Finland, a country of forests and lakes, is perhaps best known for its unspoiled natural beauty. In the far north, the White Nights, during which the sun does not set, last for around 10 weeks of the summer. In winter, the same area goes through nearly eight weeks when the sun never rises above the horizon.
As a result of Finland being a part of Sweden for seven centuries (from the 12th century until 1809) some 6% of the population is Swedish-speaking. Finland became an independent state following the Russian revolution in 1917. Since this date Finland has been a republic. It has a one-chamber parliament whose 200 members are elected every four years.
The country has developed a modern, competitive economy, and is a world leader in telecommunications equipment. Main exports include telecoms equipment and engineering products, paper, pulp and lumber, glassware, stainless steel and ceramics.
Its remote northern beauty has inspired many artists, including the composer Jean Sibelius and the designer Alvar Aalto. Finland has also produced a number of top sports stars, including Formula One drivers Mika Häkkinen and Kimi Räikkönen.
Finnish cuisine has been influenced by continental, Russian and Swedish food. Traditional specialities include fish (especially salmon and turbot roe), as well as reindeer meat. Dishes to look out for include karjalanpiirakka (rice or potato pastry) and kalakukko (fish and pork fat baked inside a loaf).