April 2001

Estonians "more European" than Finns

As Finnish and Estonian languages are relatively closely related, and the countries are only separated by the Gulf of Finland, a common assumption is that they view the world in more or less similar way. The Finnish writer Johannes Salminen, however, says that he wouldn't be surprised if the Estonians saw Europe differently from the Finns as they seek membership in the EU.

In an interview in the regional daily, Turun Sanomat (1 April 2001), Salminen says that the Estonians are more European than the Finns. This is partly for geographical reasons, Estonia being more close to continental Europe. But the Estonians also have a more cosmopolitan background.

"Estonians have simultaneously a German and Russian cultural background. It wouldn't be surprising if they experienced Europe in a completely different way compared to us. It is interesting to observe that at the same time, however, there is also a tendency to consider Estonia as a Nordic country.

"Other Balts criticise the Estonians for being 'a somewhat finer folk'. Estonia's coveted EU membership could, on the other hand, tie the country more closely to Sweden and Finland. But it is very important that the Baltic countries can join the EU."

Salminen points out that Finland's recent experiences -- for instance in the recent summit in Nice -- have revealed problems connected with being a small country. Estonia could thus find it useful to join small Nordic countries instead of, for instance, embracing Germany. Salminen does not, however, rule out the latter possibility. Some Estonians are fed up with the Finns' patronising attitude.

In a forthcoming book, Salminen discusses these questions with the Estonian writer Jaan Kaplinski. Salminen and Kaplinski share some concerns about their countries' cultural atmosphere. Kaplinski has said that he feels estranged from the present-day Estonia. His main criticism is that feelings of solidarity have disappeared. He wonders if Estonians as a nation still actually exist.

In this sense, Salminen sees similarities between the two countries. The EU and Nokia have been equally meaningful in creating the Finnish identity, both economically and spiritually. Economic development has been very robust. Salminen worries, however, about the state of humanism which, in his view, is nowadays pretty systematically ignored.

"The only thing that seems to mean anything, is new technology and Nokia. In a way, Nokia even dictates the teaching curricula of the universities. The emphasis on materialism is thus not only an Estonian problem."

Kaplinski is very ciritical of the EU. Salminen, on the other hand, thinks Finland has gained from its membership in the Union.

"Finnish mentality, which has been a little fearful and introvert, has become braver and more open. People are on the move in a completely different way compared to the past. This is especially true about youing people. The EU has been a psychological bonus for the Finns as a nation since it has been acknowledged to be Western European. We can join the right queue at the airports", Salminen laughs.

Salminen believes that a more Scandinavian tendency will become stronger in the EU. This will also increase Finland's influence in the Union.

In the forthcoming book, Salminen and Kaplinski discuss European values and what Europe has become. According to Salminen, Finland has become so fascinated and engrossed in the EU that it not only forgets the Scandinavian dimension but the Russian as well. He warns against ignoring Russia.

"It is a pity if we cannot benefit from our unique Eastern relations. This would be important for the EU as well as there is currently no other member country which has a Eastern and Byzantine heritage. We share a part of the great Eastern European heritage which we can use for the benefit of the whole EU."

See also:

From the archive:

Concern about large countries' power

11 December 2000

EU democratic deficit lamented

5 December 2000

EU enlargement could weaken small members' say on economic issues

27 November 2000

Lipponen: "Small countries want equality in EU"

14 November 2000

EU "lacks vision"

13 November 2000

Basic rights "solid foundation" for European values

7 November 2000

Nordic cooperation declines with EU membership

6 November 2000

EU membership erodes Nordic unity

27 October 2000

"Small countries must defend their rights"

20 October 2000

Large and small EU countries at loggerheads

16 October 2000


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