If you follow what’s happening in the Budapest cultural scene, then you’ve probably come across some great Finnish events, such as the Finnish Film Days, the Restaurant Day or the Luukku Atelier, organized by Finnagora, the Finnish cultural center in Budapest. In fact, Finnish culture has been quite prominent in Budapest in the last couple of years, with great projects that not only help us learn about Finnish culture, but also show us how a foreign culture can be integrated into a local cultural scene. As of January, 2015, Finnagora has a new director, Cita Högnabba-Lumikero. I asked Cita about her background, the organization, as well as about some upcoming projects at Finnagora.
Tell me about your background. Which part of Finland are you from?
I was born in Åland and grew up about 100 kilometers from Helsinki in Ekenäs, which is called Tammisaari in Finnish. Then due to my work as a foreign correspondent and later as a diplomat, I also lived in Germany and in Sweden for almost 20 years. My mother tongue is actually Swedish, so I’m a finlandssvenska, a Swedish-speaking Finn, as we say it in Finland. I’m the first director of Finnagora with this background, and during my three to five-year term here, I really want to make sure that this part of our culture will be emphasized both in the cultural and in the political level. Not many people know that 6% of the Finnish population is Swedish speaking, and Swedish is the other official language in Finland. So I’m planning to tackle questions such as how you can make a language minority happy and how you can make them feel integrated. I think Finland has quite successfully answered these questions so it’s definitely something that is worth talking about.
I would say that the educational system is a great example since if you’re a Swedish-speaking Finn, you can complete your whole education in Swedish.
Yes, exactly. I also did my whole education in Swedish and only learned Finnish at school. But it’s important to understand that we are not Swedes, but we are Finns. Our identity is Finnish and we have our own strong cultural identity, but if there is, for example, an ice hockey game between Sweden and Finland, then we always cheer for the Finns. Also, we’ve never wanted to form a separate country, like some other language minorities in Europe.
Cita Högnabba-Lumikero. Photo: Finnagora
What is your impression about Budapest so far? Have you visited a lot of places yet?
I really like what I’ve seen. It’s like you never know what’s around the corner, which makes the city very exciting. I love the Danube; it’s so enormous and so beautiful with the bridges. The other weekend, I went to the DunaPart festival where I saw two dance performances and a play by the Béla Pintér Company called Our Secrets. It was excellent. I’ve already visited the big Synagogue and I’ve been to the Opera, too. Then I also just walked around and spent some time at different cafés just to observe the people.
How do you see Budapest if you compare it to other cities?
Like I said I lived in Berlin and in Stockholm for quite a long time, and I think there are similarities between Berlin and Budapest if you look at the cultural scenes in these two cities. There is this sort of experimental aspect in Berlin, too. But Stockholm and Helsinki have a different feeling. In Central-Europe, I love these old buildings, these enourmous historical venues, and this is something that we don’t have in the same way in Helsinki. Of course, in Budapest, you see that there is still a lot to be done, but I think it’s the same way in every interesting city.
Which part of the city do you live in?
I live on the Buda side, on Gellért Hill. I like living there because it’s calm and I can also take these wonderful walks up and down the hill. It’s my everyday healthy exercise.
Do you have one favorite place so far?
Yes, I really like Gerlóczy Café. I actually have a friend in Stockholm who told me about it and also Leena Pasanen, the previous director of Finnagora liked that place a lot.
Is there anything you’re really looking forward to do?
Yes, in May, a Finnish, actually a Swedish-speaking Finn, author Kjell Westö is coming to Budapest for the Book Fair. He writes novels with historical perspective, about difficult times, like the civil war. Westö received a lot of prestigious prizes, for example the Nordic Literature Prize and the Finlandia Prize. Two of his books have been translated to Hungarian and will be launched at the Book Fair. Fortunately we also get a newcomer to the Book Fair, Tommi Kinnunen; I am sure we will hear from him more in the future. I’m also planning to take them to a winery outside of Budapest, so that’s definitely something I’m looking forward to. And then I’m actually very much looking forward to the spring season in Budapest.
Tell me a little bit about Finnagora and its organizational structure.
Finnagora is part of a network of 17 Finnish cultural institutes all around the world, each with a different name. For instance, the one in Berlin is called Finland Institut, in Stockholm, it’s called Finlandsinstitutet. There is a foundation behind each institute with a board, so none of them is funded only by the Finnish government, although funding comes from the Ministry of Culture and Education as well. Also, some institutes have a more distinct profile, like the one in Rome that focuses only on research. Here, in Budapest, our main task is to be a piece of Finland in Hungary through projects related to culture, science and business. We have an office in the building of the Finnish Embassy, where we also use the library for lectures. So, for instance, last year, Finnagora was 10 years old, we invited interesting Finns from different fields in culture and science to speak about topics of their expertise. But otherwise, we do everything in partnership with Hungarian galleries, museums or other organizations.
So it means the idea is to integrate the Finnish culture into the Hungarian cultural scene.
Yes, and nowadays, it’s actually very important to emphasize the dialogues. Our aim is to create platfroms for Finnish artists, scientists and business in Hungary.
Restaurant Day (Ravintolapäivä) and Finnish Film Days. Photo: Finnagora
Do you offer languages courses at Finnagora?
No, but we can help people find language courses and we also work closely with the Finnish-Hungarian Friendship Society. There are courses in Finland, but those are not organized by us.
What are the main projects for this year?
There are regular events each year, such as the Restaurant Day and the Finnish Film Days, but then we also come up with new projects each year. It takes quite a lot of time to organize these projects so we already work on events that will happen in 2016 and 2017. For example, we are already discussing a project for 2016 with Műcsarnok (Kunsthalle) that would involve a very famous Finnish video artist, Eija-Liisa Ahtila. This year has already been planned out, at least the big projects, so in 2015, the emphasis will be on the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius because he was born in 1865, exactly 150 years ago. We’ll have a fashion and design event in autumn presenting Finnish and Hungarian fashion designers. One part of the event is produced in cooperation with the Hungarian university MOME and the Finnish university Metropolia. Just like in the previous years, we’ll again organize the Restaurant Day at Finnagora on Saturday, May 16th, and this year we’ll have live music by Finnish accordion player.
Restaurant Day (Ravintolapäivä). Photo: Finnagora