Norway and Finland are only Sweden’s satellites

Past Xander BrettTravel editor

The Croft Magazine // Traveling as a student on both sides of the Nordic superpower, it is clear that obedience remains even in independence.

Last month I ended up in Estonia: a small country that, now that I will think about it, is not so different from Slovenia in the … which I have also had the pleasure of visiting (truly one of Europe’s hidden gems). Well, to extend that journey, I took a ferry from , across the water to Helsinki, to record an episode of my Nordic podcast. is the Nordic mainland, geographically linked to , but is kept apart by its status as a republic and its use of the single .

Finland’s centuries of occupation have left the country with a decidedly independent culture, but one that feels it can only survive when it is part of a collective. Finland was part of the 1809-1917 and before that it was an outpost to Sweden. Its famous writers and composers, its upper class, and its communities on the western “Moomin coast”, still speak Swedish, together with the semi-autonomous territory of Åland, halfway to Sweden, but connected to the Finnish mainland by a rough expansion of the Turku archipelago.

Sailing in the Nordics | Epigram / Xander Brett

It was in Norway, 2012, that I fell in love with the Nordics. In Tvedestrand, on the south coast, I was whipped by boat around the summer islands, stopped only for aquavit, dried lamb with sour and smoked salmon with pickled herring. Later, in 2016, I traveled north from Bergen, through the Jølster mountains to Førde, to research an essay. This country, 117 years after their union dissolution, still feels like a bad substitute for the powerful Sweden next door.

Norway broke away from in 1814, only to be handed over to Sweden, which would rule until independence in 1905, when the Norwegian people voted 79 percent to take over a Danish prince to serve as their head of state (his grandson is now on the throne) . Norway has stayed out of the EU and does much of the 10,000 Swedes who are forced to live and work here in their processing plants. Its oil wealth, which makes it one of the world’s richest nations, is also a source of pride … as is its status as the world’s most successful country in the Winter Olympics (which beat, more importantly, Sweden). But there is still a political inferiority complex … an idea that, as a nation with half the population, it is Sweden’s task to govern the region, and Norway is in third place after Sweden and its junior partners: Denmark.

Suomenlinna in the Helsinki archipelago | Epigram / Xander Brett

There are similar feelings in Finland, a country that in the 20th century played the violin for the Soviet Union (just to avoid occupation) and which now in Europe largely keeps pace with its neighbors. Last summer, after living in Stockholm for a month (and traveling all over Sweden), I traveled through Åland (only full of snakes and forests) to Turku, took a bus north to Pori and a train south through Tampere and to Helsinki airport (flying home the next day).

Just a short trip north, in the undergrowth of Finland’s confused geographical and cultural landscape, my expectations were quickly confirmed. There is nothing here. The Finns have Nokia (the city was actually one of the train stops), Moomin and cold long drinks with sauna. I have grown to love Finland, and to accept that it is nothing but a BTEC Sweden. Because that’s what they’ve decided to be. And to be honest, who can blame them? Sweden is a real country, with a population of ten million people. Norway and Finland have half (, Denmark’s colony until 1944, has less than a tenth). The Swedes and I therefore think it is right that these countries, even in independence, obey the only true Nordic power. And they seem to agree.

Selected image: Epigram / Xander Brett


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