Privacy International's country rankings

Privacy International has published its 2007 National Privacy Ranking. Greece wins, followed by Hungary and Romania. Finland comes in at 11th, tied with the Czech Republic and Ireland. We get the maximum points for democratic safeguards, but do poorly especially at data sharing. The public tax records are the chief culprit, I think. There's a countrywise report, which provides a good rundown of what the relevant legislation says.

The report mentions that the police can use mobile phones to access official tax records, but surely it's much more troublesome that tax records are published in the press. I mean, at least the police have a decent reason to access the information; the press is just making a buck by catering to the public's curiosity.

The report also has a few words about the Sonera surveillance scandal, but although the trials went on and on (fi), the crimes (fi) occurred before 2002. I'm not sure how relevant it is today.


Against the wall

It's book review time. I've been reading "Seinää vasten vain!" - Poliittisen väkivallan motiivit Suomessa 1917-18 by Mikko Uola, which concerns the motives for political violence in Finland prior to and during the Finnish Civil War. I found it be an interesting look at well-known events from a different perspective as usual. The book focuses on the question of how the Reds and the Whites justified their own or their side's actions. Quite a bit of material from the era is quoted - newspaper articles, diary entries, letters, speeches.

Uola seems to see the Reds as aggressors - appropriately, in my opinion - who were driven to violence by their ideology in combination with circumstances that made them believe the revolutionary moment had come. He points at lies and exaggerations told about bourgeois violence in socialist newspapers, and how these stories were used to justify violence directed against the bourgeois. Työmies, the former Social Democratic Party organ that ceased operation after the Civil War, is not painted in flattering light by its own articles.

One tangible aspect of the conflict highlighted in the book is the importance of the police. The non-socialists saw setting up a police force loyal to the government to replace the prior arrangement of workers' guards policing the cities as imperative to maintaining order and protecting themselves. The Reds, by contrast, were strongly opposed to the idea and became especially fearful after they lost the 1917 parliamentary election and the right-wing Svinhufvud Senate took power.

Joseph Stalin makes a cameo to tell a Social Democratic meeting that "In the climate of war and decadence, the revolutionary movement about to be ignited in the West, and the Russian workers' revolution's growing victories, there are no such dangers and difficulties that could withstand your onslaught." Good one, Joe.

The final chapters of the book, dealing with events of the war itself, are tragic. The events make for a text-book example of a circle of violence.


Heinäluoma is feeling optimistic

Uutispäivä Demari, the Social Democratic Party organ, carries an interview (fi) with party chair Eero Heinäluoma. The opposition leader sees tough times ahead for the government.

Aside from predicting an election victory for the Social Democrats in next autumn's municipal elections, Heinäluoma opines that the government may not stay in power for the usual four years. He argues that Centre Party supporters are particularly unhappy with the government and that Green League supporters aren't well pleased either.

Now, as things stands, the government isn't the least bit vulnerable. The government parties' combined support has dropped roughly 1.5 percentage points since the summer - and is now about where it was in the election. Approval ratings (fi) have dropped, too, but are still quite comfortable. Current trends will need to continue for a good long while before government MPs start to get fidgety.

Heinäluoma's suggestion isn't realistic and he probably knows it himself. What's the point, then? Well, suggesting that your political opponents are headed for a crisis can't hurt. It also gives Heinäluoma an opportunity to bag on the government policies for being hideously right-wing. (That's why the Greens and the Centrists are highlighted as the unhappy parties: within the government, they're on the left.)


Ah, Christmas

I'd resume normal service now, but nothing whatsoever has happened during the past four days.


Why do Finns oppose NATO membership?

This survey (PDF), commissioned by the Advisory Board for Defense Information, has the goods.

Half of the respondents answered a multiple-choice question and the other half filled in an open question.

The most important (48 %) reason for remaining outside NATO is to prevent Finnish troops from having to fight foreign wars. The second most important (46 %) reason is that Finland should not be involved in great power conflicts. The third (43 %) reason is the disproportionate dominance of the United States in NATO. The fourth most often (40 %) cited reason was that Finland's NATO membership could increase the threat of Russia against Finland.

As for the open answers, the reasons were analogous. The most often used arguments against military alignment were that NATO membership was thought to increase the threat of Russia against Finland (N=68) and that Finnish "sons and grandsons" would be forced to fight foreign wars (N=51). The justifications also included increased insecurity (N=32), expenses (N=32), the irrelevance of NATO (N=30), the importance of maintaining independence and sovereignty (N=22) as well as the superiority of non-alignment (N=27).

The most important reason for backing NATO membership was that the Finnish Defence Forces were not considered capable of defending Finland on their own (53 %), followed by obtaining military security against Russia (45 %), benefits from participating in western organizations (40%) as well as the opportunity to participate in decision-making with regard to NATO operations (38 %).

The open answers brought increased security (N=78) to the forefront, followed by obtaining support if Finland were attacked (N=53) and the increased threat of Russia (N=32). Even here, the most often used caveat was that Finland should not seek membership in NATO (N=99).

To summarize, opponents of NATO membership don't want Finland to get involved in other people's quarrels, especially ones that concern Russia. Supporters consider membership to be helpful in defending the country against Russia. The first group wants to avoid conflicts; the second wants to be prepared for the worst.

The survey also provided party-wise numbers (with 2006 figures in parentheses):
Ninety-seven (69 %) per cent of Left Alliance supporters are against NATO membership and the corresponding numbers for the other parties’ supporters are as follows: Greens 77 per cent (87 %), Social Democratic Party (SDP) 75 per cent (61 %), Centre Party 67 per cent (72 %) and National Coalition (conservatives) 38 per cent (44 %).

The changes from 2006 are so big that the margin of error must be quite large, but the left-right split is undoubtedly true.


Foreign Ministry's NATO report

It's the all-singing, all-dancing... No, actually, the Foreign Ministry's NATO report is boring. (It's currently available in Finnish, but an English translation is underway.) The chosen approach is to state basic facts and not much else. As the introduction says, "The report doesn't present evaluations about NATO's or Finland's operational environments or potential threats, and it contains no recommendations." In other words, they left out the interesting bits.

The report's tone is polite and cautious. For example, it says that membership would bring "both challenges and possibilities" in the relationship with Russia - which means nothing, but sounds vaguely positive. Some media highlighted the finding that membership fees and personnel expenses would be about 40 million euros, less than previously estimated. Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva's assessment was that the difference between membership and the current situation is "hair thin" in terms of the extent of cooperation with NATO.

In other news, in a recent poll (fi) 69 percent of respondents said that Finland shouldn't seek NATO membership. 26 percent are in favor. The numbers have barely changed from last year.


Poll: Coalition 22.7, Soc Dems 22.5, Centre 22.3

YLE's latest poll (fi) inverts the top three positions from the previous one published by Helsingin Sanomat. By doing so, it breaks some patterns that have held for a long time. The Centre Party hasn't come in third since the summer of 2006. The National Coalition Party has been steadily losing support in every poll released since July, but now it gains a couple of percentage points.

The two frequent pollsters, TNS Gallup (doing work for HS) and Taloustutkimus (doing work for YLE), almost always support the same trends - e.g. at the moment both suggest that the Social Democratic Party has been gaining support - but notably there are distinct differences between their raw numbers for certain parties that persist over time. Taloustutkimus regularly measures higher support for the Coalition and the Green League, but lower support for the True Finns than TSN Gallup.

After the election Taloustutkimus in particular was accused, a bit unfairly, of consistently getting the Coalition's numbers too low. Now they're at the other end of the scale. Overcompensation, perhaps?

CP   NCP  SDP  LA  GL   CD  SPP TF  gov  source
23.1 22.3 21.4 8.8 8.5 4.9 4.6 4.1 58.5 PE 3/18
23.0 24.1 20.7 8.2 9.4 4.5 4.4 4.5 60.9 TT 4/5
22.8 23.3 21.1 8.4 8.9 4.5 4.3 4.9 59.3 TG 5/20
23.4 23.3 20.8 9.0 9.6 5.0 4.1 4.4 60.4 RI 5/25
22.4 23.4 21.7 8.4 10.1 4.7 4.1 4.3 60.0 TT 6/9
23.0 23.2 21.5 8.3 9.0 4.3 4.2 5.0 59.4 TG 6/26
22.8 23.9 21.2 8.5 9.3 4.7 4.4 4.3 60.4 TT 7/2
22.3 23.6 21.2 8.5 9.4 4.6 4.5 4.7 59.8 TT 8/13
22.7 23.2 21.6 8.1 9.4 4.7 4.5 4.6 59.8 TT 9/9
22.5 22.6 21.5 8.4 9.0 4.6 4.6 5.0 58.7 TG 9/22
22.6 22.8 21.8 7.9 9.8 4.8 4.4 4.8 59.6 TT 10/13
22.6 21.7 21.7 8.6 9.1 4.6 4.7 5.1 58.1 TG 10/31
22.6 22.3 22.3 8.4 9.7 4.4 4.6 5.0 59.2 TT 11/19
22.3 21.5 22.3 8.6 9.4 4.6 4.6 4.9 57.8 TG 12/16
22.3 22.7 22.5 8.5 9.6 4.6 4.1 4.5 58.7 TT 12/21

CP = Centre Party
NCP = National Coalition Party
SDP = Social Democratic Party
LA = Left Alliance
GL = Green League
CD = Christian Democrats
SPP = Swedish People's Party
TF = True Finns
gov = government parties
PE = parliamentary election
TT = Taloustutkimus / YLE
TG = TNS Gallup / Helsingin Sanomat
RI = Research International Finland / MTV3


Who needs a great leader?

Recently there have been some low-level chatter about one of the eternal topics of Finnish politics, the role of the President. Last week Seppo Tiitinen, the Secretary General of the Parliament, argued for full-on parliamentarism. He has something like the German model in mind. According to him, countries that are comparable to Finland usually no longer trust in a great leader. (Since when do people see Tarja Halonen and Martti Ahtisaari as great leaders?)

Social Democratic party leader Eero Heinäluoma endorsed Tiitinen's point that now would be a good time to talk about the issue, because the discussion will become more difficult the nearer we get to the next presidential election. Now is a rare opportunity to change the constitution without an interjecting presidential election, and with the current head of state at the end of her term limit. In theory, then, people can take a stand without considering the identity of the current or next President.

In any case, on the changes suggested by Tiitinen, Heinäluoma declared his position to be open. Of course, back in 2005 (fi) Heinäluoma said that citizens can decide in the next (i.e. the latest) parliamentary elections what sort of powers they wish the President to have. His party supports - or at least supported - maintaining the current arrangement. This neatly shows another way in which elections pose difficulties for would-be reformists; they entice politicians to take a stand for the rather popular status quo.

In other news (fi), although official parliamentary work on the topic will start only in autumn 2008, parties are already considering their positions. Kimmo Kiljunen, a Social Democratic MP, said that one of the issues under consideration will be whether to have presidential elections at all; if the President is elected in a popular vote, she must also have real power. Kimmo Sasi MP, representing the National Coalition Party, would hold elections even for a figurehead President - to soften the blow, I guess.


Nazi rings

Andrew Curry, reporting for the Spiegel, wrote about a charity drive with a difference:

A Finnish charity is selling rings engraved with a swastika to raise money for the country's 80,000 World War II veterans.

The article is pretty good in giving the background, despite carrying the atrociously punny title "Nazi or Nice? Finns Snap Up Swastika Rings for Christmas".

(Two minor mistakes I spotted: 1.) The rings aren't being sold by "the Finnish Veterans' Association". There's no organization by that name, as far as I know. Rather (fi), the campaign is run by several Finnish veterans' associations operating through an organization called Veteraanivastuu. 2.) R-Kioskis aren't supermarkets. They're kiosks, as the name implies.)

Quoting Curry, Prerna Mankad wrote on Foreign Policy's Passport blog:
But with neo-Nazism reportedly growing in Finland's European neighborhood, brandishing Nazi symbols may easily convey a different message than the one Mikkonen and the Finnish Veterans' Association seem to have in mind.

The post's title is "Finnish charity selling Nazi rings for Christmas". Mankad takes it as a given that we're talking about Nazi rings carrying Nazi symbols. The campaign would of course dispute (PDF) those assumptions. For sure there's room for confusion if someone doesn't know the history, but Mankad has presumably read Curry's article. It's not all a clever ploy to get away with wearing Nazi rings, you know.

Finally, the Telegraph's Harry de Quetteville penned a more sympathetic article.


Mobile Female Monument

Helsingin Sanomat: "Giant vulva is the aesthetic act of the year" (fi). Yes, there's a picture. It's... quite aesthetic.


Criticism of UPI's NATO report

At the end of last week a few politicians, who are both for and against NATO membership, criticized the Finnish Institute of International Affairs' (UPI) NATO report. First Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva took issue with the report's prediction of a negative Russian reaction in case Finland joins NATO.

[Kanerva] does not believe that Russia would object to Finland joining NATO. [UPI's report] speculates that Russia would be temporarily annoyed if Finland were to join the military alliance.

Kanerva said he is wary of the report's interpretation on the matter.

"I was surprised by the results of the NATO report. In my dealings with Russia, I have not once been told that membership would not be possible," Kanerva said.

It's worth noting that Kanerva argument isn't logical. Whether NATO membership is possible wasn't under question. To the contrary, the analysis (PDF) concerns a situation in which Finland chooses to join:
If Finland chose to join NATO, the political relations between the two countries would almost inevitably suffer to some degree, and some limited military remonstrations in the vicinity of the Finnish borders (which are now hard to specify) could occur. Officially, Russia might question whether threat scenarios had changed or why military non-alignment is no longer sufficient for Finland.

The effects, however, would hardly extend beyond the short-to-medium term and they would not necessarily be intensive but gradually disappear after accession.

Later, Social Democratic Party chair Eero Heinäluoma opined that the report downplayed EU's security guarantees.
Heinäluoma said that the [EU reform treaty] offers more steadfast defence to member states than Article V of the NATO charter. According to the article, member countries can determine what kind of assistance they will offer.

However under the EU reform treaty, EU states are committed to provide all available assistance to other member states. Heinäluoma suggested Finland look to Sweden as a model. He added that Sweden does not hesitate to assist other EU countries.

Where Heinäluoma compares the texts of the relevant treaties, the report, by contrast, considers their practical implementation:
In Europe, only NATO has the structural capacity to help member states through military assistance. This structural capacity includes standards on training, equipment, planning procedures, and the actual headquarters planning and intelligence capabilities that form the basic building blocks of a defence planning capacity. The European Union does not currently have any capacity to organize a collective defence of its membership and until a significant portion of "dual-members" take steps to create such a capacity, any military security guarantees it provides are largely theoretical.

The report may or may not be correct on these points, but Kanerva's and Heinäluoma's counterarguments miss their target.


Poll: Centre 22.3, Soc Dems 22.3, Coalition 21.5

Helsingin Sanomat published the first poll (fi) since before the election in which the National Coalition Party is in third place, dropping down to 21.5 percent. Meanwhile the Social Democratic Party and the Centre Party are tied for first at 22.3 percent. The Social Democrats are the biggest movers this time around, gaining 0.6 percentage points. Everyone else is within 0.3 percentage points of the previous poll.

Although the poll was released now, the first interviews for it were conducted in late November. As such, the nurses' pay row is one possible reason for the changes. Looking at the numbers, it seems to me that the government parties as a group started losing suppport in September. The public sector pay talks got underway in September and the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) rejected the initial municipal employers' offer at the end of that month.

CP   NCP  SDP  LA  GL   CD  SPP TF  gov  source
23.1 22.3 21.4 8.8 8.5 4.9 4.6 4.1 58.5 PE 3/18
23.0 24.1 20.7 8.2 9.4 4.5 4.4 4.5 60.9 TT 4/5
22.8 23.3 21.1 8.4 8.9 4.5 4.3 4.9 59.3 TG 5/20
23.4 23.3 20.8 9.0 9.6 5.0 4.1 4.4 60.4 RI 5/25
22.4 23.4 21.7 8.4 10.1 4.7 4.1 4.3 60.0 TT 6/9
23.0 23.2 21.5 8.3 9.0 4.3 4.2 5.0 59.4 TG 6/26
22.8 23.9 21.2 8.5 9.3 4.7 4.4 4.3 60.4 TT 7/2
22.3 23.6 21.2 8.5 9.4 4.6 4.5 4.7 59.8 TT 8/13
22.7 23.2 21.6 8.1 9.4 4.7 4.5 4.6 59.8 TT 9/9
22.5 22.6 21.5 8.4 9.0 4.6 4.6 5.0 58.7 TG 9/22
22.6 22.8 21.8 7.9 9.8 4.8 4.4 4.8 59.6 TT 10/13
22.6 21.7 21.7 8.6 9.1 4.6 4.7 5.1 58.1 TG 10/31
22.6 22.3 22.3 8.4 9.7 4.4 4.6 5.0 59.2 TT 11/19
22.3 21.5 22.3 8.6 9.4 4.6 4.6 4.9 57.8 TG 12/16

CP = Centre Party
NCP = National Coalition Party
SDP = Social Democratic Party
LA = Left Alliance
GL = Green League
CD = Christian Democrats
SPP = Swedish People's Party
TF = True Finns
gov = government parties
PE = parliamentary election
TT = Taloustutkimus / YLE
TG = TNS Gallup / Helsingin Sanomat
RI = Research International Finland / MTV3


Jorma Ollila, wise man

It came out yesterday that Jorma Ollila of Nokia fame will become one of two vice chairs in the European Union's "Reflection Group". The others will be former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Ollila stands out in that crowd for not being a politician. However, he has taken part in political discussions in Finland, even moderating televised election debates.

Ollila commented (fi) that the essential thing is to think about Europe's role in the world. A vague statement like that is probably suitable at the moment, as the group of wise men (and Vike-Freiberga) is not allowed to take issue with EU's enlargement, financing, or organs. In fact, one gets the impression that the group was set up so that French President Nicolas Sarkozy wouldn't pout.

Some past EU-related statements from Ollila:

"Jorma Ollila thinks that Europe has four challenges in attracting investment in industrial research and development. Ollila demands simplifying public regulations, removing obstacles from common markets, better use of information and communications technology, and improving the efficiency of research and development." -- Tekniikka & Talous (fi)

"Ollila has joined the list of internationally influential figures who ask for radical action from states to combat climate change.

"Ollila especially thanks the EU's emissions trading. According to him, emissions trading is needed so that the price gap between fossilized and renewable energy sources can be closed." -- Helsingin Sanomat (fi)

Headline of the day

Malta Independent: "EU summit in Brussels: A series of victories for Malta –-PM Gonzi". Oh, so that's what it was.


ETLA's experts on the Nordic model

The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (ETLA) released a report called The Nordic Model - Embracing globalization and sharing risks. (There's also a summary in Finnish (PDF) available.) ETLA is funded by employer organizations and as such tends to promote pro-business views. This report was written by a number of leading Nordic economists, including future Bank of Finland board member Professor Seppo Honkapohja.

With those caveats out of the way, the report points to some commonly perceived problems for the Nordic model: relocation of production and job losses, "international factor mobility", and tax competition. The solutions it advocates are also pretty standard: lengthening working careers, "clarifying" (i.e. limiting) the scope of public services, and privatization and outsourcing of services.

The most interesting part of the findings is the esteemed experts' evaluation of some often suggested fixes as unrealistic and based on deceptive thinking. Economic growth leads to higher wages also in the public sector. Increased fertility will start to increase public sector growth more than tax revenue after a few decades. Immigration helps the public sector only if its limited to easily employable young people, which isn't politically realistic. Taxation, especially on work, is already high.

But everything isn't broken:

[T]he authors believe it is essential to preserve one central feature of the Nordic Model. The Nordics have been embracing both globalization and the welfare state, and they argue that the security offered by collective mechanisms for sharing risks has been instrumental in enhancing a favourable attitude to globalization and competition. This key characteristic of the model must be preserved – in order to maintain an economic and social climate which is conducive to future welfare and growth. Collective risk sharing should continue to offer a safety net which helps workers and their families to cope with risks and to adapt to new requirements in times of change.


Finally, investment in human capital should not be the victim of increasingly tight budget constraints; what is good for the young is good for the future of society.

Yay for human capital.


Image is nothing

Kampanja magazine asked (fi) marketing professionals which politicians and parties have the best and worst images.

Out of a list of ten politicians, Speaker Sauli Niinistö (National Coalition Party) had the best numbers; 46 percent of respondents said he had the best image and 0.6 percent said he had the worst. Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva (Coalition) came second (+15%, -0.4%). At the other end of the list we find Social Democratic Party chair Eero Heinäluoma (+6%, -45%) and Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen (Coalition) (+5%, -27%). The results suggest Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) is a bit bland (+9.5%, -10%), so no surprises there. The rest didn't get many mentions either way.

Of the parties, the Coalition scored high both for the best image (33%) and the worst (31%). The Centre (+21%, -9.5%), the Greens (+14%, -2.7%), the Swedish People's Party (+8.7%, -0.5%), and the True Finns (+8.5%, -3.1%) scored positive results. The Social Democrats (+11%, -41%) and the Left Alliance (+1.7%, -10%) didn't do so hot. The Christian Democrats barely rated (+2%, -1.7%).

The survey format could have been better, e.g. by asking the respondents for ratings instead of just requesting them to name their top and bottom picks. Now we only see the very ends of the scale. As it is, the main conclusion I draw from the results is that losing an election is really bad for your image - see numbers for Heinäluoma, the Social Democrats, and the Left.

Finally, the survey also asked which politician would make the best Santa Claus. Foreign Trade Minister Paavo Väyrynen (Centre) of course won with a fifth of the vote.


Soviet posters

Some of this stuff is pure gold. Also, the cigarette ads are amusing.


UPI's NATO report

'Tis the season to talk in circles about NATO. The Finnish Institute of International Affairs (UPI), "an independent research institute that functions in association with the Parliament of Finland", released its NATO report (PDF) today and the Foreign Ministry's report should be out later this month.

Titled From Protecting Some to Securing Many - NATO's Journey from a Military Alliance to a Security Manager, the UPI report focuses on describing the ways in which NATO has changed and will be changing. I'll quote some of the juicier statements - relatively speaking - from the executive summary:

[N]o longer facing a conventional military threat, NATO has since the mid-1990s also taken on a security manager role. In this role it has engaged in a range of activities in which the organization's military competence supports broader efforts to increase the security of member and non-member states. These include military exchange, assistance and disarmament programmes, as well as humanitarian assistance and crisis management operations.


What is clear to all [NATO members] is that Europe's collective defence is realized through NATO. Irrespective of the status of the European Union's potential security guarantees, the EU does not have the capabilities required to plan and execute collective defence; nor is it planning to acquire them.


Finnish membership in NATO would temporarily annoy Russia, but the relationship is likely in due course to return to normal.


Despite the nearly exclusive focus on non-Article 5 crisis operations, collective defence responsibilities remain at the core of the Alliance. Therefore, Finland should only seek NATO membership if it is ready to assist other members if they are attacked, and conversely benefit from receiving assistance from other Alliance members if it is ever attacked.

The folks at UPI don't say outright whether Finland should join, but if the above quotes weren't suggestive enough for you, this paragraph sort of gives the game away:
Most critically, a better understanding of NATO is important so that the organization can be properly placed within the broader context of Finland's security and defence policies. The debate about how these policies need to be changed cannot properly be held as long as "NATO" is effectively a swearword in Finnish society.

"I wish you wouldn't be so dead set against buying a pony, so we could properly debate how many ponies we need.

"Pro-pony? Me? Whatever gave you that idea?"


Dmitri Medvedev, next president of Russia

I see good ol' Vladimir Putin has named Russia's next president. The lucky winner is First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, whom I liken to a doe-eyed Ville Itälä to Putin's Sauli Niinistö.

Of the leading candidates, Sergei Ivanov is another old KGB hand with all that it entails; Medvedev is a lawyer who rose to his current position through the ranks of St Petersburg bureaucracy. Ivanov is connected to the intelligence agency FSB; Medvedev is connected to the giant gas company Gazprom. Ivanov has overseen the military's rearmament; Medvedev has overseen housing and education programs.

In short, while it would be too optimistic to expect this selection to change Russia's course, the signal it sends could have been worse.


Tuomioja's role in the Rusi leak

Turun Sanomat and Helsingin Sanomat had competing pieces on how confidential information about the Security Police's (Supo) investigation into Alpo Rusi's Stasi connections turned up in the media.

Turun Sanomat wrote (fi) that Erkki Tuomioja (Social Democratic Party), who was informed due to his position as Foreign Minister, told the late Antti Satuli, then the Secretary of State at the Foreign Ministry, who in turn told the media. Tuomioja said (fi) that Satuli, who has since died, already knew about the investigation and that he had gotten the impression from his discussion with Nevala that Satuli should be informed.

When reporting on Turun Sanomat's reporting, Helsingin Sanomat reminded us (fi) that the state claimed during the autumn's Rusi trial that Satuli learned of the investigation from Foreign Ministry official Juhani Suomi (of Kekkonen biography fame), who had helped Supo in the investigation as an expert. Further, the court ruled that Satuli was legally entitled to the information due to his role as Suomi's boss.

Turun Sanomat had a nice scoop in theory, but the story seems like a bit of a dud in practice. Alternatively, Tuomioja was damned lucky that the person to whom he leaked the information not only knew about the investigation, but was supposed to know.

Citizenship test

Helsingin Sanomat put together a citizenship test (fi) with the questions based on real tests from other countries. I narrowly passed, but the experience mainly served to convince me that citizenship tests, at least ones that focus on trivia questions, are stupid. There's no logic according to which one's prospects for citizenship should depend on whether one knows the origins of the Tiernapojat play.

Obligatory handwringing over politicians' performances can be found here. Alas, the article doesn't name names.


Sports act of the year

The voting for the 2007 Sports Act of the Year ends tomorrow. Looking at the candidates (fi), I think there are three serious possibilities:

  • Virpi Kuitunen's three world championships and a third place in cross country skiing
  • Tero Pitkämäki's world championship in javelin
  • Kimi Räikkönen's world championship in Formula One

Kuitunen brought home three gold medals. Aside from winning in Osaka, Pitkämäki dominated his sport all summer long and has already been elected the European Male Athlete of the Year. Räikkönen scored the most high profile victory of the year - and it's not even close. I'd opt for Räikkönen, if only because the last two GPs of the season were so much fun.

Someone might vote for Teemu Selänne's Stanley Cup win, but it would be a sentimental choice. Juha Salminen's umpteen enduro world championships is a rather impressive feat, but the sport is too small for him to win.

Now watch for Tampere United fans organize to haul their team to number one.


Month off from civilian service

The Parliament passed a few notable bills this week. Car tax reform became a reality and a month was lobbed off civil service. Despite the latter change, conscientious objectors still object:

The League nonetheless feels that conscientious objectors are still discriminated against. They say the government has failed to show why civilian service should be any longer than conscription.

Surely the reason is obvious: the state wants to encourage men to choose conscription. Civilian service only exists because some object to conscription. Locking up the objectors would be inefficient and not very nice, so the state has them do odd jobs here and there. But the alternative doesn't need to be particularly appealing, because if it were, that might increase the number of men who choose it. Simple as.


Whole lotta handshakin' goin' on

I'd like to take this moment to consider the chief downside to Finland's independence.

I'm of course talking about the Independence Day reception at the Presidential Palace, also known as the most repetitive television program in the history of ever. For those fortunate enough to never have seen it, it consists of a few thousand handshakes followed by riveting footage of hundreds of people milling about in a few tightly packed rooms as the band plays nothing to which you should pay attention. During breaks in the music, some guests are asked pointless questions to which they give blandly patriotic answers.

You can try to adopt an ironic attitude toward the spectacle and make quips about the guests' clothes and hair styles, but the interminable proceedings will beat even the most hardy wit into catatonic submission. Were I to draft an indictment of Finnish culture, the high ratings enjoyed by the reception year after year would be exhibit one. There's no way you can watch the world's stiffest conga line crawl past the presidential couple, all tight smiles and empty patter, without your soul departing your body as a protest over your failure to find less tortuous viewing, like MADE, for example.

It's quite dull, is what I'm saying.


Rank your rights

Apropos of tomorrow's Independence Day festivities, YLE commissioned a poll in which respondents were asked to rank their rights. It's an interesting excercise, but YLE's coverage of its own poll is disappointingly misleading. The worst offender is this paragraph:

The survey also asked which rights people would be willing to sacrifice under exceptional conditions. Most of those asked said the right of association and a quarter put freedom of movement on their list.

The survey didn't ask what rights respondents would be willing to sacrifice. The question (fi) concerned "being flexible" "if decision makers see it as necessary". Second, when it comes to limiting the right of association, "most of those asked" actually amount to 36 percent of those asked.

YLE's Olli Ainola wrote a column (fi) on the topic titled "Many Finns would accept the East German society." He makes some good points about situations in which rights need to be weighed against each other, but the title is of course very, very hyperbolic.

Ainola writes, "After a little bit of pushing, surprisingly many Finns are prepared to accept a society in which the right of association and freedom of movement are limited, the death penalty is in use, and freedom of religion and conscience is shackled - as long as social services and privacy are guaranteed.

"What sort of a society does that bring to mind? What else than the former DDR; only Stasi is missing."

Stasi was pretty damned central to the East German society, but we'll forget about that for the moment. Instead, let's try to figure out what what we can say about how many is "surprisingly many".

Of the rights that would be limited, the freedom of religion and conscience is the most popular (fi), with 19 percent willing to accept restrictions on it under exceptional circumstances. That's the upper limit. On the other hand, if there was no correlation between accepting limits on the four rights Ainola mentions, then the number would be approximately, oh, zero percent. So take your pick.


Minorities in China are treated better

The Swedish news site The Local carries a wacky AFP article on the ol' language question. (You can tell that the author is French by the way Arto Paasilinna is quoted in the end.) The problem with discussing the topic is that the world is neatly divided into people who don't care and people who care a bit too much. This article tries to bring a smidgen of heat to the proceedings by only quoting the latter.

"Finland tries to teach everyone a lesson about morality but minorities in China are treated better," blasted Juhan [sic] Janhunen, an expert on Asian languages, comparing one of the most egalitarian countries in the world to the Communist regime.

On the other hand, the majority in China is treated worse, so it evens out.
And as a result of budgetary cutbacks, Swedish-speaking police stations, courts and municipal offices will in the coming years be integrated into Finnish entities.

"It's scandalous! We don't even know who was here first, the Swedes or the Finns," thunders a judge, Charles Lindroos, whose court is due to close.

The Sami may have been there first, but it totally doesn't count because our ancestors weren't playing for keepsies back then.
Heikki Tala, the head of the Association for Finnish Culture and Identity, doesn't see a problem.

"Swedish speakers enjoy privileges like no other linguistic minority in the world," he said.

"The 500,000 Finns in Sweden have no rights," he pointed out.

That's not strictly true. For example, while you're allowed to enslave Sweden-dwelling Finns, you must ensure that there's no gender discrimination among your slave force.


Missiles from NATO

Matti Ahola, former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defense, makes the military case (fi) for NATO membership in an interview that appeared in several Alma Media newspapers today. He doesn't see the Finnish military lasting for long in modern warfare against a strong enemy - i.e. if Russia invades, although that's left unsaid. "We're talking about a durability of days, at most weeks. After that aid from foreign countries is needed. We have no system to ensure this aid."

According to Ahola, Finland doesn't have the goods needed to stand up to air strikes in a protracted struggle. "You can load ten to twelve missiles into a Hornet at a time. When there are 63 planes, in theory a significant part of Finland's missiles is attached to the planes at one go. After the first full round of shots, we must quickly get more missiles from some NATO country. Others don't have them." Therefore, "It is one hundred percent up to NATO whether our air force's and army's main weapons usable in a lengthening crisis."

Guerrilla warfare is an alternative, but it has a significant downside. "A guerrilla army's effect starts to be felt only when the enemy has penetrated deep into the country. At that point no one is safe, least of all civilians. This sort of weapons cache romanticism is out of date."

Ahola isn't very pleased (fi) with President Tarja Halonen, who has made anti-membership comments in recent weeks. "She's aware of these facts, there's no doubt about that. Clearly she's playing knowingly with two sets of cards." I would consider the possibility that Halonen thinks that foreign policy benefits of non-alliance cancel out the military benefits of NATO membership.

Ahola seems to be on shakier ground when talking politics. "Before both the presidential and the parliamentary elections, certain security policy topics of which there was to be no debate were defined. We won't be a very good example of democracy as OSCE chairs next year." This is wrong. Nothing stops any politician from bringing up any security policy topic, but if there are no votes in talking about your pro-NATO views, why spend valuable campaign time on it?

In third grade, he wrote an essay titled 'I Want To Be a President'

This statement from the Hillary Clinton campaign, concerning Barack Obama's presidential aspirations, is gotcha politics at its very funniest.

"It was clear to me from the day I met him that he was thinking about politics," says a law school classmate.

How can any candidate recover from such a revelation?


How Russia is like Tex Willer

Apropos of handling foreign policy, the latest number of Europa magazine (fi) carried an interview with Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva on Russia and the European Union.

The main takeaway from the article is that Kanerva supports an "active" Russia policy. Russia shouldn't be driven out of common negotiations. EU needs Russia and Russia needs EU. This topic also prompted the best Kanerva-ism of the interview: "Driven into a corner, Russia won't stay there, but break out like Tex Willer."

According to Kanerva, the security guarantees mentioned in the not-a-constitution don't remove the need for a discussion on NATO membership. "They are different types of solutions. EU's guarantees aren't interesting for NATO members. All options are needed." He also called for a common EU energy policy as a way to stop Russia from applying the principles of divide and conquer.

Poll on handling foreign policy

Turun Sanomat published a poll (fi) that asked respondents to rate politicians' handling of foreign policy on a scale of four to ten - Helsingin Sanomat has more numbers (fi). Speaker of the Parliament Sauli Niinistö (National Coalition Party) and President Tarja Halonen (Social Democratic Party) scored the best, 7.9 and 7.8 respectively. Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva (Coalition) at 7.5 narrowly pipped Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) at 7.4 for third place.

The Speaker of course doesn't handle foreign policy at all, so one wonders how the respondents were able to rate Niinistö's performance. Still, he's probably pleased; it's the sort of question on which prospective presidential candidates should hope to do well. As for Vanhanen, in addition to losing to his Foreign Minister among all respondents, he lost to Niinistö 8.0 to 7.9 even among Centrists only. It seems that foreign policy is considered something of a weakness for him.

According to the same poll, 82 percent supported the current model in which the President together with the government is in charge of foreign policy, thus making supporters of pure parlamentarism gnash their teeth.


This house is a transparent house

Amanda Hess from the Washington City Paper learned a lot from the Ambassador of Finland. Sample dialog:

"We do have one reality television program that I enjoy," the man from Finland continued. "It is based on survival."

"Is it like Survivor?" I asked him.

"No," replied the man from Finland.

Veterans hate trifling entertainment

There's a new play in the Finnish National Theater that reinterprets Väinö Linna's The Unknown Soldier. The fact that the Helsingin Sanomat's critic liked it should give one pause, but since I haven't seen it, I shan't comment any further. Instead I'd like to discuss an idea presented in this post (fi) by Heidi Hautala, a Green League MP.

Hautala liked the play a lot, which is fair enough, but the message she saw in it is, to be frank, utter poppycock. According to her, the play sends the message that "our fathers and grandfathers didn't fight and die so that" - and there's no good way to finish the sentence at this point - "trifling entertainment and confusion over human fundamental questions would reign in the land."

Now, that strikes me as nonsense. Did the veterans of our wars fight so that light entertainment wouldn't be available to willing consumers, and if so, did they go see Lapatossu ja Vinski olympiakuumeessa for its deep philosophical content? Did they serve in the Winter War because they opposed confusion over human fundamental questions? How on earth would the reasoning there even work? "Communist indoctrination might not convince everyone, thus leaving some confused. This must be opposed!"?

The point is: If you want to whine about how modern life is rubbish, that's your prerogative, but don't attribute your hobbyhorse to others and then appeal to their authority. Because they too think you're an ass, I'm sure of it.


PISA 2006 rankings

The rankings for the 2006 PISA survey, "the most comprehensive and rigorous international yardstick of secondary-school students' attainments", are out (PDF). Guess who's number one with a bullet [1]?

Finland (563)
Hong Kong-China (542)
Canada (534)
Chinese Taipei (532)
Estonia (531)
Japan (531)
New Zealand (530)
Australia (527)
Netherlands (525)
Liechtenstein (522)
Korea (522)

Hong Kong? Phooey! Please don't "harbor" any ill feelings just because our 15-year-olds are brilliant. Suomi! Suomi! Suomi!

[1] Too soon?


Should Estonians listen to Paavo Lipponen?

Giustino asks in the comments re Paavo Lipponen's take on Estonian foreign policy:

Should we in Estonia listen to his opinions or is he basically useless?

In my opinion everyone should listen to Lipponen; he's grouchy, thin-skinned, and opinionated to a degree that makes much of what he writes or says rather entertaining. I just hope that he takes offense to Estonian criticism and fires back, because no one issues a rejoinder quite like Paavo Lipponen. So if you like colorful denunciations, he's far from useless.

Another question is whether Lipponen knows what he's talking about. He's generally pro-NATO - when there isn't an election campaign going on, that is - and very pro-EU. The latter trait was a prominent feature of his prime ministership. He has a fairly good reputation for his handling of international issues, but that was built more on supposed negotiating prowess than any special foreign policy insight.

But really, the main thing here is that what we need is a proper row between Lipponen and Estonians. If I may make a recommendation, Estonians should say something like, "Now I see the Finnish media had Lipponen's number all along." (Lipponen hates large segments of the Finnish media.) If that fails to get a rise, I'd go with "With comments like that, no wonder Finnish voters opted for Anneli Jäätteenmäki." (Lipponen really, really hates Jäätteenmäki.)


141 agreement

Finland and the European Union Commission have reached an agreement on the so-called 141 agricultural subsidies. The news was reasonably good for Finnish taxpayers:

Next year, nearly 94 million euros will be granted to farmers in southern Finland. By 2013, support will be just 62.9 million euros.

However, Less Favoured Area (LFA) subsidies will help compensate for the cuts.

During the first four years of the national subsidies, funds will decrease on average by 2.7 percent annually. In the final two years, support will be cut more drastically.

The Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK) said it is very disappointed by the decision to cut subsidies. The union said pig and poultry farmers will be the most affected by the loss of support.

As expected, the EU Commission didn't buy the rather unconvincing argument that the 141 subsidies were meant to permanent. I wonder if it will still be dragged out of storage in 2013.

The LFA subsidies - wouldn't "More Favored Area" be a more accurate name? - are an interesting addition, but it seems that they won't cover the drop in the 141 subsidies. The 141 cuts will amount to about 30 million euros after six years. According to Alexander Stubb MEP (fi), the LFA subsidies will cover about 15-20 million euros of that.


Mannerheim movie

I got to say, I have a bad feeling about this (fi). Renny Harlin, Markus Selin, and Mikko Nousiainen? It's like making a movie about George Washington with Jerry Bruckheimer producing, Michael Bay directing, and Ben Affleck portraying "G" (as he'd be called throughout the film).

The article mentions that some Russian financiers backed out after a disagreement about the script. It'd be interesting to know what the Russians wanted changed - maybe it was the scene where Mannerheim, operating deep within enemy lines in 1940, punches out Stalin?

If at some point in the movie Mannerheim doesn't get to shout, his neck veins bulging, "THIS... IS... KOLLAAAAA!" then I, for one, will feel cheated.


Supply-siders in our midst

Something that puzzles me about Finnish political debate is the way the National Coalition Party (in particular) espouses supply-side economics without getting called on it by the left.

Coalition chair and Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen sure sounds like he subscribes to the Laffer curve. He's not crude enough to directly say, "Hey, let's raise taxes so tax revenues will go up!" Instead he and likeminded folk say something like, "In order to get Finland working, we need to increase the employment rate by cutting income taxes. Only be reducing unemployment can we maintain our current economic growth, which in turn is the only way we'll be able to pay for the welfare state." But it's the same thing; they just spell out the supposed mechanism.

Another example of the Coalition tying its advocacy for right-wing economic policies now to being able to pursue left-wing economic goals in the future is when Coalitionists contrast cutting debt with increasing welfare spending. In that case, however, the Social Democratic Party challenges the argument quite forcefully. When it comes to tax cuts, however, the Social Democrats seem awfully quiet. Matti Vanhanen's first government, in which Social Democratic chair Eero Heinäluoma served as the Finance Minister, also cut taxes with the intention of stimulating economic growth.

US liberals, who are in many ways to the right of Finnish Social Democrats, don't go along with the Laffer curve, so why isn't it more controversial in Finland? Given that the Laffer curve is a curve, it might be easier to argue for the economically beneficial effects of tax cuts in a country where taxes are higher, but you'd still expect left-wingers to challenge the notion, wouldn't you?


Headline of the day

Helsingin Sanomat (fi): "Swedish porn parody of Dallas is funny only at times". Hard to believe.

(Alas, the article is just a quick a theater review.)

Religious attitude survey

Earlier this week the Evangelical Lutheran Church published results from a survey carried out at the beginning of the year. It'd be interesting to see the full results, but in the mean time we have to make do with the press release (fi) and some PDF files (fi).

According to the survey, 68 percent of Finns identify as Christians, 56 percent as "Finnish basic Lutherans", and a whopping five percent as "convinced atheists" - no, I have no idea who came up with these terms. One percent of respondents defined themselves as fundamentalists and eight percent as religious conservatives. (For comparison, in the World Values Surveys they usually find that about three percent of Finns are atheists and that about eight percent don't believe in the existence of God. The contradiction there belongs to the respondents.)

On the other hand (PDF), 15 percent agreed with the statement that "all religions are based on false beliefs, but they still represent important humane values" and four percent agreed that "all religions are based on false beliefs and they cause humans direct harm"; so presumably at least a fifth of the respondents don't subscribe to a religious doctrine. In fact, a dazzling six percent of respondents believed that the truth can be found in one religion. 37 percent believe that "religious beliefs can't be proved or disproved and their truthfulness can't be compared".

39 percent believe dreams sometimes predict the future, which makes sense in light of all those high school kids who only notice they're buck naked when their classmates point and laugh.


Roger Boyes interview

My visitor logs indicate that there's still a market for Roger Boyes bashing, so let's take another tilt at it.

Helsingin Sanomat interviewed The Times's man in Berlin a few days ago and now they've put a translation of the article up on the web. Boyes, as we all remember, wrote an asinine analysis of the Jokela school shootings and was subsequently flamed crisp. HS euphemistically describes his article as "streamlined text from a man who seems to be drawn to a psychological approach." In other words, it was a load of cobblers.

What did Boyes take away from his experience?

"I do not believe that I am communicating with an entire nation. It was more like an enclosed community of some kind. There was something hysterical in the answers."

Hysterical, you say?
"They did not want to tell their opinions, they wanted to kill me."


The great man noticed that some of his critics were Brits living in Finland. With characteristically keen insight and colossal condescension, he remarked,
"A typical Stockholm syndrome. A man is the hostage of his Finnish wife and identifies with her thinking."

An alternative explanation is that a man has lived in Finland and thus understands just how poor Boyes's analysis was. He knows, for example, that social lives are not put on hold in the winter; and that a kid living in a sleepy suburb might be lonely, but not due to physical distances separating lakeside farmsteads.
"People do not accept that any evil might come from within the community. It is always imported, in this case, caused by America, the Internet, or globalisation."

Of course, a central argument put forth in Boyes's article was that kids in Finland spent too much time on the Internet, chatting away with friends when they should be making human contact. (Internet friends, as we all know, don't count as humans.)
"But still, this took place specifically in Finland. The environment that allowed this to happen is Finnish."

So analyze the environment, then. Come up with some distinguishing features that separate the events in Jokela from numerous incidents in which armed non-Finns have gone amok. Make some bloody sense for a change.

Or, if that's too much bother, you might just come up with another wacky theory. Here's Boyes holding forth on why he was criticized so heavily:
According to Boyes, there are societies on the outskirts of Europe, where trust in the local media is low.

These include countries such as Romania and Hungary.

People in these countries seek information from foreign media - reliable brands such as The Times, Boyes says. At the same time these people are nevertheless plagued by an inferiority complex.

"They feel that they are treated with disdain in the foreign media, and therefore, react in an emotional manner."

Oddly enough, trust in the media is unusually high in Finland. Can't this guy get anything right?
"OK, OK, the comparison is shaky. ..."

This almost convinced me that the comparison was strong.
Very telling in the view of Roger Boyes were the comments of the teachers concerning Pekka-Eric Auvinen: he was an average pupil.

"That was all that they had to say. They did not say that he was isolated, or that he had strange thoughts."

According to Iltalehti (fi), a Jokela teacher described Auvinen as a militant radical who was interested in both the extreme left and the extreme right. He also said Auvinen was a better than average student. The police said (fi) that at least some of the teachers were aware that Auvinen had been bullied.

I don't blame Boyes for not knowing any of this. He doesn't speak Finnish or follow the Finnish media. But given that he knows nothing about the topic, might he show just a tiny bit of humility when coming up with his theories? Maybe he could - oh, I don't know - check his facts before spouting off. Perhaps he could do a web search or two. If he has some time on his hands, he could even interview a Finnish person.

(Here's how I imagine it would go:

BOYES: "Are there many farmsteads in Jokela?"
A FINN: "Nope."
BOYES: "What role do you suppose Ukko played in this?"
A FINN: "Zilch."
BOYES: "Thank you very much, Finnish person. Without your invaluable help, I might have made a complete prat of myself.")

PS: Markkinointi & Mainonta magazine had an amusing interview (fi) with Boyes. If you can't read Finnish, rest assured that the pattern of Boyes making some claim ("Finnish newspapers operate within a narrow consensus") without knowing what he's talking about ("So you've read Finnish newspapers?" "Well, no, ...") was repeated.


Vanhanen has a go at nurses' union

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen had a few choice words of the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy):

"Targeting industrial action on targets where, according to official estimates, the result would have been the loss of human lives within hours is unprecedented in the history of Finnish industrial action," Mr Vanhanen said at a Finnish Central Chamber of Commerce event.

Mr Vanhanen added the union should have warned its members what kind of consequences they would face in the event of deaths attributable to their participation in the planned industrial action.

The prime minister said Tehy's mass resignation, although averted on Monday, had lowered the government's threshold to intervene in industrial action.

A prepared copy of the speech can be read here (fi). One notable aspect of it is that Vanhanen said the deal signed by the Union of Practical Nurses (SuPer), among other municipal employees' unions, "succesfully took into consideration female majority fields" and showed that "good results can be achieved through normal labor market practices". That is, he was pretty pleased with the offer Tehy turned down.

Vanhanen also had a pop at the opposition: "It openly accepted the situation that nurses threaten with their resignations people's health and life, and the state must solve the row with money." He went on to note that any of the current opposition parties would be the 'weak link' in future governments unless they take back what they've said on the topic.

Shockingly enough, the opposition didn't appreciate Vanhanen's views.


Next US president and NATO

Last month Risto E J Penttilä, head of the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (EVA), wrote (fi) in Taloussanomat about the meaning of a Hillary Clinton presidency to Finnish foreign policy (my translation):

When Hillary Clinton tells Finns that NATO is an alternative to American autocracy, Finnish 'intellectuals' will begin to examine the military alliance in a new way. When Clinton tells Finns that Europe's influence in NATO will rise, presidential candidate Niinistö smiles. When Clinton says to Halonen that Finland's conciliatory abilities, peacekeeping knowhow, and good relations with Russia would be needed in NATO, intensive deliberation will begin also at the highest level. Is it truly the case that NATO has become an ordinary international organization which we too should join?

The suggestion that joining NATO would somehow limit American power is rather bizarre. Presently it's difficult to discertain any such mechanism at work, and surely nothing would change on that front should Finland join the club. If the United States really, really wanted to invade a random Middle Eastern country, then that's what would happen.

Still, the main point, if exaggerated here, is sound enough: a new US president, one less belligerent than the current officeholder, would probably boost NATO's popularity. I've written as much before.

The problem is that even if the bad US presidents eventually leave office, so do the good ones. Thus, it's not a sound approach to base one's NATO position on just how belligerent the current office holder happens to be - or who you expect to win the next election. You might get a Clinton or, better yet, an Obama. You might also get a Giuliani, after which the Bush years might seem like the good old days.


All Finnish newspapers 1771-1890

The Finnish National Library now offers in digital format all newspapers published in Finland between the years 1771 and 1890, free of charge. The archive is even searchable - the search feature appears to have some problems, but you should be able to work around the issues. Browsing by name of newspaper and date works, too, if you know what you're looking for.

I searched for my surname and have spent the last 30 minutes reading about criminal ancestors: a couple running a brothel in Mikkeli, or at least offering lodging to women of loose morals; a Kurkijoki man who committed suicide by shooting himself in the gut after getting mixed up in the disappearance of a drunken ex-soldier; a skilled artisan - blacksmith, carpenter, stonemason, and watchmaker - from Rautalammi who kept getting arrested for theft... Great stuff.

All over but for the spin

Helsingin Sanomat explains why the Commission for Local Authority Employers (KT) and the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) disagree on how large the agreed-upon wage increases are:

A large part of the differences in interpretation stem from the fact that Tehy assumes that overall pay hikes of 4-6 per cent will be implemented in the municipal sector in 2010-2011. The municipal employers make no such assumptions for the last two years of the contract period, as the general contract in the municipal sector ends at the end of January 2010.

The actual size of pay increases at that time will not be known until 2010-2011, but it is expected that Tehy members will see their pay rise by more than 20 per cent in the next four years.

I find it interesting how well the lengthy contract period has served to cloud comparisons between this agreement on one hand, and rival trade unions' contracts or Tehy's demands on the other. A 22 percent pay hike - to pick a number - in four years obviously isn't anywhere near a 24 percent raise in two and a half years, but that fact doesn't come across in many news stories.

The scope of the agreement has also caused disagreement. The contract is supposed to apply to only Tehy members, but experts disagree (fi) on whether this is legal. Law mavens may want to check out the Employment Contracts Act (PDF), which states among other things that employers "shall not exercise any unjustified discrimination against employees on the basis of ... trade union activity ... or any other comparable circumstance" and that they must "treat employees equally unless there is an acceptable cause for derogation deriving from the duties and position of the employees."


Poll: Centre 22.6, Coalition 22.3, Soc Dems 22.3

YLE published a Taloustutkimus party support poll (fi) today which supports the trends seen in the latest TNS Gallup poll. The Centre Party is back on top by virtue of holding steady while the National Coalition Party is losing support. The Social Democratic Party is pretty much tied for second and the Left Alliance seems to be on an upswing for a change.

It'll be interesting to see whether the government parties' fortunes will improve in post-nurses' pay dispute polls.

CP   NCP  SDP  LA  GL   CD  SPP TF  gov  source
23.1 22.3 21.4 8.8 8.5 4.9 4.6 4.1 58.5 PE 3/18
23.0 24.1 20.7 8.2 9.4 4.5 4.4 4.5 60.9 TT 4/5
22.8 23.3 21.1 8.4 8.9 4.5 4.3 4.9 59.3 TG 5/20
23.4 23.3 20.8 9.0 9.6 5.0 4.1 4.4 60.4 RI 5/25
22.4 23.4 21.7 8.4 10.1 4.7 4.1 4.3 60.0 TT 6/9
23.0 23.2 21.5 8.3 9.0 4.3 4.2 5.0 59.4 TG 6/26
22.8 23.9 21.2 8.5 9.3 4.7 4.4 4.3 60.4 TT 7/2
22.3 23.6 21.2 8.5 9.4 4.6 4.5 4.7 59.8 TT 8/13
22.7 23.2 21.6 8.1 9.4 4.7 4.5 4.6 59.8 TT 9/9
22.5 22.6 21.5 8.4 9.0 4.6 4.6 5.0 58.7 TG 9/22
22.6 22.8 21.8 7.9 9.8 4.8 4.4 4.8 59.6 TT 10/13
22.6 21.7 21.7 8.6 9.1 4.6 4.7 5.1 58.1 TG 10/31
22.6 22.3 22.3 8.4 9.7 4.4 4.6 5.0 59.2 TT 11/19

CP = Centre Party
NCP = National Coalition Party
SDP = Social Democratic Party
LA = Left Alliance
GL = Green League
CD = Christian Democrats
SPP = Swedish People's Party
TF = True Finns
gov = government parties
PE = parliamentary election
TT = Taloustutkimus / YLE
TG = TNS Gallup / Helsingin Sanomat
RI = Research International Finland / MTV3

Nurses accept pay deal

The Finnish Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) and the Commission for Local Authority Employers (KT) have approved the settlement committee's proposal. I must say that this is a welcome outbreak of sanity. Huzzah and all that.

There are slight differences of opinion as to what's in the agreement. According to KT (fi), the deal will raise Tehy members' salaries by 15.7 to 17.7 percent and cost about 500 million euros a year. According to Tehy (fi), salaries will go up by 22 to 28 percent. The real figure is at the moment anyone's guess, but either way, it's gonna cost ya.

Politically this counts as a victory for the government, I should think. The patient safety bill didn't doom the negotiations and the state didn't need to cough up extra money after all - although it remains to be seen whether the government agreed to do something for the municipalities later on. Vanhanen, Katainen, and friends must also be chuffed that the deal ends only after the next parliamentary election.


Unanimous proposal in nurses' pay dispute

After a weekend of hunting down nurses to hand them their notices to turn up for work on Tuesday - about 60 percent had been reached as of Sunday evening - we now have some good news:

The panel negotiating the nurses' wage dispute agreed on a proposal for a settlement on Sunday evening. The four-year contract plan was approved unanimously by the negotiators.

No details of the offer will be made public until -- and unless -- it is accepted by the two sides: the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) and the Commission for Local Authority Employers (KT).

The decisions will be taken tomorrow, Tehy first and then KT. Let's hope this is it and we can start debating about who deserves credit for the raises instead of apportioning blame for dead patients. The unanimity suggests that at least the Tehy leaders who are on the panel support this deal. No details will be given of the proposal until and unless it's accepted, except that the length of the deal would be four years instead of the usual two and a half.


Soft on crime and proud of it

For an interesting (and sympathetic) look at the Finnish criminal justice system, see "Finland Is Soft on Crime" by Dan Gardner, originally published in Ottawa Citizen in 2002. I especially enjoyed this anecdote:

In the 1960s, Finland began edging cautiously toward reform, using its Scandinavian neighbors as models. Nils Christie, a renowned Norwegian criminologist, recalls speaking to Finnish judges and criminologists in Helsinki in 1968. At the time, Mr. Christie and others were developing the first international comparisons of prison populations, so he was the first to tell the Finns that their incarceration rate was totally unlike that of their Scandinavian neighbors and was "really in the Russian tradition." The audience was shocked, Mr Christie recalls in an interview in Ottawa, "and some of them then decided this was not a very good policy."

You have to admit that "Let's not be like Russia" is a pretty Finnish motive for social reforms.

(Link spotted on Bookforum.com.)


Patient safety bill passes

It's a law:

President Tarja Halonen signed the bill into law on Friday afternoon. It takes effect on Saturday.

Parliament approved the bill by a vote of 113-68, with the entire opposition voting against it and 18 MPs absent.

Those missing included Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, who was hospitalised overnight with lower back pain. He was diagnosed with a stone in his urinary tract, and is expected to remain in hospital at least through Friday.

Wonderful timing from Vanhanen.

The voting record can be viewed here (fi). All MPs from government parties either voted for it or were absent. (The Centre Party's Paula Sihto, a Tehy board member and probably the likeliest defector, was among the latter.)


Long-term damage to Coalition

Yesterday Egan asked whether the nurses' pay row is going to seriously damage the National Coalition Party in the long term.

Looking at recent polls, it seems likely to me that the issue currently hurts the party's popularity. The decrease in support is only a couple of percentage points at the moment, but when the big three parties are so closely balanced, it can still make the difference between holding the office of prime minister and being in the opposition. That's serious.

At some point the issue will stop being a pressing concern. Will the damage last? I think the key here is Finance Minister and Coalition chair Jyrki Katainen. The party itself has a core of ideologically committed supporters and a rather stable image built in countless political rows over the decades. In the long, long term, it'll abide. Whether Katainen remains an effective, credible spokesman for the party is another matter.

I trust I won't be accused of exaggeration when I say that Katainen has come under a great deal of criticism over this issue. He was at the center of the Coalition's pay equality campaign and now holds the state's purse strings, so he's a natural target for nurses' ire. Yesterday's demonstration at the parliament building featured a rendition of "Jyrki Boy" (fi).

With regard to Katainen's credibility, the key quote is (my translation), "The more female-dominated, educated fields are paid over the general raise level, the more we're prepared to raise the state assistance paid to municipalities." The quote is from last February, but its infamy is a post-election phenomenon. Googling for the original Finnish sentence gets about 500 hits at the time of writing.

In summary, my confident prediction on whether the Coalition has suffered serious long-term damage is: maybe, depending on how the party chair comes out of it.


You don't negotiate with terrorists

The Green League seems to be putting forth an effort to get out its point of view on the patient safety bill. Jyrki Kasvi MP and Oras Tynkkynen MP both wrote blog posts defending the bill, as did Green parliamentary group leader Anni Sinnemäki (all in Finnish). The general arguments are the same in all three posts. All remember to express the view that nurses should be paid more. Both Sinnemäki and Kasvi cite the International Labor Organization in support of the position that industrial action shouldn't threaten lives.

Everyone isn't quite as coordinated. Osmo Soininvaara, former Green League chair and in my opinion a pretty clever fellow, is out of the daily grind of politics and can afford to take a more combative stance. He has a go (fi) at both sides in Iltalehti:

"How could this strife become a crisis, although everyone agreed that a pay problem that had been known for a long time would be fixed? All sides have only made a mess of it and acted in a totally incomprehensible way."

"Firstly the [National] Coalition [Party]'s election advertising was wholly irresponsible. That the parliament doesn't promise wages to anyone has always been attended to, but they made it into an election campaign."

"When government then gave money to the municipalities, the municipal employers went ahead and sprinkled it evenly on the entire municipal field. It was totally mindless. Even those who hadn't asked for money got it."

"[The Union of Health and Social Care Professionals' (Tehy)] blackmail campaign makes it terribly difficult to agree to the nurses' demands."

"It's a general principle that you mustn't pay for hostages, otherwise they will become common. This is blackmail with human lives. If you give in to it, then every following strike is arranged in the same way."

So he supports the bill.

"If electricians for example thought of putting hospital emergency rooms on strike, it would then be forbidden."

"Tehy would have had several methods which wouldn't have amounted to blackmail."

"Now finding an an agreement is easier, because the principle according to which everyone who threatens to kill gets money is no longer in force because of [the bill]. It's morally easier to agree to Tehy's demands, because it won't set a precedent."

Especially the language concerning Tehy is the sort of thing you won't be hearing from many active politicians.

Meanwhile, here are the first poll figures on the issue:

56 of the respondents backed the draft law while 35 per cent did not. About a tenth were undecided.

In other polls commissioned by YLE, about 60 percent of respondents have consistently said that they "accept in this situation Tehy's industrial action". (The word "hyväksyä", used in the polls, can be translated as "accept" or "approve". Who knows how respondents interpret it.)


Government's rejection of nurses' demands

Financial Times' David Ibison wrote an article on the patient safety bill that contains some quite misleading paragraphs:

The government's rejection of nurses' demands for a 24 per cent wage rise over two years prompted nearly 13,000 nurses to threaten to resign next Monday, bringing some of the country's top hospitals to a standstill.

The entity that rejected the nurses' demands was of course the Commission for Local Authority Employers, the municipal employers' organization. It's not the same thing as the government at all.
The dispute underscores the growing tension between Finland's right-leaning government, which has abolished most collective wage agreements and asked unions to negotiate on an individual basis, and a labour force more accustomed to across-the-board agreements. A wave of strikes has hit the country, affecting 40,000 workers.

Ibisen again confuses the government and the various employers' organizations. The government, for its part, would have been just fine with an across-the-board agreement. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen still pines after one (fi).

By contrast, Bloomberg's Kati Pohjanpalo has a rather good background article on the issue. In addition to getting the facts right, it even offers context.


Patient safety bill in Parliament

The parliamentary constitutional law committee has ruled that the patient safety bill (a.k.a. forced labor bill) wasn't constitutional in nature and could thus pass with the support of a simple majority of MPs. This was a necessary step for passing the bill, since the opposition parties are sending every signal of intending to vote against it.

YLE1 showed several hours worth of footage from the Parliament earlier today, where our representatives busied themselves in debate. I managed to catch a part of the proceedings and was quickly reassured that all sides are still inherently incapable of dealing with opposing arguments in a honest manner.

For the opposition, this showed in the way MPs refused to understand the safety concerns behind the bill. For the government side, everyone tap-danced around the question of extra state funding for municipalities, a key opposition demand. No one seemed interested in defending government's fiscal priorities, which in part explains why the government has been losing the debate in the media. Winning an argument becomes rather difficult when you're not prepared to justify your position.


Gun law proposals

Inevitably the subject of Finnish gun laws has been brought up in the aftermath of the Jokela school shootings. This morning Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen weighed in:

Vanhanen said that the possibility that hand guns should be kept at sports clubs and target ranges, and not allowed to be taken into the home should be considered.

Other proposals I've seen include a requirement to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and an obligatory waiting time of a month or two before getting one's first gun permit.

Since the discussion is clearly motivated by Jokela, it's worth considering what sort of restrictions on gun ownership would have prevented this tragedy. For example, the proposed EU directive which would limit gun ownership by those under 18 years old - and which Finland used to oppose - wouldn't have prevented the Jokela shooter, Pekka-Eric Auvinen, from buying a handgun, since he was over 18.

Whether Auvinen could have passed a psychiatric evaluation is something I don't know; obviously if he was honest about his views and feelings, he couldn't have done so, but he might have had enough self-control to hide his problems. It seems to me that he got his gun specifically to carry out his murders, so he would have had a reason to misrepresent his inner life to a psychiatrist.

Having written all that, naturally law changes that couldn't have stopped Auvinen might still serve to save lives.


Comparative study of Finnish and Swedish cultures

A study (fi) by Thorleif Pettersson and Sakari Nurmela, titled "Eri tapoja kohdata suuri elefantti - Suomalaisen ja ruotsalaisen kulttuurin vertaileva tutkimus" ("Different Ways of Meeting a Big Elephant - A Comparative Study of Finnish and Swedish Cultures") got some press (fi) a while back. I would have posted something on the topic sooner, but at first I couldn't find a link to the study, and then the Jokela shootings interfered.

Using World Values Survey data as evidence, the study concludes that Finns are more conservative than Swedes. Then again, so are pretty much everyone else; the numbers point to Swedish exceptionalism. For example, Swedes' attitudes toward democracy are the most positive of any country in the survey by some distance, whereas Finland is close to several other liberal democracies. The study concludes that the liberal Swedes are guided to a greater extent by principles, whereas the conservative Finns are more pragmatic.

In addition to the World Values Survey figures, the researchers carried out a survey of their own that concentrated on bilateral issues between the two countries, such as what do Finns and Swedes know of and feel about each other. In the trivia part of the questionnaire, respondents were given three options in each question. We find, for example, that five percent of Finns thought The Who was Swedish, whereas only three percent of Swedes thought it was Finnish. Nevertheless Finns were judged to have slightly better knowledge of Sweden than Swedes of Finland.

The headline grabber of the study was the finding that Swedes were friendlier toward Finns than vice versa. 81 percent of Swedes agreed strongly or in part with the statement, "I would like to have a Finn as a close friend." When Finns were asked about having a Swedish friend, the figure dropped to 32 percent. The authors present the possibility that Finnish and Swedish respondents understood the statement differently. I would also consider the possibility that Swedes can be a bit annoying, what with their democracy and hockey team that wins tournaments and famous rock band The Who.


Roger of Tuusula

Times hack Roger Boyes - a name to which the only correct response is "No thanks" - defends his killer analysis of the Jokela school shootings. The article is filled with standard dodges people employ when they don't want to address the substance of the criticism headed their way. The actual issue isn't the flaws in Roger's hackery, oh no. The brave truth-seeker that he is, he's just questioning why these terrible events happened. His article was a part of a debate that's worth having - "don't you think?" - and thus when readers tear his ill-judged and ignorant theorizing to shreds, it illustrates how they're not interested in the answers.

Now sporting a Tuusula byline, Boyes has suddenly forgotten all about remote farmsteads and the lakes that surround them. Instead he holds forth on the soul-crushing qualities of sleepy suburbs:

Paradise on Earth, you say, but I wager not if you are a) the offspring of divorced parents; b) unemployed; c) a teenager stuck in a small dormitory suburb without much cash; or d) a polar bear.

Apart from d) those categories apply to Tuusula. Which is where I am writing from.

Aside from the rampant revisionism, he still can't quite get his facts right:
But you're right: Finland ranks as one of the happiest countries in Europe. It also has one of the highest suicide rates, the third highest divorce rate in Europe (beaten by Sweden again!) and 56 per cent gun ownership. So that adds up to a pretty complex society, no?

The suicide statistics are outdated and wrong (see yesterday's post). The gun ownership statistics are ludicrously wrong. According to one estimate, which is quite a bit higher than the official figures, there are 56 guns per 100 people in Finland. This, strangely enough, doesn't mean that 56 percent of Finns own a gun, because Finnish gun laws are so very lax that many people have several guns. (You might think that 56 percent gun ownership wouldn't sound plausible to anyone, but to be fair, Boyes wasn't the only one to make this mistake.)

The logical flaws in Boyes's approach, separate from all the factual inaccuracies, are also worth considering.

First, none of his theories seem to take into account that he's writing about an international phenomenon. He looks for cultural aspects that are specifically Finnish and then constructs general theories on why school shootings occur, even though there's no reason to assume that the parts of Finnish culture that are distinct from e.g. British culture (or American culture or Japanese culture) had anything to do with it. Boyes, however, considers the link to Finnish culture to be axiomatic.

Second, considering his eagerness to find some Finland-specific reason for Jokela, it's odd that he studiedly ignores the underlying facts of the incident. He writes about people being isolated because of physical distances, even though the killer's loneliness obviously had nothing to do with travel times. In his response, quoted above, he talks about divorce rates, even though the killer's parents weren't divorced, and unemployment, even though the killer was a high school student.


Roger Boyes knows Finland

The Times' Roger Boyes describes the hellish existence us Finns face in "Similarities to other massacres - but this was a very Finnish affair":

Finland is a land of wide open spaces, between 16-17 people per square kilometre. Lakes often separate neighbouring farmsteads. At this time of year it is sunk in almost permanent half-light and Finnish families count the days to their winter holidays when they can flee to the bright sunlight of south-east Asian resorts.

This is a very insightful point. I'm sure the fact that Pekka-Eric Auvinen grew up on a farmstead separated by lakes from the rest of civilization has a lot to do with his shooting spree. Not being familiar with the Jokela area, though, I can't help but to wonder how they managed to fit the farmstead, not to mention the lakes, in a built-up area with a population of about 5'000 people.
Clinical depression is high, the suicide rate too. But above all the Nordic winter isolates the young in the small towns: they arrive at school in the dark and leave it in the dark, travelling long distances to their homes. Friendship in the traditional sense is often a summer luxury.

Ah yes, the unwaveringly high suicide rate. The dark winters are to blame, no doubt, what with the way the lack of sunlight prevents young people from leaving their houses. If people didn't insist on living on farmsteads located on remote islands, maybe their houses would be lined by lit streets which they could traverse even after sundown.
And so friendship becomes virtual. The social networking sites are switched on the moment the Finnish teenager returns home. YouTube substitutes for television, which is regarded as dreary and middle-aged.

If only Finnish teenagers would watch more television so they could experience real friendship.
About 75 per cent of all Finns use the internet. And Finland, the cradle of Nokia, has some of the cheapest mobile phone rates in Europe. Kids as young as 6 take mobiles to school; a child's first text message is a matter of parental pride.

Quite often it's framed on the wall. This illustrates how the parents are to blame: if moms and dads didn't encourage children's mobile phone use, maybe the kids would have more time for social interaction.
None of this is unusual for modern Europe, but in Finland the high-tech world has become a normal, rather than an exceptional, substitute for the world of human contact. A youth isolated at school sinks even deeper into isolation when he has left the school gates: a recipe for trouble. Even more so in a country where guns are so readily available; Finland has the third-largest per capita ownership of handguns in the world.

This is the closest this remarkably condescending hack comes to making a sound point. I'd like to see his source for that statistic, though, as there's a possibility he's mixing handgun ownership with gun ownership in general. I know Finland ranked third in the latter category in a recent survey.

Update: Responding to the same article, Aapo keeps it short and sweet.

The killer as a self-publicist

Re Pekka-Eric Auvinen's shooting spree at Jokela high school, Greg Sandoval of CNET News writes:

Predictably, some media outlets are already producing stories that imply Google's YouTube is a scary place where hateful polemics can be broadcast, unmolested by more thoughtful minds.

That's terribly unfair. What people should remember is that YouTube did not glorify the teenage gunman who went on the killing spree in Finland early Tuesday morning. Nor did the world's largest and most influential video-sharing site help him spread his angry message. Nonetheless, in the wake of yet another senseless shooting on a school campus, people will be looking for scapegoats.

I sympathize with the sentiment, but Sandoval goes a step too far. Of course YouTube helped Auvinen, a.k.a. "Sturmgeist89", to spread his message. It offered a place where he could post his videos and an existing audience that could easily find his messages. If we take away the controversy and consider a situation in which a teenager posted videos on YouTube of himself, say, reading his romantic poetry, would not everyone agree that the website helps him to spread his art?

Another question is whether a website that helps people to have their say in a public place are a bad thing. Even if we ignore the full range of uses to which such sites can be put and only consider this specific case, I would argue that spreading Sturmgeist89's videos far and wide would have been a positive thing; it could have potentially alerted others to the fact that he was a disturbed individual who shouldn't have been in the possession of a gun.

One could argue that he might have found converts for his cause. However, his messages to the world were amateurish and full of logical errors. Had he not killed all those people, I would have been inclined to dismiss him as prankster. Here's a teenager from Fin-reindeer-molesting-land spreading the truth about de-evolution in broken English and calling himself the "natural selector". And then he goes to his boring high school, whips out his gun, and starts shooting people while yelling, "Revolution!" In Tuusula! The whole scenario is absurd - except for the bodies.

It's also a fact that the media have helped to spread the message to a much greater extent than YouTube ever did. Every media outlet I follow has mentioned the web videos and most have given enough details about them to allow any experienced Internet user to find them. If attention-seeking is the motive, then prevention can only come about by regulating the media, because their reporting reaches so many more people than some nobody's videos on YouTube. Does anyone want to advocate for this?