at the Kalevala symposium in Turku on August 14, 1999

One securing factor regarding our national identity is the tradition of folk poetry. This is a cultural force which could be referred to more often in the political discussion than it is today in practice. In his thesis, “A Defence of Finnishness” from 1703, Daniel Juslenius, who was an influential person here in Turku, highlights his work with his closing words, here freely translated: “I am content simply with being a Finn, and with the fact that people who do not know me consider me to belong to this commendable people.” But also Juslenius felt the necessity of international interaction, because he states that: “Nor are we so self-satisfied and conceited that we would tear away our country from the rest of the world.”

It is to be noted that Juslenius also wrote down oral folk poetry. In his baroque study Aboa Vetus et Nova (The Old and New Turku), he demonstrated the brilliant past of his home town, Turku, partly by means of folk poetry. It was supposedly Juslenius who was behind the circular letter of Turku cathedral chapter of October lst, 1729, which urged everybody to collect folk poetry. Henrik Gabriel Porthan, he too a resident of Turku, lived during the latter half of the 18th century, and he both worked with folklore himself and was also an advocate of the writing down of folk poetry. It is evident from Elias Lönnrot’s preface to the Kalevala that the writer was profoundly acquainted with the works of Porthan, Ganander and their contemporaries.

This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publishing of the New Kalevala. This symposium is a significant part of that anniversary. New Kalevala-works with new illustrators have appeared and been published. The international interest in the Kalevala shows how culturally significant our folklore really is; here in Finland, our folk poetry is to an ever increasing extent felt to be a basic factor of our cultural identity.

As the Kalevala will be studied side by side with the world’s traditional folklore in the course of this symposium I would like to note that, thanks to international examples, my own views and experiences of the Kalevala have been enriched as regards content and meaning. For my part, I would like to mention two very different examples: a spectacular Hungarian theatrical performance of the Kalevala in new style in the 80s in Budapest, and furthermore, the realisation how important a cultural role national epics have played in the development towards independence in the Baltic countries. In the opening chapter of the Latvian epic Lacplesis, Thunder tells the assembly of gods: “For ever I defend man, in nature, close to the people of Latvia.” Defending man, nature, and closeness to the people have all been features of folk poetry. This is worth keeping in mind as, in my view, culture and nature will be given special emphasis after the shift of the millennium.

As I declare this symposium open, I wish the collaboration and discussions which will take place during it the best of success.

Heikki Koski
Governor of West Finland

(FFN 18, November 1999: 22)

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