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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
Finland makes Latin the King
By Jonny Dymond
BBC News, Helsinki

Elvis Presley in 1970
A Finn has translated Elvis Presley songs and sings them in Latin

Finland is one of the quieter members of the EU. But now its turn at the EU presidency has thrust it into the spotlight - and exposed an unusual passion.

Like the boy at the party with cheese straws stuck up his nose, it has been caught doing something vaguely disturbing - indulging a penchant for Latin.

It is the only country in the world which broadcasts the news in Latin.

On its EU presidency website one can find descriptions of meetings in Latin. But love of the language of Rome goes deep.

'Eternal language'

I am in a hotel somewhere comfortably north of Helsinki. It is off-season, so the place is deserted. There are dark brown mock logs, lining one side of the room. Fake beams on the ceiling, chocolate-box pictures on the walls.

Surrender - Nunc aeternitatis
It's Now Or Never - Nunc hic aut numquam
Can't Help Falling In Love - Non adamare non possum
Wooden Heart - Cor ligneum
Love Me Tender - Tenere me ama

There is also a man in the corner of the room singing Elvis Presley's songs in Latin, like Can't Help Falling In Love - or Non adamare non possum.

It sounds a little like Italian but rather more stilted - like Italian sung by a Finnish person.

We are a long way from Memphis.

The singer is Dr Jukka Ammondt, an academic whose twin passions, it appears to him, march in lock-step.

"The legend of Elvis Presley lives for ever, and it's of course very important to sing Elvis Presley's songs in the Latin language, because Latin is the eternal language," he says.

Mia Lahti, who edits the EU presidency website, is like many Finns an optimist at heart. But why do a website in Latin?

"The website is in English and French," she says.

But they have their secret language: Conspectus rerum Latinus, or "Latin News in Brief".

"I know there are people who are angry because, for example, in their childhood they had to read compulsory Latin. But also I think it might be interesting to read the news in brief in Latin," Ms Lahti believes.

Latin revenge

Lurking within the world of EU Latin, which is only marginally more difficult to comprehend than EU English, is one delightful statistic - more people subscribe to the newsletter in Latin than to the one in French.

Jacques Chirac
President Chirac was less than impressed by Finnish food

The Finns are clearly having their revenge on French President Jacques Chirac, who once dismissed their food as the worst in the EU.

The news in Latin on national radio gets 75,000 listeners, which may not sound like much, but on a per capita basis is more than some BBC Radio 4 programmes get.

This is the final piece in the Finland Latin jigsaw.

"In Latin we have more listeners in the world than for Finnish broadcasts," explains Professor Tuomo Pekkanen, who does the translations.

"Latin is more known abroad than Finnish," he adds.

Perhaps Finland wants to dominate the global news agenda in the same way Elvis once dominated the music scene.

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