Monthly Talk 5th December 2019

1918-2018 - 100 years of intrepid independence

SPEAKER: Christopher Massy-Beresford

This talk is about Finland’s geography, history, and its exceptionally individualistic language and culture: and how during the Twentieth Century it emerged on the world stage led by a handful of remarkable artistic and political personalities.

The first part of Finland’s first centenary consisted of a struggle to express its early independence from the clutches of Russia and the former dominance of Sweden. The composer, Jean Sibelius, was one of many artists who acquired early fame along with many others in the fields of architecture, painting, sculpture and design of all kinds. In some cases their fame in Finland spread initially across the Atlantic to the USA.

Along with Iceland, Finland prefers to be classified as a Nordic country rather than part of Scandinavia and alone among them became tragically entangled in WW2, albeit entirely in its own harsh climate, mostly on its own territory and far from assistance from any of the other western democracies. Its armed forces, led by Carl Mannerheim, acquitted themselves with honour but eventually had to admit defeat.

In the 1940s and 50s Finland’s unique position between East and West grew in importance, helped by its staging of the Olympic Games in 1952 and the skilful but controversial diplomacy of Urho Kekkonen, its President from 1956 to 1981.

Simultaneously Finnish design became increasingly sought after in the rest of Europe and indeed all over the world; the country prospered rapidly, acceding to the EU in 1986 and adopting the euro in 2001; such that some features of the Finns’ way of life are now universally admired and emulated.

This talk highlights the outstanding achievements of this remote country with its vast terrain, terrible winters, and relatively small population - along with some of its lovable oddities.


Christopher’s degree was in PPE, but modern languages came to be a defining feature of his commercial career and interests. The last phase of his career has been as a professional translator. He lives in Beckington, near Frome in Somerset.