The Republic of Finland (called Suomi in the Finnish language) is one of the world's most progressive and advanced nations. This is in spite of what many would consider to be less than optimal circumstances, including a harsh climate, little variety of natural resources, a very small population.
Today Finland has a highly industrialized, largely free-market economy with a per capita output and a standard of living (not only in terms of economic indicators but also in terms of public health, public safety, welfare, culture and other intangibles) rivaling those of France, Germany and Italy. This has been accomplished simultaneously with maintaining what is consistently ranked as one of the world's highest, or even the highest, standards of environmental protection and sustainability.
The main industries are wood, metals, engineering, telecommunications and electronics. Because of the climate, agriculture is limited to maintaining self-sufficiency in basic crops. Foreign trade is important, with exports accounting for nearly a third of GDP.
Finland's excellent economic performance has been attributed to its excellent education system, its sophisticated infrastructure and a national consensus on problem solving. But it is also likely due to the fact that the country is a strong and vibrant democracy. In fact, according to some rankings it is at, or near, the top of all countries with regard to democracy, press freedom and a lack of corruption. Finland is also a very egalitarian country, and it takes pride in the fact that in 1906 it became the first European nation (and one of the first in the world) to grant women the right to vote and run for parliament.
The capital and largest city is Helsinki, a port city which was founded in 1550. Located in the far south of the country on the shore of the Gulf of Finland (and only 55 miles across the Gulf from Tallin, Estonia), it is the northernmost national capital on the European continent. With a population of slightly more than half a million (and about 1.2 million for the metropolitan area as a whole), Helsinki is a small and attractive city. It is widely appreciated for its outstanding architecture, abundance of parks and excellent transportation system (including a subway a growing tramway network).
Finland places a high priority on education and R&D. Schooling is compulsory for ages seven through 16, and it is free, even at the university level. There is virtually no illiteracy. The University of Helsinki, founded in 1640 and located in central Helsinki, is the largest of the country's 20 universities and 29 polytechnic institutes. It has good reason to be particularly proud of its department of computer science (which has more than 2000 students).
The most famous Finnish person alive today is Linus Torvalds, who originated (and still maintains) Linux, the free computer operating system which is taking the world by storm and is showing increasing signs of revolutionizing the computer industry (and perhaps other things as well).