It was Finland's Independence Day last Wednesday, our neighbors celebrated the 100th year of their independence. Estonians seemed to have gone all crazy that day, and I thought it was very sweet. I was listening to the National Radio in the morning before going to work, and they only played Finnish music. They also had a quiz where people had to guess the speaker by the voice. I think they were Mika Häkkinen and Sofi Oksanen who were to be recognised. All the buses and trams in Tallinn had little Finnish flags on them and there was a big fireworks in the evening. The fesitivities had surely made their way over to our side of the Baltic bay, and we were so happy for our Finnish sisters and brothers.

I caught a nasty virus that day, and ended up not going to see the fireworks but instead throwing up all over the place and generally feeling like my life had come to an end. But I still thought about Finland and history, both that of our sister countries as well as my own family. And the next day, although still feeling like dying, I dutifully went through a whole photo gallery from the last night's presidential ball and I had to admit, with a little sting of jealousy, that at least when it comes to the presidential balls in our respective countries, the Finnish ladies have more class and grace than ours do. I mean, starting with their First Lady, who's the epitome of elegance.

But the history is so hard to make sense of. I remember walking in Tallinn's Old Town with Dr A. N. last summer and as she looked at the town, built mostly in the 15th and 16th century, she said, Well, we on the other side of the bay we were still living in the turf huts when you already had such high civilisation and culture. And I suppose in a sense it's true. We were quite a few steps ahead in this respect. But fast forward a couple of hundred years, and it was still Finland who beat us, declaring independence from Russia three months before we did. We'll celebrate our 100th year of independence in February. But of course our "100th" is not to be taken literally as we then went down two very different paths. Finland had the courage to fight the Soviet Union, and not only to fight, but also to be one of the very few countries ever to win a war against them. And to prosper after the war. We, on the other hand, spent 50 years out of the last 100 under the Soviet occupation, a repressive, meaningless and downright stupid occupation which did a lot of damage. By the end of the occupation, by early 1990s, in many ways we were as far from Finland as could possibly be. We had next to nothing and had grown up in a paranoid society while Finland for us embodied freedom and plenty and the absense of fear. I remember how Finns took it as their duty to help us, and honestly, my whole childhood and teenage years I grew up wearing the ADRA clothes that were sent from Finnish churches. In the very first years of our independence in early 1990s we even needed food parcels. I remember rice and packages of some weird powdered (babies?) food, and the sweets we had never seen before. Everything that came from Finland seemed to be shiny and new and wonderful.

My great-grandfather was a Finn. He was a wealthy factory owner and he lived in Estonia with his family. My geat-grandmother was their housemaid, and then, well, my grandmother was born. The Finnish family left Estonia once the Soviet threat got worse in 1930s, so I have a whole bunch of relatives over in Finland. I don't know anything about my great-grandfather's ancestors but thinking of how my grandmother looked like - she had dark hair and eyes, very high cheekbones and almond eyes - it's not entirely impossible that she had some Inuit blood in her. In my early childhood I often heard about our half-mystical Finnish relatives although never, now that I think of it, about the circumstances of my grandmother's birth... Well, the relatives are not mystical any more since some of them have started to join our yearly family reunions. I never know exactly who they are or how we're related but they seem to enjoy our company very much. And the feeling is mutual. So by now Finland has lost a lot of its mythical shininess and newness but it's become a land of many wonderful people, related or not.

And my name, Mervi, is a Finnish name. Yes. That's important.

So. Here's to Finland and to the next 100 years!

I feel like reading Tove Jansson's book now.

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