We are not willing to regard economic values as more important than the quality of life. We believe in the right of people to decide over their own lives.
Acceptance speech – Suomen Kylät / Finnish Village Movement Association
It is a great honour for us to be here today and I want to thank you and the Right Livelihood Award Foundation on behalf of the Finnish Village Action Movement for the Honorary Award which has been given to the active people in the villages of Finland. We are very happy, that our work has turned out to be worthy of this Award.
Because the Village Action Movement has no nationwide organisation, nobody can claim to represent the whole movement. So we had a problem to decide who would come here today. There are now four of us here but there would have been many choices as to who would receive the award. I’d like to introduce us to you.
Antti Jokinen is an indigenous farmer from western Finland. He has led the village committee of his home village for seventeen years. Their committee was one of the first in Finland and without their hard work Kuustenlatva village would hardly exist any more. The villagers have for instance built a village house and a complex called “village home” that provides flats for young families. They have also saved their village shop by buying it for the village association.
Leena Kotilainen is a farmer and journalist from the eastern part of Finland. She has returned to her home village Sarvikumpu after ten years studying and working in the cities. The village committee that she leads has converted an old school building into a village house and they publish their own village newsletter regularly. Leena writes articles about villages for some nationwide magazines. She has also written three plays for their village theatre, which has performances every summer.
Hilkka Vanhapiha is a school cook and entrepreneur from Kätkäsuvanto far north in Lapland, near the Swedish border. The village has been elected as the ecological village of the year in Lapland. Hilkka is one of the founder members of the consultative committee of the villages in Lapland, which was the first provincial cooperation organisation among the villages in Finland.
My name is Tapio Mattlar and I was born in Helsinki, but after living there for 28 years I decided I had had enough of traffic jams and dirty air and moved with my family to a little village in the central part of Finland called Vuorenkylä. I was the chairman of my village committee for four years. During this work I realized that a magazine would be needed as a link between the villages. I found a publisher for the magazine and I have worked as an editor ever since. The editorial office of the magazine is at our farm where we also have a “tele-cottage” – the computer center of the village.
Furthermore we have here some persons, who have had a special role in the progress of our movement and who therefore share the honour of receiving this prize with us.
First of all, we must thank Professor Lauri Hautamäki from the University of Tampere, for recognizing the spirit that prevailed in the Finnish villages in the mid-seventies, the early dawn of the Village Action Movement, and started the Village Research´76-project to facilitate the process. This project had a great effect in spreading the concept of village committees. Professor Hautamäki´s books transmitted the ideology to the villages all around the country.
Another very important person for our movement is bureau chief Tarmo Palonen from the Association of Finnish Municipalities. He is the father of the Consultative Committee on Village Affairs, the support of which has been very important to our movement for the last ten years.
The most important person behind this prize is Hilkka Pietilä, who understood the importance and nature of the Movement and has made it known in Finland and internationally.
The Finnish Village Action Movement was started spontaneously in the mid-seventies as an opposition to the common belief, that the villages have no future. In other industrial countries the urbanisation had started earlier than in Finland causing rapid deprivation in the villages. The authorities expected the same process to take place in Finland. But the Finnish villages refused to die.
So the flow of people from the villages to the cities, which was quite fast in the sixties, slowed down and the direction changed. During the last fifteen years about 40.000 more people have moved from the cities to the villages than the opposite way. Finland didn’t follow the pattern of the other Western industrial countries in the urbanisation process. It has remained one of the least urbanised among all the OECD-countries.
The faith in the future of the villages revived especially during the first years of the eighties, when each year, hundreds of new village action committees were founded. Nowadays there are about 3.000 village committees in Finland, which means that almost every village has its own. The committees consist of about ten members each, so there are about 30.000 village activists in Finland and the impact of their work reaches about half a million people in the countryside.
The village action committees are mostly informal organisations and their main task is to support such development in the villages that the inhabitants want. The committees are often started spontaneously. Somebody calls the villagers to a meeting to decide to establish a village committee. Most of the committees have a chairman and secretary, but no special rules or organisation. Usually there is a village assembly once or twice a year, when committee members are elected. Every meeting of the villagers can change decisions from previous meetings.
The Finnish Village Action Movement is non-political and independent and in many committees there are members of all political parties as well as politically neutral persons. Anyway, we have our own ideology. We are not willing to regard the economical values as more important than the quality of life. We don’t believe in development through centralized structures for decision-making and services.
Instead we believe in real subsidiary, the right for people to decide over their own lives. For many decisions, the municipality is much too big a unit to reflect the moods and needs of the inhabitants. A great part of the necessary services can be provided by the villagers themselves. In some areas the villages have already got some autonomy – thanks to the “Free Village”-experiment, started by the recently deceased Oiva Hyttinen, the first chairman of the consultative committee of Villages in Lapland.
A great resource for the village committees has been voluntary team work “talkoot”, an old tradition revived by the Village Action Movement. Millions of hours of voluntary work has been done in the villages of Finland to improve the environment and the quality of life. As a result we have preserved the cultural traditions, we have produced all kinds of services for both villagers and summer guests without financial support from the government or the local authorities.
The villages have the potential to take care of more of their needs, but the problem is the attitude of the municipalities. In some areas, the villages have succeeded in reaching an agreement with the local authorities on how services should be provided for the villages, but many communities are not ready for this kind of cooperation. In some cases the dialogue between the village committee and the municipality has even ended in confrontation.
The village action takes different forms in different parts of the country. In the eastern and northern parts of Finland as well as in the villages far from the cities, the biggest problem is the scarcity of inhabitants. In some villages in the southern part of the country the problem can be the pressure of too many new settlers. One problem that all the villages have in common is how to save basic services in the villages when surrounded by a society which believes in centralization.
Saving small village schools has been a constant concern and once again, the schools are in the greatest danger. The government and many municipalities find them too expensive for our society. We don’t believe that Finland is so poor, that it must save money at the expense of the children of the villages. Many of the schools which are threatened with closure are already one hundred years old and we were able to afford them in worse times. The demand to close small village schools is based on the belief in the eternal success of centralization and not on any real benefit.
We are very grateful for the honour that this prize gives our Village Movement. We believe, that our voice will be heard by the authorities of our country more clearly than before and that we can influence the development of our society so that decisions are based more on sustainable values and that the villagers will have the right to decide the future of their villages. We are sure that this prize will encourage the active people of the villages to work even harder for the values of life that we cherish. And we are particularly happy, if our movement can be an encouraging example for rural people both in the industrialized and developing countries to demonstrate that vibrant village life is not inconsistent with development.