April 15, 2005

Finland Finland as far as the eye can see

My first impression from Finland is that it is indeed a hybrid of Scandinavian and Russian culture. The roadsigns are in Finnish and Swedish, out of respect for the Swedish minority in the country. You always hear about this group (in Sweden anyway), the Swedish minority living in Finland, and I had assumed that they make up roughly 1/3 of the country. Finland has a Swedish language university, most Finns learn Swedish in school, and government business is bilingual. It turns out that the Swede-Finns are only 6 % of the population. (In comparison, 11 % of the people living in Sweden are Finnish, yet their language is not given any special treatment.) At dinner I joked that they should have the roadsigns in Russian too, since there must be more Russians than Swedes and this made the Swedes laugh and the Russians brood. Or maybe they were already brooding, it was hard to tell.

Dinner was perch, really good.

There is a frozen lake outside the window of my room, which has free internet access, yahoo!

At the university I gave a talk and toured some labs. There was a theorist in the audience for my talk, I have read his papers for a few years and was looking forward to meeting him. He fell asleep during my talk and then when it was over he asked me a really good question that I wasn't sure how to answer. I saw the lab of a Finnish guy I met in Pasadena a while back. He was very proud to have an excimer laser that came from the USSR in 'the good old days', and said that it should be put in a museum someday. At another lab they have succeeded in synthesizing compounds that involve noble gas atoms, which you learn in high school chemistry don't form chemical bonds. Well, they do, and this group has made compounds involving xenon, krypton and argon. They have made a chain molecule of alternating xenon and carbon atoms that would make a great polymer rocket fuel.

I ate lunch with Leonid who moved to Finland with his wife and 3 year old daughter 15 years ago when things were going downhill fast in Russia. I've known him since I first moved to Sweden because we worked on the same EU project. I asked him about the 'Winter War' between Russia and Finland. He said that it was rather complicated and gave me a quick summary. Stalin, even though he had a pact with Germany, was worried about Finnish collaboration with Germany, and so he told Finland that the Finnish-Russian border around St. Petersberg would be moved 100 km to the north. The Finns did not agree. The Finns had a good army at the border. Russia on the other had did not, especially after Stalin's purges of the officer corps. The head of the Russian Navy in the Baltic apparently told Stalin that he could immobilize Finland from the sea in three days, no problem. But Stalin thought that a ground war would be better training for his troops. So, Finland did quite well in the beginning until Russia moved in more and more troops. Many of the Russian troops were killed, but the rest got valuable training in how to fight an entrenched enemy. That's what Leonid told me anyway.


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