Suomen Kylät / Finnish Village Movement Association

Awarded 1992

Finland

For showing a dynamic path to rural regeneration, decentralisation and popular empowerment.

Finnish Village Movement Association is a movement that emerged in Finland in the 1970s, encouraging people to organise on a local level. The movement emphasizes small-scale collective action over individualism. Communal facilities are prioritised or restored, as are public and social services, such as health, postal or transport services.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Finland experienced rural depopulation. By 1974, however, there were first signs of a modest rural revival, which, in 1976, came to the attention of Lauri Hautamäki, later Professor at the University of Tampere in the Department of Regional Studies. He started a project of Action Research into this embryo movement to evaluate the potential for revitalisation of rural communities.

The new ideas of the project (e.g. “concrete utopias”) caught the public imagination. In less than ten years, from 1977-1985, the number of Village Committees rose from 50 to 2,000. In 2009, there were about 4,000 villages in Finland, almost all of them with their own Village Committee or Village Society to co-ordinate the development work of the village.

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.

Tapio Mattlar of 1992 Laureate Finnish Village Movement Association

Over the years, the tasks of the Village Committees have changed. In the 1980s and early 1990's, the main work of the Committees were to arrange activities to collect money for village projects. The main method was the traditional Finnish voluntary teamwork "talkoot," to achieve the commonly chosen goal. Since Finland joined the European Union in 1995, the financing of the village projects through EU programs became possible, especially through the LEADER program. However, there is some discussion about whether the European Union programs have spoiled the original idea of the Village Action Movement, and there are some villages that refuse to use any EU money. Yet, most Village Committees still trust that they can accept LEADER money without losing the original idea of "taking the faith of the village in their own hands".

The Village Committees have taken an active role in the execution of regional and rural policy (bottom-up development). There is evidence that they have also revived and created new cooperation between their more traditional organisations (farmers' organisations, trade union branches, youth societies, country women clubs etc.) and entrepreneurs. Household and farming extension services have also revived, especially, in the latter case, in the field of organic agriculture. All these groups and organisations are a further expression of the determination among rural people to preserve the dynamic, quality and variety of their lives against the continuing trends elsewhere of urbanization, centralization and loss of rural local control and self-reliance.

The Village Committees combine vitality and creativity, expressed in a very broad range of activities, with flexibility and efficiency of organisation, and evident knowledge of and love for their village, its culture and traditions and their natural environment. Their activities encompass the arts (music, drama, painting), crafts (both traditional and modern), economic development and the encouragement of entrepreneurship, sports, especially winter sports, and social events of all kinds, involving the whole village and generating a palpable enthusiasm and liveliness.

For instance, Tapio Mattlar's village Vuorenkylä in Central Finland only counts some 150 inhabitants, but the Village Society has been one of the most active in the whole country. In the 1980s, Vuorenkylä Society started a skiing centre that braught thousands of tourists to the village every winter. They also wrote a 500-pages history book with numerous historical photos, which was published in 2006. In 2011, a two hours long film about the village followed.

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