And yet it is almost never mentioned that a not terribly dissimilar frontier exists within Europe: the 833 mile border between Finland (which has a higher per capita income than Germany, France, or Britain) and corrupt and dysfunctional Russia—the Mexico of Europe.
While America`s per capita GDP is 4.1 times Mexico`s, Finland`s is 2.7 times Russia`s. So the difference is significant.
Even though Finland has the kind of Nordic welfare state that attracts immigrants (for example, 12 percent of neighboring Sweden`s population is foreign-born), it still has one of the lowest percentages of immigrants of any Western European country: only two percent of its 5.2 million residents.
And a substantial fraction of Finland`s immigrants consist of spouses of Finns, Finnish-speaking citizens of Russia (there are pockets of Finnish-speakers throughout the forests of northern Russia), Estonians, whose Uralic language is closest to Finnish, and Swedes (Swedish is the second official language). Third World immigrants make up less than one percent of the population.
This hasn`t exactly hurt Finland. The World Economic Forum`s poll of 11,000 global business leaders ranks Finland as possessing the second-most competitive economy in the world. (The U.S. is sixth.)
In 2005, the Washington Post sent two reporters to Finland for several weeks to find out why Finland has "the world`s best educational system, produces such talented musicians and architects, and has more cell phones per capita than Japan and America."
Sitting here in my pajamas in California, I could have saved the Washington Post all the expense. The most important reason why Finland is so Finlandy is because it is full of Finns.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the population is 93.4 percent Finnish. The biggest minority group at 5.7 percent is ... Swedes. Then come Russians at 0.4 percent and Estonians at 0.2 percent. Roma (Gypsies) make up 0.2 percent and the Sami (Laplanders) are 0.1 percent.
Finland maintains its borders and thus it can maintain a governmental and social system well suited to its unique population.
Genetically, Finns appear to be an interesting hybrid of Europeans and North Central Eurasians. Their Uralic language is believed to have originated in the Northern Ural Mountains dividing Europe from Siberia. Above 60 degrees latitude, the world is considerably less distant around than at lower latitudes, so there has been more intermingling of Europeans and Asians. (The reindeer-herding Lapps of Finland`s far north are even more Asian.)
Whatever their origins in the prehistoric past, however, the Finns became quite homogenous over the centuries they spent as poor farmers and fishermen. They`ve developed a distinctive national personality: tough nerds.
A classic example is Paavo Nurmi, the "Flying Finn" who won nine Olympic gold medals in 1920-1928. His scientific approach to training and running (he always raced with a stopwatch in his hand) revolutionized distance running.
The nerd side of Finland has become more visible in recent years. Finn Linus Torvalds created the Linux computer operating system that`s challenging Microsoft Windows. Finland`s Nokia sold $53 billion dollars worth of cell phones last year. (One Finnish idiosyncrasy is that traffic fines are proportional to income, so a Nokia director was handed a $103,600 speeding ticket in 2002.)
Perhaps the toughest nerd of them all was Simo Häyhä, the greatest sniper ever. The terrified soldiers of the invading Red Army called him "the White Death" because he shot 505 Soviet troops during 100 days of the 1939-1940 Winter War, or almost one per hour of daylight. Häyhä personally killed more enemy soldiers than Saddam`s entire Iraqi Army did during the 1991 Gulf War.
The Finns just want to be left alone. That they escaped (although only barely) the crushing embrace of the Russian bear without getting too close to the German wolf is one of happier stories of the 20th Century.
Although almost nobody in America knows his name, Baron Carl Gustaf Mannerheim was one of the great heroes of the first half of the last century, a patriot who did as much good for his county as any man.
The George Washington of Finland came from its Swedish-speaking elite that had long been the most sophisticated element in a rural culture. Mannerheim was a general in the Imperial Russian army during WWI (Russia had ruled Finland since obtaining it from Sweden in 1809).
If there had been more Finns in the Russian high command in Petrograd in 1917, the world might have been spared 75 years of Communism. Mannerheim pointed out to his fellow generals that there were more Imperial officers than revolutionaries in the capital city, so all they had to do to end the uprising was send their lieutenants to shoot them. But, the other Imperial generals had fallen into a characteristically Russian funk of despair and did nothing.
So Mannerheim went home and helped pull Finland out of Russia before it descended into the maw of madness. He won the nasty but short Finnish civil war against the Finnish Reds. He avoided getting too friendly with the Germans, which helped Finland`s independence be confirmed by the victors at the Versailles conference. He then lost Finland`s Presidential election and retired to running charities.
Mannerheim was recalled to military command, and electrified the world by his defeat of the first Soviet attack in late 1939, before being overwhelmed by weight of numbers and having to give up a modest amount of territory in 1940.
After Stalin`s ultimate victory in 1945, the Finns, having given the Soviets all they could handle, escaped the fate of other Eastern European countries. Finland`s foreign policy was Finlandized—forced into a neutrality leaning toward the Soviet Union. But the Soviets left Finland`s internal affairs alone. So Finland pursued capitalism, democracy, and the welfare state, turning itself first into an industrial power, then into a high-tech one.
So how does Finland do what supposedly can`t be done—keep out unwanted immigrants?
Answer: the Finns simply make the effort required.
Finland is a well-ordered country. The Finns believe that having a well-ordered immigration system is crucial to keeping it that way. Therefore the Finns diligently execute the basic blocking and tackling of immigration enforcement.
It`s very hard to get a job, an apartment, or welfare benefits without a valid ID showing you have the legal right to be in Finland. The frontier continues to be guarded seriously (although border-crossers don`t have the White Death to worry about—he died peacefully in 2002 at age 96!)
Of course, with mass immigration having proven a disaster elsewhere on the continent, the rest of Europe is trying to bully Finland into making the same mistake they have all made.
In the sacred name of diversity, every country must become alike …
As the great Russian Alexander Solzhenitsyn said in his Nobel Prize lecture:
"… the disappearance of nations would have impoverished us no less than if all men had become alike, with one personality and one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, its collective personalities; the very least of them wears its own special colours and bears within itself a special facet of divine intention."
But Finland apparently does not intend to disappear—unlike America.