Joensuu called out to Europe
In June 2016, the media was full of news on EU’s problems. Joensuu – a remote city at the eastern edge of the EU – wanted to do something to express that the notion of being European needs grass-root support.
Joensuu addressed the European cities and towns, calling for an expression of courage and support by flying the European flag together. The European flag had never before been flown on the Joensuu City Hall tower. Now, on 28/07/2016, it was raised there.
A call from the border
To be honest, Joensuu is not located in the core of Europe, but far from it – 2006 km from Brussels, 1479 km from Berlin, 2269 km from Paris and 3060 km from Nicosia. The city of Joensuu shares nearly 30 km of border with the Russian Federation, and lies further east than, for example, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria.
We are, therefore, located in the periphery, amidst lakes and forests. We shop for mostly the same food and beverage brands as the rest of Europe, although many of us also like to pick wild berries, fish and hunt elk in the autumns. A large portion of our porcini mushrooms are shipped to Italy, where they are a favourite of many. At our market square, you will find vendors of traditional Karelian pasties alongside a Greek restaurant, and during International Grand Market events, Union Jacks are displayed in abundance.
There are no polar bears here, only ordinary brown bears. The population of Joensuu is 76,000, one third of the citizens being under 25; that is, many students and schoolchildren. In fancy terms, we could say our region is one of knowledge-based bio-economy. In mid-July, we experience a peak in both the number of people in town and the volume of music – that’s the time for the yearly Ilosaarirock Festival.
The highest temperature in Finland ever was measured at Joensuu airport in July 2010. That record of +37.2 degrees Celsius is remarkably higher than the not so infrequently experienced -30°C in wintertime. Fortunately, we have the sauna! The winter sports season has become shorter than in the past decades; apparently, climate change is a reality here, too.
Our educational system has produced good results, and our teacher training programmes deserve an honourable mention. However, life is not always a bed of roses here – the unemployment rate is high, although new jobs, growth and livelihoods for people are constantly being sought after.
From being outside to being inside
Before Finland became an EU member state, our connections with Europe consisted mainly of exchanges with twin towns and occasional interaction with the wider Europe via Helsinki, the capital city. During the past 22 years, movement and networks in all directions have been created. Cooperation has provided new opportunities for developing the local community and enhancing the quality of life. For the past generations, travelling beyond the Nordic countries was an exceptional treat, whereas for today’s youth, it is a common possibility and sometimes even everyday life.
The value of being European
As mentioned above, the European flag had never before been flown on the Joensuu City Hall tower. It had to be ordered specifically for this occasion, taking into account the flag pole’s special proportions designed by the building’s architect Eliel Saarinen.
We felt we had to do something to express that we appreciate being European. We are not perfect in any way, but together it is possible to work towards achieving a brighter future for us and our children. Being able to move around fairly freely, meet each other, share experiences and be together – these privileges continue to be a valuable asset. We should not forget that we live in a free and peaceful Europe.
Today, we are surrounded by a flood of information which nearly overwhelms us, the amount of things we read and hear every day being almost too much digest and understand. We are connected with a complicated world 24/7. Therefore, we need good local leadership and we must care about each other locally. We need support for families, education, proper care for the elderly and others with special needs – as well as more job opportunities. We need to do more in order for our citizens to feel secure and experience a good everyday life.
The spontaneous flag flying day may have been a small gesture, but we made it meaningful.