Many of you might not know this, but my little country Finland became the 2011 Icehockey World Champion yesterday, after 16 years of waiting for that title. Last time we won was in 1995, against Sweden, the arch nemesis – and yesterday our team killed the Swedes again, 6-1. Winning is a huge thing, but winning against Sweden makes it much bigger. Beating Sweden is the same for us as beating a colonial power, and it is a big thing. Big, big thing.
I have been reading the news and looking at pictures from Finland, taken yesterday at the various celebrations that were going on around the country, especially in Helsinki. Happy (and drunk) people, celebrating together, singing, dancing, hugging each other. Those who know anything about the Finnish culture understand how unnatural this is for us. We are not touchy-feely-people. We don’t hug strangers. Normally, we don’t really talk to strangers or even look at them. But yesterday, it didn’t matter who the person next to you was or if you knew them, it didn’t matter what party they had voted or what they were wearing (and actually, based on some pictures, many weren’t really wearing anything..) – everyone came together to celebrate, as Finns, as one people.
This same phenomenon happens in countries when there is a shared threat, whether man made or natural. In the U.S. people came together after 9/11. People have come together in the face of the hurricanes in the south, or floods around the Mississippi river. Political party lines vanish, skin color doesn’t matter, socio-economic background becomes irrelevant, because some events just do not care about political affiliation or income level. Hurricanes, terrorism and other similar threats and catastrophes affect everyone in the same way, and when something like that happens, the country becomes one, for a brief moment. Everyone has to fight the same enemy, and people realize that it cannot be done from separate sides. The only way to pull through is to work together.
In the time of partisanship, both in my adopted country U.S. and my native country Finland, seeing these moments of unity give me some hope. At the same time, I know that the very notion of “one country, one nation” can so easily be twisted to mean something very different and used as a justification for extreme nationalist agenda, which has been happening in Finland lately. We come together when we have something to celebrate, or when we have something to fear – otherwise, I feel we are drifting more and more apart, into smaller groups positioned against each other. The moment of unity is often short lived, and we quickly return back to our own camps once the euphoria of the victory has passed or the damage of the hurricane has been fixed. We forget, very fast and very easily. And it takes another catastrophe or another huge victory to bring us back together again.
Different ideas and opinions and a variety of thoughts and approaches are a richness, but the direction my countries – both of them – have recently taken is mostly scary to me. There is no common ground anymore, and it has become a matter of “us versus them”, whether “them” is another political party, terrorists, immigrants or anyone who disagrees with what “we” think – and this way of thinking is pulling countries apart. I wish we could find a way to come together, to have a dialogue, to realize that in order for us to improve and develop our countries to the better, we need to be able to find some common ground again – and I wish we could find a way to do this without a sports victory or a huge catastrophe.