ANTTI WANTS TO SELL YOU A PIECE OF FINLAND

Antti Kosunen is selling small plots of land in Salla, the Finnish Lapland.

Antti Kosunen is selling small plots of land in Salla, the Finnish Lapland.

How would you like to own your little piece of Finland? Now almost anyone can. Antti Kosunen, 48, is an entrepreneur and a dreamer with an absolutely unique business idea: The father of five children is selling small parcels of land in the Finnish Lapland for 399 euros (543 dollars) a piece on the internet. Don’t worry about the paperwork – it’s all taken care of. And anyone can buy, but Kosunen targets his service mainly to ex-pat Finns.

Entrepreneur Antti Kosunen

Entrepreneur Antti Kosunen

Finntimes recently interviewed Antti Kosunen while he was on a trip in Thailand. This is how he describes the philosophy behind his idea:

-One should have a possibility to buy a dream – experience a place that you can visit every time you close your eyes. The most important thing is that it is something real – a place of your own that you can visit. This lot is yours – that’s the whole idea.

The name of his real estate business is Unelmaa.

-The word is a combination of a dream and land, Kosunen explains.

Antti Kosunen loves nature.

Antti Kosunen loves nature.

He is not new to business.

-I’m an entrepreneur. I have founded and the sold software companies. For the past ten years I’ve been a business angel. We also established our own fund two years ago. Currently I’m an investor investing in technology companies.

Marshland near Salla.

Marshland near Salla.

How did you come up with the idea for Unelmaa?

-It wasn’t really my idea. We are four guys – friends, and we all have an international background. We’ve been living in different places. I have lived in the United States and Asia.

-In the U.S. I lived a year in Silicon Valley in 2001-2002 and before that I was an exchange student in New York.

Antti Sihlman surveys the swampland in Salla.

Antti Sihlman surveys the swampland in Salla.

Kosunen and his business partners developed the idea together.

-The idea of having something permanent was something we were thinking about. There should be a possibility for people with Finnish heritage to have something by which they can show themselves and their families where their roots are.

543 bucks will buy you this piece of land.

543 bucks will buy you this piece of land.

-We decided to buy a big piece of land and divide it into a hundred square meter (1,076 square feet), parcels and sell them. That would give people a feeling that they are closer to nature and Finland and have something real.

Salla borders Russia in the Finnish Lapland.

Salla borders Russia in the Finnish Lapland.

Unelmaa Company’s land is located in Salla, Eastern Lapland, by the arctic circle and bordered by Russia. The vast municipality covers an area of 5,872.21 square kilometers (2,267.27 sq mi), but only has some 4,000 inhabitants. So, one is basically alone up there.

Salla is vast but sparsely populated.

Salla is vast but sparsely populated.

The partners started the endeavor a few months ago but haven’t marketed it yet. So far they have sold a couple of tiny parcels to friends. They have a capacity to sell a whopping 12 thousand lots!

-Frankly, we don’t know yet whether this is a business or a hobby. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Taiga - or northern forest in Salla.

Taiga – or northern forest in Salla.

What is going to happen to that land?

-It’s a piece of nature that stays there whether people visit the place or not. But we would recommend people to visit the land. Salla is a nice place. When you visit your land you form a bond with it. Somebody actually said he would like to place a plaque there – something that would be permanent. It should be a place that anybody could visit – have a cup of coffee, make a fire, camp for a day or just visit with a local guide and perhaps pick some berries on your own land.

A bird's nest in the forest.

A bird’s nest in the forest.

How does a person locate his or her particular parcel?

-With a GPS coordinator. We have been discussing with local people in Salla to provide different kinds of services for visitors – such as locating their parcel. Someone will take you there and help you set up camp, make fire, or have a glass of champagne – whatever you wish. And if there is an item – like a family heirloom – you wish to place on your property, we can also have that done.

Antti Kosunen mountain climbing in Finland.

Antti Kosunen mountain climbing in Finland.

Let’s say you are flying from the United States to Finland – how do you get to your property?

-You can fly from Helsinki to Kuusamo and take an hour bus or train ride that takes you to Salla. After a half an hour car trip and another half an hour walk and you are on your lot.

Summertime in Salla.

Summertime in Salla.

What kind of a connection do you have to Salla?

-I spent quite a bit of time hiking in Lapland as a kid. That’s where I get my warm memories of nature. I enjoy hiking and camping in the wilderness. I love to listen to silence.

What is the nature like there?

-It’s a forest and a swamp. There’s a lake next to it. And when I say forest, it doesn’t look like a forest in Southern Finland, the trees are smaller, but it’s a forest nevertheless.

Visitors can enjoy a lake view on their own land.

Visitors can enjoy a lake view on their own land.

What’s a good time to go there?

-Anytime is good. It’s always a very different experience. We acquired the land in the winter time when there was snow on the ground. At that time of the year you see reindeer and snow, hear nothing but silence, everything is white – it’s like a Santa Claus country. In the spring everything wakes up. I personally like the forest the best but foreigners seem to prefer the swamp.

In the fall you can see “ruska” – autumn colors as trees turn. In the dead of winter the sun never rises and in the summer there’s no night but you can experience the midnight sun.

Different seasons offer different treats in Salla.

Different seasons offer different treats in Salla.

-One of the most unique experiences there are the northern lights, aurora borealis or “revontulet” in the winter.

-We figure most of the lots would be sold to people with a Finnish heritage. Another group would be Asians – Chinese and Japanese, because Finland is exotic to them. And the idea of owning a piece of land is impossible in many countries. There’s mystique in it.

Kosunen might have just the gift idea for that uncle turning 50 or that aunt who already has everything.

-We are no longer collecting things – we don’t want stuff but on the other hand would like to have something permanent. We are hoping a piece of land would be that “something”.

013 UNELMAA

For more info go to: www.unelmaa.com

 

EDITORIAL: MY MEMO TO FINNISH POLITICIANS

BY TOMI HINKKANEN

Tomi Hinkkanen, editor-in-chief, Finntimes

Tomi Hinkkanen, editor-in-chief, Finntimes

The earth is flat – or at least that’s how it looks like by reading on-line newspapers from Finland. It seems as if some kind of a paralysis has struck the entire nation. There’s no purpose, drive, mission or, to put it in a more fanciful way – raison d’etre in Finland.

Naantali in winter

Naantali in winter

Finland has a colorful, even a glorious past. The story is familiar to all Finns. It was a small, brave nation, the first country in Europe to give women the right to vote. It managed to gain independence from the Czar’s Russia and later averted the Soviet invasion in WW2, paid its war reparations, hosted the 1952 Olympics, managed to stay more or less neutral during cold war and acted as a liaison between superpowers. Sibelius wrote beautiful music, Lasse Wiren ran Finland to the world map and Nokia spearheaded Finland into the 21st century. And then what? Nothing. It seems as if the Finnish story got stuck like a broken record somewhere in the turn of the millennium.

Helsinki from the Baltic Sea

Helsinki from the Baltic Sea

There’s a wonderful documentary Reindeerspotting – Escape from Santaland by Joonas Neuvonen, that brilliantly illustrates the blight of the Finnish youth living in Rovaniemi, above the Arctic Circle in Lapland. Left with no hopes for the future, the kids in the movie turn to drugs with deadly results. It’s a must see film to any parent and is available on Netflix. This particular film concentrates on a group of youths in Lapland. There could be another movie made about another group of people that feel left out from the IT-wonder of the modern day Finland, where it seems you have to be a computer engineer, a sports hero or at least a reality star to get anywhere. I get it. I get the hopelessness that many young people there are experiencing. You see, in a stark contrast, in my line of work as a journalist, I mainly meet those Finns who have made it. Indeed, here in Los Angeles, I get the cream of the crop: beauty queens, actors, directors, scientists and sports legends – exceptional individuals who are talented and crazy enough to go for the gold. After meeting them I often wonder about those people, who didn’t make it. And it does seem to me that there’s a big pool of Finns who for one reason or another feel left out in today’s Finland.

Finnish police in Lapland

Finnish police in Lapland

In a misguided effort to jump start things, Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen ordered a study to be made on how to steer Finland into the future. A memo about the venture went out to various agencies and organizations, many of whom were eager to participate. So they put a lot of time and effort into writing proposals on how they could help. But the Prime Mister had just the person in mind all along. It was a good buddy of his, philosopher Pekka Himanen.

Philosopher Pekka Himanen

Philosopher Pekka Himanen

So, the two men toured a couple of government agencies, a virtual hat in hand, asking money for the project. And guess what? The government bureaucrats said ‘yes’ to the Prime Minister – of course we’ll pitch in. It was an offer they couldn’t refuse – you don’t say no to the Prime Minister. The finished report, by all accounts, was very modest. Its biggest merit was that it contained a lot of complicated words and sentences. It ended up costing the Finnish tax payers 700,000 euros, or about a million dollars. I would be surprised if the study was worth the paper it was printed on. Most likely it will be buried in a vault deep under the granite bedrock and some researcher a hundred years from now will find it and wonder, what the hell were they thinking! Read the plan for the study here:

http://static.iltalehti.fi/kuvat/liitteet/kestavankasvunmalli_hankesuunnitelma.pdf

The debacle earned the Prime Mister a new nickname Jyrki Käteinen (cash).

Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen

Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen

The incidence is hardly worth mentioning – there are much costlier and more wasteful things politicians have sunk tax payers’ hard earned cash into. It is however, indicative of the fact that there seems to be a general lack of direction – the country seems to be drifting. Now, why is that, you may ask. Is it because everything worthwhile has already been accomplished? Today Finns live in an unprecedented wealth compared to the past. Roads, bridges, mass transportation, healthcare and education are top notch. Finland is an open, democratic society, where women are not only equal – in many cases, such as university enrollment – they have surpassed men. If that’s true, why don’t people feel good about themselves or their lives?

Winter in Finland

Could it be that the sense of equality has lost its meaning now that men and women are more or less equal? What about gays and lesbians? What about foreigners living in Finland – especially those foreigners that look different from us or pray differently from us and people of color in general, whether foreign or domestic? There’s a dirty little secret the official establishment doesn’t want to publicize: There’s bigotry and racism in Finland. The country has never openly dealt with the race or religious issues, nor the struggles of the LGBT-community the way the United States has done. Things are not perfect here either – far from it – but at least Americans don’t sweep their problems under the carpet. Finns are quick to point the finger at other countries (the U.S. being their favorite target), when things are not up to snuff. In the meantime, an ugly movement is taking root in Finland. It manifests itself in the rise of politicians and one party in particular – Finns (Perussuomalaiset) – dedicated to xeno- and homophobia, as well as chauvinism. This movement lures people with romanticized versions of the past when all was supposedly well. If only Finland didn’t have to support those do-good nothings of Southern Europe. If only gays and lesbians went back into the closet and never came back. If only those (expletive), refugees went back to where they came from. If only women knew their place between the oven and the fist. Yes, then what? According to them, all would be well again. Rubbish! Despite of their rhetoric, I bet very few of those politicians would actually like living in that non-existent past.

Markku and Eeva Hinkkanen with son Tomi at an agricultural show in Turku, 1964

Markku and Eeva Hinkkanen with son Tomi at an agricultural show in Turku, 1964

If you look at history, you will notice that every time Finland (or any other country for that matter), expanded the rights of their people, good things happened. And every time people’s freedoms were suppressed, bad things happened. You don’t need government studies written by buddies of politicians to know what to do next. You only need to do the right things. Here’s my memo for the Finnish politicians and unlike some other studies, this one doesn’t cost the tax payers one single cent:

-Increase immigration quotas and influx of refugees into Finland, at the same time setting strict limits on governmental assistance and requiring the newcomers to enroll in schools, learn the language, history and political structure of Finland. The aging country needs new blood and workers – especially in healthcare, care of the elderly and manual and low skill labor positions. Immigration also brings new ideas and energy – both which are clearly present in the United States.

-Make entrepreneurship a lucrative option. Right now in Finland (especially unionized) employees have all kinds of rights and benefits but entrepreneurs are left to float or sink on their own. Small businesses employ half of all private sector employees in the U.S. Entrepreneurship creates jobs and wealth.

-By all means support also big business, such as ship building, by granting government loans they need to be competitive.

-Tap an untapped market: Movie tourism. Lure Hollywood productions and other foreign film productions to shoot in Finland by offering tax incentives to filmmakers (look at Canada and New Zeeland as examples).

-Do more programs like Global Access Program, where Finnish high tech companies get help from abroad to expand their businesses. It is money well spent.

-The government doesn’t have to be everywhere. Lower the unbearably high tax rate by getting rid of unnecessary government agencies, bureaucracies and personnel. Ask yourselves: Does the government really need to subsidize sports, arts, literature – not to mention all sorts of studies? Do the Swedish-speaking Finns (who represent about 5% of the population), really need their own schools, universities and TV stations, or could they perhaps support the programs they want out of their own pocket? In the same vein, why can’t the Finnish-speaking people study other, more useful languages instead of the mandatory Swedish?

-Engage Europe and the world. Be very watchful with the EU, don’t let other countries tread on you or treat you as a cash cow. Offer to act as an intermediary in world conflicts. Put Finland on the map!

-The Finnish education system has garnered praise throughout the world. However, not everyone is a born computer nerd. Offer educational choices (even abroad), to differently talented youth.

-Pass the marriage act between two consenting and non-related same-sex adults. It takes nothing away from heterosexual couples but means a world of difference to gay couples and their families, who so far have been treated as second class citizens. It also puts Finland in line with its neighboring Nordic countries.

-Finland is full of bright, talented, intelligent and well-educated people. My final recommendation is: Let those people shine in their chosen field, do whatever it takes!

Turku in the springtime