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About bravery and life in the Wild East - Jarmo Nieminen as our monthly guest

Hello Jarmo, can you tell us about your background?

I am a Finnish citizen and I have lived here in Hungary for 30 years, half of my life. I was born in Hämeenlinna and went to school there. I completed my later studies in the capital region in Helsinki and also my first jobs were there. In the early 1990’s I moved to Hungary. I am an only child and I have a degree in forestry.

How did you choose forestry? 

When I was at school I was a very enthusiastic nature lover and I wanted to get into a profession that would be close to nature. I worked in forestry for 4-5 years, and after that I moved to an entirely different field when I started to work as a securities trader at the Helsinki Stock Exchange. 

Where did you go from there? 

At the end of 1980’s Finland experienced a recession which caused the securities and investment markets to collapse. This happened simultaneously with the liberation of Eastern Europe from the hold of communism. A lot was written about Hungary in the newspapers and for some reason I chose Hungary from all the Eastern European countries. Through friends and contacts I found people in Hungary that were interested in finding expertise in the securities market, and together with the Hungarian K&H bank we started a broker company called Nordline RT, which began training Hungarian experts. 

That must have been an interesting time. What kind of memories do you have from those years?

I have so many good memories. It was incredible to see the joy that people of Budapest felt when the country was liberated. One of the most memorable moments in my life was the moment when me and my friend signed the opening document of the Hungarian Stock Exchange and we got to feel the atmosphere in the congress center when the historical stock exchange opened its doors again. Being a part of a transformation like this is an experience I will never forget. 

In the 1990’s national property was redistributed, and everyone wanted a piece of that cake. The United States of America was once called the Wild West, but in the 90’s Eastern Europe was definitely a Wild East. And some rather bad things happened here back then as well. In business, people experienced a daily fear about what might happen to them, whether a car bomb would explode or would something even worse happen. An event that came quite close to me was when a business man was murdered with a car bomb. Many people were killed and our office that was located on the opposite side of the street was damaged. 

The tale of the broker company ended when the bank bought us Finnish partners out. That ended my work assignment here, but I had already found my place here in Hungary and in Budapest and I decided to stay.

What did you do after that?

After that I started a small trading company that represented a range of Finnish products here in Hungary. We brought to Hungary among other products cosmetics from Bergenheim, Tikkurila paints, Huhtamäki sweets, car seat covers, Upofloor floor materials and infant formula from Valio that wasn’t available in Hungary at that time. We also delivered a few loads of Lapin Kulta beer to Finnish UN peacekeepers in Zagreb. I remember vividly my visit to the base of these UN troops. 

I had the trading company for a few years, and after that I focused on leading a printing house. In the beginning of 1990’s I had been involved in starting a privately owned printing house in Székelyudvarhely in Romania. If I remember correctly, it was the second privately owned company that was established in the country after the reign of Nicolae Ceaușescu. This Infopress printing house became one of the largest printing houses in Eastern Europe and it is still operating. My part in this story ended in the early 2000’s when we sold the majority of the printing house’s ownership to an English mutual fund. 

Did you have an interest in literature back then?

Not in literature, but I suppose my background in forestry came up because in a printing house you are handling forest products, just in a slightly more refined state. 

What was next for you after that? 

I met my current wife back in 1997 and we had some projects together. One dream we had was to own our own café in the center of Budapest, and that dream became reality in 2004. Our café was called Café 22 because it was located on the Síp street in number 22. We had that café for a few years. Then we moved to a bigger space that opened up close by, and created the café of our dreams: Café Mood.

The dream of owning a café had emerged during our travels abroad, and we felt like we were the first to bring special brands of coffee to Budapest. Our coffees came from Finland, we created special roasts for the Hungarian market together with Robert’s Coffee. Surprisingly I found yet another new side of myself when I decided to try baking. And that started to go so well, that in the end half of the cakes we sold were baked by me. I baked Finnish favourites like blueberry pie and curd cake, and Hungarians seemed to love them too. We enjoyed working at the café, and the real treat was all the dialogue and conversations with our customers. 

In 2012 I fell seriously ill and we closed the café. It’s a sad story, but the good part is that after a few years I defeated the illness and made a full recovery. And in 2017, something else wonderful happened and art entered my life. 

Did you have a relationship with art before you started to make it yourself? 

Back in Finland my previous wife and I owned an art gallery, and one of our first exhibitions was an exhibition by leading Hungarian modern artists in Hämeenlinna. 

In Hungary, I frequented art exhibitions, met artists and collected art. I have been involved with art throughout my life, but always as someone who enjoys it, I had never made anything with artistic value with my own hands. 

I was introduced to making art, when my spouse saw that I was overwhelmed with worries. She suggested that I should try painting, if it could help me take my mind off of things. She bought me acrylic paints and canvases as a Christmas present and told me: there you go, see if you can create something. I tried, and that’s how it started. 

Making art is very relaxing, it brings joy to my life and it helps me escape the everyday life. It has become a part of my life. I can also see my progress and I feel inspired all the time. I have a constant desire to create. It may have been in me the whole time, but it just didn’t have a way to come out. 

What inspires you? 

In the beginning, I painted memories from my life. My first artworks were mostly representational works with birds, trees and forests painted in bright colours. After that, I painted artworks inspired by current life events and experiences.

During the past year, my style has changed: instead of representative and naivistic art, I am now painting more abstract works. In addition, the size of the artworks has increased as I’ve gained confidence and felt the need to express myself through larger canvases. All my works still have bright happy colours, and through my art I want to express the joy of life that I have. 

I have held some exhibitions and more will happen next year. I want to share this joy with other people and tell them that you should examine yourselves, maybe there are hidden talents in you too! Don’t let other people tell you what to do, but let these talents shine!

You have lived in Hungary for quite a while now and you have seen this society from different roles. How do you feel Hungary has changed during the time you have spent here? 

I have lived in Budapest for 30 years, and I have been here through the years of liberation. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hungary has faced some big changes as well. Hungary has changed in many ways and my point of view is mostly how Budapest has changed. 

The city of Budapest that I arrived to in 1989 was a very different city from what Budapest is today. The city was dark at night and it smelled like exhaust fumes from two-stroke car engines. There weren't a lot of people or traffic and barely any tourists. Today’s Budapest is a destination millions of people travel to every year, and that has changed the city. Of course, the city has also been developed in many ways. 

And the people? I can see a change. In the early 90’s, life wasn’t as hectic and busy as it is today. It was easier to connect with people, and people in general were more relaxed and calm. But the changes in the countryside of Hungary aren’t that noticeable. The Hungarian culture I met in the beginning of 1990’s can still be found there. 

How have people reacted to Finnish people or to you as a Finn during these 30 years? Has that changed? 

When I first came to Hungary my experiences were very positive and Hungarians welcomed Finns with open arms. Many people also said to me that they wished Hungary could have lived similar decades that Finland did after the Second World War. It felt like Hungarians had a special place in their hearts for Finnish people. But being Finnish isn't a special factor anymore. And unfortunately I can also see that during the past few years people in general aren’t as open and positive towards tourists and foreign people anymore as they used to be. 

What kind of experiences have you had traveling in the nearby regions? 

My wife is Hungarian, and when we have travelled as a family with our daughter, we have noticed that the way people react to Hungarians and Hungary has changed. Even a few decades ago, when we told people that we were from Hungary, the response was interested and positive. And now during these past years we have noticed that when we tell people we come from Hungary, they find that irritating. We are not sure what has changed, we are the same family as we were before, but people seem to be more reserved towards us and have a more negative than positive reaction to us. And I feel terrible that it feels difficult to my wife to talk about her homeland, because it should be a matter of pride and joy, as Finland is to me. 

How do you think the cooperation between Hungary and Finland could be developed?

There is almost always room for improvement in relations between countries. It comes to my mind that relations between Finland and Hungary could be further developed for example through educational cooperation along with cooperation related to science and research. On the cultural side, Finland and Hungary have had many joint projects for decades, but there is probably still more to be done in that sector as well.

Unfortunately, there has been a cooling off in the countries' political relations. The exchange of views has been more intense and there seems to be a lack of mutual trust in the dialogue that takes place more in EU arenas than directly between the two countries.

What kind of relationship do you have with Finland and Hungary?

Finland is my homeland, it’s where I grew up, went to school and learned my life lessons. My roots are in Finland and nothing is going to change that. I have lived in Hungary for 30 years and I have learned to like this country and these people, but Hungary can never take Finland's place in my heart. Both countries are important to me, but in different ways.

Finland is on my mind every day. I have family and friends in Finland and I carry all the memories from Finland within me. Finland also comes to my mind during different seasons: during the winter I miss snowdrifts and in the summer the light and the fragrances of Finnish summer. Fortunately you can always visit and I often visit Finland every year.

Does Finland also appear in your art?

Yes it does, I was just looking at my work from last year that was on display in my exhibition in Hämeenlinna this autumn. There were some winter-themed artworks, where I wanted to paint on the canvas the Finnish winter I was missing.

Do you currently have an exhibition going on?

The next known exhibition will be in Helsinki, at the Hungarian Cultural Center at Kaisaniemenkatu. Opposite to the Cultural Center is the Department of Forestry of the University of Helsinki, where I once studied. But to me the most important thing is that I get to present my work in a space that combines both Finland and Hungary.

You have clearly been ready for big life changes throughout your life.

Looking back at my life, I can see I am not a man of just one career. It brings a certain richness, but maybe I also wanted to prove to myself that I can change and do things that are completely independent of each other.

I have been bold in my decisions, but I have always listened to my heart. I haven’t let other people's opinions or expectations affect me and I have done the things that feel right to me.

Do you still have dreams that are waiting to come true?

Traveling has always been important to me and our family, and there are still many places I haven’t been able to visit in my life.

I would also like to experience more of what it feels like to be a grandfather. I would like to teach my grandchildren about life, share my own experiences and give advice for their future. My dream is to be better at my role of being a grandfather. 

 

Who?

Name: Jarmo Nieminen

Education: Forester

Lives in: Budapest

Hobbies: Cycling, painting, Tokaj wines

Travel Destinations: City of Szeged, Székelyföld, Tokaj Wine Region and numerous Hungarian National Parks

 

Hanna-Mari Ristimäki

FinnAgora