Finnish language and culture has a long, yet unknown tradition since the times of former Yugoslavia in Serbia. The Serbian-Finnish society Seura strives to increase Finnish language skills and awareness of Finland, and is active in promoting friendship between Finland and Serbia through many events and activities.
”Hyvää päivää”, chair of Serbian-Finnish society Miroslav Cvetkovic says in fluent Finnish. He is also known as the bassist of the very popular band Bajaga i Instruktori, founded in 1984.
Not much else Cvetkovic can say, but Finnish language has long roots in his family. Cvetkovic’s father, Cedomir Cvetkovic, was known in the former Yugoslavia as the only Finnish-speaking person, and he was translating discussions between Tito and Kekkonen.
Elder Cvetkovic founded a free Finnish language school in Obrenovac, and he was the only Finnish speaking person in Serbia until 2000. The students he had back then are currently the ones teaching Finnish in Belgrade.
His son Miroslav Cvetkovic officially registered the Serbian-Finnish society, “Seura”, only in 2011, when he also became the chair on Seura after his father. In Serbia, interest in Finland has grown every year. According to Cvetkovic, people know Finland best in its heavy metal music and brands such as Nokia.
However, the aim of Seura is to share information about other things in Finland as well. Important topics include language, nature and culture. Finnish language has been a way to awaken a greater interest in Finland, learning the language has been important for younger people to become permanent members of Seura. Cvetkovic emphasizes the wish to have Finnish taught at the University of Belgrade, where they already teach other Nordic languages.
In addition to language teaching, Seura is active in many other areas. Good contacts with people in Finland have helped with projects related to study and work opportunities. Through the previous project, which was carried out in cooperation with the municipality of Kannus, about 20 Serbian people left for Finland and stayed there to work. According to Cvetkovic, a similar project is currently being planned as well.
For years, Seura has had good relations with the Embassy of Finland in Serbia, but also with the Embassy of Serbia in Finland, where there also exists a local Serbian-Finnish society.
Seura also cooperates with schools and organizes a number of humanitarian events such as fundraising concerts. The annual events of the society include presentations about Finland and Finnish culture three to four times a year, and the presentations draw particular interest in elderly centers.
Towards the end of the year, Seura organizes a cultural food event “Delicacy-Monday”, where the members bake, for example, Finnish blueberry pie and meatballs for others to taste. In the future, Seura is planning to organize also some kind of a Finnish movie event.
Seura’s choir is an important part of the society, especially in terms of language and culture. Cvetkovic says all the songs the choir performs are from Finland and sung in Finnish.
Cvetkovic attaches great importance to the friendship between Serbia and Finland, and hopes to see better opportunities for education, employment and language teaching in the future. Finland is not yet such a well-known country in Serbia, which is why Seura tries to raise awareness.
“We want to break the general idea that Finns are a cold people. If people could get to know them, they would understand how warm and friendly they are. We could have a lot to learn from Finns, such as creativity and work morale. However, it is equally important that our experience and knowledge is also communicated to Finland and Finns.”
Cvetkovic has visited Finland only once with his father, when they travelled to around six Finnish cities. To him, the brightest memory from that time was when he saw timber rafting in a river, the traditional Finnish way of transporting logs. He also remembers his first sauna experience, after which he received a diploma for surviving sauna without a hysterical seizure.