In the silence of the foreign minister

The big news of the weekend has been president Barack Obama’s visit to his father’s homeland, Kenya.

The symbolism of the visit of the first African-American president of the United States to a leading African country, can hardly be more obvious.

What unites Kenya and America are the ways in which both countries are wrought with frustration – and with hope. Hopes arise from the apparent dynamism and forward looking spirit of their societies, economies and cultures. But frustration comes from the perennial tensions, and at times violent conflicts their nations face, and which bring to the fore the ethnic, cultural and race-based cleavages apparent in them.

To live with, and manage, difference, is one of the biggest challenges the humankind faces today.

The same applies, paradoxically, to Finland, which is one of the most culturally and socially homogenous countries in the world.

The big news in Finland has not  been Obama’s visit to Kenya, and his impassionate speech in a packed Nairobi gymnasium. The big news in Finland has been another peek into the melting pot of a new, virulent type of Finnish nationalism, that feeds itself with xenophobia, anti-islamism and explicit hatred of the idea of cultural co-existence, i.e. multiculturalism.

What is the right measure to judge the Breivik-styled outburst this weekend by Olli Immonen, member of Finnish parliament, to “defeat this nightmare called multiculturalism” and his call “to fight until the end for our homeland and one true Finnish nation”?

Indignation, irony, silence? Or just a list of basic facts?

Immonen is a member of Perussuomalaiset, one of the largest parties in Finland and which contains a significant xenophobic element. His party serves as a conduit for such opinions in the country at large.

The party holds governmental power in Finland. Its ministers control the foreign ministry, the ministry of defence and the justice ministry. The Speaker of the Parliament is from that party.

Their members naturally have private opinions and views. But anything they say in public, or in private, are set against these facts.

Their views represent power. Power given to them by the Finnish people. That is why their private views matter.

All this should be obvious to any experienced political operator or communicator. If trouble arises, the party leadership intervenes and restores orderly conduct.

Instead, the party is now hell-bent to let the Immonen-affair to escalate. The party leader, foreign minister Timo Soini has decided not to say anything on the matter, that is, effectively endorsing Immonen’s cry for war against cultural co-existence.

Practically at the same time when Barack Obama says in Nairobi: “I’m the first Kenyan-American to be president of the United States. That goes without saying.”

Other party functionaries have tried to convince a skeptical public that Immonen’s views are merely his private views. Not many in the country buy that. And not surprisingly, the international media is slowly awakening for a scandal that refuses to blow over.

The Perussuomalaiset has weathered other similar scandals in the past. But this time is different. Why?

The crucial factor is the portfolio Timo Soini holds, the foreign ministry.

International relations is a special field of politics, loaded with symbolical and cultural forms of power. Reputational issues are incredibly important, especially in gaining trust by others. It may sound startling, but it makes all the difference who the person carrying the MFA portfolio is, and where and from what background she or he comes from.

Think of John Kerry in the middle east. Think of Obama in Kenya.

That is why many countries choose carefully whom they trust the all important foreign ministerships. Even the dictators often rely on professional diplomats – or at least less than colorful politicians. Remember Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s chief diplomat? Or Sergey Lavrov, Putin’s trusted man on the field?

There are many others that you cannot remember. But that is precisely the point.

International diplomacy is a world of its own, its customs and habits are centuries old. Finns have always understood this. A prior holder of the portfolio had to resign due to his habit of sending mildly erotic text messages to a busty celebrity.

A foreign minister cannot be the laughing stock of fellow diplomats. Neither can she or he be suspected for entertaining views that are in overt conflict with the ones she or he shares with her or his confidential interlocutors. Especially if they are allies, such as other EU- or Nordic countries.

Furthermore, the carrier of the MFA portfolio is more a representative of the Finnish state than other ministers are.

The diplomatists’ backgrounds, values, motives and operational principles are constantly analyzed and evaluated by other players. That is why views expressed in Soini’s power base (his parliamentary group and party) are directly relevant for the day-to-day handling of foreign affairs – of Finland.

And the longer Finland’s heads of state let this scandal simmer, the greater will the reputational damage be – to this great nation, and the state of Finland.

Almost a Revolution

The outline of Europe’s five-year crisis is clear. What started in Greece in 2010 came to a head in Greece in 2015.

We know the big picture, and the main turning points this far. What we do not know so well are the stories behind the scenes and the alternatives, that almost became turning points in the big picture.

One of the stories where a lot is still to be known is what happened in the week following the Greek referendum of July 5th, and during the long weekend of 10-13th in particular.

Today’s Financial Times has given a dramatic glimpse of what was about to happen then. But before turning into that, let us summarize the past and the present of the eurocrisis.

For the crisis the pivotal moment was spring 2010, when Greece received its first bailout package. What followed in Greece, in other indebted countries, and all around Europe and its institutions, are by and large direct consequences of those decisions and principles laid out then.

The heart of the matter was Europe’s banking system and the credibility of the euro as a currency. The stability of these were to be maintained with the least possible political and economic costs in the short term.

Trouble became to mount when the short term became longer and longer.

The current and ongoing discussions about the need for Greece’s debt relief, and of the strengthening of the EMU’s institutional and governance structure, are also consequences of the same decisions and events of spring 2010.

After the short term became the long term, discussions about the long term could not be avoided. But they can take a long time.

All the above is well known, and a lot has been written about it.

We can imagine how all this probably ends. Greece will eventually receive debt relief in the form of extended maturities for its loans. While this creates permanent income transfers from creditors to Greece for decades to come, it will not be acknowledged as such – at least not among the EU’s northern members.

Instead an acrimonius debate between those, led by France, who want to develop the EMU towards a genuine economic union, and those who are opposed to it, in the beginning led by Germany, will go on well into the 2020s. The outcome will be largely settled when the Germans decide what kind of an EMU, and Europe, they want.

The twists and turns of this process will be material for histories and historians of Europe long in to the future. In the meantime the unknown histories of the eurocrisis will be written from the trenches, where the  battle for the euro showed its ugliest face.

A lot remains to be studied on what happened in Greece under Syriza, what its prime minister Alexis Tsipras tried to achieve, and what happened within his loosely formed, eurorevolutionary party. The study of the doings and thinkings of his finance minister Giannis Varoufakis will likely have its own subgenre.

The Balkans has always been competitive in exporting history to the rest of the continent, but Greece is now clearly in the lead.

Tsipras’s character is interesting for a historian because of the presence of opposites: idealism and opportunism shake hands in his person in way that keeps everyone guessing what may transpire next. We are thrilled to follow his act, even when we know, or strongly suspect, where it all probably leads him.

No less interesting are the minor characters and the internal dynamics of Syriza. From its election victory onwards and the months-long so called negotiations with Greece’s eurocreditors, it was difficult to tell what they were trying to achieve. Maybe they honestly believed the creditors would change course (and their ideology) and Greece would lead a general leftward turn in the eurogroup.

But when months passed and it must have become clear that this was not going to happen, it seemed that the only plausible explanation for Syriza’s behaviour was that they were preparing to lead Greece towards a profound economic and social transformation, nothing less than a revolution.

This would have included removing Greece from the euro, one way or another. But what did Tsipras think of all this?

According to today’s Financial Times, the hard left of Syriza had indeed readied itself for a takeover that would have restored the drakhma and established a heavily state-controlled economy in Greece.

This would have meant taking control of the Greek central bank, arrest its general director, take hold of its reserves and the mint to produce the currency.

What the planners of this Pancho Villa -style revolution did not foresee was that the European Central Bank would immediately have declared the euros produced in Greece as counterfeit money. Then they would have cut Greek banks off life support. Syriza would not have been able to finance their country’s elementary needs in the months it would have needed to start printing drakhmas. The Varoufakis IOU’s would not  have worked in such a scheme.

At least not without external assistance in large scale, from outside the EU.

The consequences of cutting Greece abruptly off from the international banking and financial system would have effectively meant a socialist revolution. But of course this is not what happened. As is known, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made his U-turn and in the Greek parliament drove through the harsh terms of its third bailout package.

Varoufakis’s resignation happened precisely at the same time when the Syriza’s revolutionaries’ plans came to a head. A good question is if he resigned since he did not want to be a part of such a scheme. Or did he resign since he wanted to be a part of it, but saw it not happening?

The revolution that almost happened may be a form of revolution that is the most common in history. In the critical moment there just is not enough daring, foolhardiness, or external incitement and support, to make it happen.

These are the histories of the eurocrisis that did not run their full course, but happened nearly enough to make them histories we want to learn more about.

In particular as they may have sequels.

 

Good for Germany, good for Finland?

Was temporary Grexit the Finnish government’s default position as last weekend’s negotiations started on Greece’s third bailout in Brussels?

There appears to be more than one truth out about this. The question is important, since it is indicative of the Finnish government’s wider EU-strategy. To advocate the break-up of the eurozone without a German-style long term vision of a gradually deepening and federalizing EU, places any member state  easily in the ultra-EU-skeptic camp.

It is also the more pressing since Finland today has a government coalition led by the Centre Party, which in 1998 opposed Finland’s eurozone membership. In 1994 many of its MPs voted against Finland’s joining the  EU, despite a positive referendum mere weeks before. It also contains pro-EU politicians, such as ex-commissioner Olli Rehn, which means that EU-policy is a potentially disruptive issue for the party.

The second party in the coalition is the populist, anti-immigration and anti-EU Perussuomalaiset. It has views on the EU that resemble  those of UKIP in Britain. It is vehemently against any further integration in the EU beyond free trade. It does not, however, push for Finland’s leaving the EU.

Both the Centre Party and the Perussuomalaiset are also against Finland’s NATO-membership. In this case they are classically isolationist. Both believe strongly in Finland’s independent defence capacity and the ability to withstand Russian pressure, if need be.

The third government party is the Coalition Party, a centre-right conservative party. Led by Alexander Stubb, it is both strongly pro-EU and pro-NATO. With these views, it is an important balancing force in the government, and finds allies among the pro-Europeans in the Centre Party.

But the internal balance of the government’s EU-views appears fluid, and therefore the policy positions it takes prior to EU-summits gives us important information where the balance at any given moment is.

This far the government has been notably pragmatic in EU-issues. Not enthusastic, but not overtly critical either in most EU-policy areas. The moment of truth, however, is what to do with Greece.

What do we know of the Finnish position on the temporary Grexit plan?

Finance Minister Alexander Stubb says that a temporary Grexit was but one alternative considered by the Finnish government at the start of the negotiations. Be that as it may, the Parliament’s EU Affairs committee minutes tell a different story. According to the documents, Finland responded to Greece’s offer with supporting the temporary Grexit plan.

As is well known, the plan originated from Germany. By showing the door to the Greeks, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble generated significant pressure to the Greek government but also to the insitutions, the infamous troika, and all other eurozone countries to exact more stringent conditions for the bailout. Germany’s uncompromising stance came as a surprise at least to the French and the Italians, who had hoped  for a more lenient solution.

What happened next, is also well known. But what is not as clear, is what happened behind the scenes in various EU-capitals.

Most EU-countries do not have such transparency as Finland has in its EU-policy. As the Finnish government must clear the outlines of its EU-policies in advance in the Parliament’s EU-Affairs committee, we usually know what those are. Due to the exceptional circumstances of last week’s negotiations, the Finnish government kept the minutes and its positions confidential for almost a week (sic). In this way it behaved in the same way most other EU-countries behave, with the exception that their confidential position papers will be declassified in most cases in the 2040s.

We therefore know that the German Shäuble-plan became Finnish government policy more or less immediately as it reached Helsinki. It is likely that many other Northern and Eastern eurozone countries did the same. The difference is that Finland and the Netherlands have done much more of the talking and the dirty work around eurogroup tables.

What this tells about Finnish EU-policy is simply that it is willing to support Germany even when that support contains significant political, economic and reputational risks. But this probably applies only to German positions that are critical for increasing joint liabilities in the eurozone.

It is unclear where the limits of this German-Finnish understanding or an alliance are, and how explicitly the terms of the alliance have been discussed between leaders and top-officials between the countries.

We know what Germany gains from it: allies in the coalition of the willing in its battle against the spendrift southerners in the eurozone.

Finland’s gains are in the realization of its own goals, that at least in the overall handling of the Greek crisis are well aligned with Germany.

But outside the coalition of the willing, Finland also gains a reputation of being a critic of European integration as a reality as well as an idea. That reputation may be unfair, but given the composition of the government and the gravity of the single issue of Greece’s eurozone membership, it is just what it is.

Furthermore, this is a reputation that is a wholly different story for a small, peripheral latecomer in EU-integration, than it is a for an old European great power, that has a more or less unblemished history of contibution to the European project since the first plans saw the light of day in the 1940s.

An old great power such as the Netherlands.

Grexit no cure for Greece

Following decisions made by the eurozone countries in mid-July on Greece’s third bailout, the country’s membership in the euroclub seems secured. At least for the time being.

During a hectic weekend of negotiations, Greece’s ejection from the common currency was nonetheless considered. It is known that at least Finland and Germany – especially the latter’s austere finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble – entertained these views. Remarkably enough, Grexit was the Finnish government’s first option when the negotiations began.

While this did not come to pass, the debate on Greece’s future in the eurozone is far from over. It also appears that other plans to develop, that is to say, deepen the eurozone towards a tighter economic and political union, have no chances to proceed until Greece restores the basic health of its economy and stops being the euroarea’s black hole of joint liabilities.

Leaving the wider repercussions aside, what would Greece itself benefit from its exit from the common currency?

There seems to be a broad understanding that Greece would be better off outside the euro. Many economists see that a return to drakhma would enable Greece to devalue massively. Maybe as much as 50 or 75 per cent, which is what Iceland and Argentina did in their crises previously. This would help Greece’s exports to be competetive in world markets. A return to own currency would also in all likelihood lead to a large scale resettlement of Greece’s state debts.

After initial pain, this would lead Greece back to sustainable economic and social development. But would it, really?

It is true, that the bailouts are no cure for the real ills of Greece. But neither is Grexit, for the following reasons.

Besides its tourism industry, Greece has no large export sectors that would benefit from a devaluation of that scale. Its shipping industry appears to be competetive already, and the same goes with tourism.  With devaluation it would just sell these goods to its customers on bargain prices, and receive less in return.

On the other hand, the rest of Greece’s economy depends heavily on imported goods, energy and fuels. With devaluation, these would become dearer. This would have a negative impact on any economic activity relying on imported goods, not to speak of Greek customers buying imported goods with dramatically higher prices. The already weak purchasing power of ordinary Greeks would be weaker, and there would be less to spend on domestic goods as well.

As is the case with devaluations, inflation would hike up in Greece. Certainly, deflation would vanish, but with a high price. In fact, one of the main motivations to join the euro to begin with in Greece was to  fight the country’s perennial economic problem, inflation. The simultaneous impact of leaving the euro and devaluation would make it certain, that inflation would return and soon undo the competivity gains brought by the devaluation. To fight the inflation the central bank would have to resort to higher interest rates. And these would hurt Greek customers and investors alike.

At the same time Greece’s competitors would enjoy lower inflation and interest rates secured by the eurozone.

So, after initial pain, there would be more pain to come. This time, without the euro. Yes, without the euro, finally! But would that be an achievement of any lasting value?

With the euro comes the European Central Bank, that runs the currency. What would Greece have? The Greek Central Bank, running the drakhma. Fighting Greek inflation with Greek interest rates.

What would be the credibility of the Greek Central Bank, and the stability of the drakhma? How would the Greek government and politicians play the situation?

Some observers were astonished that Greece’s Syriza-led government eventually caved in and accepted the harsh terms of its third bailout.

Given the alternative, this may not be that astonishing, after all.

The madness that is killing Greece is the madness of the growth stifling economic policies imposed on it, and the deficiencies of a half-baked economic and monetary union.

The talk of Grexit is talk, that seeks to hide these realities.

SDP and Europe

It seems that Juha Sipilä’s government talks are heading towards a similar impasse as the one encountered by Jyrki Katainen (Cons.) in 2011: EU-policy.

I have already commented on this blog on Sipilä’s and his Centre Party’s views as they have been presented to the other parties in the parliament. If they reflect the future government program, a sea change will take place in Finland’s EU-policy.

Goodbye constructive pragmatism, welcome obstinate EU-scepticism.

According to Sipilä, Finland will seek changes of such magnitude in the EU’s institutional structures as well as in the eurozone, getting rid of the European Stability Mechanism et cetera, that David Cameron’s current UK government’s awkwardness will pale in comparison.

The Perussuomalaiset appears to be asking for even more. And as it seems, Sipilä might not be willing to go all the way. The Perussuomalaiset demands for a similar EU-budget rebate as the UK has. It would also be willing to give rather explicit support to a future UK government in its attempts to negotiate more opt-outs and a roll-back of EU powers.

What do the other big parties have to say?

Both the Social Democrats (SDP) and the Conservatives have explained their views on Finland’s future EU policy. Let’s have a closer look at the SDP.

During the height of the eurocrisis the SDP profiled itself as one of the strictest pro-austerity hardliners in all Europe towards the crisis torn countries. Not only that, but they also seemed to take certain pride of their uncompromising attitude, as was often exclaimed by Jutta Urpilainen, the then leader of the party and Finland’s finance minister until 2014.

Due to the SDP insisting it, Finland received cash collateral for its contribution in the second Greek bail-out package.

Yes, cash collateral.

Their message was not missed. The EU is not and is never meant to be a transfer union, where the well off will look after the less well off. Especially if they are rule breaking cheats.

Subsequently they have toned down their views, probably reflecting the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Southern Europe. This has, however, been a day late, euro short.

What do the Finnish social democrats now have to say about Finland’s future EU-policy?

In their answers to Sipilä, they stress policies that will lead the EU into faster growth and increasing employment. This is, of course, what everybody wants.

They are also strongly in favour of developing and deepening the internal markets, but true to their ideological heritage, side by side with developing social Europe.

The EU’s ambitions in climate and energy policies are on their shopping list as well. But what about the eurocrisis?

There they are in agreement with Sipilä to the extent, that Finland should not assume more liabilities in the crisis management. But this is as far as they are willing to commit themselves to a specific policy line.

Otherwise they will want to maintain Finland’s room of maneuvre in possibly changing circumstances. As opposed to Sipilä, they do not want to dismantle existing crisis management mechanisms, or the ESM, and they want to have the banking union in place as planned. In economic policy coordination they prefer simple, clear principles and a final say for the member states.

What this means is that they are not willing to tie their hands in advance in a way that Sipilä seems willing to do. There is an even more glaring difference between the SDP and the Perussuomalaiset on Europe. With their current views it is hard to see them sitting collegially all together in Sipilä’s circle of trust.

But they are vague enough so as to allow them to enter it.

An optimistic reading of all this would be that the SDP is returning back to its traditional, pro-EU attitudes. This is also a direction, where the Conservatives seem to be heading.

Will Sipilä then stick to his post-election EU-scepticism? Who will he allow into his circle of trust?

This will determine what kind of a coalition he will build, and what role Finland will play in the future in the EU.

Perussuomalaiset on Europe

Government formation is underway in Finland. But political journos whisper loudly that Juha Sipilä, the future prime minister of Finland, has fallen out with his potential coalition partners, the Perussuomalaiset Party.

At least temporarily. Ostensibly the reason is what the Perussuomalaiset have said they would like to do to the EU if they were in government.

What the Perussuomalaiset are saying is that Finland would be an active member of the European Union, which would work together with other member states to make  the EU ‘lighter and looser’. In this way the union would be able to promote peace, strengthen security, employment and enhance the well being of all Europeans.

What they propose is constructive criticism. Translated into Thatcherite English: what they say is that the EU is not working (remember the 1979 election slogan).

So we must face the facts: the era of a unified Europe is over. Not all member states are following the same path towards ever closer union. The Perussuomalaiset supports the UK and the Netherlands (sic) in their aspiration to make the EU ‘lighter’.

What then follows is standard Conservative/UKIP discourse: the EU’s budget should be frozen and Finland should have a similar membership fee rebate as the UK has (well, that is probably not Her Majesty’s Government’s view). Brussels bureaucracy should be reduced, as well as its costs.

Any talk of a social Europe should be given up for good. And there should be no new liabilities for Finland for handling the euro crisis. The EU should in any case revert back to the no bailout rule, and therefore honour the obligations of the Maastricht Treaty.

Come again, the Maastricht Treaty? The last point is interesting, since committing oneself to the fullfillment of the Maastricht Treaty is usually not considered to be compatible with being a legitimate euro-sceptic party in those circles.

So where is the disagreement with Juha Sipilä and Timo Soini, the Perussuomalaiset Party’s leader? Not having any more of social Europe? With a lighter and looser EU? Reduced bureaucracy in Brussels? No more liabilities for Finland in eurocrisismanagement?

As Sipilä has already made his post-election eurosceptic views clear, it is hard to see from the published materials where these two parties part company on Europe.

The Prime Minister elect will undoubtedly clarify that at some point. And anyone with any appreciation of Finland’s course in the EU for the last 20 years will continue holding their breaths.

Whither Finland?

Last week I was asked by an international audience to give my assessment whether a change in Finland’s EU-policy would be imminent following the results of the recent parliamentary elections.

This is a valid question since a party known for its lukewarm views towards the EU, the Centre Party, won the elections, and will form the next government. Second in the polls and a possible coalition partner is Perussuomalaiset (sorry, but the name cannot be properly translated into English  without sounding offensive), which is famous for its strong anti-EU views.

My answer was that despite the election results I did not foresee a significant change in Finland’s traditional pragmatism in its EU-policy. This was due to how the next prime minister, Juha Sipilä, has underlined his fundamentally pro-European beliefs. While he does not believe in deepening the EU towards a political union, Sipilä has avoided strong vocabulary in EU issues.

Neither does he seem to entertain any delusions of grandeur in what a small member state can achieve in the EU against the will of others. My understanding also was that he has been briefed on the reasons why Finland has in the past been able to exert disproportionate influence in EU decision-making despite its small size and number of votes.

I did qualify my answer somewhat by saying that Finland will in the future be mostly pragmatic, often passive and occasionally unpredictable partner in the EU. Instead of adopting the union – or the ‘community’ – view in the areas it wants to have influence, it may also assume a more national view in many issues.

As it would be almost certain to loose what little influence it has in EU-affairs by adopting this stance, the outcome would probably be a much less proactive and passive Finland around EU-negotiation tables. Hence Finland would cease to be the role model it has been for other small EU-states in maximising its influence.

By saying the above I was certain I would be proven wrong by events.

That does not seem to be the case.

The first indications we have on Juha Sipilä’s thinking show that a much bigger change may be happening. Finland may be adopting a position alike to that of Denmark in the 1980s in NATO (the famous footnote policy) and in the EU in the 1990s (its opt-out policy).

The evidence can be found in the ongoing government formation negotiations. Juha Sipilä has asked prospective coalition partners to agree or not to agree with an outline of eurozone policy that is probably the most defensive policy position this far spelled out by anyone on the governmental level in Finland.

What Sipilä writes is taken directly from a hawkish finance ministry memorandum outlining a kind of maximalist policy of withdrawal from many of the decisions taken during the course of the eurocrisis in the last few years.

The starting point is business as usual: Finland is opposed to increasing its  liabilities in the eurocrisis. The stress should be on the national level economic policy measures to restore the health of the eurozone economies. If trouble arises, investors should take the responsibility.

Given that the bail-outs have already been made, and the banking union contains the principle of investor’s bail-ins, this statement is odd. Also as the ESM is already in place, Sipilä’s insistence that bilateral loans to countries in crisis are out of the question, adds to the oddity.

However, this is mere warming up to the main policy goal which is basically to turn the EU clock back by five years.

Sipilä asks his would-be government parties to agree (or disagree) that Finland should seek actions to restore the no bail-out rule and abolish the steps already taken towards deepening of economic policy coordination in the eurozone.

There may be good reasons for such a policy change, who knows.

But to spell such defensive, yet ambitious goals out so explicitly in advance is certainly a novelty in Finnish EU-policy.

If the memorandum becomes government policy, Finland risks painting itself into a corner from where it may be difficult to have much influence. Such a position known in advance, other eurozone countries with different ideas may not have much interest in listening to what arguments  Finland may have.

And if they do, they still might find it easier just to bypass Finland altogether. Just as happened to Denmark in the 1980s and 1990s.

But as in all of my assessments, I am sure to be proven wrong by events.

In and around Finland

The Finnish Social Democratic Party (SDP) has just lost the parliamentary elections.

It received its worst result in the party’s history, a mere 16.5 % of votes cast. The equally poor showing of the Left Alliance (7.1 %), a party left from SDP,  is hardly a consolation.

The political left has never been as weak as this in the political history of modern Finland. The winner of the elections, the Centre Party, has alone more seats in parliament than the left combined.

The ultimate irony is that the roots of the Centre Party, a successor party of a progressive, social reformist Agrarian League, are in a Finland, that as a society does not even exist any more.

While the rural Finland of the Agrarian League ceased to exist long ago, the political party remains, and will form the next government. Its successful transformation begun already in the 1960s, when Finns moved away from the countryside into towns.

Not only did the Finns start to work in new professions, they also began to think differently. The Centre Party was quick to adapt to the new circumstances, and with the help of its older traditions of social progressivism to embrace and attract also the new, post-1960s urbanite liberals.

While the SDP right now, a week after its historic defeat at the polls, seems to be sliding towards an internal tug of war (to put it mildly), the Centre Party should be its inspiration and role model.

If a party rooted in a society that no longer exists can win an election hands down, this should be good news for the party strategists of the left. If Finland’s agrarian society is long gone, so is the industrial Finland where SDP for more than a century so successfully garnered its electoral support.

Alas, this does not appear to be the party leadership’s conclusion. They hark back to SDP’s roots. That is, into a time and space, that is no more, and never will be. And what remains, is slowly, but irrevocably vanishing.

Finland’s political left should be able to remake itself just as its more successful competitor has done. To mould itself to changing societal circumstances and address the needs of the people who live in these circumstances.

Some of the younger generation in the left have grasped it, but they are still far away from power. And not many of them are heavy-built men with backgrounds in the industrial trades.

Neither will their future voters be. That is why they, while keeping to the left, should look at the centre.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

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Visiting the National Museum of Contemporary History in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city. A pretty, pink baroque building in Tivoli Park. Originally the home of a count who lived there in the 18th century.

Opened as museum in 1955, first with the name Museum of National Liberation, and in 1962 renamed the Museum of the People’s Revolution. Again renamed Museum of Contemporary History in 1994, following Slovenia’s independence, and in 2003 re-re-renamed the National Museum of Contemporary History.

Somehow an old Soviet joke came to mind: “The future is known. It’s the past that keeps changing”.

A fine, small museum. A collection of items and memories of a nation, that inhabit a country that looks and feels like an affordable version of Switzerland.

Except that it isn’t. In the peace of the museum is contained almost unfathomable suffering, violence, and terror. The horrors of Europe’s grim twentieth century, that for too many was just nasty, brutish and short.

An assasinated king (1934) who looked sad even when he was alive. Two world wars, strangers’ armies, internal divisions, and mutual reprisals in the 1940s. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost.

Marshal Tito in a white uniform wearing a huge wrist watch. Just like the training computers our youthful leaders sport today.

The relative calm and emerging consumerism of modernising Yugoslavia. Advertisements in a socialist economy. The ingredients of future Yugo-nostalgia.

What about the 1990s?

Independence, entry into the United Nations. Several prime ministers and heads of state, one with whom I shook hands just a couple of nights before and conversed over a glass of champagne.

On display an Ericsson GSM (cell) phone representing the nation’s new connection to Europe.

Downstairs a temporary exhibition of daily life during World War I. Austro-Hungarian uniforms and bullet pierced helmets reminding of the nation’s previous connections to Europe.

There I wondered, all by myself in a quiet museum on a Saturday afternoon. Completely alone, no other visitors, except a lady selling tickets and postcards, and a man sitting by himself in a lecture room, where no lectures were heard. In the silence of the past.

Syriza ja Kreikan vaalit

Eurooppa odottaa henkeään pidätellen Kreikan sunnuntaina 25.1. pidettäviä vaaleja. Vaaleista on tulossa jännittävät, mutta ehkei silti aivan niin dramaattiset kuin mitä edellisissä vaaleissa 2012 nähtiin. Puheet poliittisesta kriisistä muun EU:n kanssa ja Kreikan mahdollisesta euroerosta ovat nekin ampuneet yli maalin.

Mielipidemittaukset näyttävät Radikaalin vasemmiston liitolle (Syriza) hyvää menestystä. Yli 30 % ääniosuudella se voi nousta suurimmaksi puolueeksi. Kaulaa toisena olevaan keskustaoikeistolaiseen pääministeripuolueeseen Uuteen Demokratiaan on jo jonkin aikaa ollut muutaman prosenttiyksikön verran. Nämä kaksi puoluetta jakanevat keskenään yli 60 % äänistä. Samaan hallitukseen ne eivät mahdu.

Loput äänet jakautuvat pikkupuolueille, joista tuskin kukaan yltää yli 10 % ääniosuuteen. Useimmat jäävät reilusti sen alle. Näihin lukeutuu myös takavuosikymmenien mahtipuolue, vuonna 1974 oikeistodiktatuurin jälkeen perustettu sosiaalidemokraattinen Pasok.

Pasokin käsissä Kreikkaa johdettiin pitkiä aikoja 1980- ja 1990-luvuilla. Nykyinen talouskriisikin alkoi sen komennossa. Puolueen kohtalo on eurokriisin tuoksinassa ollut kova. Kreikan poliittisen kentän myllerrys ja tavallisten kreikkalaisten tympääntyminen ja epäluottamus entisiä vallanpitäjiä ja vanhoja puolueita kohtaan on kohdistunut erityisesti keskustavasemmistoon. Pasok, joka on toiminut viime vuodet hallituskoalition pienempänä kumppanina, on hajonnut sisältä ja taistelee olemassaolostaan.

Pasokin jäämistöllä on useita muita poliittisia puolueita ja ryhmittymiä, jotka kalastelevat siltä orvoiksi jääviä äänestäjiä. Syrizan kannattajissa on paljon entisiä Pasokin äänestäjiä. Sen entinen puheenjohtaja ja Kreikan pääministeri Georgios Papandreou on muutama viikko sitten perustanut uuden sosiaalidemokraattisen puolueen (Demokraattisen sosialistien liike). Tällä hän yrittää paluuta politiikkaan. Puolueelle ennustetaan muutaman prosentin kannatusta ja jännittämistä riittää ylittääkö se parlamenttivaalien 3 % äänikynnyksen.

Pasokin perinteinen kilpakumppani ja Syrizan kovin vastustaja, keskustaoikeistolainen Uusi Demokratia on myös kärsinyt tappioita. Nyt nähdään minkälaiseen torjuntavoittoon se yltää. Vuonna siitä 2010 lohkesi kansallismielinen oikeistopopulistipuolue Itsenäiset kreikkalaiset, joka on vastustanut ns. troikan Kreikalle asettamia vaatimuksia. Se on kuitenkin kärsimässä nyt vaalitappion ja on joutumassa mahdollisesti jopa ulos parlamentista. Uusi Demokratia kokoaa tehokkaasti Kreikan maltillisen oikeiston ääniä.

Väriä vaaleihin antavat myös vasemman laidan marxilainen kommunistipuolue, ja kauimpana oikealla uusfasistinen Kultainen Sarastus. Keskustassakin on pientä kuhinaa. Vajaa vuosi sitten perustettu To Potami on keskustaliberaali, sosiaalidemokraattisia ideoita kannattava EU-myönteinen puolue, jonka puheenjohtajana on tunnettu TV-toimittaja Stavros Theodorakis. To Potami pärjäsi hyvin kevään 2014 Euroopan parlamenttivaaleissa, jossa se sai läpi 2 meppiä. Strasbourgissa se lukeutuu keskustavasemmiston S&D ryhmään.

To Potamista voi tulla sunnuntain vaalien yllättäjä. Mikäli se pääsee suurimman pikkupuolueen asemaan, voi tuleva hallituspuolue olla kiinnostunut yhteistyöstä sen kanssa. EU-myönteisellä maltillisella tukipuolueella voi olla hyvinkin Syrizan tiukimpia kantoja liudentava vaikutus.

Vaalien tuloksessa on muutakin kiinnostavaa. Kultainen Sarastus on vahvistunut äärioikealla, mutta sen kasvun rajat ovat ehkä tulossa vastaan. Eniten silti jännitetään sitä, kuinka suuren vaalivoiton Aléxsis Tsipraksen johtama Syriza sunnuntaina saa ja kuinka monta edustajaa se saa 300-vahvuiseen parlamenttiin.

Paljon on edelleen niitä, jotka eivät noin viikkoa ennen vaaleja olleet äänestyspäätöstään vielä tehneet (n. 20 %). Kentällä on myös paljon puolueista riippumattomia ehdokkaita.

Mitä vaalituloksesta on odotettavissa? Hallitusneuvotteluista voi tulla vaikeat. Syriza tuskin saa enemmistöä parlamenttiin, vaan joutuu neuvottelemaan muiden puolueiden kanssa joko hallituskumppanuudesta tai muusta tuesta.

Poissuljettua ei ole sekään, että vaalit eivät tuota selkeää tulosta ja edessä ovat uudet vaalit. Edelliset vaalit pidettiin kahteenkin otteeseen 2012, jolloin nykyinen hallituskoalitio sai nipin napin toimivan enemmistön parlamenttiin. Pasokin alamäki on tehnyt nykyisestä hallituspohjasta hyvin hataran.

Syriza on myös sisäisesti hajanainen. Kuinka johdonmukaiseen hallituspolitiikkaan nopeasti kasvanut puolue kykenee, on suuri kysymysmerkki. Tiivein ryhmittymä Syrizan sisällä on kovan linjan vasemmisto, mutta mukana on myös entisiä pasokilaisia ja kirjava kokoelma muita pienryhmiä.

Ilmeisesti monet vasemmistopolitiikot ja -ryhmittymät ovat mukana Syrizassa taktisista syistä. Yhdistymällä voimansa he voivat voittaa vaalit ja päästä päähallituspuolueeksi. Mutta kuinka tämä liitto pysyy kasassa hallituspuolueena? Minkälaista linjaa se kykenee ajamaan Kreikan sisällä ja EU:n suuntaan?

Ennen vaaleja on keskusteltu Kreikan mahdollisesta euroerosta, Grexitistä, mutta se ei ole tällä hetkellä polttavin kysymys. Mikäli Syriza voittaa vaalit ja kykenee muodostamaan hallitukseen, heittää se haasteen muun EU:n suuntaan.

Syriza ehdottaa ja etsii vasemmistolaista vaihtoehtoa nykyiselle talouskriisipolitiikalle. Lisäksi se haluaa lisää talouspoliittista liikkumavaraa ja vapautta toimia julkisen talouden hoidossa. Käytännössä se testaa sitä, kuinka elvyttävää politiikkaa EU:ssa nykyoloissa voidaan noudattaa ja miten ja minkälaisia rakenteellisia uudistuksia samanaikaisesti tehdään. Tästä syystä vaalien tulosta seurataan tarkasti ainakin Italiassa, Espanjassa ja Ranskassa.

Syriza pyrkii tarjoamaan uskottavan vaihtoehdon nykyiselle uudistuslinjalle, jossa säästöt ja muut uudistukset kohdentuvat eri tavoin kuin tähän asti. Brysselissäkin on pidetty Tsipraksen tiukasta retoriikasta verojärjestelmän uudistamisesta ja korruption kitkemisestä. Terminologiaan kuuluu mm. Kreikan omien ”oligarkkien” pistäminen ruotuun. Jotkut nykyiset julkisten menojen leikkaukset Syriza haluaa peruuttaa.

Asetelmissa on arvailemista, mutta kaikkiaan Kreikan tämänkertaisia vaaleja on dramatisoitu liikaa. Syrizan voittaessa Kreikkaan saattaa tulla sen johtama hallitus, joka tukeutuu maltillisiin vasemmisto- ja keskustavoimiin. Tällöin emme välttämättä näe radikaalia muutosta Kreikan suhteessa EU:n antamiin tukipaketteihin ja niiden ehtoihin.

Kreikan uusi hallitus pyrkii käynnistämään neuvottelut, jotta se voisi jonkin verran muuttaa omaa talouspolitiikkansa suuntaa elvyttävämmäksi, toimeenpanna toisenlaisia reformeja kuin edeltävä hallitus ja saada myös helpotuksia lainojensa takaisinmaksuun. Talous on Kreikassa kääntynyt varovaiseen nousuun ja voi olla että laman pahimmasta kuopasta ollaan jo nousemassa ylös. Kreikan kansankin ääntä on kuultava jo pelkästään unionin demokraattisen uskottavuuden nimissä.

Toiveissa varmasti on, että Kreikalle lainojen mukana määrättyjä ehtoja höllennetään ja myöhemmin palataan lainojen takaisinmaksuun ja helpotuksiin. Ymmärrystä löytynee EU:n sisältä Ranskasta, Italiasta ja Espanjasta ja ehkä muualtakin. Vastustusta on myös tiedossa, ainakin jos vanhat merkit pitävät, kaukaa unionin maantieteelliseltä koilliskulmalta. Se on toisen blogauksen aihe.