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Local View: Today, we're all Finns, and we all can celebrate

Finland became an independent state on this date in 1917. Between 1939 and 1945, the Finns fought three wars on their own soil, two with the Soviets and one with the Germans. Finnish soldiers were armed with excellent training in winter warfare and the strong will to defend Finland's independence. Everyone, from the elderly to women and children, pitched in on the war effort. After two hard-fought wars with Russia, Finland maintained its independence and won the world's admiration.

Patty Salo DownsIt must be noted that saunas traveled along with the troops and helped raise the morale of the Finnish soldiers. And it was the music of Jean Sibelius that stirred the hearts and souls of every Finn, inspiring them to give their all.

"In spite of hard times, the Finnish people have for almost a hundred years engaged in the building of their country and making decisions together. 'Together' is the very essence of our independence. It always has been so," Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said. "As a nation of 5.5 million people, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind. Pulling together has served us well throughout our history, in good times and bad."

Niinisto also has said that anniversaries can easily be reduced to thinking only about the past.

"We Finns have every reason to be proud of our history. But it has not always been easy," he said. "Turning a poor, agrarian country into one of the most stable, successful and competitive societies in the world did not happen miraculously overnight. It has been a result of sacrifices (and) perseverance — or what we call sisu (guts) and vision."

Minnesota is one of the leading areas of Finnish immigration and accounts for the highest percentage of people of Finnish descent in the U.S. It is fitting, therefore, that we gather together as community today, Finns and friends, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the independence of Finland.

Steve LeppalaThe Finlandia Foundation Northland Chapter cordially invites the public to join in a special celebration at the Duluth Depot from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. This free public event features a Finnish-American art exhibition on the Depot's second floor as well as Finnish food and music and an official program at 6:30 p.m. in the Great Hall emceed by Hanna Erpestad. The program will feature the mayors of Duluth and Superior and will honor decorated Finnish veterans. There also will be a greeting from the president of Finland read by Honorary Counsel James Johnson.

Also tonight, the city of Duluth will recognize the importance of today's date by bathing Enger Tower in blue and white, the colors of Finland's flag. All Northlanders are encouraged to light two candles and place them in a window to honor ties to Finland.

Everyone is a Finn on Dec. 6.

Steve Leppälä of Hermantown is president of the Finlandia Foundation Northland Chapter. Patty Salo Downs of Duluth is a member of the Finland 100 Planning Committee.