Monday August 8, 2022 – La Minute Monocle

Opinion / Jaakko Tapaninen

good neighbors

When I grew up in Finland during the pre-meme and pre-screen days, the most popular jokes were about Nordic people. The punchline was not always about a single nation. What was fun were the stereotypes that exposed small but often telling differences in thought and behavior between groups of people who would readily acknowledge their many similarities. We have defined ourselves in opposition to the world – as neutral and northern. In other words, we felt we posed no threat to anyone (especially the Soviet Union), yet we had (Western) values. We belonged to the West without bloc membership to prove it.

This ambiguous status changed significantly when Finland joined the EU in 1995 and again when Russia attacked Ukraine in 2022. We Finns and Swedes are now knocking together on NATO’s door. Norway, Denmark and Iceland have been members of the alliance since its inception. While EU membership has replaced Finnish distance with an emphasis on finally feeling like Europeans (although in a sense this has always been the case), Russian aggression against the Ukraine and subsequent talks with NATO have caused Finland to focus on its close neighbours, especially Sweden.

When the going gets tough – in everyday life as well as in global geopolitics – you lean into the practicalities of defending yourself, your closest friends, and your allies. The Nordic countries are a family. And like any sometimes dysfunctional family, we know each other, for better or for worse. We’ve been allies, foes, and kingdoms in various combinations over the centuries, but ultimately we’ve built societies that look alike. Joining NATO could be a game-changer by bringing the Nordic countries even closer together. And not just the traditional Nordic countries – Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland – but also the Baltic countries, especially Estonia, which are increasingly part of the team.

Jaakko Tapaninen is a Finnish writer, journalist and founder of strategy and content consultancy Great Point. This column is an excerpt from an essay in ‘The Monocle Companion’, our first paperback. Pick up a copy at select newsstands and bookstores today, or online at The Monocle Shop.

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