Vox Pop: Finns in Russia

Five people answer nine questions about living in Russia.

1. How did you end up in Russia?

2. What were your first impressions of the country, of business in the country?

3. If they have changed, how have things changed?

4. What advice would you give someone to succeed in Russia?

5. What is the biggest difference between Finland and Russia?

6. What do you most like about Russia?

7. What do you most dislike about Russia?

8. What would you advise the Russian president do to attract foreigners to Russia?

9. What do you miss about Finland?

Jyrki Talvitie

VTB Bank Senior Vice President, Head of Investor Relations

1. This is actually my fourth time living in Moscow. Originally I came here in 1966 with my parents as my father was stationed at the Finnish Embassy. So I lived here twice as a child and then twice working here between 1992-1997 and this time since 2003.

2. First impressions from 1966 (as a 2-month-old infant) are a bit hazy, but if I look at what impressions were in 1992 when I came to work here for the first time it was a bit of a culture shock. I had graduated from law school in Finland, where for 5 years I studied law and was told how everybody obeys the laws and was used to the orderly fashion of life in Finland. In 1992 Russia had a bit of the Wild East feel to it and hardly could be more different from life/work in Finland.

3. When asked this I often answer that in Russia everything changes but nothing changes — on the surface the pace of change is hectic, if not sometimes overwhelming. But the basics stay the same: the wonderful people and how to navigate within the society — and, unfortunately the bureaucracy.

4. Learn the language, get to know the (right) people, be flexible and learn to love change.

5. The buzz, the pace of life and change.

6. The people and the buzz — you get addicted to it and life back home seems slow.

7. The traffic — it's amazing that according to statistics, car penetration per capital in Russia is low compared to Western Europe, but for some reason all the cars have to be piled up in the center of Moscow.

8.  I think the President is saying all the right things, the problems are acknowledged, but the real challenge is implementing the reforms.

9. Family, the dacha and korvapuusti — a traditional Finnish cinnamon bun.

Jon Hellevig

Managing Partner of Avenir Group and Hellevig, Klein and Usov law firm

1. When Russia opened up its market economy, Finland was going through a sharp recession, a worse financial crisis than the one in 2009. I had just sold out from my previous business and was open for new opportunities. By chance, my brother-in-law was working in Russia and I visited him in Moscow with my family. That was in 1991, and it opened up my eyes to the opportunities here. I started studying Russian and soon got an invitation to work as a CFO for a Russia-American-Finnish joint venture.

2. First I was shocked, not so much negatively. It was if I was in a surreal movie. Everything was so different from the Western countries I was used to. After one year, I thought I'd had enough of the movie and thought about packing home but by then I was diagnosed with an early stage of Russification, and since then I have been stuck here.

3. It is difficult to say which has changed more, Russia or myself. I think both. More objectively I can judge about Russia. The country was bankrupt when I first came. Today, Moscow is a modern metropolis in terms of commerce and services, and the rest of Russia has reached a decent level too.

4. A lot of people have succeeded in Russia by stumbling on the right things at the right time. Unfortunately, I do not belong to that category and have had to stick with the only thing I can do: work hard and chose the right people to surround me.

5. By far the biggest difference is the low level of bureaucracy of Finland. I think that even most Finns do not understand how strong an asset it is we have; being very nonbureaucratic and nonhierarchical in all levels of human interaction. With the same horrible climate Finland has prospered thanks to that.

6. In Russia I like the wonderful, creative, hardworking and very, very human people.

7. I always come back to the same chronic problem: bureaucracy.

8. By now, it should be no surprise that I would advise him to do more to forcefully fight bureaucracy. I think his best bet would be to hire me as an anti-bureaucracy consultant.

9. The opportunity to retreat to the country house for peace and calm when the moment is right and the fantastic food one can cook out of ingredients offered by nature.

Joel Lehtonen

theater director

1. Finland joined the EU accession; everybody went to Europe, I went to Moscow.

2. Comical macho men, beautiful women.

3. Now everyone has a BMW.

4. Love your idea and love Russia.

5. The Finnish national myth is lost wars; Russians' national myth is that wars have been won.

6. Moscow.

7. Slavish behavior.

8. Fight against corruption!

9. People with whom I share a common history.

Merja Volkov

Head of Representative Office Helsinki Center, St.Petersburg, Russia

1. I've been working in St. Petersburg since May 2008, heading the Helsinki Center, which represents the interests of three Finnish cities, including Helsinki, Tampere and Kotka, in St. Petersburg.

2. It is a huge grey country with a mass of people and beautiful architecture, particularly in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but business is corrupt.

3.  The city has become more and more European. One can feel how life is always on the go here. Corruption is under fire too.

4. One should learn Russian. Knowing the language makes communication deeper and helps understand the Russian soul. One should learn the specific сharacter of business in Russia, which differs from the European in many ways.

5. No one listens to the citizens' opinion in Russia. Bureaucracy and corruption are widespread.

6. I love its rich culture, its old beautiful urban architecture. Russian cuisine is also good. It's always interesting to communicate with Russians.

7. Few trees and parks in the city center make living harder here. Widespread bureaucracy makes work more difficult. Traffic jams, lack of politeness on the roads, dirty air.

8. Simplify the procedure of obtaining work permits, registration and visas.

9. Clean air, nature, disciplined driving and the Finnish sauna.

Raimo Summanen

hockey trainer, Avangard Omsk

1. I'm a hockey coach and hockey is popular all over the world. Three years ago I tried to come and work in Russia but negotiations didn't work out. Last year my agent did some research and an opportunity came  up to work for Avangard hockey club.

2. My first impression of Russia was  how much light it has compared to Finland, all this sunshine. Hockey wise, I was impressed that results are everything here.

3. —

4. My advice: be yourself and try to build a support group around you. You can never survive alone here.

5. I can only talk from a hockey point of view: in Russia you need to be concrete, say exactly what you want to get the result that you need from players.

6. Russia is a sporting country.

7. The language barrier

8. The government has chosen the right direction, it's good that people from other countries have opportunities to come here and work.

9. Friends and family


Russia - Finland 2010
Russia - Finland 2010
<p>This business bilingual colour publication is devoted to Russia and Finland with a special focus on the city of Turku.</p> <p>The supplement opens with an interview with the ambassador of Finland, Matti Anttonen which addresses the most important political and economic issues in Russian and Finnish relations.</p>
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