 and 1970 (today 4.7 percent of Swedes speak Finnish). The 1952 Summer Olympics brought international visitors. Finland took part in trade liberalization in the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Officially claiming to be neutral, Finland lay in the grey zone between the Western countries and the Soviet Union. The YYA Treaty (Finno-Soviet Pact of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance) gave the Soviet Union some leverage in Finnish domestic politics. This was extensively exploited by President Urho Kekkonen against his opponents. He maintained an effective monopoly on Soviet relations from 1956 on, which was crucial for his continued popularity. In politics, there was a tendency of avoiding any policies and statements that could by interpreted as anti-Soviet. This phenomenon was given the name " Finlandisation" by the German press (fi. suomettuminen). Self-censorship vis-à-vis anything negative associated with the Soviet Union was prevalent in the media. Public libraries pulled from circulation thousands of books that were considered anti-Soviet, and the law made it possible for the authorities to directly censor movies with supposedly anti-Soviet content. Asylum-seeking Soviet citizens were frequently returned to the Soviet Union by the Finnish authorities.

Despite close relations with the Soviet Union, Finland remained a market economy. Various industries benefited from trade privileges with the Soviets, which explains the widespread support that pro-Soviet policies enjoyed among business interests in Finland. Economic growth was rapid in the postwar era, and by 1975 Finland's GDP per capita was the 15th highest in the world. In the 1970s and 1980s, Finland built one of the most extensive welfare states in the world. In 1981, President Urho Kekkonen's failing health forced him to retire after holding office for 25 years.

Miscalculated macroeconomic decisions, a banking crisis, the collapse of the Soviet Union and a global economic downturn caused a deep recession in Finland in the early 1990s. The depression bottomed out in 1993, and Finland has seen steady economic growth ever since.

Recent history

Like other Nordic countries, Finland has liberalized its economy since the late 1980s. Financial and product market regulation was loosened. Some state enterprises have been privatized and there have been some modest tax cuts. Finland joined the European Union in 1995, and the Eurozone in 1999.

The population is aging with the birth rate at 10.42 births per 1,000 population, or a fertility rate of 1.8. With a median age of 41.6 years, Finland is one of the oldest countries; half of voters are estimated to be over 50 years old. Like most European countries, without further reforms or much higher immigration, Finland is expected to struggle with demographics, even though macroeconomic projections are healthier than in most other developed countries.


The name Suomi ( Finnish for "Finland") has uncertain origins but a strong candidate for a cognate is the proto-Baltic word *zeme, meaning "land". According to an earlier theory the name was derived from suomaa (fen land) or suoniemi (fen cape).

The exonym Finland has resemblance with, e.g., the Scandinavian placenames Finnmark, Finnveden and hundreds of other toponyms starting with Fin(n) in Sweden and Norway. Some of these names are obviously derived from finnr, a Germanic word for a wanderer/finder and thus supposedly meaning nomadic " hunter-gatherers" or slash and burn agriculturists as opposed to the Germanic sedentary farmers and sea-faring traders and pirates. It is unknown how, why and when Finnr started referring to the people of Finland Proper in particular (from where the name spread from the 15th century onwards to refer to the people of the entire country).

Among the first documents to mention "a land of the Finns" are two rune-stones. There is one in Söderby, Sweden, with the inscription finlont ( U 582) and one in Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea, with the inscription finlandi ( G 319), dating from the 11th century.

Geography and environment

Detailed map of Finland. See also: Atlas of Finland
Detailed map of Finland. See also: Atlas of Finland
Enontekiö, Northern Finland
Enontekiö, Northern Finland

Topography and geology

Finland is a country of thousands of lakes and islands – 187,888 lakes (larger than 500 m²) and 179,584 islands to be precise. One of these lakes, Saimaa, is the fifth largest in Europe. The Finnish landscape is mostly flat with few hills, and its highest point, the Halti at 1,324 metres, is found in the extreme north of Lapland at the border between Finland and Norway.

The landscape is covered mostly (seventy-five percent of land area) by coniferous taiga forests and fens, with little arable land. The most common type of rock is granite. It is a ubiquitous part of the scenery, visible wherever there is no soil cover. Moraine or till is the most common type of soil, covered by a thin layer of humus of biological origin. The greater part of the islands are found in the southwest in the Archipelago Sea, part of the archipelago of the Åland Islands, and along the southern coast in the Gulf of Finland.

Finland is one of the few countries in the world whose surface area is still growing. Owing to the post-glacial rebound that has been taking place since the last ice age, the surface area of the country is growing by about 7 square kilometres (2.7 square miles) a year.

The distance from the most Southern point – Hanko – to the most northern point of Finland – Nuorgam – is 1,445  kilometres (898  miles) (driving distance), which would take approximately 18.5 hours to drive. This is very similar to Great Britain ( Land's End to John o' Groats – 1,404 kilometres (872 miles) and 16.5 h).

Flora and fauna

Phytogeographically, Finland is shared between the Arctic, Central European and Northern European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Finland can be subdivided into three ecoregions: the Scandinavian and Russian taiga, Sarmatic mixed forests and Scandinavian Montane Birch forest and grasslands.

All terrestrial life in Finland was completely wiped out during the last ice age that ended some 10,000 years ago, following the retreat of the glaciers and the appearance of vegetation.

Today, there are over 1,200 species of vascular plant, 800 bryophytes and 1,000 lichen species in Finland, with flora being richest in the southern parts of the country. Plant life, like most of the Finnish ecology, is well adapted to tolerate the contrasting seasons and extreme weather. Many plant species, such as the Scots Pine, spruce, and birch, spread throughout Finland from Norway and only reached the western coast less than three millennia ago. Oak and maple grows in nature only in the southern part of Finland.

The Archipelago Sea, between the Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland, is the largest archipelago in the world by number of islands; estimates vary between 20,000 and 50,000.
The Archipelago Sea, between the Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland, is the largest archipelago in the world by number of islands; estimates vary between 20,000 and 50,000.

Similarly, Finland has a diverse and extensive range of fauna. There are at least sixty native mammalian species, 248 breeding bird species, over seventy fish species and eleven reptile and frog species present today, many migrating from neighbouring countries thousands of years ago.

Large and widely recognised wildlife mammals found in Finland are the Brown Bear (the national animal), Gray Wolf, elk (moose) and reindeer. Other common mammals include the Red Fox, Red Squirrel, and Mountain Hare. Some rare and exotic species include the flying squirrel, Golden Eagle, Saimaa Ringed Seal and Arctic fox. Two of the more striking birds are the Whooper Swan, a large European swan and the national bird of Finland, and the Capercaillie, a large, black-plumaged member of the grouse family. The latter is considered an indicator of old-growth forest connectivity, and has been declining due to landscape fragmentation. The most common breeding birds are the Willow Warbler, Chaffinch and Redwing. Of some seventy species of freshwater fish, the northern pike, perch and others are plentiful. Atlantic salmon remains the favorite of fly rod enthusiasts.

The endangered Saimaa Ringed Seal, one of only three lake seal species in the world, exists only in the Saimaa lake system of southeastern Finland, down to only 300 seals today. It has become the emblem of the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.

Due to hunting and persecution in history, many animals such as the Golden Eagle, Brown Bear and Eurasian Lynx all experienced significant declines in population. However, their numbers have increased again in the 2000s, mainly as a result of careful conservation and the establishment of vast national parks.


The climate in Southern Finland is a northern temperate climate. In Northern Finland, particularly in the Province of Lapland, a subarctic climate dominates, characterised by cold, occasionally severe, winters and relatively warm summers. The main factor influencing Finland's climate is the country's geographical position between the 60th and 70th northern parallels in the Eurasian continent's coastal zone, which shows characteristics of both a maritime and a continental climate, depending on the direction of air flow. Finland is near enough to the Atlantic Ocean to be continuously warmed by the Gulf Stream, which explains the unusually warm climate considering the absolute latitude.

A quarter of Finland's territory lies above the Arctic Circle, and as a consequence the midnight sun can be experienced – for more days, the farther north one travels. At Finland's northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 consecutive days during summer, and does not rise at all for 51 days during winter.


Population of Finland, 1750–2000
Year Population Year Population
1750 421,000 1880 2,060,800
1760 491,000 1890 2,380,100
1770 561,000 1900 2,655,900
1780 663,000 1910 2,943,400
1790 705,600 1920 3,147,600
1800 832,700 1930 3,462,700
1810 863,300 1940 3,695,617
1820 1,177,500 1950 4,029,803
1830 1,372,100 1960 4,446,222
1840 1,445,600 1970 4,598,336
1850 1,636,900 1980 4,787,778
1860 1,746,700 1990 4,998,478
1870 1,768,800 2000 5,181,000


Finland currently numbers 5,302,778 inhabitants and has an average population density of 17 inhabitants per square kilometre. This makes it, after Norway and Iceland, the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Finland's population has always been concentrated in the southern parts of the country, a phenomenon even more pronounced after 20th century urbanisation. The biggest and most important cities in Finland are the cities of the Greater Helsinki metropolitan area – Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa. Other large cities include Tampere, Turku and Oulu.

The share of immigrants in Finland is among the lowest of the European Union countries. Foreign citizens comprise 2.3 percent of the population. Most of them are from Russia, Estonia and Sweden.


Most of the Finnish people (92 percent) speak Finnish as their mother tongue. Finnish is a member of the Baltic-Finnic subgroup of the Uralic languages and is typologically between inflected and agglutinative languages. It modifies and inflects the forms of nouns, adjectives, pronouns, numerals and verbs, depending on their roles in the sentence. In practice, this means that instead of prepositions and prefixes there is a great variety of different suffixes and that compounds form a considerable percentage of the vocabulary of Finnish. It has been estimated that approximately 65–70 percent of all words in Finnish are compounds. A close linguistic relative to the Finnish language is Estonian, which, though similar in many aspects, is not mutually intelligible with it. These languages, together with Hungarian (all members of the Uralic language family), are the primary non- Indo-European languages spoken in Europe. Finland, together with Estonia and Hungary, is one of three independent countries where a Uralic language is spoken by the majority.

The largest minority language is Swedish, which is the second official language in Finland, spoken by 5.5 percent of the population. Other minority languages are Russian (0.8 percent) and Estonian (0.3 percent). To the north, in Lapland, are also the Sami people, numbering around 7,000 and recognized as an indigenous people. About a quarter of them speak a Sami language as their mother tongue. There are three Sami languages that are spoken in Finland: Northern Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami. Other minority languages are Finnish Romani, Finnish Sign Language (spoken natively by 4,000–5,000 people) and Finland-Swedish Sign Language (spoken natively by about 150 people). The rights of minority groups (in particular Sami, Swedish-speaking Finns and Romani people) to cherish their culture and language is protected by the constitution.

In a 2005 Eurobarometer survey studying languages of the European Union, 60% percent of residents claimed to know English, 38% claimed to know Swedish, and 17% claimed to know German. Ranking those claiming a knowledge of English, Finland ranked fifth behind Malta, the Netherlands (86%), Sweden (85%), and Denmark (83%). Relatively many Finns knew German, while relatively few knew French or Spanish.


The Helsinki Cathedral with the statue of Emperor Alexander II of Russia.
The Helsinki Cathedral with the statue of Emperor Alexander II of Russia.
Religion in Finland
religion percent

Most Finns are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (84.2 percent). A minority belong to the Finnish Orthodox Church (1.1 percent; see Eastern Orthodox Church). Other Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church in Finland are significantly smaller, as are the Muslim, Jewish and other non-Christian communities (totaling 1.2 percent). 15.1 percent of the population is unaffiliated. The main Lutheran and Orthodox churches are constitutional national churches of Finland with special roles in ceremonies and often in school morning prayers. Representatives at Lutheran Church assemblies are selected in church elections every four years.

Over half of Finns say they pray at least once a month, the highest proportion in Nordics. However, the majority of Lutherans attend church only for special occasions like Christmas, weddings and funerals. According to a 2005 Eurobarometer poll, 41 percent of Finnish citizens responded that "they believe there is a god"; 41 percent answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force"; and 16 percent that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force".

Family structure

Finnish family life is centered on the nuclear family. Relations with the extended family are often rather distant, and Finnish people do not form politically significant clans, tribes or similar structures. According to UNICEF, Finland ranks fourth in the world in child well-being.


There are 307 residents for each doctor. About 18.9 percent of health care is funded directly by households and 76.6 percent by public and other insurances. Finland limits medicine sales to the around 800 licensed pharmacies. Some significant institutions include Ministry of Health and National Public Health Institute.

In a comparison of 16 countries by Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, Finland used the least resources and got average result, making Finland the most efficient according to the study's authors.

The life expectancy is 82 years for women and 75 years for men. After having one of the highest death rates from heart disease in the world in the 1970s, improvements in the Finnish diet and exercise have paid off. Finland has exceptionally low smoking rates: 26% for males and 19% for females.

Finland's health problems are similar to other developed countries: circulatory diseases make up about half of all causes of death and cancer is the second most common cause of death.

The total annual consumption of pure alcohol of residents is lower than other European countries, even though heavy drinking is common at parties on the weekend. However, becoming intoxicated has remained the central characteristic of Finnish drinking habits. In the working-age population, diseases or accidents caused by alcohol consumption have recently surpassed coronary artery disease as the biggest single cause of death.

Schools teach sports, health and hands-on cooking classes. Finnish schoolchildren have one of the lowest amounts of sport classes in the European Union and according to National Public Health Institute only a third of adults exercise enough. National Public Health Institute claims 54% male obesity and 38% female obesity, while other estimates put obesity rates at 70% and 50%. The rate of diabetes is predicted to grow to 15% by 2015. Finland has the world's highest rate of Type I diabetes. Suicide mortality in Finland has generally been one of the highest in Europe, especially significant among males under 35 years.

Administrative divisions

The largest subdivisions are the six administrative provinces (lääni, pl. läänit), which mainly function as divisions of the state organisation, i.e. police, prosecutors, and other state services operate under their administration. After 1997 reforms the provinces have been Southern Finland, Western Finland, Eastern Finland, Oulu, Lapland, Åland. The province of Åland Islands is autonomous.

Municipalities and regions map of Finland (2007).Black borders refer to municipalities, red to regions.
Municipalities and regions map of Finland (2007).
Black borders refer to municipalities, red to regions.

The fundamental administrative divisions of the country are the municipalities, which may also call themselves towns or cities. They account for half of public spending. Spending is financed by municipal income tax, state subsidies, and other revenue. As of 2008, there are 415 municipalities and most are under 5,000 residents. People often identify with their municipality.

In addition to municipalities, two intermediate levels are defined. Municipalities co-operate in seventy-four sub-regions and twenty regions. These are governed by the member municipalities, but have only limited powers. The Åland region has a permanent, democratically elected regional council as a part of the autonomy. In the Kainuu region, there is a pilot project underway, with regional elections. Sami people have a semi-autonomous Sami Domicile Area in Lapland for issues on language and culture.

In the following chart, the number of inhabitants includes those living in the entire municipality (kunta/kommun), not just in the built-up area. The land area is given in km², and the density in inhabitants per km² (land area). The figures are as of January 1, 2007. Notice that the capital region – comprising Helsinki, Vantaa, Espoo and Kauniainen (see Greater Helsinki) – forms a continuous conurbation of one million people. However, common administration is limited to voluntary cooperation of all municipalities, e.g. in Helsinki Metropolitan Area Council.

Municipality Population Land area Density
Helsinki &0000000000570848.000000570,848 &0000000000000184.470000184.47 &0000000000003061.0000003,061.00
Espoo &0000000000239645.000000239,645 &0000000000000312.000000312.00 &0000000000000751.6.0E+5751.60
Tampere &0000000000207836.000000207,836 &0000000000000523.4.0E+5523.40 &0000000000000393.9.0E+5393.90
Vantaa &0000000000193738.000000193,738 &0000000000000240.540000240.54 &0000000000000780.4.0E+5780.40
Turku &0000000000175058.000000175,058 &0000000000000243.4.0E+5243.40 &0000000000000720.5.0E+5720.50
Oulu &0000000000131984.000000131,984 &0000000000000369.430000369.43 &0000000000000351.4.0E+5351.40
Lahti &0000000000099594.00000099,594 &0000000000000134.950000134.95 &0000000000000730.1.0E+5730.10
Kuopio &0000000000091099.00000091,099 &0000000000001127.4.0E+51,127.40 &0000000000000081.00000081.00
Jyväskylä &0000000000085312.00000085,312 &0000000000000105.9.0E+5105.90 &0000000000000789.000000789.00
Pori &0000000000076306.00000076,306 &0000000000000503.170000503.17 &0000000000000150.830000150.83
Lappeenranta &0000000000059323.00000059,323 &0000000000000758.000000758.00 &0000000000000077.7.0E+577.70
Rovaniemi &0000000000058866.00000058,866 &0000000000007600.7300007,600.73 &0000000000000007.6.0E+57.60
Vaasa &0000000000057919.00000057,919 &0000000000000183.000000183.00 &0000000000000311.2.0E+5311.20
Joensuu &0000000000057495.00000057,495 &0000000000001173.4.0E+51,173.40 &0000000000000049.1.0E+549.10
Kotka &0000000000054631.00000054,631 &0000000000000270.740000270.74 &0000000000000203.000000203.00

Politics and government

Eduskuntatalo, the main building of the Parliament of Finland (Eduskunta) in Helsinki.
Eduskuntatalo, the main building of the Parliament of Finland (Eduskunta) in Helsinki.

The Constitution of Finland defines the political system. Finland is a representative democracy with a semi-presidential parliamentary. Aside from state-level politics, residents use their vote in municipal elections and in the European Union elections.

According to the Constitution, the President is the head of state and responsible for foreign policy (which excludes affairs related to the European Union) in cooperation with the cabinet. Other powers include Commander-in-Chief, decree, and appointive powers. Direct vote is used to elect the president for a term of six years and maximum two consecutive terms. The current president is Tarja Halonen (SDP).

The 200-member unicameral Parliament of Finland exercises the supreme legislative authority in Finland. The parliament may alter laws, the constitution, bring about the resignation of the Council of State, and override presidential vetoes. Its acts are not subject to judicial review. Various parliament committees listen to experts and prepare legislation. Proportional vote in multi-seat constituencies is used to elect the parliament for a term of four years. The Speaker of Parliament, the first person in the presidential line of succession, is currently Sauli Niinistö (National Coalition Party). The cabinet (the Finnish Council of State) exercises most executive powers. It is headed by the Prime Minister of Finland and includes other ministers and the Chancellor of Justice. Parliament majority decides its composition and a vote of no confidence can be used to modify it. The current prime minister is Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party).

Since equal and common suffrage was introduced in 1906, the parliament has been dominated by the Centre Party (former Agrarian Union), National Coalition Party, and Social Democrats, which have approximately equal support, and represent 65–80 percent of voters. After 1944 Communists were a factor to consider for a few decades. The relative strengths of the parties vary only slightly in the elections due to the proportional election from multi-member districts, but there are some visible long-term trends. The autonomous Åland islands has separate elections, where Liberals for Åland was the largest party in 2007 elections.

After the parliamentary elections on March 18, 2007, the seats were divided among eight parties as follows:

Party Seats Net Gain/Loss  % of seats  % of votes
Centre Party 51   –4 25.5 23.1
National Coalition Party 50 +10 25.0 22.3
Social Democratic Party 45   –8 22.5 21.4
Left Alliance 17   –2 8.5 8.8
Green League 14   +1 7.5 8.5
Swedish People's Party 9   +1 4.5 4.5
Christian Democrats 7     0 3.5 4.9
True Finns 5   +2 2.5 4.1
Others  1*     0 0.5 2.4

* Province of Åland representative.

Law and court

A mounted police officer in Helsinki.
A mounted police officer in Helsinki.

The judicial system of Finland is a civil law system divided between courts with regular civil and criminal jurisdiction and administrative courts with responsibility for litigation between the individuals and the administrative organs of the state and the communities. Finnish law is codified and based on Swedish law and in a wider sense, civil law or Roman law. Its court system consists of local courts, regional appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The administrative branch of justice consists of administrative courts and the Supreme Administrative Court. In addition to the regular courts, there are a few special courts in certain branches of administration. There is also a High Court of Impeachment for criminal charges against certain high-ranking offices.

A general court of first instance (käräjäoikeus) has professional judges and in complex cases, includes non-professional lay judges (lautamies) appointed by municipal councils. Administrative courts, appeals courts and supreme courts consist of professional judges only. Like the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, Finland has no constitutional court, and courts may not strike down laws or pronounce on their constitutionality. In principle, the constitutionality of laws in Finland is verified by parliament's constitutional committee and a simple vote in the parliament.

Around 92% of residents are confident in Finland's security institutions. Crime in Finland has some unique features. The overall crime rate of Finland is not high in the EU context. Some crime types are above average, notably the highest homicide rate in Western Europe. Crime is prevalent among lower educational groups and is often committed by intoxicated persons. A day fine system is in effect and also applied to offences such as speeding. Fines and jail sentences tend to be among the world's lowest, with an official emphasis on rehabilitation.

Finland has successfully fought against the corruption which was larger in the 1970s and 1980s. For instance, economic reforms and EU membership introduced stricter requirements for open bidding and many public monopolies were abolished. Today Finland has a very low number of corruption charges; Transparency International ranks Finland as one of the least corrupted countries. Also, Finland's public records are among the world's most transparent.

Finland has strict libel standards, and in one case a blogger was convicted for incitement to hatred when referring to statistics about an ethnic group. The voluntary Internet censorship list, similar to other Nordic countries, is classified "nominal" censorship by the ONI. Nevertheless, Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007 edition ranked Finland (along with Belgium and Sweden) fifth out of 169 countries.

Foreign relations

According to the latest constitution of 2000, the President (currently Tarja Halonen) leads foreign policy in cooperation with the government (currently Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb), except that the government leads EU affairs. In surveys, most diplomats and foreign policy experts consider the current constitution flawed because it is often unclear who is in charge. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs implements the foreign policy.

During the Cold War, Finland conducted its foreign policy in association with the Soviet Union and simultaneously stressed Nordic cooperation (as a member of the Nordic Council). After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Finland freed itself from the last restrictions imposed on it by the Paris peace treaties of 1947 and the Finno-Soviet Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance. Although opposed by socialists and agrarians, the government filed an EU membership application three months after the dissolution of the USSR and became a member in 1995. Finland did not attempt to join NATO, even though other post-Soviet countries in the Baltic sea and elsewhere joined. Nevertheless, defense policymakers have quietly converted to NATO equipment and contributed troops.

President Martti Ahtisaari and the coalition governments led Finland closer to the core EU in the late 1990s. Finland was considered a cooperative model state, and Finland did not oppose proposals for a common EU defence policy. This was reversed in the 2000s, when Tarja Halonen and Erkki Tuomioja made Finland's official policy to resist other EU members' plans for common defense. However, Halonen allowed Finland to join European Union Battlegroups in 2006 and the NATO Response Force in 2008. Relations with most countries except Russia have been good.

Relations with Russia are cordial and common issues include bureaucracy (particularly at the Vaalimaa border crossing), airspace violations, development aid Finland gives to Russia (especially in environmental problems that affect Finland), and Finland's energy dependency on Russian gas and electricity. Behind the scenes, the administration has witnessed a resurrection of Soviet-era tactics. The National Security Agency, SUPO, estimates that the known number of Russian agents from SVR and GRU now exceeds Cold War levels and there are unknown numbers of others.


Finnish Air Force F/A-18.
Finnish Air Force F/A-18.

The Finnish Defence Forces is a cadre army of professional soldiers (officers), with a standard readiness strength of 34,700 people in uniform. A universal male conscription is in place, under which all men above 18 years of age serve for 6, 9, 11 (unarmed service) or 12 months. Alternative non-military service and volunteer service by women (chosen by around 500 annually) are possible. Finland is the only non-NATO EU country bordering Russia. Finland's official policy states that the 350,000 reservists with mostly ground weaponry are a sufficient deterrent. The military strategy is to hide in forests when attacked, perhaps abandon some regions, and attempt to defeat the enemy from forests in planned places.

Most military experts call for NATO membership, but are careful to avoid politics. Finland's defence budget equals about 2 billion euro or 1.4–1.6 percent of the GDP. In international comparisons the defense expenditure is around the third highest in the EU. The voluntary overseas service is highly popular and troops serve around the world in UN, NATO and EU missions. Residents claim around 80% homeland defense willingness, one of the highest rates in Europe. The Finnish Defence Forces are under the command of the Chief of Defence (currently Juhani Kaskeala), who is directly subordinate to the President of the Republic in matters related to the military command. The military branches are the Finnish Army, Finnish Navy and Finnish Air Force. The Border Guard is under the Ministry of the Interior but can be incorporated into the Defence Forces when required by defence readiness.


Real GDP growth, 1998–2007.
Real GDP growth, 1998–2007.

Finland has a highly industrialized, free-market economy with a per capita output equal to that of other western economies such as France, Germany, Sweden or the UK. The largest sector of the economy is services at 65.7 percent, followed by manufacturing and refining at 31.4 percent. Primary production is at 2.9 percent. With respect to foreign trade, the key economic sector is manufacturing. The largest industries are electronics (21.6 percent), machinery, vehicles and other engineered metal products (21.1 percent), forest industry (13.1 percent), and chemicals (10.9 percent). Finland has timber and several mineral and freshwater resources. Forestry, paper factories, and the agricultural sector (on which taxpayers spend around 3 billion euro annually) are politically sensitive to rural residents. The Greater Helsinki area generates around a third of GDP. In a 2004 OECD comparison, high-technology manufacturing in Finland ranked second largest after Ireland. Knowledge-intensive services have also ranked the smallest and slow-growth sectors – especially agriculture and low-technology manufacturing – second largest after Ireland. Overall short-term outlook was good and GDP growth has been above many EU peers. Inflation has been low, averaging 1.8 percent between 2004 and 2006.

Finland is highly integrated in the global economy, and international trade is a third of GDP. The European Union makes 60 percent of the total trade. The largest trade flows are with Germany, Russia, Sweden, United Kingdom, USA, Netherlands and China. Trade policy is managed by the European Union, where Finland has traditionally been among the free trade supporters, except for agriculture. Finland is the only Nordic country to have joined the Eurozone.

Aleksanterinkatu, a commercial street.
Aleksanterinkatu, a commercial street.

The 40 largest Finland-registered companies by turnover in 2007 or 2006 were ( Oy and Oyj abbreviations removed): Nokia, Stora Enso, Neste Oil, UPM-Kymmene, Kesko, Suomen Osuuskauppojen Keskuskunta, Metsäliitto, Outokumpu, Metso, Tamro, Fortum, Sampo, Kone, Elcoteq, Rautaruukki, Wärtsilä, YIT, Varma, Cargotec, SanomaWSOY, Kemira, Ilmarinen Keskinäinen Eläkevakuutusyhtiö, TeliaSonera Finland, Luvata International (former Outokumpu Copper), Huhtamäki, Finnair, Lemminkäinen, HKScan, Onvest, RTF Auto, TietoEnator, Ahlstrom, Konecranes, Valio, ABB, Itella, Amer Sports, Teboil, Elisa, and Myllykoski.

Private sector employees amount to 1.8 million, out of which around a third with tertiary education. The average earnings per hour was 25.1 euro in 2007, before the approximately 60% median tax wedge. As of 2008 the average purchasing power-adjusted income levels are similar to Italy, Sweden, Germany, and France. As of 2006, a typical proportion of 62% works for enterprises smaller than 250 employees, they account for 49% of total turnover, and have the strongest growth. Female employment rate is high. Gender segregation between male-dominated professions and female-dominated professions is higher than in the US. The proportion of part-time workers was one of the lowest in OECD in 1999.

Employment rate 68% and unemployment rate was 6.8% in early 2008. 18% of residents are outside job market at the age of 50 and less than a third working at the age of 61. Unfunded pensions and other promises such as health insurances are a dominate future liability, though Finland is much better prepared than countries such as France or Germany. Directly held public debt has been reduced to around 32 percent of GDP in 2007. In 2007, the average household savings rate was -3.8 and household debt 101 percent of annual disposable income, a typical level in Europe. Home ownership rate is 60%.

As of 2006, 2,4 million households reside in Finland. The average size is 2.1 persons; 40 percent of households consist of a single person, 32 percent two persons and 28 percent three or more persons. Residential buildings total 1.2 million and the average residential space is 38 square metres per person. The average residential property without land costs 1,187 euro per sq metre and residential land 8.6 euro per sq metre. 74 percent of households had a car. There are 2.5 million cars and 0.4 other vehicles. Around 92 percent has mobile phone and 58 percent Internet connection at home. The average total household consumption was 20,000 euro, out of which housing at around 5500 euro, transport at around 3000 euro, food and beverages excluding alcoholic at around 2500 euro, recreation and culture at around 2000 euro. Purchasing power-adjusted average household consumption is about the same level as Italy, Spain and Greece. According to Invest in Finland, private consumption grew by 3% in 2006 and consumer trends included durables, high quality products, and spending on well-being.

Education and science

Auditorium in the Helsinki University of Technology's main building, designed by Alvar Aalto.
Auditorium in the Helsinki University of Technology's main building, designed by Alvar Aalto.

Most pre-tertiary education is arranged at municipal level. Even though many or most schools were started as private schools, today only around 3% students are enrolled in private schools (mostly Helsinki-based schools such as SYK), many times less than in Sweden and most other developed countries. Pre-school education is rare compared to other EU countries. Formal education is usually started at the age of 7. The primary school takes normally 6 years, the lower secondary school 3 years, and most schools are managed by municipal officials. The flexible curriculum is set by the Ministry of Education and the Education Board. Attendance is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 16. According to PISA assessments of the age group 15, Finnish students had a high average score and a low variation among schools and students. McKinsey has attributed the result distribution to high teacher education (Master's degree), high continuing teacher training, and emphasis on laggards. After lower secondary school, graduates may either enter the workforce directly, or apply to trade schools or gymnasiums. Trade schools prepare for professions. Academically-oriented gymnasiums have higher entrance requirements and specifically prepare for Abitur and tertiary education. Graduation from either formally qualifies for tertiary education.

In tertiary education, two, mostly separate and non-interoperating sectors are found: the profession-oriented higher vocational schools and the research-oriented universities. Finns used to take student loans and scholarships, but for the past decades the financial risk has been moved solely to the government. There are 20 universities and 30 polytechnics in the country. The World Economic Forum ranks Finland's tertiary education #1 in the world. Around 33% of residents has a tertiary degree, similar to Nordics and more than in most other OECD countries except Canada (44%), United States (38%) and Japan(37%). The proportion of foreign students is 3% of all tertiary enrolments, one of the lowest in OECD, while in advanced programs it is 7.3%, still below OECD average 16.5%.

More than 30% of tertiary graduates are in science-related fields. Finnish researchers are leading contributors to such fields as forest improvement, new materials, the environment, neural networks, low-temperature physics, brain research, biotechnology, genetic technology and communications.


Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant with two existing units. On the far left is a visualization of the third unit, which will be Finland's fifth nuclear reactor when completed in 2011.
Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant with two existing units. On the far left is a visualization of the third unit, which will be Finland's fifth nuclear reactor when completed in 2011.

Anyone can enter the free and largely privately-owned Nordic energy market traded in Nord Pool exchange, which has provided competitive prices compared to other EU countries. As of 2007, Finland has roughly the lowest industrial electricity prices in the EU-15 (equal to France).

In 2006, the energy market was around 90 terawatt hours and the peak demand around 15 gigawatts in winter. This means that the energy consumption per capita is around 7.2 tons of oil equivalent per year. Industry and construction consumed 51% of total consumption, a relatively high figure reflecting Finland's industries. Finland's hydrocarbon resources are limited to peat and wood, while neighboring Norway has oil and Estonia oil shale. Finland has little hydropower capacity compared to Sweden or Norway. Most energy demand is satisfied with fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Finland has four privately-owned nuclear reactors producing 18 percent of the country's energy., one research reactor in Otaniemi campus, and the fifth AREVA- Siemens-built reactor – the world's largest at 1600 MWe and a focal point of Europe's nuclear industry – is scheduled to be operational by 2011. Renewable energy forms (industry-burned wood, consumer-burned wood, peat, industrial residue, garbage) make high 25 percent compared to the EU average 10 percent. A varying amount (5–17 percent) of electricity has been imported from Russia (at around 3 gigawatt power line capacity), Sweden and Norway. A new submarine power cable from Russia has been considered a national security issue and one permit application has already been rejected. Finland negotiated itself expensive Kyoto and EU emission terms. They are causing a sharp increase in energy prices and 1-2 billion euro annual cost, amplified by the aging and soon decommissioned production capacity. Energy companies are already ready to increase nuclear power production, if parliament granted permits for new reactors.


Wild animals, chiefly moose and reindeer, cause several thousand accidents every year.
Wild animals, chiefly moose and reindeer, cause several thousand accidents every year.

The extensive road system is utilized by most internal cargo and passenger traffic. As of 2005, the country's network of main roads has a total length of 13,258 km and all public roads 78,186 km, of which 50,616 km are paved. The motorway network totals 653 km. The annual road network expenditure of around 1 billion euro is paid with vehicle and fuel taxes which amount to around 1.5 billion euro and 1 billion euro.

The main international passenger gateway is Helsinki-Vantaa Airport with over 13 million passengers in 2007. Tampere-Pirkkala airport is the second largest and around 25 airports have scheduled passenger services. The Helsinki-Vantaa based Finnair, Blue1 and Finncomm Airlines sell air services both domestically and internationally, and there are many others offering direct flights around the world. Helsinki has an optimal location for great circle routes between Western Europe and the Far East. Hence, many international travelers visit Helsinki on a stop-over between Asia and Europe.

Despite low population density, taxpayers spend annually around 350 million euro in maintaining 5,865 km railway tracks even to many rural towns. Only one rail company operates in Finland, VR Group, which has 5 percent passenger market share (out of which 80 percent are urban trips in Greater Helsinki) and 25 percent cargo market share. Helsinki has an urban rail network.

The majority of international cargo utilizes ports. Port logistics prices are low. Vuosaari harbour in Helsinki is the largest container port after completion in 2008 and others include Hamina, Hanko, Pori, Rauma, Oulu. There is passenger traffic from Helsinki and Turku, which have ferry connections to Tallinn, Mariehamn, Sweden and several other destination. The Helsinki-Tallinn route, one of the busiest passenger sea routes in the world, is also served by a helicopter line.

Public policy

Finnish politicians have often emulated other Nordics and the Nordic model. Nordics have been free-trading and relatively welcoming to skilled migrants for over a century, though in Finland immigration is relatively new. The level of protection in commodity trade has been low, except for agricultural products.

Finland's judiciary is efficient and effective. Finland is highly open to investment and free trade. Finland has top levels of economic freedom in many areas, although there is a heavy tax burden and inflexible job market. Finland is ranked 16th (ninth in Europe) in the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom. Recently, Finland has topped the patents per capita statistics, and overall productivity growth has been strong in areas such as electronics. While the manufacturing sector is thriving, OECD points out that the service sector would benefit substantially from policy improvements. Finland is one of the most fiscally responsible EU countries.

IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2007 ranked Finland 17th most competitive. The World Economic Forum 2008 index ranked Finland the 6th most competitive. In both indicises, Finland's performance was next to Germany and the lowest of Nordics, and significantly higher than most European countries.

Economists attribute much growth to reforms in the product markets. According to OECD, only four EU-15 countries have less regulated product markets (UK, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden) and only one has less regulated financial markets (Denmark). Nordic countries were pioneers in liberalizing energy, postal, and other markets in Europe. The legal system is clear and business bureaucracy less than most countries. Property rights are well protected and contractual agreements are strictly honored. Finland is rated one of the least corrupted countries in Corruption Perceptions Index. Finland is rated 13th in the Ease of Doing Business Index. It indicates exceptional ease to trade across borders (5th), enforce contracts (7th), and close a business (5th), and exceptional hardship to employ workers (127th) and pay taxes (83rd).

Finnish job market regulation is a remaining example of Nordic neocorporatist model. In the 1990s, Denmark liberalized its job market, Sweden moved to more flexible decentralized contracts, and Finnish trade unions blocked most reforms. Finnish law forces all workers to obey the national contracts that are drafted every few years for each profession and seniority level. The agreement becomes universally enforceable provided that more than 50% of the employees support it, in practice by being a member of a relevant trade union. The unionization rate is high (70%), especially in the middle class ( AKAVA - 80%). A lack of a national agreement in an industry is considered an exception. More flexibility is generally recommended by economists for various reasons.

Overall taxation has been reduced to nearly 10 percentage points lower level than in Sweden, but it is still nearly 10 percentage points higher than in Germany. The middle income worker receives only 40% of his income after the median tax wedge and effective marginal tax rates are high. Value-added tax is 22 percent for most items. Capital gains tax and corporate tax are 26 percent, about the EU median. Property taxes are low, but there is a stamp duty of 4% for home sellers. For instance, McKinsey estimates that a worker has to pay around 1600 euro for another worker's 400 euro service when both workers' taxes are counted. Tax cuts have been in every post-depression government's agenda and the overall tax burden is now around 43% of GDP compared to 51.1% in Sweden, 34.7% in Germany, 33.5% in Canada, and 30.5% in Ireland.

Public consumption is 51.7% of GDP compared to 56.6% in Sweden, 46.9% in Germany, 39.3% in Canada, and 33.5% in Ireland. Much of the taxes are spent on public sector employees, many of which are jobs-for-life and amount to 124,000 state employees and 430,000 municipal employees. That is 113 per 1000 residents (over a quarter of workforce) compared to 74 in the US, 70 in Germany, and 42 in Japan (8% of workforce). The Economist Intelligence Unit's ranking for Finland's e-readiness is high at 13th, compared to 1st for United States, 3rd for Sweden, 5th for Denmark, and 14th for Germany. Also, early and generous retirement schemes have contributed to high pension costs. Social spending such as health or education is around OECD median. Social transfers are also around OECD median. In 2001 Finland outsourced more than most Western European countries, although less than Sweden. Municipalities spend a half of taxes.


The M/S Silja Symphony leaving from Helsinki. Cruises are a popular tourist activity throughout Finland.
The M/S Silja Symphony leaving from Helsinki. Cruises are a popular tourist activity throughout Finland.

In 2005, Finnish tourism grossed over €6.7 billion with a five percent increase from the previous year. Much of the sudden growth can be attributed to the globalisation and modernisation of the country as well as a rise in positive publicity and awareness. There are many attractions in Finland which attracted over 4 million visitors in 2005.

The Finnish landscape is covered with thick pine forests, rolling hills and complemented with a labyrinth of lakes and inlets. Much of Finland is pristine and virgin as it contains 35 national parks from the Southern shores of the Gulf of Finland to the high fells of Lapland. It is also an urbanised region with many cultural events and activities.

Commercial cruises between major coastal and port cities in the Baltic region, including Helsinki, Turku, Tallinn, Stockholm and Travemünde, play a significant role in the local tourism industry. Finland is regarded as the home of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, living in the northern Lapland region. Above the Arctic Circle, there is a polar night, a period when the sun doesn't rise for days or weeks, or even months. Lapland, the extreme north of Finland, is so far north that the Aurora Borealis, atmospheric fluorescence, is seen regularly in winter.

Outdoor activities range from Nordic skiing, golf, fishing, yachting, lake cruises, hiking, kayaking among many others. At Finland's northernmost point, in the heart of summer, the Sun does not completely set for 73 consecutive days. Wildlife is abundant in Finland. Bird-watching is popular for those fond of flying fauna, however hunting is also popular. Elk, reindeer and hare are all common game in Finland. There are many churches, cathedrals, museums and castles. Olavinlinna in Savonlinna hosts the annual Savonlinna Opera Festival. The capital city of Helsinki, on the other hand, is famous for its Grand Duchy era architecture, which resembles that of imperial St. Petersburg.


A Juhannus bonfire ("kokko") in Mäntsälä
A Juhannus bonfire ("kokko") in Mäntsälä
Students on Helsinki's Esplanadi wearing their caps on Vappu.
Students on Helsinki's Esplanadi wearing their caps on Vappu.
A lakeside smoke sauna ("savusauna") in Kannonkoski
A lakeside smoke sauna ("savusauna") in Kannonkoski

Throughout Finland's prehistory and history, cultural contacts and influences have concurrently, or at varying times, come from all directions. As a result of 600 years of Swedish rule, Swedish cultural influences are still notable. Today, cultural influences from North America are prominent. Into the twenty-first century, many Finns have contacted cultures from distantly abroad, such as with those in Asia and Africa. Beyond tourism, Finnish youth in particular have been increasing their contact with peoples from outside Finland by travelling abroad to both work and study.

There are still differences between regions, especially minor differences in accents and vocabulary. Minorities, such as the Sami, Finland Swedes, Romani, and Tatar, maintain their own cultural characteristics. Many Finns are emotionally connected to the countryside and nature, as urbanisation is a relatively recent phenomenon.


Though Finnish written language could be said to exist since Mikael Agricola translated the New Testament into Finnish in the sixteenth century as a result of the Protestant Reformation, few notable works of literature were written until the nineteenth century, which saw the beginning of a Finnish national Romantic Movement. This prompted Elias Lönnrot to collect Finnish and Karelian folk poetry and arrange and publish them as Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. The era saw a rise of poets and novelists who wrote in Finnish, notably Aleksis Kivi and Eino Leino.

After Finland became independent there was a rise of modernist writers, most famously Mika Waltari. Frans Eemil Sillanpää was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1939 – so far the only one for a Finnish author. The second World War prompted a return to more national interests in comparison to a more international line of thought, characterized by Väinö Linna. Literature in modern Finland is in a healthy state, with detective stories enjoying a particular boom of popularity. Ilkka Remes, a Finnish author of thrillers, is very popular.

Visual arts

Finns have made major contributions to handicrafts and industrial design. Finland's best-known sculptor of the twentieth century was Wäinö Aaltonen, remembered for his monumental busts and sculptures. Finnish architecture is famous around the world. Among the top of the twentieth century Finnish architects to win international recognition are Eliel Saarinen (designer of the widely recognised Helsinki Central railway station and many other public works) and his son Eero Saarinen. Alvar Aalto, who helped bring the functionalist architecture to Finland, is also famous for his work in furniture and glassware.


Folk music

Much of the music of Finland is influenced by traditional Karelian melodies and lyrics, as comprised in the Kalevala. Karelian culture is perceived as the purest expression of the Finnic myths and beliefs, less influenced by Germanic influence, in contrast to Finland's position between the East and the West. Finnish folk music has undergone a roots revival in recent decades, and has become a part of popular music.

Sami music

The people of northern Finland, Sweden and Norway, the Sami, are known primarily for highly spiritual songs called Joik. The same word sometimes refers to lavlu or vuelie songs, though this is technically incorrect.

Classical and opera

The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), a significant figure in the history of classical music.
The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), a significant figure in the history of classical music.

The first Finnish opera was written by the German composer Fredrik Pacius in 1852. Pacius also wrote Maamme/Vårt land (Our Land), Finland's national anthem. In the 1890s Finnish nationalism based on the Kalevala spread, and Jean Sibelius became famous for his vocal symphony Kullervo. He soon received a grant to study runo singers in Karelia and continued his rise as the first prominent Finnish musician. In 1899 he composed Finlandia, which played its important role in Finland gaining independence. He remains one of Finland's most popular national figures and is a symbol of the nation.

Today, Finland has a very lively classical music scene. Finnish classical music has only existed for about a hundred years, and many of the important composers are still alive, such as Magnus Lindberg, Kaija Saariaho, Aulis Sallinen and Einojuhani Rautavaara. The composers are accompanied with a large number of great conductors such as Sakari Oramo, Mikko Franck, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Osmo Vänskä, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Susanna Mälkki and Leif Segerstam. Some of the internationally acclaimed Finnish classical musicians are Karita Mattila, Soile Isokoski, Kari Kriikku, Pekka Kuusisto, Réka Szilvay and Linda Brava.

Popular music

Modern Finnish popular music includes a number of prominent rock bands, jazz musicians, hip hop performers, and dance music acts such as Bomfunk MCs and Darude. Finnish electronic music such as the Sähkö Recordings record label enjoys underground acclaim. Iskelmä (coined directly from the German word Schlager, meaning hit) is a traditional Finnish word for a light popular song. Finnish popular music also includes various kinds of dance music; tango, a style of Argentinean music, is also popular. One of the most productive composers of popular music was Toivo Kärki, and the most famous singer Olavi Virta (1915–1972). Among the lyricists, Sauvo Puhtila (born 1928), Reino Helismaa (died 1965) and Veikko "Vexi" Salmi are the most remarkable authors. The composer and bandleader Jimi Tenor is well known for his brand of retro-funk music.

Dance music

Notable Finnish dance and electronic music artists include Jori Hulkkonen, Darude, JS16, DJ Proteus and DJ Orkidea.

Rock music

Apocalyptica's Perttu Kivilaakso playing metal music live.
Apocalyptica's Perttu Kivilaakso playing metal music live.

Finnish rock-music scene emerged in 1960s with pioneers such as Blues Section and Kirka. In the 1970s Finnish rock musicians started to write their own music instead of translating international hits into Finnish. During the decade some progressive rock groups, such as Tasavallan Presidentti and Wigwam, gained respect abroad but failed to make a commercial breakthrough outside Finland. This was also the fate of the rock and roll group Hurriganes. The Finnish punk scene produced some internationally acknowledged names including Terveet Kädet in 1980s. Hanoi Rocks was a pioneering 1980s- glam rock act that left perhaps a deeper mark in the history of popular music than any other Finnish group, giving inspiration for Guns N' Roses.

In the 2000s, other Finnish rock bands started to sell well internationally. The Rasmus became more known in Europe (and other places, like South America) in the 2000s. Their 2003 album Dead Letters sold 1.5 million units worldwide and garnered them eight gold and five platinum album designations. But so far the most successful Finnish band in the United States has been HIM; they were the first band from Finland to ever sell an album that was certified gold by the RIAA.


Erkki Karu, one of the pioneers of the Finnish cinema, with cinematographer Eino Kari in 1927.
Erkki Karu, one of the pioneers of the Finnish cinema, with cinematographer Eino Kari in 1927.

In film industry, notable directors include Aki Kaurismäki, Timo Koivusalo, Aleksi Mäkelä and Klaus Härö. Hollywood film director/producer Renny Harlin (born Renny Lauri Mauritz Harjola) was born in Finland.


Karjalanpiirakka, a traditional Finnish pastry.
Karjalanpiirakka, a traditional Finnish pastry.

Traditional Finnish cuisine is a combination of European, Fennoscandian and Western Russian elements; table manners are European. The food is generally simple, fresh and healthy. Fish, meat, berries and ground vegetables are typical ingredients whereas spices are not common due to their historical unavailability. In years past, Finnish food often varied from region to region, most notably between the west and east. In coastal and lakeside villages, fish was a main feature of cooking, whereas in the eastern and also northern regions, vegetables and reindeer were more common. The prototypical breakfast is oatmeal or other continental-style foods such as bread. Lunch is usually a full warm meal, served by a canteen at workplaces. Dinner is eaten at around 17.00 to 18.00 at home.

Modern Finnish cuisine combines country fare and haute cuisine with contemporary continental cooking style. Today, spices are a prominent ingredient in many modern Finnish recipes, having been adopted from the east and west in recent decades.

Public holidays

All official holidays in Finland are established by acts of Parliament. The official holidays can be divided into Christian and secular holidays, although some of the Christian holidays have replaced holidays of pagan origin. The main Christian holidays are Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost, and All Saints Day. The secular holidays are New Year's Day, May Day, Midsummer Day, and the Independence Day. Christmas is the most extensively celebrated holiday: usually at least 23rd to 26th of December are holidays.

In addition to this, all Sundays are official holidays, but they are not as important as the special holidays. The names of the Sundays follow the liturgical calendar and they can be categorised as Christian holidays. When the standard working week in Finland was reduced to 40 hours by an act of Parliament, it also meant that all Saturdays became a sort of de facto public holidays, though not official ones. Easter Sunday and Pentecost are Sundays that form part of a main holiday and they are preceded by a kind of special Saturdays. Retail stores are prohibited by law from doing business on Sundays, except during the summer months (May through August) and in the pre-Christmas season (November and December). Business locations that have less than 400 square metres of floor space are allowed Sunday business throughout the year, with the exception of official holidays and certain Sundays, such as Mother's Day and Father's Day.


Ice hockey in Finland.
Ice hockey in Finland.
Paavo Nurmi at the 1920 Summer Olympics.
Paavo Nurmi at the 1920 Summer Olympics.

Various sporting events are popular in Finland. Pesäpallo (reminiscent of baseball) is the national sport of Finland, although the most popular sports in Finland in terms of media coverage are Formula One, ice hockey and football. The Finnish national ice hockey team is considered one of the best in the world. During the past century there has been a rivalry in sporting between Finland and Sweden, mostly in ice hockey and athletics ( Finland-Sweden athletics international). Jari Kurri and Teemu Selänne are the two Finnish-born ice hockey players to have scored 500 goals in their NHL careers. Football is also popular in Finland, though the national football team has never qualified for a finals tournament of the World Cup or the European Championships. Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä are the most internationally renowned of the Finnish football players.

Relative to its population, Finland has been a top country in the world in automobile racing, measured by international success. Finland has produced three Formula One World Champions – Keke Rosberg ( Williams, 1982), Mika Häkkinen ( McLaren, 1998 and 1999) and Kimi Räikkönen ( Ferrari, 2007). Along with Räikkönen, the other Finnish Formula One driver currently active is Heikki Kovalainen ( McLaren). Rosberg's son, Nico Rosberg ( Williams), is also currently driving, but under his mother's German nationality. Other notable Finnish Grand Prix drivers include Leo Kinnunen, JJ Lehto and Mika Salo. Finland has also produced most of the world's best rally drivers, including the ex- WRC World Champion drivers Marcus Grönholm, Juha Kankkunen, Hannu Mikkola, Tommi Mäkinen, Timo Salonen and Ari Vatanen. The only Finn to have won a road racing World Championship, Jarno Saarinen, was killed in 1973 while racing.

Among winter sports, Finland has been the most successful country in ski jumping, with former ski jumper Matti Nykänen being arguably the best ever in that sport. Most notably, he won five Olympic medals (four gold) and nine World Championships medals (five gold). Among currently active Finnish ski jumpers, Janne Ahonen has been the most successful. Kalle Palander is a well-known alpine skiing winner, who won the World Championship and Crystal Ball (twice, in Kitzbühel). Tanja Poutiainen has won an Olympic silver medal for alpine skiing, as well as multiple FIS World Cup races.

Some of the most outstanding athletes from the past include Hannes Kolehmainen (1890–1966), Paavo Nurmi (1897–1973) and Ville Ritola (1896–1982) who won eighteen gold and seven silver Olympic medals in the 1910s and 1920s. They are also considered to be the first of a generation of great Finnish middle and long-distance runners (and subsequently, other great Finnish sportsmen) often named the " Flying Finns". Another long-distance runner, Lasse Virén (born 1949), won a total of four gold medals during the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics.

Also, in the past, Riku Kiri, Jouko Ahola and Janne Virtanen have been the greatest strength athletes in the country, participating in the World's Strongest Man competition between 1993 and 2000.

The 1952 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XV Olympiad, were held in 1952 in Helsinki, Finland. Other notable sporting events held in Finland include the 1983 and 2005 World Championships in Athletics, among others.

Some of the most popular recreational sports and activities include floorball, Nordic walking, running, cycling and skiing.


  • List of Finns
  • Suuret suomalaiset – a list of the "100 Greatest Finns" of all time as voted by the Finnish people in 2004.

Below are listed some of the characteristics of Finnishness. The term "Finnishness" is often referred to as the national identity of the Finnish people and its culture.

A triptych by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, depicting the Aino Story of Kalevala on three panes.
A triptych by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, depicting the Aino Story of Kalevala on three panes.
Finnish Maiden
  a figure of national personification symbolising Finland
  the national epic of Finland, and Finnish mythology in general
  traditional musical instrument
  traditional Easter food
  traditional Savonian food
  traditional blood sausage from Tampere
Karelian pasties
  traditional pasties from the region of Karelia
  Father Christmas/Santa Claus
Jean Sibelius
  one of the most popular national figures (composer of the symphonic poem Finlandia (symphonic poem) Finlandia)
  a Finnish national institution (see also Finnish sauna)
  will, determination, perseverance, mental fortitude
  traditional Finnish style woodcraft belt-knife
  community work
Ice swimming
  swimming in a body of water with a frozen crust of ice
Nordic walking
  a recreational sport first popularized in Finland
  salty liquorice
  traditional beer
  Finnish vodka
Reilu meininki
  fair play
Flying Finn
  a nickname given to notable Finnish sportsmen (originated with Olympic medalist Hannes Kolehmainen)

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