A Silver Lining in the Covid Crisis: The Blessing of Being Finnish
86 per cent of Finnish citizens feel that it is both a blessing and a privilege to be Finnish. This share is exceptionally large. In Finnish attitudes, similar levels have previously been recorded in the 1980s. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, Finns appreciate the competence of their government, and the safety ensued, writes Ilkka Haavisto, Head of Research at Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA.
The COVID-19 crisis has in many ways been a trying time for both Finland and its citizens. Human lives have been prematurely lost, a sense of societal safety has been breached. The exceptional countermeasures have stirred up the plans and routines of all Finns, plummeted the economy, and struck a dent of uncertainty onto the finances and livelihoods of most. Nevertheless, despite the troubled times, the appreciation felt by Finnish citizens towards their nationality has not faltered in its ascent. As many as 86 per cent of Finns feel that it is both a blessing and a privilege to be of Finnish nationality (Figure 1), and practically no one disagrees (4 %). Furthermore, the share of those satisfied with their Finnish citizenship has now increased for three consecutive polls. The values expressed during the COVID-19 crisis are especially noteworthy, as the share of Finns strongly agreeing with the notion has grown by 14 percentage points from the last poll.
Prior to this, Finns valued their nationality at a declining rate for ten consecutive years. Today, Finnish citizens are practically unanimous about their fortunate situation, with over 90 per cent of women believe that being Finnish is a privilege.
Over the course of EVA’s values and attitudes survey’s history, the result is exceptional. Data from the past 30 years of studies indicate, that appreciation for a Finnish nationality has mostly fluctuated with the development and state of the economy. In times of economic downturn, appreciation has followed suit.[i]
The result is exceptional.
Exceptionally, during the pandemic, gratitude for a Finnish nationality grew, despite the economy nose-diving.
The results do not reflect unawareness of the poor prospects of the economy at the time of polling. In fact, the same Values and Attitudes Survey shows Finns expressing widespread concern over the future of the economy. Similarly, the trend of Finns conveying heightened appreciation for economic growth when facing a recession also saw an increase.[ii]
It has been worth being Finnish during COVID-19
The exceptional result ought to stem from Finnish citizens’ sincerely honest appreciation for their society amidst COVID-19. The actions of Finnish public officials and public servants were relatively fast, stern, and consistent, quickly gaining the citizens’ trust and support.[iii] Nonetheless, the real heroes were the citizens themselves. Restrictions were followed in an orderly manner, and the transition to working or going to school from home – for those it was possible for – took place swiftly and without complications.
In hindsight, as Finland has thus far been successful in containing and preventing the spread of the virus, being Finnish has been a lucky strike. In Sweden and France, the pandemic has claimed over seven times as many casualties relative to the population size of Finland. In the Netherlands, the corresponding multiplier is six. In Italy and Spain, the death toll is over ten-fold compared to Finland, and the United Kingdom and Belgium surpass even that. The only neighbouring countries to marginally beat Finland in how well they managed to contain the pandemic, are the Baltic states and Norway. [iv]
Anxiety over security (explains attitudes)
Yet, the figures above were not available at the time of polling. Finns simply trusted Finland to be a special place, with an ability to survive.
How the survey was conducted
The results are based on responses provided by 2060 persons in Finland. The margin of error of the results, at the level of the entire population, amounts to 2–3 percentage points in either direction. The data was gathered between 26 March and 3 April 2020. The respondents represented the population of the entire country in the age bracket of 18 through 70. The data was gathered via the Taloustutkimus internet panel and weighted to represent the population based on age, gender, place of residence, education, profession or position, industry and political party affiliation. EVA’s Values and Attitudes Surveys has been conducted since 1984.
To find a similarly striking result, one must look as far back as the mid-1980s. The image of Finland as a societal Eden suffered heavy setbacks during the deep recession of the early 1990s, and despite the Finnish self-image slowly making a comeback in the early years of the new millennia, national pride never quite returned to its former self. Finland had opened itself up to the world, and as a result, its self-evident uniqueness became less self-evident. Life was good elsewhere too – and even better in some places.
A plausible explanation for the recent trend of appreciation for the Finnish nationality may well be found in sense of security. Of late, the world has taken a turn towards instability, exemplified by increased acts of terrorism, Russian involvement in Ukraine, heightened tensions between superpowers, the refugee crisis, and the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. Like with the pandemic at hand, Finland has managed to come out the other side of these issues with relatively few scars.
Future developments in Finnish attitudes may well be governed by the magnitude of the recession left behind by the pandemic and how Finland deals with it. The doors to a closed-up 1980s Finland are shut., and if Finland is to recover its economy and manoeuvre its public financing towards balance, politically difficult changes are most likely ahead. Whether successful or not, these changes may very well be the defining factors in the evolution of how Finns see themselves.
[i] See. Haavisto (2016), pp. 5–8.
[ii] For more specific views on economic standpoints, see. Metelinen (2020).
[iii] See. Haavisto (2020).
Haavisto, I. (2020) A Political Anomaly, EVA Analysis No 83, Elinkeinoelämän valtuuskunta EVA.
Haavisto, I. (2016) Onnellinen Suomi, EVA Arvio No 8, Elinkeinoelämän valtuuskunta EVA.
Metelinen, S. (2020) Sisukkaina savottaan, EVA Analyysi No 82, Elinkeinoelämän valtuuskunta EVA.