Finnish Honorary Consul in Thessaloniki Welcomes Finnish Business and Culture
Marko Suomalainen has been the Honorary Consul of Finland in Thessaloniki since June 2011. Before that, he was the chairperson of the Finnish Society and active at the Finnish School. Many Finnish women have ended up in Greece. What brought Mr. Suomalainen here?
Marko tells he found his Greek wife Despina when studying international marketing, Master of Arts degree, at the Sunderland University in England in 1993-1994. When Marko saw Despina, ”it was love at first sight”, he says. It had taken a bit longer to get the wife convinced.
After his graduation, Marko returned to work in Finland, but the thought of the Greek beauty didn’t leave him in peace, and Marko travelled to Greece in 1995. First just for a week, but he returned later.
Marko started intensive Greek for Foreigners –studies at the University of Thessaloniki. He had 20 lectures a week and made two eight weeks’ courses. He is convinced, nobody can learn the difficult Greek language by accident, but it takes a lot of effort.
In May 1997, Marko was employed by a private road service company, Express Service, and was quickly promoted to a head of department. When the owner of the company bought a local newspaper company end of 1998, Marko started there as the Head of Marketing and Research Department. Later on, the owner sold his company, but the new owner wanted Marko to continue in his position. Year 2001 he became a private entrepreneur and is nowadays the Managing Director of Finetro company.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”
Marko and Despina celebrated their wedding autumn 1998 in a big, Greek fashion with 550 guests. The service was conducted by two priests, of whom Father Mitro came from Finland. Marko is not an Orthodox by religion, but when getting married he had to confirm by a notary certificate, that if any children are born, they will be baptised as Orthodox. The parents-in-law warmly welcomed the Finnish son-in-law and at the beginning of the 21st century, daughters Arianna and Alexia were born.
Marko describes the differences of upbringing a child in a multi-cultural family: ”I speak Finnish and am more relaxed. Despina speaks Greek and is stricter”. However, as years have passed, they have come closer to each other. The daughters have gone to the Finnish School in Thessaloniki and travelled by themselves to visit the relatives in Finland since they were 9 and 6 years old.
The family has ended up living in Thessaloniki, the ”second capital” of Greece, even though in Athens there would be more job opportunities. The wife, who is originally from Northern Greece and works in banking, would rather move to Finland than to Athens.
Honorary Consul Gives Assistance and Promotes Trade
Marko was in contact with the Embassy in 1996, which started a close cooperation. That time there was a Greek Honorary Consul in Thessaloniki. Since he did not speak Finnish, Marko was given assignments in that region, even though he did not have any official status.
He acted as an assistant to the Finnish delegation at the Chalkidiki Summit under the Greek EU Presidency in 2003.
When the old Honorary Consul resigned, Ambassador Erkki Huittinen presented Marko to be the new Honorary Consul.
He was appointed by a festive decision: ”I, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Finland, hereby make known: that whereas I have found it good and expedient for the maintenance of friendly and commercial relations between the Republic of Finland and the Hellenic Republic to appoint a Finnish Honorary Consul to Thessaloniki as from 1 June 2011, with jurisdiction over the peripheric units of Imathia, Thessaloniki, Kilkis, Pella, Pieria, Serres and Chalkidiki.”.
”Titles are important in Greece and the status of an Honorary Consul has benefits”, says Marko. He is a member of the board of the active Consular Corps of Thessaloniki since 2016.
Marko tells that the local Finns seldom contact him, mainly for notary certificates. Tourists turn to the Honorary Consul, if they lose their passport or get sick. Honorary Consul’s ability to assist is limited and he cannot issue a passport. Nevertheless, Marko feels strongly that people must be helped in need and he does his utmost. Marko’s good local contacts have been most helpful in difficulties.
Marko would like to promote Finnish exports to Greece and he sees opportunities in technology field, especially in information technology. ”In Finland the companies are short of IT specialists and Finnish IT companies could establish subsidiaries in Greece”, he says. Finnish companies might have potential also in health care equipment and materials.
At the time of our meeting Finland’s new female 34-old Prime Minister has been widely in Greek news. Also high level Finnish education and Christmas are well known here. Marko hopes there could be more Finnish culture in Thessaloniki. ”If you are a photographer, painter or musician, please contact me”, he suggests.
Representing the expat Finns in the Finnish Expatriate Parliament
In 2007, Marko held a speech as the representative of expat Finns in the ceremonies of the 90th Anniversary of the Independence of Finland.
He has represented the Finnish Association in Northern Greece from the beginning of the Finnish Expatriate Parliament in 1997. Finnish Expatriate Parliament (FEP) was established as a cooperative forum of expatriate organisations and Finnish organisations abroad, where they decide together about matters they deem important. The activities are primarily focussed on decision-makers in Finland, whom the Parliament informs about conditions and views of Finns abroad.
The Parliament has its two-day meetings every other year, the next one being held June 11-12, 2020 in Helsinki.
An initiative on a circulating passport application device for Greece has been made through the Expatriate Parliament. So that people from remote islands would not need to travel to the Embassy in Athens to apply for a passport, but the application device would visit them, instead.
* * *
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Marko’s arrival in Greece. When greeting his friends and acquaintances fluently in Greek, one can see that he has settled well and adopted the best characteristics of Greece: joyfulness, sincerity and caring. But still he remains very Finnish in a good way - up to his surname, which means ”Finnish” in Finnish.
His story was shown in Finnish TV in 2009 as part of a series on expat Finns: http://www.telsu.fi/ulkosuomalaisen+tarina
Text: Eili Andersson
Fotos: Marko Suomalainen, Embassy of Finland Athens, Eili Andersson