Since 1917, Finland has gone from an agrarian backwoods to the world's best. From music to art to saunas, Finland has made major contributions to culture in the 100 years since its independence.
The best quality of life in the EU. World's Best Country for Human Capital. The most stable country in the world. Cleanest air. Second best country for mothers. Second happiest nation on earth. Second place on the Good Country Index in 2014.
Finland has racked up its share of distinctions over the last decade, ranking at or near the top of numerous surveys for its gender equality, public education system, press freedom and quality of life.
That success hasn't come without a fight. When Finland declared independence from the Grand Duchy of Russia, officially on December 6, 1917, a civil war broke out that, although quickly over, continued to divide the country for decades.
After independence, the young nation began a series of reforms that helped to make Finland what it is today. A series of clinics were opened in the 1920s to look after the health of children and new mothers. Education as a right for all was implemented. Land reforms gave citizens without their own acreage a plot of land as a means of doing away with a divisive class system.
Although the reforms stalled at the beginning of World War II as the country fought off the Soviet Union in what is known as the Winter War from 1939-1940, Finland remained independent — and true to its original ideals.
Those ideals have helped create one of the best-educated, gender-equal countries in the world. They've also paved the way for the country of less than six million inhabitants to have an outsized influence on modern culture, especially in Europe. Many of these cultural contributions that have made their way to Europe and North America are a direct result of the country's politics.
With a focus on inclusive, state-funded basic education that lasts at least nine years, Finland has become a country that all others look to as a role model.
It's also helped turn the agrarian backwater into an economic powerhouse, ranked as one of the best places for technology firms to do business due to its citizens' technical know-how. The computer operating system Linux was invented there, as was the original Nokia mobile phone and the wildly popular video game Angry Birds.
A further emphasis on music education has meant that Finland has given classical music a number of the best conductors and composers working today. It's also - somewhat surprisingly - been a boon to the heavy metal and hard rock scene, with lesser-known bands like Hanoi Rocks providing inspiration for Guns N' Roses.
The gay community has likewise drawn inspiration from Finland, with the sketches of ground-breaking artist Touko Laaksonen, who called himself "Tom of Finland." His homoerotic drawings featured muscular men in various stages of undress and clad in fetish gear. The art was boundary-pushing in the 1950s and 60s and led to attempts to censor it in the US. The drawings, which have become standard in the gay community, are now part of modern art collections in the US and UK.
Proud of its cultural heritage, Finland has created a centenary program filled with events and exhibitions that highlight the contributions of its citizens, including that of "Tom of Finland." A documentary focusing on Laaksonen's life and work was released in early 2017 and is showing across Europe throughout the year. As well, there is an exhibition of his work taking place in Berlin and Turku as well as a musical in the southwestern city in Finland.
A year of celebrations
Tom of Finland isn't the only artist getting special attention in 2017. An exhibition of works by Finnish artists including Helene Schjerfbeck — known as the Anteneum Collection — made its way across the country as part of the centenary program.
Although the official day marking independence is December 6, the anniversary was celebrated across the country and different exhibitions focusing on Finnish culture were held around the world throughout the year.