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Editorial by Henrik Stenius

The Independent, in a recent editorial entitled "Wanted: a modern British patriotism", (May 21, 1996), criticised the British Council for adopting an old-fashioned concept of patriotism. The newspaper asked for some "new organisation, cooler, more credible, quicker on its feet". This criticism had its delicious apects. It is, of course, better if a cultural institution is more cool than dull, more credible than superficial and apologetic, quicker on its feet than rigid and bureaucratic.

The Finnish Institute is small, and small institutions create small bureaucracies. With luck, smallness can also mean flexibility. We do have our lucky days at the Institute. In the morning we hunt for interesting topics in the newspapers, at noon we tend our networks, in the afternoon we maintain and beautify our building and in the evening we go out to concerts or exhibitions, meeting old and new friends. We certainly do many different things. We do not think this implies superficiality. After all, in the coffee room where we read the newspapers, we also have "Snellmans samlade verk" (Snellman’s collected works). We read them as well.

Finnish home ground

Being an independent body makes flexibility possible. We are not a subordinate part of a government hierarchy. We have projects of our own, especially our Study Programme, but most of our projects are part of more permanent networks of projects which we develop in collaboration with other organisations. The areas covered include academia, the arts, the media and economics. As an independent body, the Institute wants to build bridges between different sections of society. We want to encourage links between different groups of people who normally would not come into contact with each other.

In today’s integrated Europe, the Institute serves as a modern forum, by encouraging different professions from Finland to use it as a base. This is a unique facility which more and more organisations are becoming aware of.

We take up the challenge

The Independent uses the expression "modern patriotism", which implies a distinction from old versions of patriotism. The concept has certainly changed through the centuries. The wish to promote common good as opposed to seeking benefits for one’s own social group, the wish to see the best for all the Estates, was in the 18th century called patriotism. Not until the 19th century was the patriotic effort to promote the common good connected to the interests of the nation.

The leader writer of The Independent uses this latter notion and adds "modern" because he/she thinks that old patriotism had an elitist view of culture. Perhaps. It is well to remember, however, that the ennoblement (and eventually ossification) of (rural) popular culture (folklorism) was an integral part of patriotic culture.

For The Independent, the real concern is "quality", whether it is in popular fashion or opera. Only by promoting quality can a cultural institution like the British Council promote commercial aims. The newspaper thus seems to add a new emphasis to the interpretation of contemporary patriotism: a modern patriot promotes exports.

By adding words like "New" (Labour), "Young" (Finns) or "Modern" (Patriotism) to old concepts, one challenges society to take part in a "discursive struggle" about how to reload an old concept. We want very much to take up this challenge.

If you are less interested in communication and more interested in imposing your own value systems on other cultures, you do not need comparisons. To be successful in the universal community you have to be aware of who you are (cultural identity, all the cultural codes including the political and social vocabulary) in a deeper sense. Only by comparisons can you understand why you are what you are.

Communication presupposes comparisons. Comparisons are a precondition for successful competition in the universal market. The project for the modern patriot is Cultural Studies from a comparative point of view!

Dr Henrik Stenius

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