Kylätoiminta / Finnish Village Action
( 1992 , Finland )

...for showing a dynamic path to rural regeneration, decentralisation and popular empowerment.

We are not willing to regard economic values as more important than the quality of life. We believe in the right of people to decide over their own lives.


During the 1960s and early 1970s, Finland experienced rural depopulation. By 1974, however, there were first signs of a modest rural revival, which, in 1976, came to the attention of Lauri Hautamäki, later Professor at the University of Tampere in the Department of Regional Studies. He started a project of Action Research into this embryo movement, to evaluate the potential for revitalisation of rural communities. The new ideas of the project (e.g. “concrete utopias”) caught the public imagination. In less than ten years (1977-1985), the number of Village Committees rose from 50 to 2,000. In 2009, there were about 4,000 villages in Finland, almost all of them with their own Village Committee or Village Society to co-ordinate the development work of the village.

Contact

Tapio Mattlar
Vuorenkyläntie 2249
19850 Putkijärvi
FINLAND

tapio@mattlar.fi

Biography

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Finland experienced rural depopulation. By 1974, however, there were first signs of a modest rural revival, which, in 1976, came to the attention of Lauri Hautamäki, later Professor at the University of Tampere in the Department of Regional Studies. He started a project of Action Research into this embryo movement, to evaluate the potential for revitalisation of rural communities. The new ideas of the project (e.g. “concrete utopias”) caught the public imagination. In less than ten years (1977-1985), the number of Village Committees rose from 50 to 2,000. In 2009, there were about 4,000 villages in Finland, almost all of them with their own Village Committee or Village Society to co-ordinate the development work of the village. In addition, village activists have organized provincial Village Action Societies in all twelve provinces of Finland. Even on the national level there is an organization, Suomen Kylätoiminta ry., founded by some country life oriented associations, which supports the work of the villages.

The Village Committees are an expression of small-scale collective action over individualism. Communal facilities are emphasized or restored, as are public and social services, such as health, postal or transport services. One academic wrote in 1986: “Although village activity has achieved much that is of positive value, its importance lies much deeper. In the long run its greatest importance is in the cha …

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Finland experienced rural depopulation. By 1974, however, there were first signs of a modest rural revival, which, in 1976, came to the attention of Lauri Hautamäki, later Professor at the University of Tampere in the Department of Regional Studies. He started a project of Action Research into this embryo movement, to evaluate the potential for revitalisation of rural communities. The new ideas of the project (e.g. “concrete utopias”) caught the public imagination. In less than ten years (1977-1985), the number of Village Committees rose from 50 to 2,000. In 2009, there were about 4,000 villages in Finland, almost all of them with their own Village Committee or Village Society to co-ordinate the development work of the village. In addition, village activists have organized provincial Village Action Societies in all twelve provinces of Finland. Even on the national level there is an organization, Suomen Kylätoiminta ry., founded by some country life oriented associations, which supports the work of the villages.

The Village Committees are an expression of small-scale collective action over individualism. Communal facilities are emphasized or restored, as are public and social services, such as health, postal or transport services. One academic wrote in 1986: “Although village activity has achieved much that is of positive value, its importance lies much deeper. In the long run its greatest importance is in the change in people’s attitudes. The former passivity and submissivity have given way to a new vigour, self-reliance and community spirit and to better awareness of opportunities for activities and assistance.

Over the years, the tasks of the Village Committees have changed. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s the main work of the Committees were to arrange activities to collect money for village projects. The main method was the traditional Finnish voluntary team work “talkoot,” to achieve the commonly chosen goal. Since Finland joined the European Union in 1995, the financing of the village projects through EU programs became possible, especially through the LEADER-program. However, there is some discussion about whether the European Union programs have spoiled the original idea of the Village Action Movement, and there are some villages who refuse to use any EU-money. Yet, most Village Committees still trust that they can accept LEADER-money without losing the original idea of “taking the faith of the village in their own hands”.

The Village Committees have taken an active role in the execution of regional and rural policy (bottom-up development). There is evidence that they have also revived and created a new cooperation between their more traditional organisations (farmers’ organisations, trade union branches, youth societies, country women clubs etc.) and entrepreneurs. Household and farming extension services have also revived, especially, in the latter case, in the field of organic agriculture. All these groups and organisations are a further expression of the growing determination among rural people to preserve the dynamic, quality and variety of their lives against the continuing trends elsewhere of urbanization, centralization and loss of rural local control and self-reliance.

The Village Committees combine vitality and creativity, expressed in a very broad range of activities, with flexibility and efficiency of organization, and evident knowledge of and love for their village, its culture and traditions and their natural environment. Their activities encompass the arts (music, drama, painting), crafts (both traditional and modern), economic development and the encouragement of entrepreneurship, sports, especially winter sports, and social events of all kinds, involving the whole village and generating a palpable enthusiasm and liveliness.

For instance, Tapio Mattlar’s village Vuorenkylä in Central Finland only counts some 150 inhabitants, but the Village Society has been one of the most active in the whole country. In the 1980’s, Vuorenkylä Society started a skiing centre that is still in the business and brings thousands of tourists to the village every winter. They also wrote a 500-pages history book with numerous historical photos, which was published in 2006. In 2011, a two hours long film about the village followed.

 
 

FAQ about the Finnish Village Action

asked in 2005 answered by Tapio Mattlar

1. Does the Finnish Village Action stand for a traditional way of life or is it something completely new?

The Finnish village action is something old and something new. It combines the most valuable traditions and the best inventions of modern life. The result is a new way to live in the countryside. With the help of new technology it is possible to reach a very high quality of life in the middle of beautiful nature in a very sustainable way.

2. Which effect does your work have on rural youth?

More and more young people of the countryside are interested in returning to their home villages after they have studied in the cities. The main effect of the village action has been that it has changed the thinking of people about the future and possibilities of country life. There are two major groups, who move from the cities to the villages: Young families with little children and just retired elderly people.

3. What does the urban public think about the Village Action?

I’m afraid they don’t know much about it, because the gatekeepers of the media are mostly urban and they are not very interested in presenting the activities of the villages. But luckily there are also many famous persons, who have moved from the cities to villages and this is interesting for the media, too. Maybe that’s why so many urban people are dreaming about moving to the countryside one day.

4. Where do all these people find a job, when they move to a little village?

There is not an easy solution to this, because there are not many steady jobs in the villages. But here are hundreds of possibilities to earn your living. You just have to be active, keep your eyes open, find out what is going on and bravely start something. Very often things work out in a way you never could have thought. Besides, nobody will die from hunger in the villages of Finland even if he doesn’t find a reasonable job.

5. Isn’t it better for the environment, that people live close to each other and the nature can be wild?

You can live both in the cities and in the countryside in a sustainable way – or by harming the environment. But in the countryside it is you who decides whether to buy your food in the shop or grow it yourself etc. By working at home you at least save a lot of energy (and time) when you don’t have to travel to your working place.

6. What effect has the RLA had on your work?

It has given to the activists of the villages more belief in their work. It has also given our work a unique nature: Now we understand that the spirit of working together for our future is not so common in the villages of the world. Unfortunately the award has not got much publicity in Finland, so it has not affected as much the attitudes of the authorities as we hoped. But luckily the EU seems to understand and to support our work more than the Finnish government.