Tag: Finnish society

Marjo Vilkko: Suomi on ruotsalainen [Finland is Swedish]

16 January 2015 | Mini reviews, Reviews

vilkkoSuomi on ruotsalainen
[Finland is Swedish]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2014. 321 pp.
ISBN 978-951-52-3419-3
€36, hardback

Finland was a part of the Swedish kingdom from the deep Middle Ages until 1809, when for a hundred years it was incorporated into Russia. The Swedish period left profound traces in Finnish society, and these were examined – with lively discussion – in the television series Finland is Swedish. Now the series scriptwriter and editor Marjo Vilkko has provided a more thoroughgoing treatment of the topic in her book. Although Finland is a country that shares Western and Nordic values, it differs from Sweden in several respects. For historical reasons and due to the presence of a significant Swedish-speaking minority, Swedish is still an official language; many things have moved from Europe to Finland via Sweden. However, at times the differences in Finland’s development have been emphasised by those wishing to propagate ‘original Finnish’ characteristics. With the use of fascinating examples and reflections drawn from history, Vilkko shows, for example, how Finland’s local government, legal system and Lutheran religion are to a large extent an inheritance from the Swedish period, with a continuous mutual interaction. The book moderately propagates the recognition of a common heritage and support for mutual understanding.

Translated by David McDuff

Oh misery me

3 December 2014 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

The Finnish media never pass up an opportunity to post articles on our favourite miseries, says columnist Jyrki Lehtola: Finns are great at wallowing in self-denigration, so it sells well. And life is always better somewhere else, isn’t it? At least in ‘Europe’ it is

They should never have let us Finns into Europe. Or North America, South America, Australia, Africa, Asia.

Another Nordic country might perhaps suit us, or Albania or Russia. We could visit them.

Europe doesn’t suit us. Europe makes us even more stupid than we already are. Europe makes us think less of ourselves and more of other people. More…

Erkki Tuomioja: Siinä syntyy vielä rumihia. Poliittiset päiväkirjat 1991–1994 [Heads will roll. Political diaries 1991–1994]

20 November 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

rumihiaSiinä syntyy vielä rumihia. Poliittiset päiväkirjat 1991–1994
[Heads will roll. Political diaries 1991–1994]
Editor: Veli-Pekka Leppänen
Helsinki: Tammi, 2014. 680 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-31-7555-9
€39, hardback

Erkki Tuomioja (born 1945) has for a long time served as a member of parliament and as Finland’s foreign minister. A left-wing Social Democrat, Tuomioja has since his youth been known as a sharp-minded social debater as well as a writer and researcher. His publications include a biography of his grandmother, the Estonian-born eminent writer and dramatist Hella Wuolijoki. These fascinating political diaries from the early 1990s cover such topics as the break-up of the Soviet Union, Finland’s increasingly close integration with western Europe, and with the disputes about the Social Democrat leadership and the remarkable rise of Martti Ahtisaari, who came in from outside to become the party’s presidential candidate, and ultimately the country’s president. Tuomioja’s characterisations of Finnish politicians and political life are apt and plain-spoken, with particular criticism reserved, for example, for President Ahtisaari. Tuomioja does not conceal his own doubts and disappointments, and accepts that some of his views of the time do not correspond to those that he holds today. The editor provides the reader with a summary of the important events at the beginning of each month.

Translated by David McDuff


6 November 2014 | This 'n' that

Helsinki harbour: from  the German Quick magazine's airplane, by Volker von Bonin, 1952. Photo: Helsinki City Museum

Helsinki harbour: aerial photo from the German Quick magazine, by Volker von Bonin, 1952. The proposed site for the Guggenheim building is bottom left. Photo: Helsinki City Museum

The winner of the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition, organised by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, will be announced in June 2015. ‘An innovative, multidisciplinary museum of art and design’, the winning building, if it will be realised, is likely to be a new ‘architectural dream’.

1,715 submissions were received from 77 countries; a shortlist of six finalists will be announced on 2 December.

In 2012 when the Guggenheim project (see our post from 2012) began to be discussed, the deep ranks of Helsinki taxpayers protested in public by saying that they did not want a costly new monument (building costs 130 million euros) in the city for which it would have been necessary to pay – in addition to maintenance costs – ca. 26 million euros to the American brand for the use of its name during the next 20 years. Finally the City Council voted 8-7 against the mayor’s motion to build the museum.

A comparison: the building costs of an urgently needed new children’s university hospital are 160 million euros: as the state was not able to fully finance the project in the near future, it was decided (in 2013) that 30 million euros would be raised by private sponsors and the general public in order to ensure the beginning of the construction work in 2014. (The goal was reached last August, but the fund-raising campaign will go on to decrease the loan capital, 50 million.) This project has been referred to by the opposers of the Guggenheim project in particular: if the state cannot provide the funds for a national children’s hospital, how could – and why should – it commit itself, albeit with smaller sums, to sponsoring an American art museum in Finland?

No money from the state was promised. No art-minded private sponsors of a future Guggenheim announced themselves in the public either. It turned out, however, that enough private sponsor money was available for an international architecture competition: in 2013 a tentative, central site for a future Guggenheim building was reserved for the competition project, for two years, in Helsinki harbour.

Since that, a group of independent arts organisations has issued a call for submissions for alternative ideas: ‘The next Helsinki’: a new competition aims at bringing forth projects that ‘attach artistry to all aspects of everyday urbanism’, and it is open to all, not just ‘starchitects’, ‘…because the solution is not simply an urban designer’s or artist’s task.’ Deadline is 2 March, 2015.

The organisations taking part are Checkpoint Helsinki, G.U.L.F. (Global Ultra Luxury Faction), Occupy Museums and Terreform, New York. ‘The next Helsinki’ states: ‘The Guggenheim Foundation has launched a design competition on one of Helsinki’s most valuable and compelling physical sites for a new Guggenheim building, in hopes of a transformation akin to the “miracle” in Spain [Bilbao]. The City of Helsinki is tempted to spend hundreds of millions of municipal euros in return for the benefits of the branding of the city with someone else’s mark. Is this really the best use for the site and tax money?’

It remains to be seen who will be the winners, and what will be won.

Minna Ruckenstein: Lapsuus ja talous [Childhood and the economy]

28 August 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

RuckensteinLapsuus ja talous
[Childhood and the economy]
Helsinki: Gaudeamus, 2013. 186 pp.
ISBN 978-952-495-294-1
€33, paperback

In her book the cultural anthropologist and researcher Minna Ruckenstein examines the Finnish and Western economy from an unusual angle, looking at it from the point of view ofchildren mainly under the age of 12. The preconceptions of educators about a deep divide between children and the market economy do not necessarily correspond to reality; the economic activities of children are diverse. They include, for example, reciprocity and exchange as a value creator that supports social relations. Children have a different relationship to money and its valorisation from that of adults. The difference between work and play is blurred, and children’s forms of paid work and their experience of it are also not as unambiguous as has been traditionally thought. During recent decades commercial children’s culture has become an increasingly obvious part of the child’s life; information technology has created new forms of participation, and children are not only targets of active marketing but also producers. This interesting book shows that childhood and the economy have closer and more nuanced links than is generally assumed.

Translated by David McDuff

Sata sosiaalista innovaatiota Suomesta [100 innovations from Finland]

5 June 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

innovaatioSata sosiaalista innovaatiota Suomesta
[100 innovations from Finland]
Toim. [Ed. by] Ilkka Taipale
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2013. [Second, revised edition] 332 pp .
ISBN 978-952-222-466-8
€10, paperback
English edition:
100 Social Innovations from Finland
ISBN 978-952-222-463-7
€10, paperback

In this book edited by the physician and social activist Ilkka Taipale, dozens of experts discuss Finnish social innovations. The book is a revised version of the volume that first appeared in 2006 and has already been translated into 17 languages. Readers may have their own ideas about whether all the innovations originated in Finland – nevertheless, they are distinctively Finnish in their application. They are dealt with in the following groups: administration, social policy, health, culture, international context, civil society, social technology and everyday amusements. A wide range of topics is covered, including the Sámi issue, the unicameral parliament, the maternity package, free education, text messaging and Nordic Walking [walking with the poles for exercise]. Some of the innovations, like the sauna, Nordic Walking, the board game ‘Star of Africa’ and the free computer operating system Linux, are well known outside Finland, while others are only to be found there. The viewpoints presented in the essays vary, but the book provides a thought-provoking overview of Finnish creativity.

Translated by David McDuff

Updated, alive

8 May 2014 | Non-fiction, Reviews

fjoashgo hs b

Minna at 50. The Finnish flag is flown on her birthday: 19 March has been named the Day of Equality. Canth also flies on the tail of one of the aircrafts of the Nordic airline Norwegian: the fleet carries portraits of ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines’ of four Nordic countries (the other Finn is the 19th-century poet J.L. Runeberg). Original photo: Viktor Barsokevich / Kuopio Museum of Cultural History

Herkkä, hellä, hehkuvainen – Minna Canth
[Sensitive, gentle, radiant – Minna Canth]
Helsinki: Otava, 2014. 429 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-1-23656-6
€40.20, hardback

There are two sure methods of preserving the freshness of the works of a classical author in a reading culture that is increasingly losing its vigour.

The first is to give a high profile to new interpretations of them, either in the form of scholarly lectures or of artistic re-workings, such as dramatisations, librettos or film scripts. Another unbeatable way to keep them alive as a subject of discussion is an updated biography, through which the author is seen with new eyes.

Minna Canth (1844–1897) is now celebrating her 170th anniversary, and she is fortunate in both respects. Having begun her literary career in the late nineteenth century, she still continues to be Finland’s most significant female writer.

Her influence on the role of women in society and, in particular, her promotion of girls’ education, is the cornerstone of Finland’s social equality. In the twenty-first century Canth’s plays are still receiving new interpretations, and they have also been made into operas and musicals. (Read her short story, ‘The nursemaid’, here.) More…

The almost nearly perfect travel book

4 April 2014 | Articles, Non-fiction

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

The question of what foreign people think of us Finns, and Finland has always been a particularly burning one in these latitudes: a young nation, a small people. Can we be as good as bigger and wealthier nations? Tommi Uschanov reads a new book on the Nordic countries published in England, keeping a sharp eye on what is being said about…. Finland, naturally

When an article based on The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle by Michael Booth was published last January in the London Guardian, there was a nationwide outcry in Finland. ‘Finland being bashed in the British media,’ one tabloid headlined grandiosely, while a sober financial paper spoke of ‘a broadside full of stinky stuff’. It takes a re-reading of the article after having read the book to understand why. To create an artificial atmosphere of controversy, the article is lop-sidedly critical of Finland in a way which the book goes out of its way to avoid.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People belongs in a by now time-honoured genre within English letters: the humorous encomium to a host culture by an expatriate – or immigrant, as we hosts impolitely insist on calling them. The only difference is that Michael Booth, a British food and travel writer, does not discuss only Denmark, where he has lived for a decade, but visits each of the other four Nordic countries in turn. More…

Tuomo Pietiläinen & Tutkiva työryhmä [Research working group]: Wahlroos: epävirallinen elämäkerta [Wahlroos: an unofficial biography]

13 February 2014 | Mini reviews, Reviews

wahlroosWahlroos: epävirallinen elämäkerta
[Wahlroos: an unofficial biography]
Helsinki: Into Kustannus Oy, 2013. 432 pp. , ill.
ISBN 978-952-264-243-1
€35, hardback

Björn Wahlroos (born 1952) is a business and banking executive who is now chairman of Nordea, the Nordic region’s largest bank. The journalist Tuomo Pietiläinen, working in collaboration with 25 students, has produced a biography of Wahlroos as part of a course in investigative journalism, without the involvement of the subject himself. Wahlroos is a firm believer in the hard market economy. Based on careful background research, this biography charts Wahlroos’s progress from boy scout to radical left-wing student, his conversion to capitalism and his rapid rise to become a popular professor of economics. In the 1980s Wahlroos moved to the banking sector and climbed to the top of Finland’s business elite. Outspoken, both admired and hated, he is also the owner of an estate with cultural and historical significance, where he works as a part-time farmer. His hunting partners include the King of Sweden. This account of Wahlroos’s colourful career is written clearly and informatively enough to be understood even by those who don’t know anything about business.

Translated by David McDuff

Decade of youth: the 1950s revisited

30 January 2014 | Reviews

Rock around the clock! Photo from Rasvaletti, by unknown, 1958

Rock around the clock in Helsinki, too! All photos here from Rasvaletti; photographer unknown, 1958

Rasvaletti. Valokuvia 1950-luvun Helsingistä /
Fotografier från 1950-talets Helsingfors
[Hair-grease. Photographs from 1950s Helsinki]
Työryhmä [working group]: Yki Hytönen, Tuomas Myrén, Riitta Pakarinen, Aki Pohjankyrö, Hilkka Vallisaari
Helsinki: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo, Helsinki City Museum,
2013. 211 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-952-272-499-1
€45, hardback
Onnen aika? Valoja ja varjoja 1950-luvulla
[Time of happiness? Light and shadow in the 1950s]
Toimittaneet [Ed. by]: Kirsi-Maria Hytönen & Keijo Rantanen
Jyväskylä: Atena, 2013. 249 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-796-924-6
38€, hardback

The 1950s rocked! They literally did – that is when the world got rhythm: Blue Suede Shoes by Elvis and the film Blackboard Jungle, with Bill Haley’s hit Rock Around the Clock, for example.

The development of new sound reproduction – long-playing records and tape recorders – was essential to the spreading of the gospel of rock and pop here, there and everywhere.

In Finland, the shocking new music was a smash hit among a group of young urban men called lättähatut, flathats, who also wore tight trousers, black overcoats and pointed shoes. Their girls dressed in angora sweaters and tight trousers or skirts. These teenagers, who hung around together very late in the evenings, were largely considered not only a nuisance but also a possible danger to the peaceful development of society (not only in Finland…). More…

Ville Kivimäki: Murtuneet mielet. Taistelu suomalaissotilaiden hermoista 1939–1945 [Broken minds. The battle for the nerves of the Finnish soldiers 1939–1945]

28 November 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

murtuneetmieletMurtuneet mielet. Taistelu suomalaissotilaiden hermoista 1939–1945
[Broken minds. The battle for the nerves of the Finnish soldiers 1939–1945]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2013. 475 pp., ill.
ISBN 978-951-0-37466-5
€37, paperback

Ville Kivimäki bases this work on his dissertation. His research concentrates on how mentally wounded soldiers of the Winter War and the Continuation war (1939–1945), were treated and what sort of conclusions can be made as regards to their age and social background. Eighteen thousand men received, or were forced to undergo, psychiatric treatment; no doubt the number of those who remained untreated and those who suffered symptoms after the war was large. Cases increased not just during combat but also during the long periods of trench warfare. Mental problems were considered shameful, and often even the psychiatrists had moralising attitudes. Those who became ill were regarded as physically and mentally weaker material, trying to benefit from their illness. Treatment relied on German methods, mainly appropriate, even though unappropriate examples exist. The goal was to return the patient to the front, to useful work or home. Kivimäki also takes a look at those who did not fall sick and describes the community of the soldiers at the front and their ways of coping. Remains of wartime attitudes were, surprisingly, seen in doctor’s views as late as the 1990s, when remunerations were discussed. The book won the Finlandia Prize for Non-fiction in 2013.

Yikes! How good are Finnish schools now?

28 November 2013 | This 'n' that

Questions and answers. Illustration, from a Danish magazine, 1890: Wikimedia

Questions and answers. Illustration, from a Danish magazine, 1890: Wikimedia

The new PISA results were published in December: these tests, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), measure the level of education of 15-year-old schoolchildren every three years.

Finland has done pretty well in recent years, so there has been interest in other countries in finding out what it is that makes Finnish schools better places for learning.

In 2000 Finnish pupils had been best at reading, and second at maths in 2003 – although competition has grown due to a larger number of countries, particularly in Asia – taking part in the study: for example, only 32 in 2000, but 65 in 2009 and in 2012.

In 2009 Finnish kids were third best in reading and sixth in maths. Now PISA 2012 results place Finnish kids in 12th place in maths, which created a stir in various educational circles. The best five were all Asian countries.

On the index list measuring skills at maths, science and literacy together, Shanghai leads, then come Singapore and Hong Kong. Finland is the best European country, number 7; Estonia is 8, Germany 16, Great Britain 21, the US 29, Sweden 38.

Non scholae, sed vitae discimus. Competition permeates everything now more than ever, but we do not learn for school but for life – not for PISA either. Still, teaching methods and students’ motivation are clearly worth improving.

The chances of learning on this globe are greater and more accessible than ever, but learning still takes brains, motivation and time. Yikes!

Utopia or dystopia?

15 October 2013 | This 'n' that

CMI logo rgb jpeg‘The fate of our societies lies in equity’, claims Martti Ahtisaari – winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 – in his foreword to a study entitled A recipe for a better life: Experiences from the Nordic countries (2013).

The study was compiled and written by Heikki Hiilamo and Olli Kangas with Johan Fritzell, Jon Kvist and Joakim Palme and published by Crisis Management Initiative (a Finnish, independent, non-profit organisation founded in 2000 by Ahtisaari, President of Finland from 1994 to 2000). It is available here.

‘The Nordic experience’ is presented in chapters dealing with the trustworthiness of the society, the role of the state, the amount of efficiency and inefficiency as well as the homogeneity of the Nordic societies and the social investments of these societies in their citizens.

(The Nordic countries consist of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as their associated territories – with different levels of autonomy – the Faroe Islands and Greenland [Denmark] and Åland [Finland].)

         ‘"The Nordic enigma" is a successful marriage between hard-core competitive capitalism
          and the pursuit of egalitarian policies’.

The study provides a concise summary of how these societies function with additional comments on the socio-historical development of independent Finland. It presents the reader with pros and cons, arguments and facts.

        ‘For some analysts the Nordic welfare state is a dystopia to be avoided at all costs....
        It is simply argued that that the welfare state destroys the incentives to work.’
        ‘Despite their strong welfare states and heavy tax burdens – often said to be poison 
        to competitiveness – the Nordic countries are doing well in economic terms.’

The reader is indeed challenged to ponder the best recipes for a better life. Last but not least: how will the ‘recipes’ need to be adapted in the future?

Johanna Korhonen: Kymmenen polkua populismiin [Ten paths to populism]

3 October 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

kymmenenpolkuaKymmenen polkua populismiin. Kuinka vaikenevasta Suomesta tuli äänekkään populismin pelikenttä
[Ten paths to populism. How silent Finland became a playing field for loud populism]
Helsinki: Into Kustannus Oy, 2013. 81p.
ISBN 951-952-264-257-8
€15, paperback

This pamphlet on the populist True Finns party was commissioned by the British think tank Counterpoint (PDF available in Finnish). In 2011, under the leadership of the rhetorically gifted Timo Soini, the True Finns became the largest opposition party in the Finnish parliament. In the background of this phenomenon the journalist Johanna Korhonen sees, among other things, the recession of the 1990s, the fear of economic insecurity, and the paucity of alternatives and debate that characterise politics in Finland. The left-leaning party favours simplifications and longs for national unity and security. It nevertheless includes an extremist nationalist minority whose agenda includes resistance to the European Union, cultural diversity, minority rights and foreign influences, and can even be racist. Korhonen focuses and simplifies in pamphleteering fashion, but argues patiently, basing her views on facts, and considers the beneficial effects the populist party has had on the national debate, offering her suggestions for a more humane politics.
Translated by Hildi Hawkins

Expat, fun

30 August 2013 | In the news

Aqua jogging by Pertti Jarla

Popular Finnish aqua sports à la Pertti Jarla

Expat Finland, created by Stuart Allt – an Australian web designer living in Turku, Finland – is an information resource on the Internet. It is particularly useful for people moving to Finland, or for anyone who is interested in finding out about Finnish services and products and in living in the country in general.

If you’re looking for maps, restaurants or universities, are interested in knowing more about the language(s), culture, sports etc, take a look at the recently redesigned Expat Finland.

And what do Finns think is funny?

Among latest additions on the Expat site is a selection of comic strips by Pertti Jarla. The creator of the cartoon town Fingerpori is often impossible to translate as he constantly plays with words and their meanings (getting the joke sometimes takes a while, too).

Take also a look at the samples of Jarla’s illustrations to Zoo – eläimellinen tarina (‘Zoo – a bestial story’), a book for children by Roman Schatz and Jarla, featured in Books from Finland.