Eveliina Talvitie: Keitäs tyttö kahvia. Naisia politiikan portailla [Put the kettle on, girl. Women on the ladder of politics]
Keitäs tyttö kahvia. Naisia politiikan portailla
[Put the kettle on, girl. Women on the ladder of politics]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2013. 332 p., ill.
In 1906 Finnish women were the first in Europe to obtain the right to vote, and Finland, like the other Nordic countries, is viewed as a model of equality. Journalist and author Eveliina Talvitie examines the role of women in politics. She has interviewed seventeen Finnish female politicians, more than half of whom have served as cabinet ministers. Among them are former President Tarja Halonen and Elisabeth Rehn, who has long worked on international assignments – between her and the youngest politician in the book there is a 52-year age gap. The interviewees describe the different aspects of the progress of their careers, their successes and setbacks. At the end of each chapter the author considers the challenges faced by female politicians from a particular point of view, backing up her conclusions with supplementary interviews. Not all of the politicians in the book have been handicapped because of their gender, but the work clearly demonstrates that, even in a relatively egalitarian country, female politicians are still treated differently from men, and their career paths can often be more difficult than those of their male colleagues.
Translated by David McDuff
For more than 20 years journalist Leena Liukkonen has been thoroughly involved with Russian culture, commerce, language and psyche. The subtitle of her new book of essays Venäläiset tulevat! (‘The Russians are coming!’) is ‘What we think and know about them’, and refers to the fact that the Finns do not really know their eastern neighbours very well. Liukkonen writes with insight about the differences in history, mentality and world view
Extracts (under original subtitles) from Venäläiset tulevat! Mitä me heistä luulemme ja tiedämme (Siltala, 2013)
WAR, REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING
In café conversations with other visitors to Russia, we often react with exasperation to the fact that discussions in Finland only ever start with the Winter War. Sometimes we wonder why the threshold between us and our neighbour to the east is still so high. My own living contact with the past, however, makes it clear to me that everything the elderly carry round with them could not have been simply shaken off with the passage of time. Nor can the next generation just break away from it. My own experience also reminds me how distant our eastern neighbour was during peacetime. After all, a very few have made the long journey to the country next door. To many people, the old story was the only story there was about Russia. More…
Maailman paras maa
[The best country in the world]
Toim. [Ed. by] Anu Koivunen
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2012. 255 p., ill.
€ 37, paperback
In this book twelve writers, representing various fields of research, ponder Finland and Finnishness from the viewpoint of history, ethnology, society, culture and economics. Finland-Swedishness and the relationship between Finns and Russians, the need of Finns to defend their participation in the Second World War in alliance with Germany as a ‘separate war’, and the nostalgia related to lost Karelia. The articles deal with Finland facing economic challenges, attitudes towards foreign beggars and self-critical Finnish opinion pieces. They also take a look at Finnish man as portrayed in the classic novel Seitsemän veljestä (‘The seven brothers’, 1870, by Aleksis Kivi) and in a recent prize-winning film about men talking in the sauna about their feelings, and discuss the relationship of the two national languages, Finnish and Swedish. Well-written and original articles question truisms and challenge the reader contemplate his or her own relationship with Finnishness.
Osmo Jussila: Neuvostoliiton tragedia. Utopiasta vankileirien saaristoksi [The tragedy of the Soviet Union. From utopia to Gulag Archipelago]
Neuvostoliiton tragedia. Utopiasta vankileirien saaristoksi
[The tragedy of the Soviet Union. From utopia to Gulag Archipelago]
Helsinki: Otava, 2012. 448 p., ill.
The acclaimed Russian and Soviet history scholar Osmo Jussila examines the early history of the Soviet Union from a fresh perspective. He shows how, in the years following the 1917 Revolution, an originally positive idea for a better society turned into a bureaucratic tyranny. The Soviet Union’s strong man V.I. Lenin created the Bolshevist Party as a paramilitary organisation which managed to seize power in October 1917. Even in the early years of Soviet power the ‘Red Terror’ crushed its opponents with executions and the establishment of prison camps. Although Lenin was a good professional revolutionary, he was almost incapable of building a new society: his solutions were often cruel, arbitrary and hasty. Jussila’s general view of Lenin is in line with the ideas that are familiar from more recent historical research, but the author also focuses and deepens his analysis to provide an essentially complete picture of Soviet Russia’s chaotic development and of Lenin’s role in the formation of the oppressive Soviet state.
Translated by David McDuff
Jukka Tarkka: Karhun kainalossa. Suomen kylmä sota 1947–1990 [Under the arm of the Bear. Finland’s Cold War 1947–1990]
Karhun kainalossa. Suomen kylmä sota 1947–1990
[Under the arm of the Bear. Finland’s Cold War 1947-1990]
Helsinki: Otava, 2012. 495 p, ill.
€ 36.70, hardback
Historian and author Jukka Tarkka’s book describes relations between Finland and the ‘Bear’ (i.e. the Soviet Union) during the Cold War, from the Paris Peace Treaty which ended Finland’s part in the Second World War to the new interpretation of some of the Treaty’s key points in 1990. Many people consider that Finland fell too much under the Soviet Union’s influence and became ‘Finlandised’. Tarkka shows that although in some cases Finland did give in, it also resisted Soviet pressure, built cultural and economic relations with the Western democracies and established an independent defence. In the light of its declared neutrality during the Cold War, Finland’s rapid integration into the EU is not at all surprising. The central figure in the thematically structured book is Urho Kekkonen, the country’s president for a quarter of a century. Kekkonen led the political struggle, but at the same time used the threat of the eastern neighbour as a weapon of domestic policy, as did many less influential figures in his shadow. Without sacrificing scholarly rigour Tarkka has written a popularly accessible outline of an important subject, relying on sources and references.
Translated by David McDuff
Jussi Pekkarinen: Maailmanluokan tarkkailupaikka. Suomen Lontoon suurlähetystön historia [A world-class observation post. The history of Finland’s London embassy]
Maailmanluokan tarkkailupaikka. Suomen Lontoon suurlähetystön historia
[A world-class observation post. The history of Finland’s London embassy]
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2012. 380 p., ill.
€ 38, hardback
Finland’s diplomatic mission in London began its formation after the country gained its independence in 1918 and was officially recognised by Britain in 1919. The Embassy has always been important to Finland because of Britain’s leading significance for Finland and because Britain has been one of Finland’s most prominent trading partners. This interestingly written history, based on Finnish and British sources, also portrays the development of relations between the two countries. The ambassadors have been colourful and quick-tongued personalities; Pekkarinen describes some of the blunders caused by staff conflicts and cultural differences. As diplomacy is not merely representation – which in itself is a full-time job – it requires a mastery of issues relating to trade and politics. In addition to its depiction of the day-to-day work of the embassy staff, the book provides more general information about the diplomatic mission. Pekkarinen – a researcher in the Foreign Ministry – covers the period up to the early 1990s, but the concluding part of the book is a review of the embassy’s situation today by the current ambassador.
Translated by David McDuff
Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Approximately five per cent of the population (290,000 Finns) speak Swedish as their native language. All Finns learn both languages at school, and students in higher education must prove they have an adequate knowledge of the other mother tongue. But how do native speakers of Finnish cope with what is, for many of them, a minority language that they will never need or even wish to use? We take a look at bilingual issues – and a new book devoted to them
‘In many parts of the world, language can be a fiery and divisive issue, one that pits the powerless against the powerful, the small against the big. The Basques battle the Spanish. The Flemish tussle with the Walloons. The Québécois scuffle with the rest of Canada.’
That is how Lizette Alvarez illustrated her theme in her article ‘Finland Makes Its Swedes Feel at Home’, published in the New York Times in 2005.
In Finland, language has been a fiery issue at times, though things have cooled down a bit since the early 20th century. The use of Finnish as a written language dates back to the 16th century, but the territory of Finland was part of the Swedish Empire until 1809. Swedish was spoken by the nobility as well as most of the peasant class – the mechanism of the state did not serve Finnish-speaking peasants or other segments of the population in Finnish. More…
Joni Krekola: Maailma kylässä 1962. Helsingin nuorisofestivaali [The world comes to visit in 1962. Helsinki’s youth festival]
Maailma kylässä 1962. Helsingin nuorisofestivaali
[The world comes to visit in 1962. Helsinki’s youth festival]
Helsinki: Like, 2012. 310 p., ill.
€ 27.10, paperback
In the summer of 1962, in the middle of the Cold War, a week-long youth festival was held in Helsinki. Behind the scenes of the event a propaganda war between East and West was being waged, something not uncommon at such festivals, which were the venue for meetings of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY, founded 1907). The main organisers were the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY, 1945), generally regarded as a Soviet propaganda agency, and the International Union of Students (IUS, 1946). The Finnish government’s initially lukewarm attitude to the event turned more positive as a result of the influence of the the Soviet Union. Helsinki hosted some 12,000 guests from all over the world at the ‘Peace and Friendship’ festival, with a couple of thousand Finns taking part. To Finns, the festival introduced colourful and exotic foreign life, a novelty in the country at the time. Resistance to the festival sparked youth riots which were suppressed by the police, and a smaller shadow event was organised mainly with CIA funding. Although the press condemned the unrest, it kept fairly silent about the festival itself. According to Joni Krekola, however, it was a success; in his interesting book he studies a major event that historians have overlooked, its diverse programme, its side- and after-effects, and its wider impact on society.
Translated by David McDuff
10 May 2012 | This 'n' that
Helsinki has said no thanks to a new Guggenheim art museum in the city – for the time being, at least.
On 2 May the City Council voted 8-7 against the mayor’s motion to build such a gallery in Helsinki. Politically, the move was supported by the National Coalition Party and the Swedish People’s Party, while the Greens and the left-wing parties opposed it.
What happens after the upcoming national elections – in autumn this year – is another matter. The director of the Guggenheim Foundation, Richard Armstrong, is persistent: he says he wants Helsinki. Well, if the Foundation offers a better deal in the future, the proposal may be considered again.
Three months ago we wondered – see Panem et circenses – whether ‘the people of Helsinki wish to begin to pay additional taxes for the revival, yet again, of the age-old dream of guaranteeing Finland “a place on the world map”, in a situation where economic difficulties are a matter of everyday life for increasing numbers of them? (We believe, incidentally, that Finland already has an appropriate place on the world map.) Will their opinion be asked, or heard?’ More…
3 May 2012 | Reviews
Sanojen talossa. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura 1890-luvulta talvisotaan
[In the house of words. The Finnish Literature Society from the 1890s to the Winter War]
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2012. 582 p., ill.
The Finnish Literature Society has, throughout its history, played a multiplicity of roles: fiction publisher, research institute specialising in folklore studies, organiser of mass campaigns in support of national projects, literary gatekeeper, learned society, controller of language development.
The priorities of these areas of interest have changed from decade to decade, so Kai Häggman has taken on an exceptionally difficult subject to describe. He has, however, succeeded brilliantly in gathering the different threads together, using as as lowest common denominator the ideas of nationalism and nation whose role in global modernisation and European history have been studied, among others, by the British historians Ernest Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm. More…
‘An unflinching opera and a hot-blooded cantata about a time when the church was torn apart, Finland was divided and gays stopped being biddable’: this is how Pirkko Saisio’s new play HOMO! (music composed by Jussi Tuurna) is described by the Finnish National Theatre, where it is currently playing to full houses. This tragicomical-farcical satire takes up serious issues with gusto. In this extract we meet Veijo Teräs, troubled by his dreams of Snow White, who resembles his steely MP wife Hellevi – and seven dwarves. Introduction by Soila Lehtonen
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Hellevi, Veijo’s wife and a Member of Parliament
Rebekka, Hellevi and Veijo’s daughter
Moritz, Hellevi and Veijo’s godson
Agnes af Starck-Hare, Doctor of Psychiatry
Tom of Finland
The Bishop of Mikkeli
Old gays: Kale, Jorma, Rekku, Risto
Olli, Uffe,Tiina, Jorma: people from SETA [the Finnish LGBT association]
Second Lieutenant, Private Teräs, the men in the company
Big Gay, Little Gay, Middle Gay
Teemu & Oskari, a gay couple
The Apostle Paul
On the stage, a narrow closet.
Veijo Teräs appears, struggling to get out of the closet.
Veijo Teräs is dressed as a prince. He is surprised and embarrassed to see that the audience is already there. He seems to be waiting for something.
He speaks, but continues to look out over the audience expectantly.
This outfit isn’t specifically for me, because… I mean, it’s part of this whole thing. This Snow White thing. I’m waiting for the play to start. Just like you are. My name is Veijo Teräs and I’m playing the point of view role in this story. Writers put point of view roles like this in their plays nowadays. They didn’t use to.
Just to be clear – this isn’t a ballet costume. I’m not going to do any ballet dancing, but I won’t mind if someone dances, even if it’s a man. Particularly if it’s a man. But I don’t watch. Ballet, I mean. Not at the opera house, or on television, or anywhere, and I have no idea why we had to bring up ballet – or I had to bring it up – because this is a historical costume, so it’s appropriate. This is what men used to wear, real men like Romeo and Hamlet, or Cyrano de Bergerac. But we in the theatre these days have a hell of a job getting an audience to listen to what a man has to say when he’s standing there saying what he has to say in an outfit like this. People get the idea that it’s a humorous thing, but this isn’t, this Snow White thing, where I play the prince. Snow White is waiting in her glass casket, she died from an apple, which seems to have become the Apple logo, Lord knows why, the one on the laptops you see on the tables of every café in town. More…
16 February 2012 | This 'n' that
You’re going about your business in Helsinki Railway Station on a cold winter’s day — waiting for your train, buying tickets or newspapers or just taking short-cut through the building to keep warm — when suddenly the bloke next to you bursts into song. And not just him: along with a couple of dozen others, he makes the air ring with the patriotic song Finlandia, sung in harmony and perfectly in tune. More…
2 February 2012 | This 'n' that
What does Helsinki need? Bread and circuses, yes, but at what cost the latter?
In January – after a study that cost the Finns a couple of million euros – the Salomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (est. 1937) indicated that it was favourably inclined toward the construction of a new art museum, bearing its name, in Helsinki. The leaders of Helsinki city council are aiming to make a positive decision as soon as possible.
The cost of the building, whose site adjoins the Presidential Palace in central Helsinki, is estimated at 130–140 million euros, with design costs of about 11 million euros. Unlike in the case of Berlin, no existing building is considered suitable; instead, an architectural dream must be realised, with plenty of wow-factor.
Its mere maintenance costs will be around 14.5 million euros a year. It has been estimated that the Helsinki Guggenheim’s income could be 7.7 million a year. In addition, a 20-year Guggenheim licence costs 24.6 million euros.
The project has provoked widely differing reactions. Proponents of the project believe that the Guggenheim brand would bring thousands of new visitors to Helsinki and that half a million people would visit it each year. Opponents doubt this, speak of a ‘Guggenburger’ franchising concept and of the fact that not even the existing art museums of Helsinki are particularly crowded.
The odd thing is, however, that the basic demographic differences between Helsinki and, say, Bilbao – where the Guggenheim museum has been a big success – are constantly ignored in the discussions: the population of Spain is almost 50 million and another 50 million visitors go there every year, while the corresponding figures for this most northerly part of Europe are five million inhabitants and visitors.
In Bilbao, moreover, there was no museum of contemporary art before the advent of the Guggenheim; Helsinki, on the other hand, opened Kiasma, a new museum of contemporary art (165,000 visitors in 2010) in 1998 and the neighbouring city of Espoo its Emma museum of modern art (82,000 visitors in 2010) in 2006.
Economic prospects on any level now offer little hope. The Finnish government, in the shape of the ministry of culture, has just cut grants to state-aided museums by three million euros – the Museum of Cultures in Helsinki, for example, is closing its doors, and some 40 of the museum staff elsewhere will be sacked. The government is not promising any money to the Guggenheim.
How, then, to fund an annual deficit of 7 million euros? Finland does not have a great supply of art-minded millionaire sponsors, and no one has so far made any concrete offers on how to fund this project.
The Guggenheim Foundation itself is not taking any financial risks with this project. Neither has it announced in any detail what sort of art will feature in the museum’s temporary exhibitions.
People who live in the city are more preoccupied with, for example, the shortcomings of the health services: there are waiting lists for everything, often of many weeks, and the old university children’s hospital has outgrown its present space. There are cuts and shrinkages yet to come in the spending structure of the country as a whole and of Helsinki – civil servants themselves estimate that the city’s budget is not sufficient to cover even the upkeep of basic services.
To judge by the public debate, the deep ranks of Helsinki taxpayers do not want a new monument, one for which it will be necessary to pay – in addition to maintenance – more than a million euros a year to an American brand for the mere use of its name, for more than 20 years.
Do the people of Helsinki wish to begin to pay additional taxes for the revival, yet again, of the age-old dream of guaranteeing Finland ‘a place on the world map’, in a situation where economic difficulties are a matter of everyday life for increasing numbers of them? (We believe, incidentally, that Finland already has an appropriate place on the world map.) Will their opinion be asked, or heard?
Jaakko Blomberg: Vakauden kaipuu. Kylmän sodan loppu ja Suomi [Longing for stability. Finland and the end of the Cold War]
Vakauden kaipuu. Kylmän sodan loppu ja Suomi
[Longing for stability. Finland and the end of the Cold War]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2011. 696 p., ill.
€ 37, hardback
From Finland’s perspective, the termination of the Cold War era encompassed three significant processes: the Soviet Union’s policy of perestroika, or reform, and the disintegration of its empire; the end of the international arms race and the rise of joint security as a policy aim of the superpowers; and increasing European integration. This book devotes individual chapters to two phases of Finnish foreign policy – interpretation of the Paris Peace Treaty and Finland’s withdrawal from the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, which it had signed with the Soviet Union in 1948. The second part of the book focuses on the years 1992–94, when Finland applied to become a member of the European Union and forged relations with the new Russia. Finland’s position in those years was defined by Mauno Koivisto, a cautious president, whose memoirs have served as a key source of material for Blomberg. The negotiations surrounding the region of Karelia, which was ceded to the Soviet Union after the war, are illuminated further here. As a Finnish ambassador, Blomberg served in key roles within the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from the late 1980s to the early 21st century.
Translated by Ruth Urbom