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.