By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
All Nordic countries may soon be a part of NATO. On Thursday, Finland’s leaders announced their support for joining the organization. Culturally, the Nordic cluster of countries embrace modesty, equality, humility, and skepticism.
Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland are the five countries that make up the Nordic cluster within the Nordic Region, or Norden. Of these, only Finland and Sweden are not yet members of NATO. Finnish leaders announced Thursday their belief that Finland should join the multinational organization, which could cause Sweden to do the same. The move is sure to anger Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has cited NATO’s growth toward Russia’s borders as one of the justifications for his invasion of Ukraine.
The Nordic cluster is the northernmost cluster of cultures on Earth, and it’s not as widely understood as many others. In his video series Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are, Dr. David Livermore, president and partner at the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, Michigan, leads an eye-opening discussion about the cluster.
Sweden, Denmark, and Norway are considered Scandinavian countries, while Finland and Iceland are not, but all five constitute the Nordic cluster. With one group of three making up Scandinavia, and an overlapping group of three in NATO, it may seem confusing or as though insurmountable boundaries may separate the five Nordic countries. However, they do have their own multinational organization.
“In 1971, the Nordic countries officially formed the Nordic Council to represent them as a block, and they have functioned somewhat collaboratively since then,” Dr. Livermore said. “For example, the Nordic Council of Ministers shares an embassy complex in Berlin, and they have other offices and shared initiatives around the world.
“The Nordic culture is the ancient land and people of the Norsemen, or Vikings as they’re often called in medieval literature and history.”
The Nordic Way
Dr. Livermore said that, as silly as it may sound, IKEA shows Nordic social philosophy in a nutshell. Its design is simple, minimalist, and functional; it’s contemporary without being overly hip or flashy. This extends far beyond furniture.
“These aspects of IKEA and the custom that says ‘Don’t dress with too much bling’ both reflect a core Nordic ideal known as Jante’s law,” he said. “This is the most important idea for you to understand about the Nordic cluster.”
According to Dr. Livermore, a 1930s author named Aksel Sandemose wrote a novel called A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks. Its fictional setting, a town called Jante—modeled after Sandemose’s Danish hometown—abides by 10 rules known as Jante’s law. The law essentially boils down to not thinking of oneself as special. However, it’s far less cruel or demeaning than it sounds.
“It’s hard to overstate how strongly this idea weaves through Nordic cultures: modesty, equality, humility, skepticism—these are all expressions of Jante’s law,” he said. “Everyone is on equal footing and each citizen in society, as a whole, should do whatever it can to protect that right. Sandemose’s novel was an instant hit and people all across Scandinavia saw it as a very telling portrayal of their lives.”
This also extends to not overly criticizing others and not flaunting one’s wealth or accomplishments. Dr. Livermore said it’s all about finding ways to pursue your individual interests, while making sure that everyone else has the opportunity to do so as well.
If Finland and Sweden join NATO, their culture will surely influence their participation in the group.