Category Archives: Sekalaista

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.

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


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.

Pitäisikö äänioikeus antaa 16-vuotiaille?

Skotlannin itsenäisyydestä järjestetyssä kansanäänestyksessä myös 16-vuotiaat saivat äänestää. He myös käyttivät tätä oikeuttaan. Ensimmäiset selvitykset skottien äänestyskäyttäytymisestä viittaavat siihen, että nuoret ovat  äänestäneet vähintään yhtä ahkerasti kuin vanhemmat ikäluokat. Yleinen äänestysprosentti oli 84,5.

Vaikka kyse oli sinänsä yksinkertaisesta joko-tai -asetelmasta, päätettävä asia oli todella vaikea. Mitä ajatella näin tärkeästä, mutta myös valtavaa epävarmuutta ja tunteita herättävästä asiasta kuin oman maan irtautuminen vuosisataisista kumppaneistaan?

Silti nuoret ovat kaikesta päätellen perehtyneet asian eri puoliin, muodostaneet kantansa ja marssineet äänestyskoppiin. Ilmiössä on kaikkiaan mielenkiintoisen joukkomobilisaation ja sukupolvikokemuksen tuntua.

Skotlannin kokemus voi olla käänteentekevä kansainvälisessä keskustelussa äänioikeusiän alentamisesta 16 vuoteen. Suomessa esim. seurakuntavaaleissa ovat myös 16-vuotiaat äänioikeutettuja. Pitäisikö äänioikeusiän alentamista kokeilla jo seuraavissa kuntavaaleissa?

Vaalikelpoisuuden ehtona voitaisiin edelleen pitää täysi-ikäisyyttä, koska yhteiskunnaliseen päätöksentekoon voivat tosiasiallisesti osallistua vain täysivaltaiset kansalaiset. Mutta ennen pitkää on ehkä syytä keskustella myös täysi-ikäisyysrajan alentamisesta. Nykyiseen rajaan on päädytty vähitellen. Ensin 24, sitten 21, 20 ja lopulta nykyinen 18 vuotta (perheoikeuden professori Liisa Niemiselle kiitos pohdinnoista).

Mitkä argumentit puoltavat äänioikeusiän alentamista? Skotlannin esimerkki osoittaa, että nuoret todella osallistuvat, jos päätettävä asia on riittävän merkittävä, kiinnostava ja kampanjointi ottaa heidät huomioon. He eivät jää kotiin.

Suomessa kannetaan huolta nuorten yhteiskunnallisesta passiivisuudesta. Äänioikeusiän alentaminen lisäisi heidän vaikutusmahdollisuuksiaan. Nuoret tai nuoria puhuttelevat ehdokkaat saisivat nostetta. Nuorille suunnattu poliittinen viestintä voisi tehdä hyvää poliittiselle viestinnälle ja politiikalle muutenkin. Nuoret ovat hyvin kriittisiä, mutta myös allergisia politiikan stiiknafuulialle. Media (myös vanha printtimedia ja televisio) saisivat kaivatun piristysruiskeen.

Ja minkä nuorena oppii, sen vanhana taitaa. Nuorena omaksuttu tapa äänestää jatkuu vanhempanakin. Tästä on runsaasti näyttöä. Katsokaapa vaikka omia eläkeläisiämme.

16-vuotiaiden äänioikeus pakottaisi ottamaan yhteiskunnallisten kysymysten käsittelyn entistäkin vakavammin huomioon kouluissa. Nyt keskustellaan yhteiskuntaopin pakollisten kurssien lisäämisestä lukioissa. Suurimmat ongelmat ovat kuitenkin ammatillisissa oppilaitoksissa. Niissä opiskelevat nuoret tarvitsevat enemmän ja laadukkaampaa yhteiskuntaopin ja taloustiedon opetusta.

Riskejäkin on. Nuorten elämänkokemus on tietenkin vähäisempää ja esim. puolueen ja ehdokkaan valintaan voivat vaikuttaa aivan muut motiivit kuin tässä kuvitellut. Toisaalta se maailma, jossa nykyinen 18 vuoden ikä omaksuttiin, oli kovin erilainen kuin nykyinen nuorten ja lapsien maailma. Koulumme, kasvatuksemme periaatteet ja lapsia ja nuoria ympäröivä media ovat mullistuneet perusteiltaan. Lapsia ja nuoria lähestytään heidän asemastaan ja heidän tarpeistaan, ei niinkään meidän vanhempien. Tai näin ainakin pitäisi olla.

Maailman parhaan koulujärjestelmän maassa täytyy kasvaa maailman parhaat maailmanparantajat. Miksi he eivät näy ja kuulu? Missä he piileksivät?

Ja ennen kuin kuvittelemme enempää vasta-argumentteja, mennään hetkeksi ajassa taaksepäin.

Sata vuotta sitten eri puolilla maailmaa keskusteltiin yleisestä ja yhtäläisestä äänioikeudesta, joka piti sisällään yhteiskunnan kaikki luokat, miehet ja naiset. Vastustajat nostattivat esiin pelkoja uusien äänestäjien kypsymättömyydestä ja kyvyttömyydestä toimia täysivaltaisina kansalaisina ja yhteiskunnan vastuunkantajina. Eiväthän he mitenkään voineet ymmärtää monimutkaisia talousasioita, perustuslaillisia kysymyksiä, ulkopolitiikkaa ja niin edelleen. Miehet kuitenkin kertoisivat vaimoilleen miten äänestää, isännät palvelijoilleen.

Kuinka monta sellaista vastalausetta keksitte nyt, jota ei olisi jo tuossa vuosisadan takaisessa keskustelussa käytetty, ja vääräksi osoitettu?

Ja eikö olisi hienoa, jos Suomi, satavuotista itsenäisyyttään 2017 juhliessaan jälleen näyttäisi muulle maailmalle tietä siinä, miten se ymmärtää täysivaltaisen kansalaisuuden. Vuoden 1906 perintö saisi hienon jatkon.

Siksi ehdotan, että Suomi omaksuu 2017 viettämänsä itsenäisyyden  juhlavuoden kunniaksi yleisen ja yhtäläisen äänioikeuden kaikille 16-vuotta täyttäneille.


Skotlannin kansanäänestys itsenäisyydestä

Kansanäänestys Skotlannin itsenäisyydestä on takana. Jännitysnäytelmä päättyi ei-puolen voittoon. Alla linkkejä joihinkin kommentteihini asiasta pääosin perjantailta 19.9.2014.

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