The focus is currently on the north of Europe - Sweden and Finland are pushing into NATO. The "Scandinavian countries" are mentioned again and again. But does Finland even belong to Scandinavia? That's not easy to answer. A Northern Europe expert explains.
Since Sweden and Finland wanted to join NATO, there has been constant talk of the "Scandinavian countries" which could soon be part of the military alliance. In the case of Sweden, this assignment is undisputed, but what about Finland? Can it really be counted as part of Scandinavia? "There is no clear yes and no clear no," says Ralph Tuchtenhagen, Professor of Scandinavian Studies at the Institute for Northern Europe at the Humboldt University in Berlin, in an interview with ntv.de. "But Finland doesn't really belong to Scandinavia." just why?
The answer has many facets. About the geography. "There's the Scandinavian mountains on the one hand, and then there's Finland on the other," says Tuchtenhagen. While the mountain range defines the Scandinavian peninsula of the same name, its foothills only reach into northern Finland. However, there is a term that tries to connect Finland geographically anyway: Fennoscandia, a portmanteau of Finland and Scandinavia. "But that's more of a geographic construction."
Finland has a much closer connection to Scandinavia in other respects: "From the 12th century to 1809, Finland belonged to the Swedish Empire and did not even exist as a state or even as a Swedish province," explains the Northern Europe researcher. Due to this long phase, Finland is historically and culturally strongly influenced by Sweden. Developments such as the Reformation and Enlightenment were adopted. "In this respect, you could already see a connection to Scandinavia," says Tuchtenhagen.
Another criterion: the language. Denmark, for example, does not belong to Scandinavia either geographically, but it does because of its linguistic proximity and historical connection to Norway. In Finland, things are more complicated. Finnish is not closely related to the Germanic languages Swedish and Norwegian. However, there are similarities with Hungarian, but the exact relationship is unclear. Although Swedish is the official language in Finland, it is only spoken by about five percent of the population. "In terms of language, Finland is only a small part Scandinavian," said Tuchtenhagen.
But what about the genes? Aren't Swedes, Norwegians and Finns so closely related that they could be lumped together as "Scandinavians"? For a long time, Finns were also considered genetically related to Hungarians due to their linguistic proximity. "But according to genetic studies, that's complete nonsense," says Tuchtenhagen. "Finns have more in common genetically with Swedes and Russians." In the end, Finland is a mixed area like all European countries in terms of genes.
But what do the Finns themselves say? Would you count yourself in Scandinavia? The Northern Europe expert waves his hand: "No Finn would say today that we are Scandinavians." Nevertheless, there is a unifying identity: Finland sees itself as part of the "North", a self-designation that is very common in Northern Europe today. "Norwegians and Swedes also see themselves as part of it," says Tuchtenhagen.
The identity of the "North" developed from the 1950s and today includes Finland, Sweden and Norway as well as countries such as Denmark, Iceland and Greenland, according to the expert. This is also reflected in international institutions such as the Nordic Council, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Nordic Investment Bank. "Politicians in these countries keep emphasizing Nordic cooperation."
So if you want to classify Finland and Sweden together - as for example with regard to a possible NATO expansion - then the designation "Northern European countries" or "Northern Europe" would make sense, says the expert. "In any case, Finland shouldn't be called Scandinavian."
By the way: It is unclear where the term Scandinavia originally came from. The term "Scatinavia" first appeared in the 1st century by the Roman author Pliny the Elder - he still considered the area to be an island of "unknown size". "It wasn't until the 16th century that Scandinavia became established as a self-designation in the region," says Tuchtenhagen.
(This article was first published on Saturday, June 11, 2022.)