FinnAgora foundation that upholds the Finnish cultural, economical and scientific center in Hungary FinnAgora, is celebrating its 20 years of operation.
FinnAgora is the youngest of the 17 different Finnish institutes around the world. Despite this the Institute has still had a very rich and multifaceted past.
Hungary had founded their own cultural- and science center, that is today known as the Liszt-institute, in Helsinki in the year 1980. Kalevi Kivistö, who was the cultural minister at the time, hoped that Finland would in response start their own center in Budapest. This did eventually happen, but it took a longer time than he surely thought it would.
The thought of FinnAgora started to form in practicality when cultural minister Suvi Lindén the 18th of May 2001 gave cultural advisor Hannele Koivunen the task of creating a report based on the initiative from the Finnish Embassy in Hungary, on starting a culture center in Budapest.
Koivunen wrote an excellent report and based on that the practical preparations were initiated. The goal was a new, network based operative model, which would be based on a foundation of a wide contact network between the countries and in the respective countries. This starting point was, back then, free from prejudice and had a long term perspective.
THE INITIATIVE HAD WIDE SUPPORT BUT EXPECTATIONS DIFFERED
The thought of a cultural institute had widespread support from different entities. In December 2001 a discussion event was held regarding FinnAgora by minister Lindén and then director of the ministry Kalevi Kivistö. The event was opened by the chairperson of the Parliament Riitta Uosukainen, who then also functioned as chairperson for the event. Other speakers were, for example, the then Finnish Ambassador Hannu Halinen, who also was the central initiator of the project, and the Hungarian Ambassador József Vig.
From the start it was clear that there were, especially in the ministry, different views on the nature of FinnAgora. Kivistö and the Education Ministry stressed that FinnAgora should be a part of civil society and therefore the natural collaborator was the Education Ministry. The undersecretary for the Foreign Ministry Pertti Torstila stressed the importance of how centers operating abroad need to be under the “same umbrella”, close or part of the administration of the Foreign Ministry.
The chief of staff for the Trade- and Industry Ministry Erkki Virtanen was probably the most hesitant towards the initiative. He said that there were more questions than answers regarding FinnAgora. According to the minutes of the meeting in his remarks there was “no reflection of trust towards the operation of the cultural institute”.
This view and difference in emphasis of branches of government have in one way or the other come to the surface, when the Finnish foreign cultural activities and its finances have been discussed.
THE CITY OF TURKU FUNCTIONED AS A “MIDWIFE” FOR THE FOUNDING
In any case the idea of founding FinnAgora got wind underneath its wings and the meeting to start the foundation that was going to maintain the institute was gathered on the 29th of May 2002 at Ostrobotnia. On the request of the Education Ministry, the gathering of the founding members and the capital for the founding, was administered by the city of Turku, which had strong friendship city ties to Hungary and the then already passed former city director Armas Lahoniitty was a good friend of Hungary.
The founding members of FinnAgora were, in addition to the city of Turku, Helsinki, Lahti, Rovaniemi, Uusikaupunki and the city of Jyväskylä, the university of Jyväskylä, the technical school for higher education, Finland-Hungary association and SanomaWSOY. Governor Jaakko Rauramo (SanomaWSOY) was chosen to be the first chairperson. As commissioner and secretary for the board was called the manager for the city of Turku Mikko Lohikoski, who has been in the position ever since.
The next important step in FinnAgoras operation was the starting of the institute in Budapest. The main responsibility for the starting of the institute was with the institute's first director Pekka Timonen, who nowadays works as City Manager for Lahti City. As honorary guests for the opening held on the 29th of March 2004 were the cultural ministers from both Finland and Hungary.
“FinnAgora has already confused the Hungarians before it even opened”, said Timonen in a newspaper interview with Turun Sanomat 29th of March 2004. “The newest Finnish institute seems to lack all the elements of a traditionally run state cultural institute.” According to the guidelines by Timonen the mission for FinnAgora was to find new dimensions in the Finnish-Hungarian collaboration. “Folk traditions and friendship activities are already well established.”
FOLKLORES OR WIDE SPREAD ACTIVITY?
The operative field for FinnAgora was from the start defined as quite wide: culture, science and economics. From time to time the focus has been on culture and specifically on art, and other themes have been less focused on.
Already in 2004 the foundations vice-chairperson, councilman Rauramo, took notice of this “onesideness”. “The plan of action is a bit “people pleasing” and politics and economics have gotten less attention”, he said at the foundation's meeting. “FinnAgora should differentiate itself from other centers by working in various fields and the scale of the operations should be wide”. He got support for this from other members of the foundations board.
In the new strategy for FinnAgoras foundation (2023-2027) it is emphasized strongly even in the founding phase important matters and that is the wide scale of networking, active collaboration with civil society and a broad field in its operation. Also the international situation and the societal development in Hungary have been a motivating factor for these guidelines.
BEHIND THE SUCCESS A COMMITTED BOARD AND PERSONNEL - AND A WIDE COLLABORATION NETWORK
The strength of the board of FinnAgora has from the start been a very committed and broadly represented and well established board from Finnish society and a competent personnel in Budapest. During these two decades strong collaboration have been created in Finland and in Hungary, with help of it has been possible to create successful operations in Hungary and its neighboring areas. Even a close relationship with the Finnish Embassy in Hungary has helped substantially the institute's activities through this the creation of the whole Finland image in the area.
Special thanks naturally to the chairpeople of the board. After councilman Heikki Koski to the position was chosen minister Kalevi Kivistö and after him the current chairperson metropolitan Ambrosius. They have all led the board's actions with determination and with good results.
The commissioner of the FinnAgora foundation since 2002 -
The article is partly based on an article published in the Finland-Hungary associations newspaper in 2019.