Lapin yliopiston lukuvuoden 2016-2017 avajaiset


Prof. Jan Borm, Vice-President in charge of International Relations, University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (jan.borm@uvsq.fr)
Address on the occasion of the new academic year of
the University of Lapland,
Rovaniemi, Sept. 5, 2016

Dear Rector and Vice-Rectors, Distinguished colleagues and friends, Dear students, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first of all thank Rector Mauri Ylä-Kotola for his generous invitation to say a few words to you today on the opening of the University of Lapland’s new academic year and send greetings from the President of my own university, Professor Didier Guillemot. It is an honour to be able to address this audience. I have been visiting your wonderful university a number of times in the past six years or so and it is always a pleasure to return. We have been cooperating with colleagues from the Institute of Northern Culture, distinguished Professors Juha Pentikäinen and Hannu Kahakorpi, notably on the remarkable student film “Les feux de l’Arctique”, an international conference dedicated to Lars Lévi Laestadius organized in France in 2011, including a memorial service at the Protestant church in rue des Archives in Paris, co-celebrated notably by the Bishop of Oulu, and the beautifully-illustrated album on the “La Recherche” Expedition to Svalbard and Lapland published in Finnish by the Nurminen Foundation in 2014.

La Recherche – what an ideal name, not only for the search vessel used during the expedition, but also for joint research projects. UVSQ and your prestigious Arctic Center are currently cooperating within the framework of the FP7-Marie-Curie-IRSES staff mobility project POLARIS dedicated to tourism development in Northern Siberia. Colleagues from ULAP’s Arctic Center have been participating in the Franco-German workshop series “Gateway to the Arctic” sponsored by the Franco-German University of Saarbrücken. They have also given guest lectures at our university.

Finnish Lapland is of course a very popular tourism destination nowadays drawing in visitors from many different parts of the world, including France. But this is a fairly recent phenomenon. The French have not always been so enthusiastic about the colder parts of the world, as they see it, unless a well-known scholar and traveller to Lapland like Maupertuis would mention his gallant encounters in the Lappish snow that set some heads spinning in Parisian salons. On a slightly more sober note, here is a report from a French diplomat in Copenhagen in the 1830s, describing what seemed to him the harsh living conditions in as northern a place as… Denmark. It was sent by the chargé d’affaires Roux de la Rochelle to the French Foreign Secretary and President of the Council of Ministers, Count Louis-Mathieu Molé:

“Copenhagen, October 18, 1838
Monsieur le Comte,
If we compare Denmark to Sweden and Norway, we find her in a more enviable geographical position than the latter two. In countries which are even poorer, we find even an even smaller population which is the more to be pitied for it, but if we compare her to more southern countries, it will not take us long to persuade ourselves that the strength of body and mind suffers from a stormy climate, and that all those generations which had to uphold a permanent struggle against the natural elements tend to get weaker rather than stronger, degenerating instead of building up courage1.”

Mme de Staël’s famous book about Germany and spirit of the North – l’Esprit du Nord as she termed it – had still not convinced everyone about the charms of the northern mind, it appears. Closer to us, in Marcel Pagnol’s famous novel Manon des sources about life in Provence in the early 20th century, the mother of the new village school teacher manages to have herself accepted by the local population because she can address them in the Provençal language, a fact that goes down particularly well with the old ladies chatting away on the village square, even though one remarks that the lady sometimes uses slightly different terms for the same thing. Well, what can you do, the reply comes from another, she is from the North after all – that is, from the Drôme, some 200 kilometres up the road…

Still, Marmier did contribute significantly to producing a different image of Lapland, and so has Léonie d’Aunet, the young wife of François-Auguste Biard, whose painting of the Duke of Orléans, future King Louis-Philippe descending Munio river (painted retrospectively and kept in the Château de Versailles) we will hopefully be able to see in the Rovaniemi Art Museum Korundi soon. Interestingly enough, Marmier had his tour of Scandinavia prior to the expedition sponsored by the French Minister of Education, François Guizot, a Protestant, who told him to collect information on Scandinavian education, a subject he took a keen interest in.

The Finnish school system is envied by many countries today. We also have a wealth of images about Finnish life and culture today, compared to the romanticising views I alluded to earlier, thanks, for instance, to the films of the Kaurismäki brothers, the books of Arto Paasilinna, or the music of pianist and composer Iiro Rantala, whose inspired adaptations of John Lennon songs are difficult to get out of your mind, not to speak of Finnish artwork and design obviously. All these artists have contributed significantly to promote Finnish culture at international level. Whatever the influence of one or the other may be, there is no doubt that Finnish Lapland is seen today by many people in Finland and elsewhere as an exciting region which has not only got fine schools but also the excellent University of Lapland. UVSQ has been sending students to ULAP for a number of years now. The exchange is increasingly popular as the word spreads that Rovaniemi is a fun place to be.

And so is is the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, with more than 2500 students from over 120 countries coming to UVSQ every year.

Founded in 1991, top 500 Shanghai ranking (401-500 group) in 2016, member of the excellence cluster University of Paris-Saclay, UVSQ is located on 7 different sites in the Yvelines area, just to the west of Paris. The university has 16 000 students today, studying in six faculties (science, health, law and political science, social science, management, culture and international studies), an engineering school, two institutes of technology and an Observatory for earth sciences and astronomy, as well as environment science and climatology. It also offers the Master 2 program in Arctic Studies entirely taught in English that I am co-directing. In a few days, UVSQ will open officially in a few days its new Maison de l’étudiant - the student house - where many activities of student life will be organized by our student associations in the future. You are very welcome.

As mentioned already, our universities have an ERASMUS agreement that has been successfully running for some years and a number of research cooperations. Today, the moment has come to go one step further by developing new projects together, both as far as studies and research are concerned. We will be discussing the possibilities of extending cooperation in the field of Arctic Studies, but also in other areas, on as broad a base as possible. This is the wish that I would like to share with all of you on the occasion of the new academic year. There are exciting new perspectives for our cooperation. It is a pleasure and a privilege to work with the University of Lapland. Bon courage to all of us and bonne rentrée. I wish you all a happy and successful new academic year!

Thank you.

1 Letter from Roux de la Rochelle to Molé sent from Copenhagen, dated 18 October 1838, Archives diplomatiques du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Political Correspondence, Denmark, Folder N° 203, f. 28 and f. 30 (N.B.: the original spelling has been preserved throughout for all quotes from French sources in this chapter): “Copenhague, le 18 octobre 1838/Monsieur le Comte, (…)/ Si nous comparons le Danemark à la Suède et à la Norvège, nous le trouvons dans une situation géographique enviable pour ces deux Royaumes. Dans des Pays encore plus pauvres, nous voyons une population encore plus rare et plus à plaindre, mais si nous le comparons avec des Pays plus méridionnaux, nous ne tardons pas à nous convaincre que les forces du corps et de l’esprit souffrent de l’intempérie des climats, et que les générations successives qui ont à soutenir contre les élémens des luttes continuelles s’affaiblissent au lieu de se fortifier, dégénèrent au lieu de croître en courage.”