“Traditional Finnish-Hungarian relations have been important not only in terms of culture and cultural exchange but it has also had a very big impact on economic, political and social life.” This according to the Ambassador of Finland to Hungary, Petri Tuomi-Nikula who talks to Diplomacy&Trade on the occasion of his country celebrating the 100th anniversary of its independence.
Ambassador Tuomi-Nikula arrived in Hungary almost two years ago. In the previous five years, he was his country’s ambassador in Italy. As to his objectives as the new Finnish ambassador here, he says he put a strong emphasis on economic and cultural ties. Regarding culture, “the special relations between Finland and Hungary are based on the proximity of language roots. The two peoples traditionally see each other as relatives. It is something very important for me. Even before I came here, I heard stories about people questioning the Finno-Ugrian origins of the Hungarian people and therefore, their kinship with the Finns. This supposition is quite shocking as the relationship between the Finnish and Hungarian languages is a scientific fact for everyone who knows a little about languages. Claiming anything different falls into the category of political comment. It has been one of my missions to emphasize and highlight the traditional, old Finnish-Hungarian relationship, which has been so important for both countries and both peoples in the past two hundred years or so, not only in terms of culture and cultural exchange but it has also had a very big impact on economic, political and social life.”
Sentiments attract capital
As an example, the Ambassador mentions that after the change of the political system in Hungary in 1988-90, Finland became one of the biggest investors in this country, which continued for many years. There were years when Nokia and Elcoteq were the biggest exporters from Hungary. “I talked to the owner of Elcoteq, Antti Piippo and he said that he chose Hungary as the venue of investment because of this special relationship, although, the business environment in other countries of the region was basically the same. He stressed that ‘somehow, it is so easy to get along with Hungarians’. This decision alone brought investments worth EUR billions to Hungary and it was based purely on a deep, warm sentiment among Finns towards Hungarians. And there are many examples like that: over 60% of Finnish investments to East Central Europe came to Hungary.”
When it comes to politics, the Ambassador recalls a moment of history that illustrates the special relationship in a very clear way. “It was in 1939 when Hungary was the only country in this part of Europe that was willing and actually able to send troops to help Finland in the Winter War against the Soviet Union. Why? Again, the answer lies in this special relationship.”
On the social side, he mentions that “it is unbelievable how many Finnish-Hungarian marriages there are, how many Hungarians are living in Finland. Interestingly enough, Hungarians in Finland have a real impact on the classical music life in the country. One fine example is the Bogányi family. Our December 3 anniversary concert at the Music Academy features as the maestro Tibor Bogányi who spent his childhood and youth in Finland.”
The centennial concert is just one of the many events that will be held in Hungary to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence. “Altogether, there are and will be around 200 events (mainly concerts and exhibitions) throughout Hungary. We are happy to see Hungarian cities and towns as part of the celebrations as choirs, orchestras and publishing houses include something Finnish in their programs. For instance, the Hungarian Radio choir had a wonderful concert dedicated to Finland. This November, the MÁV orchestra and the Pannónia orchestra also had concerts dedicated to my country. It is especially between December 3 and 6 that a lot of things are about Finland: the Elizabeth Bridge will be illuminated in the Finnish national colors of blue and white.” The program the Ambassador particularly enjoyed was the one where people were encouraged to run, bike and Nordic walk 100 kilometers for the 100-year-old Finland, organized by the Hungarian Leisure Sport Association. “It was wonderful to see hundreds of Nordic walkers here in May – all in blue and white.”
Find your relative in Finland!
The first world congress of Finno-Ugrian peoples was held 25 years ago, on December 1, 1992. That reminds the Ambassador that “even when I was in Hungary before this current assignment of mine, I always had a very strong feeling of being treated better than other foreigners. When I asked Hungarians who visited Finland, they said exactly the same: Hungarians are treated better than other nationals in Finland. I think it is a very important heritage that we can pass on to our children.”
He also mentions a special mobile phone application that is to foster friendship between the Finnish and Hungarian people. “We keep saying that Finns and Hungarians are relatives. We can prove it with the app ‘Find your relative in Finland’, developed by Nokia. The application will ask to take a photo of you, uploads it into a database and then looks for people with similar facial characteristics to find your ‘relative’, the one who looks the most like you, among people who use this app in the other country. Of course, the opportunity is there to establish contact with that person if you wish. We hope that technically-minded people, especially the younger generation, will download and use this application. The basic idea here is, of course, to underline, highlight – and reinforce the interest in – the proximity of languages and cultures between the two peoples.”
As for Finnish-Hungarian political relations, “our common ground, common framework, the place where we are working together is, of course, the European Union. Our ministers meet every month in different kinds of council meetings in Brussels or elsewhere. This is the place where Finland and Hungary are very often allies in several issues. There are also issues where we don’t have the same or even similar view but this is normal as all countries seek ways to best enforce their interests. There are regular visits between the parliaments of the two countries – this exchange is very lively. On ministerial level, the Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade was in Finland this February while the Finnish Foreign Trade Minister was just here in Budapest in November,” the Ambassador explains.
According to the latest figures of bilateral trade available (2016), Finnish imports from Hungary to Finland amounted to EUR 299.8 million while Finnish exports to Hungary were EUR 228.9 million. Where the Ambassador sees room for improvement in business relations is in the fields of green economy: energy and e-mobility. “Finnish companies have been able to come up with great solutions in district heating, for instance and some of these were presented at the Nordic Green Light Forum in Budapest this spring. Of course, Finnish companies are also interested in the opportunities offered by the construction of the planned nuclear blocks in Hungary, the Paks-II project: our firms can offer processes, services and technologies. A similar reactor is to be built by the Russians in Finland (at Pyhäjoki) Therefore, cooperation in third countries is also a possibility. In addition, more and more Finnish companies bring their research and development activities to Hungary. In fact, currently, the biggest R&D center in this country is run by Nokia Networks in Budapest with some 2,200 people working there. Another Finnish firm, Neste is about to start their R&D center here.” As the Ambassador puts it, “Nokia used to exploit Hungarian hands in its mobile phone factory and now it ‘exploits’ Hungarian minds, which carries a lot more added value.”
There are some 70 Finnish companies in Hungary with about 4,000 employees. The largest investor is Nokia. “Once Finnish companies establish themselves here, it takes certain time for them to get used to the conditions. What I hear is that by and large, they are happy with the business environment. Actually, it is very simple: if the business environment is not good, they leave the country. Once Nokia and Elcoteq employed about 8,000 people each. However, money talks and the managers are responsible to their shareholders. We used to have many more Finnish companies but many have left for various reasons: sometimes it did not have to do anything with Hungary, while in other cases it did very much, indeed,” Ambassador Tuomi-Nikula points out.
He forecasts that “one firm that will be big in Hungary is Fortum. This Finnish energy giant is getting at least 46% ownership in the German energy company Uniper from E.ON in an EUR 8 billion deal and through this, Fortum will appear in Hungary, too.” He also mentions Profile Vehicles, a company from eastern Finland building ambulance cars in Hungary, just east of Budapest.
Every year, there are quite a number of Finnish books published in Hungarian. There is an extensive system to support the translation and publication of these books. “Even so, without the interest of readers in Hungary, the publishing houses would not take any of them. Another cultural aspect is music. Hungary has been extremely important for Finnish classical music for the past 35-40 years. In the 1980s, the Communist government allowed Hungarian musicians and music teachers to go to Finland and many Hungarians, like the Bogányi family, took the opportunity. Even the present Finnish Minister of Education thinks warmly of Hungarians as she had a Hungarian music teacher when she was a student.”
The Finnish Embassy in Budapest supports technical education for girls in Hungary, applying some good practices they have back in Finland. “Finland is one of the leading countries in gender equality and it is a very important issue to us. We believe that investing in the skills of girls and young women benefits the entire society. Promoting the rights of women and girls has always been one of our key priorities in Finland and worldwide. This has also been emphasized during the Centennial celebration and we have endeavored to share some of our best practices. We have found a very good local partner to implement the program in Hungary: the Technology in Education Foundation whose flagship project ‘Skool’ provides free technology training for 8-18-year-old girls. This program will be continued after the Centennial year, as well since it has been a huge success. Not only is it beneficial for the participants but it is also a good way to make Finnish knowledge in computer sciences known,” Ambassador Tuomi-Nikula concludes.
Visitors and settlers
There are several Hungarian-Finnish friendship associations throughout Hungary. “Again, these are the results of the special relations between the two peoples,” Ambassador Tuomi-Nikula stresses. He adds that “there must be about 40 cities or towns in Finland that have sister city relations with towns in Hungary – a huge number and there are more to come all the time. This is the part of civil society that we appreciate very much. It happens many times that members of a sister city delegation are also seeking business opportunities. In Hungary, there are vineyard owners from all over the world and among them Finns, as well. For instance, the gentleman who was responsible for building the first Elcoteq factory in Pécs, and was also the first CEO of the company, has two or three vineyards in Hungary and sells his produce in a wine shop in Budapest.”
The village of Geresdlak, near Pécs, is a special chapter in Finnish-Hungarian relations. “It is a strange phenomenon that Finns got together and bought houses in the same Hungarian village. Actually, the mayor has been very clever in the way he is marketing it as a ‘Finnish village’. It has also been a place with a very strong German presence for the past two centuries. A young lady has recently made a social linguistic study about how the Finns, Germans and Hungarians live together in Geresdlak, influencing each other, their languages and their habits,” the Ambassador says, highlighting the phenomenon that Finnish families – as they would do in Finland – take a walk in the evening. As the researcher found Hungarians living in the village have now also taken up this habit…