Finland and Germany – let us empower their relations again…

Luise Liefländer-Leskinen,
Dr. Phil., Head,
Association of Finnish – German societies in Finland (SSYL),

Adjunct Professor em.,
University of Eastern Finland / University of Turku,

There is a long tradition of strong relations between Finland and Germany. Already before 1800 German language and culture played an important role in the eastern parts of Finland, so called Old Finland, which belonged to Russian government. Katharine the Great implemented during her reign new school curricula and educational systems, which extended to some Finnish areas. In the district schools in Savonlinna, Lappeenranta and Hamina German language was used for teaching and members of the administration of these towns had to command German and Russian as administrative languages in addition to their mother tongue (Finnish or Swedish).

After 1809, when whole Finland had become as grand duchy a part of Russia, many German immigrants came to Helsinki, which the tsar had decided in 1912 to be Finland’s new capital. The architect Engel constructed the Senate Square and the main cathedral in Helsinki. Merchants, engineers and musicians came, for example von Berg, Paulig, Fazer, Stockmann, Tilgmann, Huber and Pacius. A German church was built in 1864, a German library founded in 1881 and a German school in the same year.

The German language was still the most important scientific language at the beginning of the 20th century. Germany also played an important role in the Finnish civil war in 1918, when more than 10000 German soldiers came to Finland and stayed here from April to the end of the year. There were German language theatre events and concerts; even a German Language newspaper was published in Helsinki at this time.

I shall not refer here to the special relationship between Germany and Finland in the time of World War II, because that is another story. But if we speak about language and culture exchanges between these countries, we can stress that German language was still the most important foreign language in Finnish schools in the 1960s. There were four Goethe institutes in Finland at that time as well as the DDR cultural centre. The two German states almost had a competition in supporting Finland with guest lectures and study material. In 1973 Finland granted both German states, the BRD and the DDR, official diplomatic recognition. Many Finnish students went to the German speaking countries to study there and German language was still very popular in Finnish schools and universities. In the beginning of the 1990ths after the German reunification there was again a kind of boom in the interest in German language and culture in Finland.

Today we look 30 years back to 3rd of October 1990, when the reunification was celebrated. What do the relations of Germany and Finland look like now?

Finland joined the European Union in 1995 together with Sweden and Austria, it was one of the first countries to adopt the euro on 1 January 1999.

The corona pandemic has its influence of course, but Germany is still the most important trade partner of Finland and German language is important for a successful business. The number of students of German has dramatically diminished in the last decades in Finland – although it is the most spoken mother tongue in the European Union and the official language in 7 countries. About 130 million people speak German as their mother tongue or second language and in 42 countries 7.5 million people belong to a German speaking minority.

But Finnish educational policies promote only the English language; German, French and Russian language – they all struggle for survival in Finnish schools. This cannot be in the interest of a small country like Finland, which is known worldwide for its excellent school system and for intelligent young people speaking several foreign languages.

We try to promote Finnish – German relations by students’ exchange, which is organized by the SSYL (Association of Finnish-German societies) and by many of the 64 Finnish twin towns of German towns. Germany is still the favourite country for Erasmus students and there is a network of Finnish- German schools, so called PASCH schools, to which 18 Finnish schools belong. So, there is a lot going on between Germany and Finland. If we speak of technology and trade, we can say that Finland is a forerunner in digitalization and launching of start-ups in the economy. In this regard Germany can learn from Finland. This can be also a way to empower the relations between the two countries again.

Expert article 2845

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