(The original Finnish version was published in the weekly supplement Extra of the newspaper Turun Sanomat on 3 April 2004.)
Finland’s national broadcasting company Yleisradio is organizing a public poll about the most important Finn of all time. The subject is ever topical, but I would have put the event off until Finland’s 100th Independence Day. This way the election would have been more festive and historical. Another thing I find poorly thought is that Yleisradio’s list of candidates includes many people who are still alive. In my opinion one’s greatness and influence in the society can’t be properly estimated while the person lives. Or does Yleisradio think that people like Tarja Halonen and Linus Torvalds have already done everything they will be remembered for?
However, I must admit that this is a unique voting whose results interest me. The answer to the question ”Who is the greatest Finn ever?” depends strongly on which viewpoint we pick out. For example, some might think this honorary title belongs to the person who currently has the strongest influence on Finland’s image abroad. If we adopt this thought, the winner is probably the movie director Aki Kaurismäki.
Then again, we might consider Finland’s best-known celebrities the most important Finnish persons. Taking a look in the tabloids tells us that at least Matti Nykänen, Tony Halme and the late General of Infantry Adolf Ehrnrooth – he passed away while the voting was still going on – are right now élite from this point of view.
In my mind there are six names above all others. Those names are Agricola, Kivi, Lönnrot, Mannerheim, Sibelius and Snellman. It’s difficult to decide which one of them has been the most important for Finland because their achievements differ so much from each other’s. How can you compare a composer to Field Marshal?
On the other hand, if people vote logically, Snellman will get less votes than the other five persons I listed. I’ve come to this conclusion because Snellman was an important advocate for the Finnish markka (Finland’s currency from 1860 until 2002) which we have now left behind.
Some people have mentioned Agricola as the greatest Finn. I definitely do not claim that his work wasn’t vital for our culture and future, but I think that without Agricola someone else would have achieved same kind of accomplishments a few decades later or so.
In my opinion the greatest Finn of all time is a person whose work was irreplaceably important for Finland and whose actions could not wait for the next talented individual. Only one of the six persons I mentioned fulfills these criteria: President, Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim. Leading the Finnish army in our latest wars was a duty that certainly couldn’t wait. The independence of our fatherland proves that Finnish soldiers fought successfully under the leadership of Mannerheim even when the enemy had more troops.
President, Field Marshal Mannerheim is the greatest Finn of all time.