December photography challenge Christmas tree

Day 6: What Independence Means to Me

Photography Challenge Day 6:


It’s December. So, if a photography challenge has a task to photograph a tree, what option is there other than a Christmas tree?!

My first plan was to actually go to the Kadriorg park and find a nice-looking old tree to photograph, maybe take some props to add on it. But then I remembered that, shit, the trees are bare, there are no leaves anywhere other than scattered on the ground. I guess you can get nice pictures of bare trees as well, but I didn’t feel inspired at all.

Thankfully Tallinn takes special pride in it’s Christmas tree towering over the Christmas market in the Old Town. I don’t know where they manage to find such an abundant specimen each year but I do love how they cover it completely in sparkle and lights. Much more inspiring than a naked tree, wouldn’t you agree?

December photography challenge Christmas tree December photography challenge Christmas tree


Yes, it’s our Independence Day today. For some reason, perhaps because of the last year’s huge drumming about the 100th year of Independence, I’ve started to look at it more like a birthday than an independence day. After all, Finland was officially ‘born’ in 1918 which makes it a 101-year-old lady. (Yes, it’s a lady, the country is shaped like a woman with one arm up)

There are a lot of countries in Europe alone that have never had to fight for their independence or sovereignty. And then there are a lot of countries whose entire history is a battle for the right to exist.

No worries, I’m not going to give you a history lesson here, I just wanted to write down couple thoughts on things that I’ve been thinking about recently in regards to independence. Because independence is not just a matter of national sovereignty, oh no. We are all independent individuals as well. But not everywhere. Random thoughts, perhaps, but here goes;

What Independence Means to Me

What Defines a Country, Really?

A language? Sure, each country has their own official languages, but especially in Central Europe different languages are mixed together in great volumes; Hungarian in Slovakia, French in Switzerland, and Swedish in Finland. Despite a country having one official language, there are people who were born in that country but can’t speak or understand a word of that language. Cue Swedish Finns; Finnish-born nationals who don’t speak a word of Finnish.

So, language can’t be held as a definitive classification of a country, in my opinion. Borders then?

Every country definitely has borders. But the concept of borders separating one country from another has become less pronounced with the Schengen treaty in Europe; the nationals of Schengen states can cross those countries’ borders without border controls and passport checks. It’s the same in the US, right? US citizens don’t need to stop at border controls at states’ borders, right? Except when flying…

There are all sorts of classifications for what constitutes a ‘country’ but at the end of the day, despite disappearing borders and language barriers, a country lives inside each of us, we all determine what our country is. It’s called nationality. Which brings me to my next point:

December photography challenge Christmas tree

Nationality Aspect – The Easy Life?

Nationality determines you as a human being from the day you are born. Your nationality determines (to an extent) what sort of an upbringing you will receive, what kind of education you may or may not be eligible for, and what sorts of opportunities you will have in life. Of course, gender and your parents’ financial situation also matter.

I realized the power, that nationality can have on ones life, when i moved abroad. Finland is seen as one the best, happiest, least corrupt and honest countries on this planet. So, having a Finnish passport has given me opportunities that most other nationals in Europe can only dream of. But it has also been an unwelcome hindrance.

All over Europe my nationality has from the get-go draped me into this cloak of ‘trustworthiness’ and ‘wealth’. I can’t be the judge of either of those things being true, except I know that education-wise and according to my professional background I am much richer than most.

But this “reputation” has allowed me to get into companies, groups of people, events and good books of people much more easily than if I had been born, for example, in Estonia. A concrete, and also extreme, example of the benefits that my nationality has provided me, became apparent in the Summer 2015 when the “refugee crisis” (in want of a better word) happened in Europe:

Most of the refugees came through Hungary. I was living in Slovakia then and visiting Hungary often. Hungarian and Slovak authorities decided to start passport patrols on all train and bus stations due to the “crisis”. The funny thing was that they only checked the people who had brown or dark hair and eyes. So I never had to show my passport to anyone, not once.

On our way to Czech the “patrol” were checking the train. They opened our compartment door, saw 4 young girls, obviously locals + 1 blonde, and continued without one word. My nationality, and the fact that I also look as Scandinavian as one could, has made my life easier than it might be and that’s a fact.

But being Finnish, and being able to enjoy its benefits, only works if the people checking your passport are well enough educated or aware of your country:

Even in Slovakia, where everybody knew about Finland, I couldn’t shake our reputation of us all being complete drunkards. I don’t really mind it, tbh, but I did get tired of hearing the same question every time I met a new person: “Oh, you’re from Finland! So, you run around completely naked when you’re drunk?!” In fact no, I don’t.

But in the UK I had to sometimes deal with complete ignorance, which caused me unnecessary stress and loss of money.

Worst case being when moving to London my landlord required a Visa from me. I didn’t understand wtf he meant, I thought he wanted my credit card number (the only Visa I could think of). I refused to give it. For 2 weeks I was homeless in London because of this, until it finally dawned on me that this person thought that Finland is not part of the EU. Still makes me angry, thinking about it now.

And then there were those less serious cases of a bartender refusing to sell me beer in a pub because they thought my drivers licence was forged because Finland obviously couldn’t be part of the EU… Despite the EU flag being displayed on the said drivers licence very clearly.

It’s always a risk coming between a Finn and her beer, and on one occasion I did seriously consider burning the whole pub down.

December photography challenge Christmas tree

December photography challenge Christmas tree

Personal Independence

But there’s one thing that’s even more prescious than a national independence: one’s personal independence.

My personal independence is everything to me. It goes way above my national independence. Because if my country or culture would ever even consider attempting to restrict my personal independence in any way I’d sign myself out without a thought.

How can I say such a thing? Because I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum and thus know that the independence that my birth country and culture have presented to me is my ultimate everything. At the end of the day I can’t be dependent on anyone but myself. Might sound a bit grim and extreme but it’s not really.

I was born in one of the few countries on this planet where equality exists. It’s not complete, I don’t think it’ll ever be complete because men and women are so different to begin with, but we’re in a privileged position, for sure. What that means is that I, my friends and family, both women and men, all have the

Right to decide what’s best for ME

Right to fail and learn from MY mistakes

Right to choose what I want to do with MY life

Right to be responsible for MY own decisions

Right to MY OWN SELF!

The last point basically covers all the former points but it also means that my body and mind are mine, and no other’s. Nobody can tell me what I should think or look like; nobody can tell me how I should behave and dress; and most importantly, nobody lays even a fucking finger on me unless I grant them a permission to do so!

I sound very confident, and I am, but don’t think for a second that I wouldn’t know what it feels like to lose that independence even just for a minute. But that’s a story for another time :)

Quite a serious train of thought, wasn’t it? At first I thought ”It’s just an Independence Day” but actually it can be, and IS so much more. What makes me most proud about my heritage and my nationality is the freedom in which I was able to grow up and do whatever I wanted regardless of my sex, my family’s wealth, religion or politics. And that’s why I’m celebrating today :)

Happy Independence Day, Finland! Here’s to another 101 years ♥



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