Step 1 – Finland

July 13, 2017

Yesterday, we said good-bye to Finland, this vast and flat country, and to its people, discreet yet so
welcoming when you just dig a little. Many times, people have asked what we were expecting to find in
Finland apart from sweet blond faces.

The interfaith background

These same people would be very surprise to learn how these not-so- blond-all- the-time people work and
inspire each other to create a society that is inclusive of all the identities yet respectful of its own heritage
and traditions. Finland, because of its geographical situation, has never been an immigration haven like most
western countries have. Finland is not so easily accessible and its temperatures are quite discouraging
because of the living conditions they come with. Therefore, the cultural intermingling is quite relative
compared to the rest of Europe: the majority of the Finnish people is Lutheran (branch of Protestantism) –
moreover, the Lutheran Church is the only one to benefit from a taxation system on its worshippers and a
financial redistribution to its members. The biggest minority are the orthodox Christians even though they
only represent 1.6% of the population, followed by the fastest growing communities: Muslims and Catholics
that respectively gather 50 000 and 15 000 worshippers. Jews and Tatars (Muslim minority originally from
Russia) were the first ever minorities to establish in Finland notably at the beginning of the 20 th century.

The educational system

In spite of the rather monolithic pattern of the Finnish society, the country has always tried its best to be
inclusive of all 80 nationalities it counts. The educational system is a reflection of this mentality: in primary
school, children are introduced to Finland’s cultural and religious background (customs and practices,
festivities etc.). In middle school, teens get to choose a course related to their family’s religious traditions. It
only takes three students of the same denomination to ask for a specific class, hence the diversity of classes
depending on the cultural mix in each school. However, it is very difficult to find qualified teachers for the
smallest minorities. Children of atheist or agnostic belief have introductive courses to philosophy and ethics.
However, these courses aim to concentrate on facts rather than educate kids to the art of prayer or anything
religiously based. In high school, those soon-to- be adults are given discussion spaces in which they can
debate on religion in the public sphere as well as in our modern societies in general.

Debates regarding education

The separation that middle schools impose is now at the heart of many debates. Secular groups would
rather have classes that gather all students than one that divides them. Another group that gathers religious
communities as well as “free-thinkers” (mainly atheists) refuse their children to have general courses all
together: some religious people wish the class to concentrate only on the specificities’ of each student’s
origin and religion, and some atheists refuse their children to be in contact with anything religiously based.
Therefore, the dialogue can appear tensed between religious communities and “Free-thinkers” groups that
wish to distance the society from religion. Every person we have interviewed has agreed to say that
interfaith initiatives have rather failed to include atheists and agnostics in their workshops. There is a lot to
be done to reconcile a certain part of the population with religions. Though over 90% of the Finnish
population in Lutheran, 60% of them consider themselves as atheists or agnostics.
Finland has given us a beautiful insight into the Finnish society and its vision of education that clearly
contrasts with the one we have in France and offers sustainable solutions for a more inclusive and appeased
society.
See you soon Finland. Next step: Estonia

Béné