Top-10 Most Important Finns
Alright, now that I’ve listed my favorite Germans it was time to list who I think are the most significant Finnish persons in history. This was a little harder than I expected because I ended up dropping so many potential candidates but I’m now personally happy with the list. But I do think that a few of the rejected choices deserve an honorable mention, namely Aleksis Kivi the author of the first significant Finnish novel and all three Finnish Formula One champions: Keke Rosberg, Mika Häkkinen and Kimi Räikkönen.
Now on with the list…
10. Mikael Agricola
No list of significant Finns would be complete without scholar and clergyman Mikael Agricola. The man effectively became the first man to write Finnish, using Swedish, English, German and Latin as a basis for the written forms of the language created the very first Finnish school-books and translated the New Testament.
Although Agricola’s spelling style has since evolved to a more coherent one, it’s notable that 60 per cent of the Finnish words Agricola committed to paper remain intact to this day.
9. Tarja Halonen
Elected in 2000, Tarja Halonen, long-term active in the Social Democratic Party of Finland, became Finland’s first female president. Some of you foreign types may also remember her for the whole ado over her supposed similarity to Conan O’Brien which lead to a highly publicized visit by the red-haired talk-show host into our country.
Halonen may have not achieved much during her time as president (except donate yet another easy presidential impression into the arsenal of Finland’s comedians) but in 2006 she was still popular enough to be voted on for a second term which will finally end in 2012.
8. Johan Ludwig Runeberg
One of Finland’s earliest notable authors and our national poet. Though actually a Swedish-Finn, also a vehement Fennoman (supporter of Finnish culture under Russian rule). Runeberg is best remembered for the literary figure of the good-willed but simple-minded Ensign Ståhl, but more importantly the prologue poem of said character’s feature novel would later be translated and composed into a full song called Maamme, Finland’s National Anthem.
He is also the name-sake of a delicious, diabetes-enducing pastry (Runebergintorttu) which is widely available during the month leading up to his birthday, February 5 or Runeberg’s Day.
7. Tove Jansson
The creator of the Moomins. Jansson was inspired to write the original Moomin books based on scary stories of a “Moo-troll” that lived in her basement she heard as a child. Later the Moomin comics became particularly popular, not just those published in Finland but those Jansson wrote for a London news-paper.
Also one of our countries most famous lesbians, she was a thoroughly inspirational person. Even though the Moomins have had the living fuck commercialised from them Jansson kept strict reins on what products got the Moomin treatment (and for instance openly rejected a suggestion of creating a line Moomin-brand condoms).
6. Jean Sibelius
I think fans of classical music will instantly recognise Finland’s most renowned composer. Born Janne, he adopted the French name Jean from his uncle. Sibelius composed several great pieces of music all through his life and well into old age.
Naturally Finlandia is his best known piece. I will always remember it as the opening theme for the 1955 film adaption of the Unknown Soldier (Tuntematon Sotilas), but it’s been used in a number of later films (particularly by one Renny Harlin).
I love the man’s compositions as they all have power and character, yet are pleasing to the ear. The man is right up there with my other favorites like Mozart, Beethoven and Bach.
5. Pertti “Spede” Pasanen
The father of the modern Finnish comedy as well as Finnish television sketch comedy. Any way you slice it, Spede was one of the greats. The man had an endless supply of ideas, knew what made people laugh and always stuck to his guns, even when it wasn’t necessarily in his best interest. Spede’s best movies were definitely made following his breakthrough in the 1960s and he made some decent efforts since but the 1970s stand out as a particular creative hick-up in his career.
Then again, the man pushed out movies on an annual basis so it’s only natural that a large percentage of it wound up being quickly put-together crap, but there are some real gems in the collection especially Näköradiomiehen Ihmeelliset Siekailut, Pähkähullu Suomi, Uuno Turhapuro Armeijan Leivissä and even the very obviously 70s referencing Koeputkiaikuinen ja Simon Enkelit.
4. Minna Canth
The first famous female playwriter, a single mother and someone who never gave in when going got tough. Minna Canth is the inspiration of many and her plays got their inspiration from the disparagingly poor rights of women during the late 1800s. She was essentially Finland’s first feminist.
Also my sister is named after her and she’s gonna beat the snot out of me if I don’t put her on this list. I’m just kidding, I actually read Papin perhe (The Pastor’s Family) and thought it was really good. Her best known plays however are obviously Työmiehen Vaimo (The Working Man’s Wife) and Anna Liisa.
Minna Canth’s Day is on March 19.
3. Urho Kaleva Kekkonen
Finland’s longest-serving president. Kekkonen became president four times over and kept Finland in good relations with the USSR during the politically sensitive time of the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Kekkonen ruled for over a decade and this made him perhaps one of the best remembered and most powerful men in the history of Finland. Kekkonen was elected through regular means of the day the first time (a parliamentary vote) but was swiftly put into power for a second term with emergency powers in 1969, following a particularly nasty period when Norway and Russia weren’t exactly buddy-buddy and the Soviets took Czechoslovakia for themselves.
Having served two terms successfully Kekkonen got re-elected by popular vote for the third time. When that term came to an end no party was willing to put a candidate against him and Kekkonen went on to rule a fourth term which was eventually cut short by his failing health and mental capacities. He was finally forced to step down in 1982 and passed away four years later.
2. Renny Harlin
The first Finnish director to make it big in Hollywood, Harlin’s first American film was a so-and-so entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. The man finally hit big with Die Hard 2 in the early 90s and the sky was the limit as far as he was concerned, but the disastrous box-office flop of Cutthroat Island a few years down the line turned Harlin into an instant has-been.
Still the man continues to make big bucks from his movies and has directed some positive gems like the aforementioned Die Hard 2, the excellent Stallone thriller Cliffhanger and the violently pleasing island-mystery Mindhunters. Even the man’s Exorcist prequel wasn’t nearly as bad as it was made out to be but admittedly it wasn’ one of his best movies. And for any killer shark fans, Deep Blue Sea is a must-see.
1. Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
Mannerheim’s importance to Finland can’t be understated, ever. Having already served a 30-year long career in Russia’s Imperial Army (which included the first major exploration and research trip to Asia by a Finn), when Finland vouched for its independence in 1917, Mannerheim became regent and helped write the Finnish constitution. His expertise later lead him to build Finland’s military and the man tried to repair his somewhat soiled reputation in the Finnish Civil War by founding the Mannerheim Society of Child Welfare (designed to help children orphaned in the war).
But of course Mannerheim became most famous for leading Finland’s forces during World War II or in Finland’s case the Winter War of 1939-1940 and the Continuation War of 1941-1944. Though Mannerheim was a brilliant strategist he was a poor delegator which showed especially during the much more complex offensive campaign of the Continuation War and caused some severe losses for Finnish soldiers. Mannerheim’s bigger achievement was perhaps in keeping good relations with Nazi Germany without actually making Finland a full ally and only belligerent in the fight against the Soviets.
Never the less, Hitler made a secret visit to Finland on Mannerheim’s birthday which resulted in one of the only recordings of his voice while not in 100% Hitler-speech mode. He served a short and insignificant term as President between 1944 and 1946. Afterwards, he stayed out of the public eye and out of Finland for many years until passing away in 1951.