s we strolled down the very street that leads to the heart of the city center, I learnt that it was the same path often taken by the highest-ranking official of the nation and his family. “Just the other day, our Prime Minister was walking down this very road with his family,” that was among the captivating statements I overheard from the local residents.
Witnessing government officials conducting themselves independently, without the presence of guards, chauffeurs, and opulent vehicles, left me in awe. It was an experience quite out of the ordinary, particularly for someone like me who hails from a country where it requires considerable effort just to meet the head of a particular organization.
While I appeared to be relishing the fresh air during my leisurely walk, my mind was consumed by a different matter altogether: ‘plotting’ to invade this captivating nation!
My thoughts were fixated on a single question: What preparations would one need to undertake in order to ‘invade’ this remarkable land?
Although it may be geographically small, it offers an abundance of opportunities for any potential ‘invaders’ who possess the means to execute their plans with precision. It is a land where education is not only freely accessible but also enjoyable, where citizens embrace the notion of paying high tax rates as something romantic, and where corruption remains astonishingly low compared to the rest of the world.
This is a place where the concept of “lived happily ever after” seems to transcend the realm of fairy tales, becoming a practical and vibrant reality.
Such a unique existence can only be found in one of the Nordic countries. Wouldn’t it be an exhilarating adventure to ‘conquer’ the happiest people on Earth? That is precisely what sparked my imagination—I envisioned the act of ‘invading’ Finland!
Well, the brand of ‘invasion’ I found myself immersed in was the one that acclaimed American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore once alluded to. Along side six fellow journalists from diverse African nations, I was graciously invited to visit Finland by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
And so it was, as I explored the city streets that I embarked on my own unique form of “planning.”
Finland stands as a shining example among nations, where the bond of trust between its government and the public is truly awe-inspiring. With unwavering dedication, Finns willingly embrace one of the highest tax rates, knowing that their government puts those funds to good use.
What struck me deeply was witnessing esteemed government officials seamlessly intermingling with everyday citizens. I observed their presence at our shared meals and witnessed their punctuality in attending to their official duties. Such interactions seemed second nature to the Finns, reflecting their inherent belief in equality and their unwavering commitment to serving the community. Whether we dined in the elegant confines of a hotel or engaged in conversations with the accommodating facilitators from Finland’s MFA, those who joined us exuded a genuine warmth and camaraderie, treating us as if we were their own.
Helsinki, like other European cities, boasts a collection of historic and elegant buildings. It’s a city where the past and present coexist harmoniously.
During one of my lunches at the charming restaurant Nokka, housed in a 200-year-old brick building near the Baltic Sea, I felt as if I had traveled through time. The anchor sign, crafted from metal, reminded me of its past as a harbor building. The black and white paintings adorning the walls depicted a leaping reindeer, a cuddly bear, and a fabric cleverly designed to resemble animal skin. Paired with wooden chairs, it truly created an ambiance of time travel.
Only the conversations and topics discussed reminded me that I was indeed in the year 2023.
However, there’s a notable aspect that cannot go unmentioned: the remarkable presence of women in Finland’s higher echelons of power. From esteemed officials to influential politicians and esteemed historians, it was the intellect and wealth of experience exuded by these accomplished women that left an indelible impression on me.
Among these inspiring individuals, I had the distinct privilege of meeting Laura Kolbe—a Finnish politician and esteemed professor of European history at the University of Helsinki.
Engaging in a captivating dialogue, I couldn’t resist asking her the question that had piqued my curiosity: “While I understand that Finland has never been a communist nation and was once under Russian rule, how is it that you still maintain Lenin’s statue?”
Her response, etched deeply in my memory, shed light on an intriguing facet of Finland’s history: “Indeed, we have never embraced communism, and Russia did colonize us. However, Lenin played a pivotal role in our fight for freedom, and we fought alongside Russia against the Nazis. Moreover, we maintained a strong diplomatic relationship until the Ukraine issue arose.”
Her words served as a poignant reminder of the importance of preserving history, even when it involves figures with controversial legacies. It was a profound moment that made me reflect on our own propensity back home to condemn the past by eradicating monuments and statues.
Gender mainstreaming has been a core principle in Finland since the 1980s, reflecting the country’s long-standing dedication to promoting and integrating gender equality. This commitment has earned Finland a remarkable second place in the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, a testament to its ongoing efforts to bridge gender disparities.
While complete gender parity remains elusive worldwide, the top 10 economies have made substantial strides, achieving at least an 80 percent reduction in gender inequalities. Leading the global ranking is Iceland, with an exceptional 90.8 percent gender parity, making it the sole nation to surpass the 90 percent milestone.
Finland closely follows with an impressive 86 percent gender parity, solidifying its position as a frontrunner in the pursuit of gender equality.
Education in Finland exemplifies accessibility and enjoyment. The nation has embraced the concept of proximity, ensuring that students need not venture far from their villages to attend school. Each village boasts schools catering to all academic stages, eliminating the need for arduous commutes. Moreover, the educational quality in Finland consistently ranks among the highest in the world.
Comprehensive schools in Finland witness near-universal completion rates within the designated timeframe, with minimal disparities in learning outcomes across different institutions. Pre-primary, comprehensive, and upper secondary education are offered free of charge, reflecting the nation’s commitment to providing equal opportunities for all.
Similarly, higher education institutions predominantly operate on a cost-free basis. This philosophy stems from the understanding that everyone, regardless of their family’s economic circumstances, should have equal access to high-quality education and the chance to become active contributors to society.
One particularly striking aspect of Finnish schools is the absence of physical boundaries, such as fences.
One particularly striking aspect of Finnish schools is the absence of physical boundaries, such as fences. Children are entrusted with the responsibility to gauge when they want to return home, fostering a sense of independence and self-reliance. Despite this freedom, the students rarely attempt to leave the school grounds, demonstrating their innate understanding of responsibility.
Traditional educational practices such as excessive homework, assignments, and rankings are not emphasized, allowing students ample time to socialize with peers and engage in activities that nourish their overall development. Additionally, the well-equipped and versatile school libraries provide a haven for students to explore their interests and passions.
Within these libraries, I had the pleasure of witnessing students actively participating in diverse activities like cooking, cleaning, and sewing. These practical exercises are seamlessly integrated into their education, providing them with valuable life skills and a holistic learning experience.
Notably, Finnish schools adopt a progressive approach to mobile phones, allowing high school students to bring their devices. Despite this leniency, the dynamic and engaging nature of the education system ensures that students are fully immersed in their studies and unlikely to be distracted by their phones.
The school corridors are adorned with vibrant and captivating paintings, creating a visually stimulating environment that fosters creativity and joy. These artistic displays contribute to the overall positive and inspiring atmosphere of Finnish schools, cultivating a sense of enthusiasm and open-mindedness among students. One can only imagine the level of creativity and open-mindedness cultivated in children who are not burdened by early morning bus rides and the stress of conformity within traditional school systems.
However, as the school principal Tapio Lahtero emphasized, it is important to acknowledge that differences may still exist among students. “Performance disparities between girls and boys may arise, as well as discrepancies between students from rural and urban areas. Rural students may face challenges in achieving equal outcomes compared to their urban counterparts. Additionally, students living in rental housing with their parents may achieve less compared to those with their own homes,”
Despite Finland’s seemingly relentless winter and cold climate, climate change remains a significant concern for the country. While one might assume that the chilly temperatures offer natural protection, the reality is that without adequate preparedness, people could be at risk of extreme cold-related hazards.
Understanding this, Finland maintains a constant state of alertness, ensuring that appropriate measures are in place to mitigate potential dangers. To accomplish this, the government has entrusted private companies with the responsibility of managing these preparations.
One organization is the National Emergency Supply Agency, which plays a crucial role in securing an ample stock of medical equipment, fossil fuel supplies, seeds, expert networks, and necessary financial resources.
Finnish citizens willingly and happily fulfill their tax obligations, recognizing the profound impact these contributions have on society.
The notion of “happy taxpayers” and the admirable spirit of the “happy taxpayers” is what drives these efforts. It reflects the understanding that taxes contribute to creating a comfortable welfare system that supports individuals throughout their lives and ensures a contented old age. Consequently, Finnish citizens willingly and happily fulfill their tax obligations, recognizing the profound impact these contributions have on society. In addition to regular taxes, a minimal surcharge is applied to fuel purchases (0.00068/liter) and electricity payments (0.00013/KW). Industries purchasing coal also contribute an additional tax of 1.18/ton.
As a journalist, I was deeply impressed by the level of press freedom in Finland. Reporters Without Borders highlights that Finland passed the world’s first law prohibiting censorship in 1766, during its time under Swedish rule. This longstanding commitment to upholding press freedom has established Finland as a beacon of journalistic integrity.
While Finland offers a wealth of enriching experiences, it is important to acknowledge that visiting the country can be costly. The allure of Finnish culture and attractions can sometimes feel tantalizingly out of reach, akin to admiring an exquisite but expensive perfume and go for the sample ones. However, even if one cannot fully indulge, there are still opportunities to savor a taste of what Finland has to offer.
In conclusion, the education system, the National Emergency Supply Agency’s disaster risk management initiatives, the citizen-centered taxation system, and the flourishing free press in Finland are all worthy of admiration.
The insights shared in this article only scratch the surface of the captivating experiences and lessons one can glean from Finland. It is my sincere hope that the bonds between Finland and Ethiopia continue to strengthen, and I strongly recommend that Ethiopian institutions explore opportunities to learn from Finland’s efficient systems and incorporate them into their own plans for progress.
Melkamsew Solomon is a journalist and communication specialist working especially on gender issues. The views expressed in this article are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the magazine.