This year we celebrate 250 years of the Nordic Principle of Publicity. It is perhaps not so well known that the founding father of this principle came from Finland. In Ostrobothnia, in the region of (current) Kokkola, 500 km to the North-West of Helsinki lived Anders Chydenius, one of the most important politicians of the Sweden-Finland in the 18th century.
Who was this pioneer and outspoken defender of free trade and industry, free emigration, freedom of press and information, freedom of religion and the rights of the rural working class?
Anders Chydenius (1729-1803) was a multitalent, clergyman and physician, and even musician – conducting a small orchestra of his home town. But most of all he was a passionate and radical writer and politician, representative at the Diet of the Swedish Realm. Because of his avant-garde thinking in free trade, published in his articles in the 1790s, he is sometimes called “Scandinavia’s Adam Smith. (This reference was made also in the title of the publication of his selected papers, published in English a couple of years ago: “Anticipating the Wealth of Nations. The Selected Works of Anders Chydenius, 1729-1803, ed. by Maren Jonasson and Pertti Hyttinen, Routledge 2011.)
His activities for free trade greatly benefitted the towns of Ostrobothnia and the whole region as the coastal towns Oulu, Kokkola, Vaasa and Pori were finally granted free sailing rights.
As his most important achievements Anders Chydenius himself regarded his writings against censorship, for freedom to publish and access to free information, which indeed resulted in the adoption of the most liberal freedom of the press decree ever in 1766, forming the basis of the Nordic Principle of Publicity. As a curiosity, it should be mentioned that because of his sharp criticism he was also excluded from the parliamentary work just before his greatest achievement, the freedom of the press legislation had entered into force.
“Right to know, right to say” – the slogan of the year is accentuated in times of uncertainty and turbulences. It goes without saying that these rights are most actual today, and that Anders Chydenius himself is an obvious role model: “An equitable freedom of writing and printing is one of the firmest pillars on which the free government may rest; or otherwise … within a few years a horrific darkness will settle over the entire firmament of our liberty.”
It is also fascinating to remember that for some individuals, like Anders Chydenius, excellence in thinking and culture has not been prevented by the periphery – not even 250 years ago in Ostrobothnia!
There are many happenings to celebrate 250 years of Nordic Principle of Publicity both in Finland and in Sweden. Finland is also co-hosting together with UNESCO the International World Press Freedom Day in May 2016 in Helsinki, see www.painovapaus250.fi/en.