A mission for 100-year-old Finland

The programme for the centenary celebrations and its phenomenal scale did not come about by accident. They stemmed from ambitious objectives, a huge amount of determined work by enthusiastic people, and successful choices.

The significance of the centenary of Finland’s independence as a national milestone was recognised well before planning for the celebrations began. Finland has traditionally celebrated round-year anniversaries of the country’s independence more formally than other anniversaries. The 50th anniversary of Finland’s independence in 1967 and the 75th anniversary in 1992, in particular, were widely celebrated.

Preparations for Finland’s 100th anniversary began in 2011, when the Prime Minister’s Office set up a working group to plan the centenary celebrations. The working group submitted its report in 2012. The working group wanted the celebrations to focus not only on Finland’s history but also on the future and to emphasise the public’s contribution.

The Prime Minister’s Office launched the official Finland 100 project in 2013. The Finland 100 project team was tasked with planning compelling and exciting celebrations that emphasise Finnish democracy, the inviolability of human dignity, and the freedom and rights of individuals, and promote fairness and openness in society. The programme was to educate the public about Finland’s road to independence, what it means to be Finnish in today’s world, and the nation’s future.

Parties and events alone would not be enough, so instead the aim was to bring about more tangible, perhaps permanent changes in Finnish society. The choice of a wider approach compared to previous anniversaries also raised the expectations to a new level. The goals set for the Finland 100 project were diverse and ambitious.

The organisational structure created for the project was also different from previous years. A multidisciplinary Finland 100 Commission pooled together the most important non-governmental organisations, in addition to which there was also a smaller Finland 100 Board. The Board members worked closely together and acted as experts who oversaw the planning process. A completely separate organisation consisting of a Secretariat led by a Secretary-General was set up by the Prime Minister’s Office to coordinate the planning process and the implementation of the centenary programme.

Appropriations were allocated to the planning and implementation of the celebrations from the government budget. EUR 5 million was initially earmarked for the planning stage between 2011 and 2014. The strategy and objectives of the Finland 100 project were approved towards the end of 2014, and the total budget for the years 2013–2018 was set at EUR 19 million.

The goals chosen for the celebrations focused on diversity, public participation, and three time-based perspectives: the past, the present, and the future. As planning progressed, the goals and methodology were ultimately condensed into a theme: together. The idea for the theme came from the Finland 100 Board, and it turned out to be an important and successful choice.

Finland at the start of the planning process                                    

Finland’s anniversary celebrations have traditionally focused heavily on history, which was naturally what was also expected of the centenary celebrations. The Finland 100 organisation set up by the Prime Minister’s Office to plan the centenary celebrations made a conscious choice to challenge the way anniversaries have traditionally been celebrated. Could there be more cheerful forms of celebrating the anniversary and events that resonate with everyone alongside the traditional formal festivities? How could we involve all Finns and friends of Finland?

The message and goals of the centenary programme began to receive more widespread attention in 2014. The mood in the country made advertising the programme a challenging task. Finland was in the depths of a long recession, and the public had lost faith in the future. A sudden increase in immigration in the autumn of 2015 had quickly turned social debate sour. The use of Finland’s national symbols – the Finnish flag and the heraldic lion – had become a controversial issue. Views on the significance of celebrating the country’s independence were conflicted.

In retrospect, the low spirits that prevailed in society in 2014–2015 created a breeding ground for the ideas that ultimately led to the centenary programme. The Finland 100 message had a positive note: it called people to action and restored their faith in the future. The Finland 100 team was a new organisation that was allowed to bring new ideas, new perspectives, and new tones to the table. The Finland 100 Secretariat set out to build a positive and open-minded image of Finland and to shake Finns and friends of Finland into action. This was a bold choice, but it turned out to be a successful one.

The theme: together 

The most important strategic choice made during the planning of the centenary celebrations was the theme: together. This was based on a strong desire to make the centenary of Finland’s independence a shared, empowering experience for everyone. This idea was condensed into a theme, together, in the spring of 2014.

The strength of the theme lay in its currentness, its warmth, and the idea of a rebirth. The public associated national anniversary celebrations with governmental committees, works commissioned specifically for the event, and formal galas. Against this experience, the theme was a pleasant surprise and even a relief to the people.

Although the theme soon proved itself to be current and appealing to the public, it took some time to finalise what it meant in practice. As the anniversary year went on, the significance of the together theme grew deeper and broader, and the Finland 100 team adopted it as its guideline for all aspects of the celebrations. The theme also formed the basis for the main goal of the celebrations: strengthening the sense of togetherness in Finnish society

The launch of the public call for projects in the spring of 2015 made the theme concrete and created a methodology that reflected it. The public call for projects and the hype around the celebrations inspired Finns and friends of Finland to come up with a huge array of ways to implement the theme. Thanks to its broadness, the theme offered endless possibilities and was capable of supporting the wide range of people’s interpretations. 

The theme made people feel that they could contribute to the celebrations and helped them to realise the significance and importance of the big year. The theme also defined the target group: all Finns and friends of Finland would be celebrating the centenary together. It would not just be Finland as an independent country that would be celebrated but also the Finnish nation as a community of values. Anyone, regardless of background, could associate with these values, such as equality, democracy, and freedom of speech. The biggest challenge and measure of success was to deliver the theme in the eyes of the public. What kind of celebration would the people come up with and how would they perceive it?

Perspectives on Finland and Finnish identity 

The aim of the Finland 100 celebrations was to bring out the importance and value of all perspectives in Finland’s story. This approach was heavily advertised, especially at the beginning of the project, as the public had several preconceived ideas about the festivities. The project team also wanted to prove to the public that the celebrations would not be exclusive but open to everyone. The programme would cover three time-based perspectives: the past, the present, and the future.

The project team also wanted to mark the unique and important anniversary as extensively as possible: it would be celebrated throughout the year, across the whole of Finland and also abroad. One hundred years of independence was a milestone worth celebrating, and all kinds of celebrations would be welcome throughout the year. These priorities meant, for example, that the project team decided to invest heavily in the Finland 100 opening ceremony on New Year’s Eve 2016. The team felt that the launch of the celebrations would create the momentum needed for success and set the mood for the entire year. 

The Finland 100 project consisted of three partially overlapping phases: planning and preparations in 2015–2016, execution from the autumn of 2016 until the end of 2017, and reporting and evaluation until the autumn of 2018.

 

Each of the phases of the Finland 100 project had its own highlights, which the project team used to increase awareness, keep the public interested, and build momentum towards the culmination of the celebrations in December 2017. The highlights were heavily advertised.

The year 2017 itself was divided into thematic periods. The periods formed a continuum and told a story that made up the overall experience.

  1. New Year’s Eve 2016: Launch of the celebrations – a milestone for the entire nation
  2. January–April: Our common Finland – the nation’s strengths
  3. May–August: A Finnish summer – a huge range of events and experiences
  4. September–November: The 100-day countdown – Finland’s history
  5. December: Independence Day – culmination of the centenary celebrations

One important strategic decision was to use a friendly, down-to-earth tone of voice in advertisements. Avoiding formalities created a relaxed mood and made the celebrations more approachable. One of the key ideas in terms of content was to showcase success stories from Finland. There were plenty of success stories to share if the scale was chosen correctly or if the focus was on a historical perspective, for example. Finland’s development over the 100 years of the country’s independence and our current status as one of the most progressive countries in the world helped to build a credible brand for the celebrations.

The brand of the celebrations was an important element in its own right. It was built on the chosen priorities and the together theme and designed to be four things: inviting, cheerful, current, and healthily proud. The chosen theme, tone of voice, and topics helped to dispel prejudices, came as a positive surprise to many, and motivated the public to get involved.