Legal names

Dana Goldstein writes on TAPPED:

If you thought it was crazy when Hugo Chavez announced he wanted to limit legal Venezuelan names to a list of 100, strictly divided by gender, you'll be interested to know he's not alone: The Finnish government also maintains a list of legal names from which parents must choose, with no overlap between male and female varietals.

This is wrong. There's no exclusive list of acceptable names and there are unisex names.

However, the law (fi) places quite strict limits on naming. The name's form and spelling must be consistent with domestic name practice; male names can't be given to girls nor female names to boys; surnames are out of the question, with the exception of second or third given names formed from the mother's or father's first name and ending in -tytär (-daughter) or -poika (-son); and the name can't have already been given to a sibling as a first name. Exceptions can be made due to religious or foreign customs, or due to some other, unspecified "valid reason".

Some of these rules leave me conflicted. On one hand, what's it to anyone else if parents want to call their baby girl "Yenni" instead of "Jenni". On the other hand, creative spelling of common names is a menace that must be stamped out with extreme prejudice for the good of humankind.

And yes, Chavez's approach is pretty crazy in its pointless authoritarianism.

Poll: Centre 22.6, Coalition 21.7, Soc Dems 21.7

The Centre Party is back at number one for the first time since the election in a new poll by TNS Gallup (fi). This is the seventh poll in a row which indicates a drop in support for the National Coalition Party, which is now tied for second with the Social Democratic Party. Behind the big three, the Green League and the True Finns are still doing rather well.

This is the first poll in which the government parties' combined support is below what it was in the parliamentary election. One suspects that the nurses may have something to do with it.

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

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


Our last best hope in nurses' pay dispute

When a dangerous situation looks hopeless and bleak, there's only one thing to do: put together a panel of experts.

A panel of mediators is now expected to present a compromise proposal by the start of next week aimed at averting the planned resignations of nearly 13,000 nurses scheduled for November 19.

To prepare for the event, the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) and the Commission for Local Authority Employers (KTL) have taken turns suing each other. Last Wednesday the municipal employees had a go:
KTL said in a statement Wednesday that Tehy's industrial action was illegal as it violated the commitment to labour market harmony.

Today the nurses' union struck back:
The union said the confirmation letters sent by KTL to the people on Tehy's resignation lists and the employers' move to declare their posts vacant constituted unlawful attempts to undermine the basis of the industrial action.

Both cases seem rather odd to me. If you want to resign, how could you be prevented by law from doing so? Conversely, if you resign, how on earth could your former employer be prevented by law from hiring someone to replace you?


Soini doesn't like the Sweden Democrats

YLE has a little snippet (fi) on its website about True Finns chair Timo Soini's attempts to keep some distance between his party and anti-immigrant parties in other Nordic countries. The True Finns' youth organization tried and failed to gain entry into the Nordic Youth Council together with Swedish and Danish right-wing populist parties. Soini disapproved of this and the youth organization announced that it intends to stop the cooperation. YLE doesn't name the other parties, but according to (fi) the Nordic Council's website, they are the Sweden Democrats and the Danish People's Party.


Russia proposes wood duty solution

According to (fi) European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, the subject of Russia's plan to rise wood export duties prohibitively high dominated the trade policy talks at the EU-Russia summit. Russia seeks to tie the export duties to its entry into the World Trade Organization. Russia says the export duties will return to normal once it has been accepted as a member whereas the EU has agreed to support Russia's membership only on the condition that such trade barriers don't exist.

In essence Russia is saying to the EU, "You go first," to which the EU responds, "No, you go first." We can only hope that eventually some diplomat extraordinaire will suggest, "Hey, what if we both go at the same time?" It's a crazy idea, but it just might work.


Vanhanen's approach in EU talks

A charge that surfaces whenever there's bad EU-related news is that Prime Minister Vanhanen (Centre Party) is a wimp who fails to properly stand up for national interest. Further, things would go better if only former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen (Social Democratic Party) was still in charge. Lipponen, the theory holds, had awesome international connections and was active in all matters EU. (As far as I can tell, an "active EU policy" seems to mean that one actively pushes for decisions that will be made regardless of whether one supports them.)

Recently Vanhanen's performance in the 141 agricultural subsidy issue has been criticized and compared unfavorably to the doubtlessly much more positive results Lipponen would obtain. Now Lipponen has defended Vanhanen's approach:

Speaking on YLE's Saturday political programme Lauantaiseura, Lipponen noted that the 141 agricultural subsidy for southern Finland was only supposed to be temporary.

He said the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Sirkka-Liisa Anttila and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen have taken the right approach in talks with the EU, and deserve the full support of Parliament.

[...] [Lipponen] says Finland should not undermine constructive EU politics with threats, but try and negotiate a good compromise for all concerned.

The comments put a damper on the notion that this wouldn't have happened in Lipponen's time, I think.

Addendum: But Lipponen did say that the government and MPs should be more "active" e.g. in energy questions.


Mind your Ps and Ms

Today when I went to check out the latest from STT, the Finnish News Agency, the first headline read:

Finnish PM fined for causing fatal car crash

Typos don't get much worse than that. The article is about National Coalition Party MP Kimmo Sasi (whose case I previously discussed here).


Swastika eyes

Thanos Kalamidas had a rather odd article in Ovi Magazine. While riding the Helsinki metro, Mr Kalamidas has spotted a handful of young people wearing swastikas. This, he argues, has something or other to do with the Continuation War. I'll let him explain:

I have often heard the excuse that in front of the USSR that was going to take over Finland the only chance left was to ally with the Nazis during WWII and I have heard it often and I always find it very poor. Finland is not the only country neighbouring with the horror. The rest of us learned since we were very young how much horror there is behind this symbol and there are countries, including Germany, that considers the symbol illegal.

Often in Finland I have the feeling that people are proud for this past and it really makes you wonder. How much history have they learned? Hitler was worse than Stalin and the Nazis much worse than any kind of Red Army or Bolsheviks. Do young people in Finland know that?

[...] I’m not going to blame these young people for what they did, I’m going to blame the state that never bothered to teach them the truth but let them believe that the Nazis were allies to help them defend their country from the bad Bolsheviks who were coming to... eat them!

Elsewhere Kalamidas warns darkly of a future increase in intolerance. Maybe someone with access to reams of poll data and a lot of free time could prove that former Axis countries and assorted hangers-on are less tolerant than former Allied countries. All I can say is that a recent Eurobarometer survey (PDF) found Finns to have the most positive views about immigration in the European Union. The people of Greece had, alas, second most negative views after the Maltese. The question needs to be asked: has the Greek state failed to make it clear to its citizens that the Nazis were bad?

The obvious point to make here is that neo-Nazism isn't a phenomenon that is constrained by World War II front lines. Thus, attributing right-wing extremism to national views of World War II is arguably a tad misguided.

As for being eaten by bad Bolsheviks, that naturally wasn't Uncle Joe's merry minions' goal; rather, they would have been content with purges and deportations and what have you. Sadly, letting the Soviet army in - followed by Nazi rule, followed by more Communist command - put a considerable dent into the populations of several other countries unfortunate enough to be located between Germany and Soviet Union. These examples suggest that, had the Bolshies not been turned away, a sizable percentage of Finnish youth of today would not have been born. Admittedly not being born hurts less than falling victim to cannibalism.


Persson fears Lipponen

The former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson tells in his memoirs (fi) of a brush with death at a 1998 European Union meeting in Cardiff, Wales.

"During a break in the line to the bathroom, the big Lipponen was in front of me. He was angry. Lipponen was furious; he literally radiated anger. I had probably said something in my statement that didn't suit him and Finland.

"Lipponen turned toward me and said in a low, clear voice, stressing every syllable, which is why his speech is always unbearably slow, 'You better watch out!'

"It felt very awkward, but just in that blink of an eye the bathroom door opened and out stepped a happy Mandela. He looked at me and Paavo, greeted us affably, and we exchanged a few words."

Nelson Mandela's timely intervention defused the situation and saved the rotund Persson's hide.

I have two comments on this:

First, given Lipponen's well-publicized new driver's license, if Persson is hit by a car with Finnish license plates and the culprit flees the scene, we know whose alibi to check first. Persson thinks they've patched up their differences, which just goes to show how much he knows.

Second, Mandela really deserved that Nobel Peace Prize.


Liberals win Åland election

Åland held a parliamentary election last weekend. Since information on this in English is pretty difficult to find, I'll repeat the main facts from Helsingin Sanomat's coverage (fi).

The Liberals (Liberalerna på Åland) gained three seats to take their seat total to ten out of 30. The Centre (Ålands Center), the previous main government party, increased its seats from seven to eight. Of the smaller parties, the Social Democrats (Ålands Socialdemokrater) lost three seats, half of their previous tally; the conservative Freeminded Cooperation (Frisinnad Samverkan) lost one seat and also has three; and the separatist Future of Åland party (Ålands Framtid) maintained its two seats. (All party websites seem to be in Swedish only.)

The previous government was based on the Center, the Freeminded Cooperation, and the Social Democrats. Liberal chair Viveka Eriksson, who received the most votes, may become the first female head of government.

As far as I can tell this blog doesn't have any regular readers from Åland, but if someone from there happens to find this page, it would be interesting to hear about how the dynamic between the various parties works. For example, the Social Democrats seem much weaker than in most Nordic parliaments. Are the Liberals perchance to blame?


Kimi Kimi Kimi the super pilot!

This was the best ending to a F1 season I can remember. The last three GPs were wonderfully entertaining - tense, dramatic, and packed with reversals of fortune. And there was even a happy ending. (It's a shame that the live TV coverage was on a pay channel that few get to watch.)

While I'm at it, fair play to Fernando Alonso fans for seeing the bright side in their favorite's third place:

Fans of Fernando Alonso danced in the fountains of his hometown last night to celebrate Lewis Hamilton's failure to win the Formula One drivers' championship in Brazil.

"Hamilton did not win, that's the main thing," said one Alonso supporter before plunging into the fountain of the main square in Oviedo.


Somewhere there's an advertising executive cratching his chin: "What can they have against Hamilton? He's so handsome and well-spoken and young and talented. Savior of F1! Bigger than Tiger Woods! Everyone loves Our Lewis. And just look at the grace with which he wears that TAG Heuer watch!"


Polling on nurses' labor dispute

According to a poll published by Nelonen (fi), half of respondents considered the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals' (Tehy) demand of a 24 percent wage increase to be too high, whereas 39 percent of respondents considered it to be appropriate. On the other hand, according to a poll published by Yle (fi), 61 percent approve of the nurses' industrial action in this situation and only 25 percent disapprove. What the polls had in common was that older people were less likely to view Tehy's demands and methods positively than younger ones. There were no significant differences between men and women.

I wonder how the numbers would change if instead of talking about industrial action, the poll would have specifically asked about the mass resignations. Conversely, it's possible that a higher percentage of respondents would have approved of the wage demands if they had been given in euros, as the Tehy representative quoted in the linked article suggests.

Black sheep with no guiding light

Because I know my readers come here primarily to find in-depth, sophisticated commentary on the major European elections, I'll say this: The Swiss People's Party's infamous sheep-themed election poster strikes me as badly designed. The black sheep appears so darned sad about being excluded and the white sheep show no emotion whatsoever. Who looks at this tableau and doesn't sympathize with the victim?


The 411 on the 141

The biggest European Union related story of the week was, naturally enough... agricultural subsidies. Something or other happened with some minor treaty, but that was inconsequential compared to the government's struggle to defend the so-called 141 subsidies, named after the 141st article of Finland's EU membership treaty (fi), that are paid out of Finnish taxpayers' pockets to the farmers of southern Finland.

Because such subsidies distort intra-EU competition - which makes them a form of protectionism - Finland needs the EU's permission to keep paying them. It obtained a temporary permission when it entered the Union. That was 15 years ago and now the EU Commission is starting to wonder just how long will the farmers of southern Finland remain temporarily hampered by EU membership. Last year close to 100 million euros was paid out. The Commission wants to either eliminate the subsidies completely or at least reduce them significantly, e.g. by 20 percent.

The Centre Party is, as you would expect, going slightly nuts over the issue. Several senior Centrists, most notably ex-Prime Minister Esko Aho and parliamentary Agriculture and Forestry Committee chair Jari Leppä, have suggested that the issue be tied to the ratification of the not-a-constitution in order to show the EU that Finland means business. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen is opposed and the odds of this happening are slight, but it speaks of the central importance of agricultural subsidies to Centrists.

In the press our Nordic neighbors Sweden and Denmark have been singled out as opponents of the 141 subsidies and Leppä wrote a letter (fi) to the Swedish parliament. In it he mentioned all sorts of reasons for why agriculture in Finland is dependent on subsidies, none of which seems to have anything to do with Finnish EU membership. He even brought up the war. Lest we forget, the stated rationale for the 141 subsidies was easing serious difficulties caused by joining the EU.

By contrast, the so-called 142 subsidies, which are paid out to farmers in northern Finland and account for well over half of all national agricultural subsidies, are pretty much permanent. If the 141 is done away with, will farming in Finland be concentrated in the north of the country? That would be a rather perverse outcome.


Among the whitest people in Europe

Apropos of James Watson's imitation of Tatu Vanhanen, Alterdestiny and Lawyers, Guns and Money cite the case of John Svan, a Finnish immigrant to the United States, whose petition for citizenship was opposed by the US government on the account that he was "a Mongolian" and thus ineligible due to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

A spot of googling reveals that the judge was one William A Cant from the fair state of Minnesota. Luckily for Mr Svan and a sixteen other Finnish immigrants who had been denied citizenship, Judge Cant determined that "[i]f the Finns were originally Mongols, modifying influences have continued until they are now among the whitest people in Europe."

In 1911 the congressional Dillingham Commission produced a Dictionary of Races and Peoples, which addressed the Mongolian question thusly:

Finnish immigration has been larger in recent years than that of most other races having so small a population. It is practically confined to the Western Finns or Finns proper. These are Caucasian rather than Mongolian in appearance, while the Eastern or Volga Finns, who are not known to come as yet to America, show distinctly their Asiatic origin. They are divided from the Finns proper by a broad band of Great Russians which extends through Central Russia from north to south. The Lapps and Samoyeds, another very different stock, may be called the "Northern Finns".

[...] Until 1809 Finland was a part of Sweden, and before the dawn of history the Finns and Swedes were no doubt intermingling. This will account in part for the prevailing blondness and European cast of countenance amongst the Finns, which has led the Bureau of Immigration to put them into the "Teutonic division" of races. But the entire Ugro-Finnic stock seems to have been, in origin, lighter in color than most other Mongolians, perhaps as a result of their northern residence. Formerly they were taken out of the Mongolian grand division by certain ethnologists and put into a separate division of "ailophylian whites". Whatever their original stock, the Finns of Finland are today the most truly European of any race possessing a Mongolic speech, and in some respects their institutions are abreast of any in Europe.

"The most truly European of any race possessing a Mongolic speech" - take that, Hungarians!

This excerpt (PDF) from History of the Finns in Michigan by Armas K E Holmio provides a lengthy look at the origins of the idea of Finns as Mongolians and theorizes on why the notion persisted in the United States even after it had been discarded in Finland.


Halonen on global welfare

Speaking of our supreme leader, on Wednesday she got to hold forth on one of her favorite topics, globalization's impact on welfare, in the Guardian's Comment is free section. Aside from promoting Finland at length - did you know that our economy is growing at a fair clip and our schools are reputed to be quite good? - the President's main argument was that we should all come together to make things fairer.

Here's Halonen's short, non-exhaustive list of things we must do:

  • "We must seek a balance that ensures that migration benefits not only the receiving countries, but the countries of origin, and above all the migrants themselves."
  • "Our collective aim must be to ensure productive employment and decent work for all - in line with the UN goal - while striving for a balance between jobs and growth, social cohesion and economic dynamism, as well as utilisation of natural resources and environmental sustainability."
  • "The global community must achieve a consensus on how to proceed after the commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012."
  • "[T]he Doha round must be concluded soon, with a fair agreement that takes into account the huge variety of member states in the WTO."

In short, countries must come to some undefined agreement on issues on which they're rather unlikely to agree.

Kozin's opinions not those of Russia

It seems that telling the truth is still inadvisable in foreign policy discussions. The Russian embassy has stated (fi) that Senior Counselor Vladimir Kozin's views are his own, which he represented in his role as a researcher. Phew.

President Tarja Halonen saw it coming, saying already yesterday that Kozin's comments didn't represent Russia's official line. Ex-Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja was a bit flat-footed, though, when he wrote on his blog (fi) that there was "nothing new or surprising" about the statements in comparison to Russia's known views. (He also accused YLE's television news department of a pro-NATO scare campaign.)

Kozin's evaluation is of course correct in that Finland joining NATO would be a military threat from Russia's point of view. The NATO-Russia border would increase in length substantially and come closer to St Petersburg. Still, it's probably a good sign that official Russia isn't quite prepared to say this openly.

Update: And he's out of here. What a marvelous little episode!


Nice one, Vladimir(s)

Some friendly advice:

Finnish membership in NATO would be a direct military threat to Russia, warned the Russian Embassy's Senior Counsellor to Finland, Vladimir Kozin.

In an interview with YLE, Kozin urged Finland to postpone NATO membership for at least 15 years. He added that President Vladimir Putin's term in power could very well last that long.

Happily, Kozin "emphasized that Russia will not dictate or pressure other countries". That's okay, then.

For comparison's sake, here's what Putin had to say on the topic last February.


How to resign

Just what the doctor ordered - legal wrangling:

The municipal employers of nurses who are members of the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) say that they will not accept the lists of names offered by the union as official resignation documents, insisting instead on personal resignation.


Seppo Koskinen, Professor of Labour Law at the University of Lapland, agrees with the management view, that resignations must be individual.

"A list of names is not an authorisation. It is also such a significant legal action that I do not think that there is any reason to take the line that lists like these should be accepted", Koskinen says.

At least the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District and the City of Helsinki say that they will recognise only personal notice from each individual nurse.

The law says:
A notice on termination of an employment contract shall be delivered to the employer or its representative, or to the employee, in person. If this is not possible, the notice may be delivered by letter or electronically. The notice is then deemed to have been received by the recipient at the latest on the seventh day after the notice was sent.

You be the judge.

It's difficult to come to any firm conclusion about the effects of one method of resignation versus the other. You might be tempted to make some deductions about the fact that the two sides are arguing over this in the first place, but I doubt that either side is inclined to make concessions even on unimportant details.


Migrant Integration Policy Index

The 2006 Migrant Integration Policy Index, "a handy quick-reference guide to migrant integration policies in Europe", is out now.

Finnish policies were judged "partially favorable" for integrating migrants, which was good enough for the BBC to name Finland a "top ranked nation for integration". Access to Finnish nationality was found to be the weak spot.

Twelve thousand and eight hundred resignations

It's a big number:

The Union of Health and Social Care Professionals, Tehy, says 12,800 of its members will join in a mass resignation effective from November 19, if salary demands are not met.

An overtime ban will also come into force on October 1. University hospitals in Helsinki, Tampere and Oulu are among those affected by the ban and mass resignations.

"It's really sad that trained healthcare workers are obliged to defend their salary goals with such force," said Tehy's chair Jaana Laitinen-Pesola. She added that the mass resignations would paralyze the entire health care system.

Politicians can hardly afford to let the healthcare system paralyze, so I guess henceforth nurses get to name their terms in all future pay negotiations. One wonders why Tehy didn't think of just not taking care of patients before. It seems like such an obvious move with no effective counter.

Fire fighters take note. Have you considered not putting out fires?


Subsidies and protectionism

In a radio interview today, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen opined (fi), "Of course a union of 27 member countries works on a different logic than a union of 15 member countries. In parts of the union changes have occurred in the logic of politics; protectionism is to some extent gaining ground in thinking, and that's in no way in Finland's interests."

The issue on which negotiations have been most difficult as of late is agricultural subsidies. Vanhanen as a Centrist defends them whereas many others in the EU want to cut them. In Vanhanen's mind, this shows that other countries don't want competition from Finnish agricultural produce. Defending subsidies naturally has nothing whatsoever to do with protectionism or national interest or any of those bad things.

Friday's Helsingin Sanomat had an article on some of the wrangling going on right now.

Invasion of personal reputation

Phil from Finland for Thought went to a bookstore and saw unauthorized biographies. Re the case of Matti v. Susan, he asks:

Shouldn’t all these authors be investigated by the police and possibly prosecuted and/or sued?

I'm not a lawyer, but I can tell you what the penal code (PDF) says:
Section 8 - Invasion of personal reputation (531/2000)

A person who unlawfully

1) through the use of the mass media, or

2) in another manner publicly

spreads information, an insinuation or an image of the private life of another person, so that the act is conducive to causing that person damage or suffering, or subjecting that person to contempt, shall be sentenced for an invasion of personal reputation to a fine or to imprisonment for at most two years.

The spreading of information, an insinuation or an image of the private life of a person in politics, business, public office or public position, or in a comparable position, does not constitute an invasion of personal reputation, if it may affect the evaluation of that person’s activities in the position in question and if it is necessary for purposes of dealing with a matter with importance to society

As I understand it, there needs to be an injured party; the police won't initiate an inquiry on their own. Thus the private lives of dead people, for example, are fair game.

If everyone made full use of this law, I'd imagine that at least some biographies you can find in your local library would give cause for a court case. I think the law goes too far in protecting people's feelings at the expense of free speech, so I'm happy that in practice it doesn't work out that way.


Poll: Coalition 22.8, Centre 22.6, Soc Dems 21.8

According to a new Taloustutkimus poll (fi) published by YLE, the recent labor unrest hasn't led to any big chances in party support. Compared to last month, the National Coalition Party has lost and the Green League gained 0.4 percentage points - both government parties, of course. All other parties are within two tenths of a percentage point compared to the previous Taloustutkimus poll.

The government parties' support as a whole dropped 0.2 percentage points; it isn't much, but it's threatening to become a trend. In the opposition the Social Democratic Party has for a while now consistently polled above their parliamentary election result, but they're still stuck in third place.

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
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 SG 9/22
22.6 22.8 21.8 7.9 9.8 4.8 4.4 4.8 59.6 TT 10/13

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


Cold War legacy

On Monday Aamulehti published a little survey (fi) of historians on the topic of Finlandization. Predictably they wanted more research done, which is fair enough. What I found disagreeable in the article, however, was Professor Henrik Meinander's argument that the "grip of Cold War" is to blame for Finland's not entirely parliamentarian system of government - that "Kekkonen's long shadow" showed in the '90s constitutional reform so that power wasn't moved entirely to the government.

I think the exact opposite is the case. Urho Kekkonen's legacy was a big reason why power was moved from the President to the government. As I've written before, the changes addressed the most negative sides of his presidency. If you replace him with a string of presidents who use their powers in a more modest and uncontroversial manner, it's questionable whether any reform at all would have occurred. These sort of arrangements tend to have a great deal of inertia.

Meinander also says (my translation), "In a normal Western country foreign policy decisions can be voted upon in the parliament. In Finland it is feared that the parliament is so immature in the area of foreign policy that it mixes up road construction debates with foreign and security policy."

I'd take issue with the definition of a "normal Western country" as one which places all foreign policy power on the government and the parliament Such prototypically Western countries as France and the United States don't fit this model. As for not trusting the parliament on foreign policy issues, again we're discussing something that predates the Cold War. (See, for example, the section on the "Long Parliament" in the recently reviewed Kansanvalta koetuksella.)

To be fair, maybe there's more to Meinander's argument than could fit on the pages of Aamulehti.

PS: The article prompted historian Markku Jokisipilä to post a presentation he gave on the topic of remembering the post-war era in Finland. (Scroll down past the Finnish introduction for the English portion.) It's pretty good.


Tervo on Heinäluoma's future

The right-wing newspaper Uusi Suomi, successor to important Fennoman papers Suometar and Uusi Suometar, died in 1991. Recently Niklas Herlin (of the Kone Herlins) bought the relevant trade marks and now Uusi Suomi is back as an online magazine (fi). At the moment the site features some basic news coverage and many blogs.

One of the bloggers is author and television personality Jari Tervo, who contributed some interesting insider information (fi) of questionable veracity on the Social Democratic Party's leadership issues. According to Tervo, there's an attempt underway to move current chair Eero Heinäluoma to lead the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK). Long-time SAK chair Lauri Ihalainen will be retiring soon and Heinäluoma has a history in the organization.

Heinäluoma's replacement would be little-known MP Jutta Urpilainen (fi, se). Urpilainen has said before (fi) that she has been contacted about challenging Heinäluoma and repeated this (fi) when asked about Tervo's post. Heinäluoma characterized the claims as "baseless, but funny". I'd still guess that the Social Democrats will contest the next election with Heinäluoma in charge and that Tarja Filatov is a more likely successor than Urpilainen.


Cowardly Eurabian self-censorship

Despite what you may have heard, YLE will show (fi) the Danish documentary Bloody Cartoons.

YLE producer Iikka Vehkalahti said that the original decision to not show the documentary was made because of normal programming concerns, not due to fear of fanatical Muslims. The original plan was to show eight of the ten documentaries in the Why Democracy? series. First a documentary on Pakistan was added due to the recent events in that country, leaving the Danish documentary as the odd one out. Now it has also made the cut, because the brouhaha convinced YLE that there was a demand for it.

Of course, Vehkalahti said pretty much the same things (fi) already on Tuesday without any noticeable effect on the ensuing conversation. Taking a brave stance against censorship is just too appealing, I guess.


Nurses' pay demands

This is bound to cause palpitations in certain quarters:

[The general council of the Finnish Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy)] decided that the union aimed at an extra 15-per cent wage increase on top of the average pay rises secured by other unions.

The negotiation aim translates into raises of between 400 and 600 euros in monthly wages over the 30-month agreement period.

If there isn't plenty of negotiating room in those figures, I fear we're going to have a long, long strike. The demands are close to twice as large as the offer that was turned down.

Tehy is threatening with mass resignations in the middle of this month. How many nurses out of Tehy's 125'000 members would be involved is unclear; Tehy's chair commented in Verkkouutiset (fi) that even a few hundred resignations would have an effect. Unlike nurses on strike, those who resign aren't obliged to take care of patients who need urgent medical aid.

In the interest of balance (and with thanks to Egan for the link), here's an article comparing nurses' pay and working conditions in Finland and Sweden:
Five years ago Vaarala left Meilahti Hospital in Helsinki for Södersjukhuset in Stockholm. Her basic pay without extras shot up by nearly EUR 800. Like Meilahti, Södersjukhuset is a public sector hospital , and Vaarala did the same work in both facilities, as a nurse assisting in surgery.

"The pay was partially responsible for my move, but the greatest reason was that only fixed term jobs were available in Finland then. In Sweden I got a permanent post right away.

According to the article, Swedish nurses have seen their pay increase quickly in recent years due to a shortage of qualified personnel combined with more room for local pay negotiations, i.e. individual hospitals have been competing for available nurses so they've had to jack up their wage offers.


President of the Republic

YLE1's political satire Tasavallan presidentti (fi) ("President of the Republic") is pretty good by domestic comedy program standards, by which I mean that the episodes I've seen have had bits and pieces in them that I've found amusing. It's scheduled to last for only six episodes and we're a month into its run, so now might be a good time to check it out if you're into that sort of thing.

It's not a knock-out, mind you. The pseudo-documentary form isn't exploited for all it could be; the show mainly consists of interviews with the main characters with only brief bits of social interaction between them included. Things rarely happen on screen; instead we see the characters talk about what happened. There are three major characters, all of whom tend to have the same or at least very similar comedic voice. The writing rarely carries the entire 30 minute episode; there are funny comments and some pretty obvious stuff thrown in for good measure.

To be fair to the makers, the predominance of interviews and paucity of characters might be down to budgetary limitations rather than artistic choices.


Limits of prime minister's privacy

Just when you thought you had heard the last of Susan and Matti, the two-headed tabloid beast comes roaring back:

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen says he is ready to go to court to defend the principle of privacy. His former girlfriend Susan Ruusunen (formerly Kuronen) and her publisher Kari Ojala are being charged with violation of privacy for a kiss-and-tell exposé.


Vanhanen filed a complaint against the publisher with police, who then investigated the case to see if there was cause for charges to be filed. Last week the public prosecutor announced that both the publisher and Ruusunen would be brought up on charges.

I don't know if Ruusunen and Ojala will be acquitted, but they should be. Tackiness is no crime, even if it takes the form of trying to make a buck by telling everyone who will listen about your relationship with another person. Saying truthful things about your own life shouldn't be off-limits.

As for Vanhanen, his stated reasons for going to court are a tad passive-aggressive. He wouldn't be trying to find the limits of his privacy if he didn't think that his privacy had been violated.


Responsibility to wear protection

Re the creep who kept having unprotected sex after being diagnosed with HIV and now finds his mug all over the media, Phil at Finland for Thought asks:

Should the police publicly oust HIV-infected people like this? Or should the responsibility be solely placed on the sex partners to wear protection?

When two people have sex, placing the responsibility for wearing protection solely on one person would be absurd - doubly so when the person who would escape responsibility is the one who knew protection was definitely needed.

Secondly, it's not an either/or question. The police publishing this guy's name and picture doesn't reduce anyone's responsibility to wear protection. People are not going to say to themselves, "If my partner has HIV, I can just read about it in the tabloids afterwards. There's no point in using a condom."


Interpellation vote

It went pretty much as expected:

The government front did not waver, bar a single MP. Paula Sihto (centre), the first deputy chairman of the council of the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals, abstained.

Sihto was on A-Talk last night (fi) together with Social Democratic chair Eero Heinäluoma, National Coalition MP Ben Zyskowicz, and Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) chair Jaana Laitinen-Pesonen. The highlight of the show was a clip of Heinäluoma and a somewhat lost-looking Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen arguing over how much financial support Katainen had promised to municipalities during the election campaign, followed by the program's host asserting that Katainen got it wrong, followed by Zyskowicz arguing that the government had essentially done what according to Katainen no one had promised. It was all quite confusing.

Sihto's take on the issue was curious, too. She seemed to me to be arguing that the National Coalition Party is responsible for raising nurses' expectations too high. That's a fair viewpoint and one with which I agree up to a point. At the same time, however, she was backing Tehy's approach. Where's the logic in that? If Tehy members have unrealistic expectations due to politicians' meddling ways, it suggests that their expecations should be lower - the problem isn't that the offer was too small, but that it was turned down. But Sihto didn't take her argument to its logical conclusion.


Talks on Russian airspace violations

Hey, it can't hurt, can it?

Ilkka Kanerva (cons), the Finnish foreign minister, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday that Finland had offered to host talks between Estonia, Finland and Russia aimed at preventing violations of Estonian and Finnish airspace by Russian military aircraft.

Mr Kanerva added the initiative to launch the talks had come from Russia.

The talks are initially scheduled to begin in November.

According to the Defense News, an Estonian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that the country has agreed "in principle to hold talks at the level of specialists". The article also notes that after Finland and Russia held bilateral talks, the violations stopped for a couple of years, right up to last month's incident.


Mark of true friendship

Today's Ilta-Sanomat reached greatness with a courtroom story (fi) that illustrates what's truly important in life - friends. I'll translate:

Axe blows to the head strengthened friendship

The friendship between a group of men who for decades have occasionally clashed hard isn't dented even by axe blows to the head. This was concluded in the Lahti district court after a court session during which those on the receiving end and the axe-wielder got along famously in the court room.

The men considered the clash as merely strengthening their friendship

[The perp got a suspended sentence.]

The court considered a mitigating circumstance that everyone involved in the quarrel was very drunk. During preliminary investigation one of the men recalled nothing of the events.

The assaults occurred last May in a house in Nastola. The group had been drinking and taking sauna baths vigorously.

During an altercation after sauna, a man in his forties fetched from upstairs next to his bed a Fiskars axe which he always keeps at bedside.

He hit the house's 50-year old owner, whose tenant he is, two to three times on the head with the sharp end of the axe. He hit another man on the back of the hand.

The axe victims demanded no compensation for pain or cosmetic injuries, because according to them there wasn't anything special about the event.

The court ordered the axe to be confiscated by the state.

With thanks to Aapo for pointing me to the article.

Deliberating on EU democracy

J Clive "Nosemonkey" Matthews is a editing dLiberation, a rather nice blog on democracy in the European Union. A particular focus is the upcoming Plan D Yahoo! Answers Tomorrow's Europe Deliberative Poll® on the EU's future. (Three of the 400 poll respondents are from Finland. Clearly we should have received a bigger quota at the expense of the most populous member states.)

Currently Matthews is considering William Hague's remark that national government is "the linchpin of democratic consent". I'll say this for Hague's notion: whenever the government and some EU organ disagree on a topic, it's damned easy to dismiss any democratic legitimacy the EU organ aspires to. After all, what sort of a democracy is it where a bunch of foreigners, even foreigners who vote in free and fair elections, get to tell us what to do?

To use a recent example, in the sugar tiff the decision came down from the EU Commission. Would the reaction had been any different, though, if the proposal had been passed by the EU Parliament after our MEPs voted against it? Probably not. Transferring powers to the EU Parliament is perhaps the most common solution to the EU's democratic deficit, but it's not going to help with the enterprise's image as long as the Parliament is liable to disagree with national entities that have greater democratic legitimacy in the eyes of EU citizens.

Happily the solution is obvious: what the EU needs to become more democratic is lots and lots of national vetoes.


Commenter beware

The comment section at the end of this post reveals my free-speech-subverting ways. (The topic is also covered here.)

Cash envelopes to MPs

As far as publicity stunts go, this is good one:

The Finnish Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) on Tuesday sent envelopes containing 30 euros in cash to all 200 MPs in an attempt to illustrate the government's contribution to the care sector wage increase.

The envelopes also contained a note remarking that the cash represented what the government had called a historical pay increase for care-sector professionals.

Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen's defense lacks the same pizazz:
"All wage-earners have the right to defend their own interests and employment terms, but what we need now is realism to find the best solution," Mr Katainen wrote.

Mr Katainen pointed out that not all injustices could be mended at one fell swoop, adding the proposal by the Commission of Local Authority Employers (KT) was close to what he had had in mind originally.

How boring. Surely he could have done some sort of an illustration of just how much bigger this proposal is than the previous deal (fi) Tehy signed in 2004. Maybe he could use fruit as visual aids.


Appropriate pay offer

Behold! Public opinion:

A poll commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat and conducted by Suomen Gallup found that 54 per cent felt that the pay offer is appropriate, while four out of five felt that it was too low; only five per cent felt that it was too generous.

Appropriately too low it is, then.