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Nokia: More than just a company to Finns

As well as making a huge economic impact, Nokia has had a remarkable psychological significance for Finnish people. The company has, according to some experts, greatly impacted Finns’ self-confidence.

Image: Mika Kanerva

“This transaction makes all the sense rationally, but emotionally, it gets complicated,” Nokia’s interim CEO Risto Siilasmaa said when announcing the sale of Nokia’s phone-making business to Microsoft. Finland and Nokia have been synonymous with mobile phones for more than a decade, and the company’s decline has been difficult for Finns to stomach.

In the early 1990s Finland entered a deep recession as an asset price bubble burst and previously reliable trade with the Soviet Union disappeared when the communist state collapsed.

Once the economy bottomed out and a recovery got underway, Nokia became a symbol of post-recession economic growth. It also provided global recognition to a small country that had sometimes felt marginalised on the world stage.

The Mobira Cityman was released in 1987. Soviet president Mikael Gorbachev was among the first to use this early Nokia model. Image: Yle / Touko Yrttimaa

'A new rise and new possibilities'

According to Markku Kuisma, a professor of Finnish and Nordic history at Helsinki University, part of Finns’ identity was bound up with the company.

“Maybe we already lost that as a result of Nokia’s extended crisis,” ponders Kuisma. “Nokia was a symbol of the Finnish economic recovery. It was very important then, when we were in a deep recession in the mid-90s. To us, Nokia represented a new rise and new possibilities.”

Kuisma says that Nokia’s rise from a boot and toilet paper manufacturer to become Finland’s biggest company and the world’s leading mobile firm was an extraordinary chain of events that had worldwide significance.

“It’s something that had never happened before,” says Kuisma.

Bitterness and anger

After the recession, Nokia became a part of Finnishness. The company’s fortunes have had an impact on Finns’ morale, and self-confidence increased as the company's fortunes rose.

Many Finns have found Nokia's fall difficult to take. Image: Junnu Lukkari

“You could say that Finnish self-confidence improved in leaps and bounds for the first time in history, and that was down to Nokia,” says Kuisma.

That emotional attachment has a downside too: Nokia’s decline has been especially hard for Finns to take.

“The disappointment, bitterness and anger have been greater than towards a ‘normal’ company,” says Kuisma. “People don’t generally have an emotional connection to companies, but Nokia has aroused very strong feelings, both positive and negative, because its significance to national identity has been so powerful.”