How the CIA got Finlandization about right

Freedom of information can be a beautiful thing, as shown by the CIA's Freedom of Information Act page. They recently declassified a bunch of Cold War related papers that can provide hours of reading for the discerning history buff. Of special interest to me was "'Finlandization' in Action: Helsinki's Experience with Moscow" (PDF) by Carolyn Ekedahl, which gives a dispassionately analyzed, well-informed account of the phenomenon from Western perspective circa 1972.

The Finnish attempt to balance seemingly contradictory policies has been an integral part of Finnish policy since the war. While some recent Finnish policies (specifically the German initiatives) have borne a distinctly Eastern flavor, these mark a continuation of the post-war Finnish emphasis on the "special relationship" with the USSR. What has been new in recent Finnish moves is the hesitant pursuit of a more "active" neutrality through such efforts as the nomination of a Finnish candidate, independently of Soviet wishes, for the post of UN Secretary General. Any complete abandonment by the Finns of their "special relationship" with the Soviets is unlikely for the foreseeable future, but the Finns doubtless will continue their quiet, consistent efforts to extend their neutral image and the limits of their independence.
In hindsight the author is much too critical of the CSCE - the process clearly helped the West more than the East - and slightly exaggerates the Communists' revolutionary intentions in 1948 - they plotted and planned, but never got around to pulling the trigger - plus whenever the author disagrees with Max Jakobson, I'm inclined to side with the latter. Nevertheless, the arguments are well worth reading if this period interests you. Certainly the level of knowledge and insight is far removed from Norman Podhoretz's fantasies that I criticized earlier.

A fun game to play while reading the report is to guess what was the source for each reported discussion. That's the tack Helsingin Sanomat took in their article on the topic (fi). According to historian Kimmo Rentola, who has written extensively on Finnish Communism, the report contained information from someone close to President Urho Kekkonen and National Coalition Party party secretary Veikko Tavastila. He also evaluates that the CIA had better information on the Communist Party than the Finnish intelligence. That's interesting, because even the Finnish security police had a fairly high level source within the Communist Party during this period.

For an earlier take on the same topic, you may also want to check out a much shorter report from 1962 titled "Prospects for Finland and Their Implications for the Other Scandinavian Countries". (Use the search feature on the main page.)


Lucas on Finland and NATO

Edward Lucas of the Economist has penned a piece on Finland's (and Sweden's) ever-closer relations with NATO. It mostly gets things right, but you can tell that Lucas hasn't followed the Finnish discussion on the topic all that closely.

[Finland's] border with Russia is long and will be more exposed when it gives up landmines, a move reluctantly planned for 2016. [...] Yet Finnish political leaders have been quiet.
There was some debate on the topic during the recent election campaign, although not enough to derail the project. Aapotsikko readers may recall that I wrote about it at the time.
[President Tarja Halonen] outraged patriotic Finns by describing Estonia (a close ethnic cousin) and Russia as friends of equal importance.
This is the first I've heard of any such outrage - or the description, for that matter - so I can only assume that it isn't very widespread. Had said comment received significant media attention, I think that even patriotic Finns would generally understand that it's shading the truth in favor of Estonia. Naturally Russia, due to its enormous size if not the warmness of the friendship, is much more important to Finland than Estonia.

Also, while Lucas correctly notes that "the government is privately more hawkish" than Halonen, the article could have done with an explanation of why it's not a good idea for the government to confront her. Namely, the President of Finland still has enough powers left in the field of foreign policy that Halonen would win the confrontation. It's not a matter of deference; it's the constitution.

Base of democracy

While I'm on the subject of Blair and Brown, I'll quote Thanos Kalamidas at Ovi Magazine:

Since when does somebody become prime minister not because he/she was elected by the public, the base of the democracy, but they were chosen by the retiring prime minister? [...]

Gordon Brown is the new British Prime Minister. A prime minister never elected for this position from the public, a prime minister who will use all the government and party mechanism to promote himself in advance of his opponents inside the party, the man who will finish the destruction of the Labour party and whatever else Tony Blair has left behind.
Since when does somebody become prime minister not because she was elected by the public? Let's ask John Major, James Callaghan, Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Macmillan, Anthony Eden... oh, and Matti Vanhanen. What say you, gentlemen?

"The question betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how a parliamentarian system works. A prime minister's legitimacy is not based on winning an election, but on enjoying the confidence of the parliament. That's why it's called parliamentarism."

Thanks, guys!


Look back in anger

I was struck by BBC World's decision to cover a change of prime minister by showing footage of politicians walking in slow-motion, with the occasional cut to politicians waving to crowds, all the while Britpop plays in the background. The oh-so-nostalgic Blair retrospective got Oasis's "Don't Look Back in Anger" whereas the Brown career recap was played for laughs and had to make do with Franz Ferdinand's annoying "Do You Want To". I'm used to various sporting events inspiring broadcasters to put together music videos featuring the flashiest action and most important moments, but I guess the practice is seeping into politics.

I wonder, when Vanhanen's time in office ends, will we get footage of him blinking in slow-motion set to Nightwish's "Sleeping Sun"? God, I hope so. Of course this music-videofication will inevitably spread from (sort of) historic moments to far less momentous news events. In the future, whenever for example the Chancellor of Justice changes, your television channels will report the news by showing some footage of the old chancellor striding along a corridor while an emotionally uplifting tune plays. You may protest now, but in your heart you know you wanted to see Paavo Nikula strolling, slowed down and set to Rihanna's "Umbrella".


Poll: Coalition 23.2, Centre 23.0, Soc Dems 21.5

The latest from Suomen Gallup (fi) has the National Coalition Party still in the lead with the Centre Party in second place. There aren't any major changes from a month ago; the Social Democratic Party is the biggest mover with an increase in support of 0.4 percentage points, supporting the trend seen in the latest Taloustutkimus poll in which the party also made gains.

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 SG 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 SG 6/26
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
SG = Suomen Gallup (TNS-Gallup) / Helsingin Sanomat
RI = Research International Finland / MTV3

The great Sipoo landgrab

Never mind the EU summit; Finland's biggest political story of the moment concerns municipal boundaries. Here's the set-up: The city of Helsinki wants to build some affordable housing, what with its high housing prices and all. The problem is that it wants to build that housing on land that currently belongs to the municipality of Sipoo. Sipoo doesn't want to give the land, about 30 square kilometres in area, to Helsinki. Helsinki wants to take it anyway. Now the government needs to make a decision on whether to move the border between Sipoo and Helsinki.

The border move is broadly popular in Helsinki, which happens to be one of the biggest electoral districts in the country, but also unpopular among certain key voting segments. Swedish-speaking Finns and thus the Swedish People's Party don't like it because Sipoo is mostly Swedish-speaking and Helsinki is not. (Update: 40 percent of the population are Swedish-speaking, compared to 6 percent in Helsinki.) Some rural Centre Party supporters don't like it because they fear it will set a precedent according to which the borders of their municipalities might also be changed, but the party's Helsinki branch supports the move. The National Coalition Party and the Green League, both of whose support is centered in urban and mostly Finnish-speaking areas, are fully behind it.

In general the opinion of Helsinki voters would weigh more, but the vote is predicted to be close because four ministers - Brax (Green), Kiviniemi (Centre), Sarkomaa (Coalition), and Vapaavuori (Coalition) - will have to disqualify themselves from the vote because they're involved in Helsinki municipal politics. In a slightly absurd development, other ministers including Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) were ready to disqualify themselves due to having previously expressed an opinion on the matter. In the end common sense won out and they'll be taking part in the vote, which will be held this Thursday.

Helsingin Sanomat, citing government sources, predicts (fi) that the move will be approved. The Swedish People's Party's two ministers, Trade and Industry Minister Mauri Pekkarinen (Centre), and possibly a few other Centre ministers will vote nay, but it won't be enough to block the move. Hufvudstadsbladet agrees (fi), noting that the best the opponents can hope for is a tie and in that case Vanhanen's vote will decide - and he's known to support the proposal.


This post was paid for by the Albanian mafia

Apparently Martti Ahtisaari is now filthy rich. I, for one, think that more Finnish Presidents should strive to get rich by screwing over the hated Slavs in international disagreements. Mauno Koivisto can meddle in Transnistria and I'm sure we can find something for the incumbent once her term is over. The Finno-Muslim-Nazi conspiracy will rule all.

EU deal reaction

I think it's fair to say that the EU summit deal has gotten a fairly muted, if mostly positive response among Finnish leaders. Politicians tend to express satisfaction that few substantial changes were made while noting that the solution wasn't very pretty. Preventing any sort of excitement is that the eventual treaty looks sure to pass in the Finnish Parliament. The original draft constitution passed, after all, and this one will in all likelihood contain almost all the same things merely expressed in a more convoluted manner. Some Social Democrats, e.g. Erkki Tuomioja in his usual manner in the linked article and President Tarja Halonen in a more veiled form at the summit, have criticized Britain for opting out of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, but nothing indicates that they'll oppose the treaty.


Häkämies finds uses for the military

Defense Minister Jyri Häkämies (National Coalition Party) has kept a high media profile lately - stories can be found here, here, and here. To summarize, the NATO Response Force thing is plainly going to happen, Finnish troops in Afghanistan may be taking a greater role, and the EU's Nordic battle group may be heading to Sudan. There seems to be a growing Western orientation, to use a pompous expression, that is in line with Häkämies's party's general foreign policy approach. The next defense report, coming in 2008, will be more interesting than usual.

Update: Here's another one.


More alternative Finnish history

It's book report time. I recently read "Entäs jos... - Lisää vaihtoehtoista Suomen historiaa" (2006), or "What If... - More Alternative Finnish History" in English, edited by Markku Jokisipilä and Mari K Niemi. (The name is an allusion to a previous book called "What If... - Alternative Finnish History" by Niemi and Ville Pernaa, which I haven't read.) It features 12 essays: an introductory one from the editors plus the following 11 scenarios.

  • "Finnish History in a Greater Finland" by Osmo Jussila, in which history records Finland's unstoppable march to Eastern Karelia.
  • "Bluestockings' Mixed Choir - What If Finnish Women Hadn't Gotten the Vote?" by Maria Lähteenmäki, in which a divided women's movement falls.
  • "Far Right '30s - What Would Have Kosola's, Svinhufvud's, or Mannerheim's Dictatorship Been Like?" by Vesa Vares, in which aforementioned gents' chances are evaluated.
  • "Sports Nationalism's Brave Entrance - Vignettes from the 1940 Helsinki Olympics" by Jokisipilä, in which the war is temporarily put on hold long enough to have the Olympics.
  • "'I'm Not in Favor of Signing the Treaty' - What If the Winter War's Peace Hadn't Been Made?" by Lasse Laaksonen, in which the author argues that signing the treaty was for the better.
  • "Patriotism's Dark Threads - Finland's Moments of Destiny in the Late Summer of 1940" by Sirpa Kähkönen, in which the Baltic Road is found to be a bad option.
  • "Armor Bridge to New Europe - Finnish National Theater Conquered Berlin in 1943" by Hanna Korsberg, in which the National Theater suffers after the war for having visited the Nazis.
  • "When Kekkonen Spoiled Zhdanov's Intentions" by Lasse Lehtinen MEP, in which Kekkonen blocks the war guilt trials and suffers no repercussions.
  • "If the Agrarian League Hadn't Been So Strong - Speculation on the Alternatives to Finnish Social Security" by Olli Kangas, in which the Agrarians are shown to be the labor unions' best friends.
  • "Karjalainen... Karjalainen... Karjalainen... or Someone Else After All? - The UKK Emergency Law Falls in the Parliament in January 1973" by Jukka Tarkka, in which Päiviö Hetemäki (National Coalition Party) is crowned the best president ever.
  • "Northern Albania or Germany's Arctic Province - What If Finland Hadn't Joined the European Union in 1995" by Sami Moisio, in which mid-'90s Eurosceptics' arguments are found wanting.
There was wide variance in intention and presentation. Jokisipilä - who incidentally has a pretty good blog (fi) - and Lehtinen opted for fiction, but most of the authors stuck to factual argumentation. A few of the essays were pretty clearly intended to make some point other than to examine what might have happened. For example, Lähteenmäki argues for six pages that conservative suffragist Alexandra Gripenberg (Finnish Party) wasn't a true friend to working class women, but devotes barely half as much space to actually discussing the effects of not giving women the vote in 1906. Several authors don't bother to come up with a plausible point of departure. They ask themselves, "What if this had happened?" without asking how it could have happened. Nevertheless, nearly all of them are interesting on their own terms, as long as you don't judge them purely as works in alternative history. I'll describe two of my favorites in more detail.

Vares, while pointing out that Finnish politics in fact moved to the left in the 1930s, sees three possibilities for a right-wing dictatorship: a "Lapua" dictatorship with Vihtori Kosola or some successor in charge; an authoritarian state led by Pehr Svinhufvud; or the emergence of a "strong man", most likely Gustaf Mannerheim. Vares finds Kosola's odds poor. The Lapua Movement, should it have tried to stage a revolution, would probably have been defeated by the army; the events would have resembled a bloodier, large-scale Mäntsälä rebellion. Especially during the time Svinhufvud was either the Prime Minister (from July 4th 1930 to 1931) or the President (1931-1937) they would have been up against a hero of the independence struggle - an obstinate obstacle respected in right-wing circles, whom it would have been difficult to defy.

A more likely eventuality would have been an authoritarian state set up by the forces that defeated the rebellion. In Svinhufvud's case, this would have been done through the Parliament, with the understanding that it was a temporary solution, but such temporary solutions have a tendency to prolong themselves. There's always some danger around the corner that needs to be defeated before things can return to normal. Another possibility would have been to bring Mannerheim to power to solve the conflict between the government and the Lapuans. In each case Vares sees a worse outcome during the wars. In Kosola's and Svinhufvud's case military performance would have suffered from a divisions between the right and the left; in Mannerheim's case the wars might have been survivable, but a post-war swing to the left would have taken the country all the way to socialism.

Kangas's essay on the history of the Finnish social security system works better if you forget that it's supposed to deal with alternative history. It probably has the most implications for politics today. His central argument is that by preventing the creation of a state-run social security system, the Agrarian League/Centre Party facilitated the creation of a system run by corporations, namely labor unions and employers' unions, and that this has significantly contributed to the strength of Finnish labor unions. Aside from winning certain specific legislative battles, the Agrarians' political power meant that the Social Democrats couldn't assume that they controlled the state, like for example their Swedish counterparts could, which lessened their will to change the system to increase state power at the expense of labor unions.
The Finnish labor union movement can largely thank the Agrarian League for its enlargement. It's also true that the solution midwifed in special by the Agrarian League created those institutions which activities the Centre Party has most strongly attacked in the Parliament. The politically strong and skilled Agrarian League won the battle, but lost the war.
Kangas sees the current corporatist welfare model as a problem because risks aren't shared widely enough. For example, if some line of employment collapses in Finland due to globalization, the labor union in that field can't pay unemployment benefits to everyone. He predicts that socialization of the welfare system - something that's supported by the right in Finland - will happen sooner or later.



Pamela Anderson wrote a letter:

President Halonen, will you please make the compassionate and progressive decision to ban fur farming in Finland?
So if you've ever wondered whether Pam understands the division of powers inherent in the Finnish constitution, the answer is no.


"Reform Treaty"

Word has it that Merkel and company wanted to call it the "Vitally Important Treaty Full of Much Needed Improvements That Won't Require Any Referendums", but that wouldn't have fit in headlines.

In more reliable news (fi), prime ministers from the Nordic and Baltic countries held their own meeting just before the summit began, in which they agreed that none of them would accept Poland's demands re voting rules. (Apparently Finland's voting power would be about the same under both the double majority and the square root schemes.) On Thursday evening Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said he was somewhat pessimistic in his expectations, because no rapprochement had occurred.

The text of the Draft IGC Mandate can be perused here (link via Alex Stubb's blog (fi)). According to (fi) Vanhanen, "We have some demands for changes, but in the main Germany's proposal is such that Finland is prepared to accept it."


First 2012 presidential poll

Because it's never too early:

  • Sauli Niinistö (National Coalition Party) 32 percent
  • Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) 26
  • Erkki Tuomioja (Social Democratic Party) 9
  • Heidi Hautala (Green League) 7
  • Timo Soini (True Finns) 6
  • Päivi Räsänen (Christian Democrats) 3
  • Matti Korhonen (Left Alliance) 1
  • Eva Biaudet (Swedish People's Party) 1
  • margin of error +-3
Finally we have incontrovertible proof that the Niinistö juggernaut is unstoppable.

But seriously, while the poll's predictive value is tiny, it still tells us something about the current state of public opinion. For example, it's notable that the Social Democratic candidate on the list is former Foreign Minister Tuomioja, not party leader Eero Heinäluoma, and that Tuomioja was supported by a whopping seven percent. The left doesn't have a leading, broadly popular figure right now (who will be eligible in 2012). On the right, by contrast, we find several politicians who have support outside their own parties parties, namely Speaker Niinistö, Prime Minister Vanhanen, and even Soini.

Free to drink vodka

Stupid argument of the day:

The leader of the British Conservative MEPs, Timothy Kirkhope, also welcomed the vote, saying "people are free today to drink the vodka they want - the British vodka drinker is saved from protectionists in Poland and Finland".
The vote was over labeling, specifically whether you can use the name "vodka" for spirits that aren't made from the traditional vodka ingredients - which you now can, as long as you admit it on the label. No matter the result, Britishers would have remained entirely free to guzzle their fruity quasi-vodkas - which I've never tasted and which may be indistinguishable from real vodka for all I know.

I don't have much else to say on the Vodka Wars (so go read Aapo's take), except to note that it resulted in the most publicity Finnish MEPs have received in a long time, possibly ever. Leading the charge were Alexander Stubb (National Coalition Party/EPP) and Lasse Lehtinen (Social Democratic Party/PES), at least one of whom tended to be quoted in every story written on the topic.


Metal mania

Sweden sets a troubling precedent (link spotted at Hit & Run):

A Swedish heavy metal fan has had his musical preferences officially classified as a disability. The results of a psychological analysis enable the metal lover to supplement his income with state benefits.
Thing is, Finland has already seen six metal number one albums in 2007. A recent album chart (fi) contained no less than ten Metallica albums (due to them visiting the country for a gig), the top two were local power-metallers Sonata Arctica and some guy named Ozzy Osbourne, plus I counted four other metal acts in the top 40. The question needs to be asked: if the Swedish policy spreads over the Gulf of Bothnia, how will the Finnish welfare state survive?

NP: Mokoma, "Lujaa tekoa"

Where did Social Democrats' votes go

The Social Democratic Party's post-election analysis (fi, PDF) on why they lost is 100 pages long. Yikes. It's better than what the Helsingin Sanomat article led me to believe, mainly by being so damned long that every theory ever presented on the topic is sure to be included somewhere in there. On the other hand, it keeps using the phrase "the damage and the furor" when talking about the centre-right parties' attitude toward the Social Democrats.

The most interesting aspect of the report to me, however, were the numbers on who gained votes from whom. Based on polling data, here are how the Social Democrats' 2007 supporters voted in 2003:

  • Social Democrats 460'000
  • did not vote 40'000
  • Left Alliance 26'000
  • National Coalition Party 22'000
  • Centre Party 19'000
  • Green League 10'000
  • plus various other groups
Compared to 2003, the Social Democrats lost votes to:
  • did not vote 60'000
  • Coalition 45'000
  • Left Alliance 35'000
  • Centre 34'000
  • Greens 20'000
  • True Finns 12'000
  • plus various other groups
On balance they lost 23'000 votes to the Coalition, 20'000 votes to apathy, 15'000 votes to the Centre, up to 12'000 votes to the True Finns, 10'000 votes to the Greens, and 9'000 votes to the Left Alliance. They lost about 60'000 votes to their right (including the Greens) compared to just 9'000 to their left, discounting minor parties. Those figures counsel against any sharp moves to the left, I would think.

The report also contains some demographic breakdowns, though only by area traits. High average income, low unemployment rate, a lot of children, and few retirees each correlated with bigger losses for the SDP. Those were also the areas in which the Coalition made especially big gains. The Centre's losses came almost entirely in low income areas and areas with few children. The Greens mainly increased their support in low income areas and areas with few children.


How Norman Podhoretz gets Finlandization wrong

...or, Remembering Finland's "red Vichy" regime.

Some weeks ago Norman Podhoretz, one of those American conservative commentators who aren't truly happy unless they're advocating aggressive military action, wrote an article in which he explained how it's vital to bomb Iran in order to win the War on Islam. (Link spotted at European Tribune.) In the middle of the article, he presented some deep thoughts on the subject of Finlandization. It's strange, strange stuff for anyone familiar with the history of Finland.

At certain points in that earlier war, some of us feared that the Soviets might seize control of the oil fields of the Middle East, and that the West, faced with a choice between surrendering to their dominance or trying to stop them at the risk of a nuclear exchange, would choose surrender. In that case, we thought, the result would be what in those days went by the name of Finlandization.

In Europe, where there were large Communist parties, Finlandization would take the form of bringing these parties to power so that they could establish "red Vichy" regimes like the one already in place in Finland--regimes whose subservience to the Soviet will in all things, domestic and foreign alike, would make military occupation unnecessary and would therefore preserve a minimal degree of national independence.
Claims of total subservience are preposterous and comparisons to Vichy France are offensive, but it may be worth pointing out that Communists in Finland never established a regime. The closest they got was the Pekkala government of 1946-1948. The Finnish People's Democratic League, an electoral front combining the Communist Party and some small socialist organizations, contributed six ministers out of 18. The most notable People's Democrats in the government were Prime Minister Mauno Pekkala, a socialist who had earned a modicum of trust by serving as a minister during two wars against the Soviet Union, and Interior Minister Yrjö Leino, a Communist who took orders from Moscow and filled the security police with Communists. The infamous Hertta Kuusinen, daughter of the even more infamous Otto Wille Kuusinen, also served briefly as a minister. Even during that period their power was limited and fragile, dependent as it was on the support of such decidedly non-communist entities as the Agrarian League, the Social Democratic Party, and the conservative President J.K. Paasikivi, who also remained in charge of the country's foreign policy. Leino was eventually turfed out of the government for his abuses and by the end of the following year, nothing remained of his security police appointments.

That was the post-war zenith of Finnish Communism, but Podhoretz can't be talking about the Pekkala government. Aside from the fact that the term "Finlandization" didn't exist yet, in his scenario there was a threat of nuclear war. The Soviet Union didn't have nukes until 1949, at which time the Communists were already in the middle of an 18 years long opposition stint. I suspect, based on his previous works, that he's instead thinking of the period between Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and Ronald Reagan's inauguration in 1981, which further heightens the absurdity of his views. The People's Democrats were in power in the sense that they were a junior partner, with three ministers out of 17, in a government based on the Social Democratic Party and the Centre Party. The Prime Minister was Mauno Koivisto, a moderate Social Democrat, an ex-banker, and a veteran of the Continuation War - the last was considered a selling point, mind you. The President was still Urho Kekkonen, by now in the end stage of his long reign as his health deteriorated and Koivisto was showing signs of independent thought. Consensus politics was officially in effect; the left had given up on nationalization and the right had given up on opposing Kekkonen.

For the Communists, things were looking down during this period. After being in the opposition for nearly two decades, eventually they were brought back to government in 1966 and for the most part remained there till the 1980s. Nevertheless, their influence was permanently on the wane. Cabinets contained about three People's Democrats, four at most, and they held relatively insignificant portfolios like social affairs, transport, or labor. Just as significantly, in the 1960s the Communist Party divided into two camps between Eurocommunists and Stalinist hardliners loyal to the Soviet Union and by the end of the decade, the Eurocommunists had gained the upper hand. The party even condemned the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, which wasn't a very subservient thing to do. For a while, at the turn of the decade, the Stalinists were highly visible in academia and arts, but in politics they never grew very powerful. In the 1979 parliamentary elections the People's Democrats lost five seats, down to 35 seats out of 200, although the real collapse wouldn't come till the next election in 1983. (In contrast, the right-wing National Coalition Party was doing great, gaining 12 seats in 1979.)
In the United States, where there was no Communist Party to speak of, we speculated that Finlandization would take a subtler form. In the realm of foreign affairs, politicians and pundits would arise to celebrate the arrival of a new era of peace and friendship in which the Cold War policy of containment would be scrapped, thus giving the Soviets complete freedom to expand without encountering any significant obstacles. And in the realm of domestic affairs, Finlandization would mean that the only candidates running for office with a prayer of being elected would be those who promised to work toward a sociopolitical system more in harmony with the Soviet model than the unjust capitalist plutocracy under which we had been living.
This sounds more like the actual phenomenon known as Finlandization than what Podhoretz described earlier, but it still goes too far. By the end of the period of Finlandization, Finland's sociopolitical system resembled those of NATO countries like Denmark and Norway far more than the Soviet model. Finlandization was centered on maintaining the foreign policy status quo and, later, keeping Kekkonen in power - the latter was supposed to guarantee the former, the argument went. One's sociopolitical opinions were tertiary at best compared to one's support for those twin goals, although it's true that dissent to Kekkonen's rule mainly came from the right. Certainly support for Soviet-style socialism was never a requirement for being Finlandized. To the contrary, Finlandization's chief selling point for many was that it allowed the country to avoid anything resembling the Soviet model.
Of course, by the grace of God, the dissidents behind the Iron Curtain and Ronald Reagan, we won World War III and were therefore spared the depredations that Finlandization would have brought. Alas, we are far from knowing what the outcome of World War IV will be. But in the meantime, looking at Europe today, we already see the unfolding of a process analogous to Finlandization: it has been called, rightly, Islamization. Consider, for example, what happened when, only a few weeks ago, the Iranians captured 15 British sailors and marines and held them hostage. Did the Royal Navy, which once boasted that it ruled the waves, immediately retaliate against this blatant act of aggression, or even threaten to do so unless the captives were immediately released? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, using force was the last thing in the world the British contemplated doing, as they made sure to announce. Instead they relied on the "soft power" so beloved of "sophisticated" Europeans and their American fellow travelers.
Comparing Finlandization to "Islamization" like Podhoretz does is entirely useless. You can't draw any lessons because the power dynamic is completely different. Finlandization featured a small country with a long border trying to cope with its difficult geopolitical situation as best as it could. In Podhoretz's outlandish concept of "Islamization", Iran, a regional power even if equipped with nukes, by sheer force of will brings to heel distant entities a lot bigger and militarily more powerful than it is. The example of British sailors captured by Iran is something which would have never happened if Britain was "Islamized" (no, I'm not going to use the term without scare quotes), because in any dynamic approximating Finlandization, the two sides will not be openly hostile to each other. After all, if Finlandization doesn't placate the other side, there's no incentive to remain Finlandized.

But hey, at least Podhoretz was spot on about English schools "dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils". Oh, wait.


You should just surrender now, Vladdy

Russia may think it can raise roundwood export duties to hamper exports, but luckily Foreign Trade Minister Paavo Väyrynen (Centre Party) is on the case:

"We think all sensible arguments support them overturning this decision. Or at least postponing the implementation of the duties so that we can continue the talks."
So there.

In a related story, the Subtv television channel plans to broadcast a talk show in which Väyrynen will be interviewed by none other than Paavo Väyrynen. True greatness knows no bounds.

Seriously, though, voting weights matter

Richard Baldwin at Vox wrote a column that makes a practical case for why voting weights matter. He produces a chart - you gotta love charts - showing the relationship between EU15 countries' EU budget share per population share and their Council vote share per population share. There's a correlation, as you would expect.

The chart also shows that the current voting rules are relatively kind to Finland, with only Ireland and Luxembourg in the EU15 having more voting power per person. Finland hasn't managed to turn that vote share into budget share particularly effectively, though. Baldwin has a theory on it:

[T]he EU members that joined in 1994 - Austria, Finland and Sweden - are far below the average relationship between power and spending. In other words, given their level of votes per person, the relationship between power and spending that one sees in the older members (the EU12) suggests that they should be getting more EU spending per person. Perhaps this reflects the fact that these newcomers have not yet learned how to work EU politics in their favour, or maybe they have not had time to do enough 'back scratching'.


Voting weights matter

I disagreed with just about every word of the Economist's take on EU voting weights:

All the studies of combinatorics that currently fill my email inbox fail because, early on, they concede that in the interests of clarity they assume that coalitions consist of nations taking decisions randomly. But they don't. Luxembourg and Belgium always vote for more European integration. The Nordics vote with Britain and the Netherlands on free trade things. Ireland has low taxes so votes with Britain against tax harmonisation, but has a powerful farms lobby so votes with France to preserve farm subsidies.
This isn't the least bit convincing, I'm afraid. It should be blindingly obvious that the voting weights of all the mentioned coalitions would be different under the double majority proposal than Poland's square root proposal. You don't get away from voting weights just by talking about coalitions instead of individual countries.

Further, to object to the assumption that coalitions are formed randomly displays bad reasoning. Naturally factors other than voting weights will make some countries more influential than their size would indicate and others less so, but that's no reason to introduce voting weights that treat EU voters unevenly even in the abstract. Voting coalitions in national elections aren't formed randomly, either, yet ideally each voter has an equal number of votes.
Voting weights symbolise political heft in the real world, nothing more. Not least because the EU almost never votes. The council of ministers is not some parliament where late night decisions can fall on a single vote, leaving whips counting every last member of their party through the division lobbies. The EU vastly prefers to take decisions by consensus.
This is silly. One of the goals of messing about with the voting rules is precisely to provide a structure in which every country doesn't have to agree on everything for the EU to reach a decision. If voting weights really didn't matter, then the current voting weights could stay as they are and we wouldn't be having this conversation. But they do matter, so the EU is looking into changing them and we are debating it. QED.


Heinäluoma sucks, Social Democrats find

After the parliamentary election the Social Democratic Party set up a working group, headed by Antti Kalliomäki MP, to look into what went wrong. (My answer.) Helsingin Sanomat has gotten a peak at the committee's report, said to be "nearly finished", and the working group's analysis is... underwhelming. It's possible that the full report considers all the objections I have and more, but I'm not going to let little details like that stop me.

The working group "did not find much fault in the policies carried out by the SDP when it was in the government", but instead criticizes the party's election campaign and chairman Eero Heinäluoma. It correctly notes that the campaign's focus on investing in government services led to the question of why such reforms hadn't been implemented during SDP's time in office. But Heinäluoma didn't come up with the idea on a lark. Rather, it's an extremely important issue to the party's base. We can ask whether it's smart to bring attention to the government's failure to invest in services during a time you were in the government, but even then the campaign only brought to fore a preexisting problem, which was that the party's policies during its 12 years in government clashed with its voters' priorities. Simply not talking about services wouldn't have mollified said voters.

As for focusing the campaign more on Heinäluoma's prime ministerial candidature, that doesn't sound like a good idea to me, either. When there's a popular incumbent in the race, as was the case in this election, it may not be the best idea to run a campaign based on who will be the next prime minister. The working group says Heinäluoma's "role as a party leader was seen as 'distant' and 'cautious'", which I tend to agree with, but we should consider the possibility that putting more attention on him would have only strengthened those views. Moving Heinäluoma from his Helsinki electoral district to the Uusimaa electoral district to challenge Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, as the report suggests, would have only led to people wondering how badly Vanhanen will beat him - and just how badly Sauli Niinistö will beat them both.

Going forward, it may be significant that the critique is centered on Heinäluoma's campaign-related decisions. Now would be a good time for a new chairperson to take the reigns, as SDP is almost bound to gain back some support in coming elections just by virtue of being in the opposition. Heinäluoma hasn't shown any inclination yet of stepping aside, though, and challenging him on the basis of one poor election result would be a risky endeavor. (So look for the Social Democrats to ditch him for Tarja Filatov MP.)


Wolf bother

EU Court in another howler:

The European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that Finland's way of granting wolf shooting licences did not constitute an established procedure that would have violated an EU directive.
So score one for the sheep.

(This post could have been also titled "Wolf at the door? BLAMMO!", "Hungry like the wolf? Hungry for wolf, more like", and, of course, "Wolf blitzer".)

Fortress Christian Europe

Philip Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, has an article titled "Europe's Christian Comeback" in Foreign Policy magazine. I found a lot with which to disagree.

This is the intro: "Alarmist pundits prophesize that a secular Europe risks being overcome by its fast-growing Muslim population. Yet for all we hear about Islam, Europe remains a stronger Christian fortress than people realize." Surely the obvious point to make is that while alarmist pundits prophesize that a secular Europe risks being overcome by Muslims, said pundits are hysterical bed-wetters, commonly racist ones, who should be either ignored or mocked. Maybe you couldn't put it in exactly those words in Foreign Policy, but getting across the general idea shouldn't be impossible.

Jenkins takes as a given that Christianity has some component that will slow down the growth of Europe's Muslim population which secularism lacks. What might that be? Is there some sort of a rock-paper-scissors model of conversion, in which stout Christians fall victim to secularism, feckless secularists turn to Islam, and savage Muslims recognize the truth in Christianity? Do Christians in general support stricter immigration policies than atheists? Or is it all about birth rates again? I bet it's about birth rates, but in that case, why not present some statistics, for goodness' sake?

The general point of the article is that while the big churches that used to encompass a nation are in decline, "smaller, more focused bodies" are "growing within the remnants of the old mass church". While such splintering doesn't seem out of character for an increasingly secular society, Jenkins thinks it should be considered a sign of resurgence, not one of decline. Some of these new groups are reminiscent of the churches they have in the United States and religion is big there, so... The prevalence of religious belief is all down to how churches are organized, I guess.

As a final blow, Jenkins writes that there "has been a rediscovery of the continent's Christian roots, even among those who have long disregarded it, and a renewed sense of European cultural Christianity", as showcased by Jürgen Habermas saying something that sounds like it came from Pope Benedict. I'd argue the opposite: there's a growing awareness among Europeans that religion is a divisive topic that can't be used to unite the continent. That there's a Christian God isn't something on which we all agree and thus said belief probably shouldn't play an important part in public life.


EU constitutional matters explained (finally)

Over at VoxEU.org, a new website promising to provide "[r]esearch-based policy analysis and commentary from Europe's leading economists", Richard Baldwin has a rather informative four part series of articles on all things EU constitution, "EU constitution and its replacement: an economist's perspective". (Perspective aside, the articles don't dwell on economics.)

The first part summarizes what is in the proposed Constitutional Treaty and the second part deals with what changes it contains. They summarize the basics in a understandable manner. The third part, which recaps the way in which it was put together, is my favorite. It offers good insights on the Nice treaty, the Convention on the Future of Europe, and history of EU institutional reform in general.

It is easy to get misty-eyed about European ideals, but the harsh truth in my view is that the Constitution was just another big-package political compromise of the sort that has been put together at every step in Europe’s long history of integration. Eastern enlargement required the EU to reform itself. Europe has known - since the Westendorf Report - what it had to do. It failed to do that in the Amsterdam, Nice and Constitutional Treaties. Europe would be well served by the realisation that the Constitution was not a heroic step towards the sacred goal of European integration. It was a smoke-screen for undoing the Nice Treaty’s damage without admitting EU leaders had erred. Unfortunately, they misjudged EU citizens; instead of fixing up Nice’s screw-up, the Constitution created a brand-new screw-up that the German Presidency is trying to fix up.
The fourth part discusses how the EU should proceed from here. It gives some perspective on Finland's position.


Iceland's problematic US relations

I've written before about Helsingin Sanomat's interest in the frequency of top level meetings between Finland and the United States, but as criticizing the media makes me feel like a real blogger, I'll revisit the topic. Last weekend the paper topped itself (fi) when it published a list compiled by the US embassy detailing which European leaders have visited George W Bush in the US. The list conclusively proves that... well, see for yourself. Here are the European countries that have had the least meetings with President George W Bush:

1. Iceland 1
= Malta 1
= Yugoslavia 1
4. Albania 2
= Austria 2
= Belgium 2
= Estonia 2
= Finland 2
= Netherlands 2
= Portugal 2
(In addition a handful of countries, which the paper doesn't name, haven't gotten even that one meeting, but we'll forget about those.)

Having dug up incontrovertible proof that there's nothing out of the ordinary whatsoever about the number of Finno-American meetings, Helsingin Sanomat naturally picked the only possible headline for their story: "Finnish leadership has waited for a meeting with Bush the longest in Europe". If nothing else, you got to admire their persistence.

Update: Ye gawds.


Another Finnish success story

Here's a little something to take the edge off your globalization anxiety:

Finnish criminals have reclaimed the domestic drug market, provincial daily Savon Sanomat reported on Monday.

According to the paper, the share of foreigners involved in aggravated drug offences has plummeted to below 10 per cent from a third in the space of a few years.
This just goes to show that as long as you have liberalized labor regulations and low tax rates in place, you can stay competitive in today's marketplace.

Examining Swedish models

Economics professor Assar Lindbeck wrote an interesting column about the three different Swedish economic models. (Link spotted at bookforum.com.) It should appeal to the sort of people who like to argue that the welfare state stifles economic growth.

According to Lindbeck, 1870-1960 was a "liberal" period. The government provided market-supporting legislation, education, health care, and infrastructure, but government spending and income distribution were similar to the United States. During this period Sweden "moved from being one of the poorest western countries to being the third richest country in terms of GDP per capita."

1960-1985 saw the system that is usually called the Swedish model. The free trade of the liberal period remained, but job security was improved and generous welfare policies were implemented. Government spending as a percentage of GDP doubled and marginal tax rates went up. Sweden's GPD growth lagged behind the rich OECD countries and it dropped from third to approximately 17th in GDP per capita.

In the third period, 1985 to date, marginal tax rates were cut, capital market regulations and foreign-exchange controls were removed, and several product markets were deregulated. Sweden's growth rate picked up again and it has recovered some of the ground it lost to other rich countries in 1960-1985.

One reservation I had about Lindbeck's use of statistics is that the first liberal period also coincided with Sweden missing a couple of big wars in which many other rich countries fought. It would be interesting to know how much that helped in moving up the GDP-per-capita list. Also, presumably Sweden would have industrialized around that time in just about any case, so a rather large part of the growth can't be attributed to the government's approach to spending and income distribution.


Centre's daycare woes

It appears that Vanhanen ain't backing down after all:

Prime Minister and Centre Party leader Matti Vanhanen defends the plan, saying that healthy people who stay at home all day should take care of their children themselves. Speaking in Helsinki he added that the fees would serve as an incentive to more sensible behaviour.

However, Vanhanen promised that the lowest fees would not be very high, and that half-day day care would remain free for those with the lowest incomes.
Meanwhile party secretary Jarmo Korhonen is on record as opposing the plan. While reporting on Korhonen's views, the party's web magazine Apila gave the impression (fi) that the whole thing is a National Coalition Party project which "according to Korhonen the Centre can't accept".

I think the government has done a poor job of selling their plan, considering that even someone like Korhonen isn't buying it. Clearly there will be exceptions to the minimum fee, but what those exceptions will be remains in doubt even though their exact nature is very important in evaluating the whole proposal. When the government does a poor job of defining its plan, the opposition is more than happy to do it for them.


Direct challenge to Russian democracy

Giustino at Itching for Eestimaa wonders, "The Finnish example certainly poses a direct challenge to Russian democracy, yet for whatever reason the Russians choose to ignore it [...] So it interests me why Finland is continuously ignored from the man on the Russian street, while Estonia is paid attention."

I'll speculate.

Differences between Finnish and Russian economies can be explained as being the result of the Soviet period. While Soviet Russia and Soviet Estonia weren't identical, the real point of divergence between the countries didn't come until, to quote Vladimir Putin, "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century", the collapse of the Soviet Union. A common justification for Putin's repressive policies is that the Western-backed liberalization of the 1990s was a failure. The Estonian example challenges that account. It suggests that maybe the problem wasn't the policies per se, but the horribly corrupt way in which Russian politicians and officials implemented them.

I think a number of other reasons contribute to the difference in Russian attitudes on Finland and Estonia. Some of the causes of conflict between Russia and Estonia don't exist in the case of Finland. The Russian-speaking minority in Finland is much smaller and not inclined, as far as I can tell, to riot. Finland doesn't belong to NATO, which greatly lessens the military threat from this direction. Also, there are historical reasons for why Russians may view Estonia as a part of their "near abroad" and Finland as a part of the West. Finland hasn't been a part of the same state as Russia since 1917, whereas Estonia freed itself in 1991. That's a gap of 74 during which the Russians have gotten used to Finland being very different than the society in which they live.

PS: Max Jakobson's take on Russia is worth reading, as usual.

Grading Vanhanen II

According to a poll published in Saturday's Iltalehti, the new government enjoys the confidence of 65 percent of respondents, whereas 23 percent don't have confidence in the government. Centre Party supporters are the most confident, 91-5, followed by National Coalition Party supporters at 83-10. Green League supporters are 62-25. Interestingly, 53 percent of Social Democratic Party supporters have confidence in the government, which has to worry the party leadership. Left Alliance supporters divide 34-49, which is more like it for an opposition party. The poll asked about two controversial policies and got fairly predictable results: scrapping inheritance tax in generational transfers of farms and business divides opinion along predictable left-right lines, but introducing minimum fees for full-time daycare is broadly unpopular.

The poll also asked respondents to grade the new ministers, four being the failing grade and ten being the best grade. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) received the best rating, 7.3, with Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva (Coalition) coming second at 7.1. Considering the amount of criticism leveled at Kanerva's appointment, I would guess that his high profile in the Bronze Soldier controversy has improved his popularity. Social and Health Affairs Minister Liisa Hyssälä (Centre) and Foreign Trade Minister Paavo Väyrynen (Centre) come off worst, both at 5.9. Of the party leaders, Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen (Coalition) comes in at 6.8, as does Culture Minister Stefan Wallin (Swedish People's Party). Labor Minister Tarja Cronberg (Green) is a bit lower at 6.3.

In other polling news, this month's party support poll from Taloustutkimus is out (fi).

National Coalition Party 23.4 (-0.7)
Centre Party 22.4 (-0.6)
Social Democratic Party 21.7 (+1.0)
Green League 10.1 (+0.6)
Left Alliance 8.4 (+0.2)
Christian Democrats 4.7 (+0.2)
True Finns 4.3 (-0.2)
Swedish People's Party 4.1 (-0.3)
I've compiled a modest table of party support polls released after the election.
CP   NCP  SDP  LA  GL   CD  SPP TF  source         date
23.1 22.3 21.4 8.8 8.5 4.9 4.6 4.1 election 3/18
23.0 24.1 20.7 8.2 9.4 4.5 4.4 4.5 Taloustutkimus 4/5
22.8 23.3 21.1 8.4 8.9 4.5 4.3 4.9 Suomen Gallup 5/20
23.4 23.3 20.8 9.0 9.6 5.0 4.1 4.4 Research Int'l 5/25
22.4 23.4 21.7 8.4 10.1 4.7 4.1 4.3 Taloustutkimus 6/9
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


Summary of Finland's position on EU treaty reform

If you're at all interested in Finland's approach to the EU and can read Finnish, you should probably go ahead and check out the government memorandum (fi, PDF) I mentioned in Friday's post. It's only seven pages long and contains lots of stuff that isn't discussed e.g. in the Helsingin Sanomat article. But if you can't read Finnish - I've heard that such people exist - you've come to the right place for an English language summary.


Finland supports calling together an intergovernmental conference, to be given its mission in June's European Council summit. As little as possible from the Constitutional Treaty should be opened for new negotiations. All the reforms in the Constitutional Treaty that aren't included the intergovernmental conference's mandate should be considered as agreed upon parts of the new treaty. All the areas in which the existing treaties need reform should be decided at one go. To put it more plainly, in June's meeting everyone should agree on which bits of the Constitutional Treaty can be kept as they are and then a new intergovernmental conference will be set loose to sort out the rest.

Finland thinks a single unified constitutional treaty would be clearer than a solution based on changing current treaties, but is willing to see the reforms implemented on the basis of current treaties if that's necessary. This shouldn't however affect the content of the reforms. Regardless of how the reforms are structured, the EU must be given a legal personality and its three pillar structure must be torn down. The government sees the destruction of the third pillar, concerning police and judicial cooperation, as particularly beneficial.

The central contents of part I of the Constitutional Treaty must be preserved. Especially the institutional provisions shouldn't be opened for renegotiation, because agreeing on them was so difficult the last time around. On part II, it's particularly important that the EU joins the European Convention on Human Rights. The primary solution should be to implement the changes contained in the Constitutional Treaty as they are, but Finland can also accept a cross reference that has the same legal value as ratifying the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Reforms contained in part III should be included in the new treaty. Of particular importance are widening the scope of qualified majority decision-making and, again, removing the pillar structure. The proposed reforms on judicial, internal, and foreign affairs should be preserved in their entirety.

Finland considers additions on topics like climate change, energy, immigration, and the social dimension of the EU to be unnecessary for the effective functioning of the Union. The government is however willing to consider clarifications that are political in nature, as long as they don't involve changing the division of powers between the Union and member states and no agreed upon questions are reopened. The Union's ability to accept new members shouldn't be defined as an enlargement criterion and it's a bad idea to include in the new treaty the political criteria agreed in 1993 in Copenhagen. Finland thinks that it's unnecessary to change the Constitutional Treaty's edicts on the enforcement of subsidiarity. National parliaments shouldn't have the right to cancel the Commission's proposals.

Finland is flexible about symbolic changes, such as changing the name of the treaty and removing the Union's symbols. Changes in terminology can be considered, but the government considers the Constitutional Treaty's new names for different types of statutes to be easier to understand than the current ones.

So now you know.


Prerequisites for reaching a general settlement

Prompted by the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, the Finnish government has deemed it appropriate to shed some light (fi) on its starting position in the upcoming EU constitutional treaty negotiations. It released a memorandum (fi, PDF) that contains some but not all of the confidential information I wrote about last week. Compared to what was previously shared with the Foreign Affairs Committee, this public version specifically lacks any word on Finland's negotiating room.

It appears that the government is generously willing to accept any and all cosmetic changes, if that's what it takes:

[Helsingin Sanomat] quoted a government memorandum to Parliament as saying that the government was prepared to transfer the key reforms contained in the draft charter to the existing treaties "if this is a prerequisite for reaching a general settlement on treaty reform".


The memorandum added that Finland supported the initiative to summon an intergovernmental conference to carry on the efforts to reform the union's founding treaties.
Finland wants to see the EU's pillar structure dismantled and the reforms to EU organs that were proposed in the draft constitution implemented. Flags, hymns, the name of the treaty, titles of EU officials, et cetera are unimportant. The general idea remains that Finland would like to see as few substantial changes to the draft constitution as possible. Still, breaking the bloody thing into small pieces, presumably to avoid referendums on the whole of it, might seem just a little bit cynical to some.


Iran practices catch and release with Finnish anglers

Here's a piece of good news: the three Finns held by Iran have been freed, although a storm warning has prevented them from leaving the island where they were detained. The men, employees of Nokia Siemens Networks working in Dubai, were nabbed by the Iranian authorities last Saturday when they strayed into Iranian waters on a fishing trip. According to a Foreign Ministry representative, they've been treated well and the Iranians have reportedly taken them sightseeing.

The Finnish government handled the incident very quietly. The Foreign Ministry learned of the events (fi) already on Saturday, but didn't inform the media about it till Tuesday evening. Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva said that "the goal was not publicity, but freeing the men", and defended the choice as entirely correct considering the local circumstances. President Tarja Halonen concurred.

For comparison, a British couple and and Australian man who were detained by Iran under similar circumstances last year were held for 13 days, considerably longer than the Finns. Of course the Brits and the Aussie may have been viewed with more suspicion by the Iranians on account of nationality alone. According to the Iranian ambassador to Finland, "the matter was resolved because relations between the two countries are excellent."


Now that Teemu Selänne has gotten his first Stanley Cup ring, it might be a good time to consider the question of who is the best Finnish hockey player of all time. Jari Kurri is of course the obvious point of comparison. I did some calculations a while back to take into account the scoring environment in which they played and arrived at the conclusion that Selänne's regular season NHL points record is already better than Kurri's - clearly so on a per game basis, but also narrowly in terms of career value. The difference in scoring environment between the '80s and the '90s is that big.

Personally I'd still argue that Kurri is ahead due to his much superior playoffs performances and slightly better defense. Kurri not only played a heck of a lot of playoff games, he was able to raise his game in the playoffs. Still, it's getting close. Selänne needs another season or two at his 2005-2007 level and I might change my mind, especially if one or more of those seasons come with a successful playoff run. It's a testament to Selänne's resilience that this is even a topic for debate. Before the NHL lockout, you wouldn't have thought this would ever become an issue.


Update on the Lohja toilet roll massacre

Yesterday I wrote about Matti Vanhanen's and Merikukka Forsius's Saturday night clash with a disgruntled voter thusly:

[The heckler] repeatedly called one the pair a drug addict based on thinness - take a guess which one that was.
I intended it as a rhetorical question, but I would have guessed wrong. Today's papers reveal that it was actually PM Matti, not MP Merikukka, who was the target of the man's jibes - because when you think of drug addiction, you think of Vanhanen. Merikukka, bless her, was just defending the Prime Minister, as any patriotic citizen would in that situation. Also, the mighty toilet roll of doom was her weapon of choice because she had used toilet paper to wipe blood from her injured friend's face. See how it's all coming together?

I know I should make some serious point about this, but the details are just too awesome.

All monkfish great and small

While visiting Aftenposten to see what they're writing about the Norwegian royals' visit to Finland, I spotted this fish tale:

Man vs. monkfish

[...] Brandvik made the sudden decision to try and capture the fish using a knife, and stabbed it between the eyes - without getting the expected effect.

"Then it started to try and bite me. That was when I started having regrets," Brandvik said.
It's the most gripping story of man against beast since Jimmy Carter battled a killer rabbit.


Carnage at health center as PM's bride goes on rampage

In what promises to be the most hilarious story of the week, it emerged today that Merikukka Forsius MP (Green League) threw a toilet roll at a heckler at a Lohja health center late last Saturday. She and her beau Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) had brought in a friend for treatment at the A&E, which didn't sit well with a middle-aged male customer, who may or may not have been driven mad by the excessive waiting times inherent in socialized health care. Eventually Forsius reached for the toilet roll, which she threw to (at?) the man so he might clean up his language.

Vanhanen and Forsius say that the later the man proposed that they could "make a deal or else..." which prompted the pair to publicly describe the incident from their point of view. According to them, the man accused them of cutting in line, high income, and misuse of position. In an inspired detail, he repeatedly called one the pair a drug addict based on thinness - take a guess which one that was. He also threatened to go fetch his camera and to call the newspapers. Still, the exact trajectory and impact area of the toilet roll are shrouded in mystery as of this moment. According to the man it hit a patient in the head, but he was less than forthright about his role in the incident, so his account probably shouldn't be accepted as accurate without further corroboration.

We all await further developments with bated breath, I'm sure.

Beware of vampire moths

Climate change sucks:

Global warming is bringing more warmer-climate creatures to Finland, including moths that feast on human blood, according to nature researchers.


Finnish Nazis for an independent Kosovo

Finno-Serbian relations have never been busier. During the weekend, President Tarja Halonen met with Serbian President Boris Tadic. In their meeting, Presidents Halonen and Tadic expressed their wish that the UN Security Council can arrive at an unanimous decision on Kosovo. Left unsaid was that Halonen supports the Ahtisaari proposal and Tadic opposes it. We've also seen UN Special Envoy and former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari (more on him later) put forth a proposal on Kosovo's future, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn announce that Serbia's integration talks can continue, Serbia's entry win the Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki, and Serbia's football team beat its Finnish counterpart in European Championship qualifiers. That's a flurry of activity, is what that is.

The issue of Kosovo came up even in the football match as the Serbian fans displayed a big banner reading "Kosovo Is Serbia". While the organizers removed another banner supporting war criminal Ratko Mladic, whom the Serbian fans also remembered in song, this one was left to stand. Finnish Football Association chief of security Juha Karjalainen provided a classic comment in today's papers: "We talked with the Serbian fans and they answered that the message is in the same class as 'Lapland is a part of Finland'. Someone though might see something political in it." Yep, I'd say that's a distinct possibility.

No post on Finno-Serbian relations would be complete without a word about the work of one Carl Savich, serious historian. Savich, who isn't a crank at all, has studied the historical record closely and come to the conclusion that Martti Ahtisaari has a Nazi past. According to Savich, "Ahtisaari's role in honoring and commemorating the Nazi Waffen SS has been suppressed. As a Chairman Emeritus of ICG he is regarded as part of the globalist elite. His government's honoring of Finnish Nazi SS troops is a controversial subject that did not register on the radar screen of the mainstream media."

Savich's ravings were inspired by the fact Ahtisaari was the President of Finland at a time when the Association for Cherishing the Memory of the Dead of the War, which received funding from the state, planned to erect a memorial to Finnish Waffen SS volunteers who died in Ukraine. Although Savich talks of "Ahtisaari's government", the head of government was of course Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen and Ahtisaari had nothing whatsoever to do with the association's funding. The financial support came from the Ministry of Education, headed at the time by Maija-Liisa Rask. Finally, the association decided against (fi) building the memorial because the project had attracted controversy.


The soft Green underbelly

The government's plan to cut free full-time daycare for children from low-income families were probably the biggest political story of the week. The story had legs because as soon as the government had announced its plan, it started to backpedal. The original decision was made in a meeting between the leaders of the four government parties, including Labor Minister Tarja Cronberg of the Green League, but that didn't stop the Green parliamentary faction from almost immediately coming out against the proposal. The current word is that a number of provisions will be attached to the original proposal to make it acceptable to all government parties.

It wasn't difficult to guess that Greens would be the weak link in the government, with regard to supporting government policy, and this episode offered supporting evidence for the contention. The Greens a centre-left party in an otherwise centre-right government and traditionally display weak party discipline. The opposition obviously knows this; when the daycare issue was discussed in Parliament, various opposition MPs could be seen asking in plaintive tones how the Greens could in good conscience go along with such a heinous plan. As it worked, similar scenes are probably in store whenever the government does - or tries to do - something controversial.

I think the Greens will continue to act as a moderating influence on government policy, but that influence will be limited on issues that are truly important to either of the main government parties, the Centre Party or the National Coalition Party. (Details of daycare policy don't qualify.) Strictly speaking, the Greens aren't needed to form a functional government based on those two parties, which rather weakens their hand.


Government's secret position on the EU treaty

Several MPs have taken the opportunity to criticize the Finnish government for not releasing its answers to Germany's questions on the future of the EU not-a-constitution. (The article says that even the questions have been kept secret, but they leaked some time ago.) Yesterday the Foreign Affairs Committee joined in the fun, demanding that the government make its views public. Notable about the criticism is that it's coming from government and opposition MPs alike. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, for example, is veteran politician Pertti Salolainen of the very much in-government National Coalition Party. I tend to agree with the criticism. All of the Parliament, not just select committees, should be able to give its input at the negotiating stage. The government should promote public discussion on the topic by being open about latest developments.

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) told the Parliament that "releasing the information would weaken Finland's negotiation position at the forthcoming EU summit and that both the Grand Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee were being kept abreast of developments." It's nice to know that Finland at least has a negotiation position, but as an explanation that doesn't work very well. If it's important that other EU countries not know what the government answered Germany, why on earth did they answer Germany in the first place? The last time I looked, Germany was another EU country. It isn't an impartial outsider sworn to secrecy, but rather one of the most powerful parties in the negotiation. In truth, Germany didn't ask anything that would compromise Finland's negotiation position if it came to light. The questions deal with what Finland's starting point is, not e.g. what it wants in exchange for making concessions on some other field.

As far as Finland's negotiation position is concerned, the problem with secrecy is that as long as the public doesn't know what the government wanted at the beginning, the government has an easier time giving up on its demands because it can do so in secret - and the other negotiating parties know it. Based on previous comments from Vanhanen and Coalition leader Jyrki Katainen, I think it's safe to say that Finland wants a comprehensive treaty which is as close to the failed proposal as possible. Alas for them, the mini-treaty camp has been gaining strength as of late, notably with the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as the French President. If the big countries agree on a mini-treaty, it seems obvious to me that Finland will go along with it in the end. As long as the government doesn't state publicly its goals in the negotiations, it can also back down without losing face.


No smoking - it's the law

Starting today, smoking in bars and restaurants is now illegal in Finland, certain exceptions notwithstanding. The libertarians at Finland for Thought aside, the change is quite popular:

According to a recent questionnaire conducted by TNA Gallup and commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, a total of 77 per cent of all Finns are in favour of the smoking ban.

While regular smokers have the most negative attitude towards the ban, as many as 39 per cent of them are also in favour of a smoking ban in restaurants. Moreover, as many as 69 per cent of those who smoke only occasionally are supporters of the amendment to the law on smoking.

The majority of respondents believed that the ban would have no effect on the number of their restaurant visits, while 15 per cent regarded it as possible that the number of their visits would increase in the future. Only seven per cent of respondents thought that they would visit restaurants less frequently than before.
As a lifelong non-smoker, I'm firmly in the category that prefers smoke-free bars and (especially) restaurants. Still, I'm not entirely convinced that business really will pick up. If that was to be expected, I'd think that most bars and restaurants would ban smoking on their own, without the need for legislation.