Chris talked me into visiting Helsinki last year for a spot of Christmas shopping (jumpers, hats, mittens and thermals first on the list). As we discussed flights, I referred to Finland as Scandinavia, and immediately corrected myself. Chris asked why, so rather than reply I thought a blog post was in order, as it’s something which confuses many people. It’s only taken me six months to publish it!
The word Scandinavia conjures up many images in the mind of a Brit (well, this Brit). Fjords, Vikings, minimalism, design, socialism – all before the identity of any individual country.
It’s a strictly defined region comprising Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The three countries share a common history and culture. Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish are known as the Scandinavian languages and are mutually intelligible, to a point.
What’s nice about all three countries is the friendly rivalry that exists. I guess it’s similar to England, Scotland, and Wales. This is explored in humorous detail over on the awesome webcomic Scandinavia against the World.
Not to be confused with…
The Scandinavian Peninsular
A purely geographical term, this refers to the slab of land sticking out of Russia like a crooked witch’s finger. Basically, the peninsular comprises Norway and Sweden, split by a 1,000 mile long land border. Every weekend, those living just to the west of this imaginary line cross to the east to buy beer at substantially cheaper prices. Funny thing, geography…
The Nordic Countries
Now we’re getting historical, as we welcome the Norsemen of Iceland to the party, along with Finland, the Faroe Islands, and the Swedish-Finnish cultural melting pot of the Åland Islands.
But the Nordic countries are not just a historical memory, there is an active political relationship through the Nordic Council. While not as integrated as the European Union, the Nordic Council plays an important political role, with 87 elected members from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as from the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland.
Let’s not forget the rather loose term of Northern Europe, broadly equivalent to the Nordic countries. But as I only realised last year, the rest of the world considers the UK to be part of Northern Europe too! Makes sense really, as we seem to have more in common with Norway and Sweden than we do France and Spain. Skål!
The Nearly Nordics
Shetland and Orkney used to be Norwegian territory and the influence is still there today. If you doubt the heritage of these islands then take a look at their flags, both proudly fly variants of the Nordic cross. Although the islands’ traditional Norse language of Norn is now extinct, it still heavily influences today’s dialects. Almost every place name has Viking roots.
Although known as a Baltic state, Estonia shares more in common with Finland than with Lithuania or Latvia. An alternative flag has even been proposed, incorporating the current colours of pale blue, black and white into a Nordic cross.
If Alex Salmond gets his wish of independence, he could push for Scotland to have closer ties with the Nordic Union.
A Union to Rival the EU?
Could an expanded Nordic Union including Scotland and Estonia eventually become a force to rival the EU? There is little appetite within Norway to join the current EU setup, but I’ve spoken to many who would support closer cooperation with their immediate neighbours. What do you think?
(photo credits: Johannes Jansson/norden.org, Aero Icarus/flickr.com)