Editorial by Henrik Stenius
When in January this year the Guardian gave four pages of its Weekend Section to an article to an article about Finland with sauna, Sibelius and lakes, this pleasant piece of journalism fits nicely in a congenial system of communication: this is the way many Finns themselves want their country to be presented.
This attitude is based on a clear but prudent logic. I know who I am, what my accomplishments and abilities consist of: this is what Finns can contribute to international cultural life, this is what Finland can sell. But selling requires the skills of fund raisers, PR managers and salesmen who know what they have to sell. Every company and sales department has a think-tank for this sort of thing. Big projects, with safe and solid names (the Sibelius syndrome), can be promoted using this strategy.
At the Institute we have a dream of organising in the UK an exhibition of Finnish female painters from the turn of the century. Fanny Churberg, Helene Schjerfbeck, Maria Wiik and Helena Westermarck in London! What a wonderful idea. All we need is an able curator, some sponsors and several million Finnish marks. A good strategy, no question about that, but still not the only one.
There is another way to communicate. It seems as pleasant but perhaps not so simple. This alternative existential point of departure goes like this: by meeting other people, I learn to know who I am. If I know who I am, I can improve my skills in understanding and communicating with others. Opting for this strategy at the Institute means living with the codes of British and Irish public life, being sensitive to different kinds of signals, playing also with unknown cards. It also means taking advantage of contingent opportunities, which, perhaps, might turn out to be of importance in the future (the Jimi Tenor syndrome): in short, taking into account needs perceived in these islands.
There can hardly be a better place than London to improve these skills. Here we meet people who may not have a prominent position in contemporary public life, but who might achieve this status in the future. And when we chance upon the deep thinkers and opinion-makers from the established institutions, the opportunity to be noticed presents itself. All the more reason, then, to try to gain a foothold in this society.
Seeking new encounters corresponds with the strategy of the Finnish Institute as Finnish "home ground". The challenge is similar for the staff and others who see the possibilities of the Institute as a meeting place.
Dr Henrik Stenius
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