Tag: Finnish society

Panem et circenses, Part II

10 May 2012 | This 'n' that

The Guggenheim Foundation's global network of museums

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…

Nationalism in war and peace

3 May 2012 | Reviews

House of words: the Finnish Literature Society building in Helsinki. Architect Sebastian Gripenberg, 1890. Watercolour by an unknown Russian artist, 1890s

Kai Häggman
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.
ISBN 978-952-222-328-9
€54, hardback

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…

Art or politics?

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. (The video can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wO63xt2jWtc) More…

Wo/men at war

9 February 2012 | Essays, Non-fiction

The wars that Finland fought 70 years and a couple of generations ago continue to be a subject of fiction. Last year saw the appearance of three novels set during the years of the Continuation War (1941–44), written by Marja-Liisa Heino, Katja Kettu and Jenni Linturi

In reviews of Finnish books published this past autumn, young women writers’ portraits of war were pigeonholed time and again as a ‘category’ of their own. This gendered observation has been a source of annoyance to the writers themselves.

Jenni Linturi, for instance, refused to ruminate on the impact of her sex on her debut novel Isänmaan tähden (‘For the fatherland’, Teos), which describes the war through the Waffen-SS Finnish volunteer units and the men who joined them [1,200 Finnish soldiers were recruited in 1941, and they formed a battalion, Finnische Freiwilligen Battaillon der Waffen-SS].

The work received a well-deserved Finlandia Prize nomination. Tiring of questions from the press about ‘young women and war’, Linturi (born 1979) was moved to speculate that some critics’ praise had been misapplied due to her sex. The situation is an apt reflection of the waves of modern feminism and the reasoning of the so-called third generation of feminists, who reject gender-limited points of view on principle. More…

Panem et circenses?

2 February 2012 | This 'n' that

The Guggenheim Foundation's global network of museums

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?

Make or break?

17 November 2011 | This 'n' that

Two tax collectors: anonymous painter, after Marinus van Reymerswaele (ca. 1575–1600). Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy. Wikimedia

In Finland, tax returns are public information. So, every November the media publish lists of the top earners in Finland, dividing them into the categories of earned and investment income. Every November it is revealed who are millionaires and who are just plain rich.

The Taloussanomat (‘The economic news’) newspaper offers a list (Finnish only) of the 5,000 people who earned most last year (in terms of both earned and investment income, together with the proportion of income they have paid in tax). You can also search lists of various status and professions: rock/pop stars, media, sports, MPs, celebrities, politicians of various political parties…

So let’s take a look at Taloussanomat’s selected list of authors:  number one is the celebrity author Jari Tervo (309,971 euros, tax percentage 45); number two, the internationally famous Sofi Oksanen (302,634 euros, 46 per cent); the next two are Sinikka Nopola, writer of children’s books, (264,000) and Arto Paasilinna (262,300; now after an illness, retired as a writer), translated into more than 30 languages since the 1970s. (The film critic and author Peter von Bagh made almost 900,000 euros – not by writing books, but by selling his share of a music company to an international enterprise.)

As tax data are public in Finland, there’s vigorous and decidedly informed public debate on how much money, for example, directors of public pension institutions and government offices or ministers and other top politicians are paid, and how much they should be paid: what is equitable, what is reasonable? A million dollar question indeed…

Among the European Union countries, it is only in Finland, Sweden and Denmark that there is no universal minimum wage. Here, wages are determined in trade wage negotiations. The average monthly salary in the private sector in 2010 was approximately 3,200 euros. In contrast to that, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, the Nokia CEO and President, who tops the 2010 tax list, earned a salary of 8 million last year, because – and precisely because – he was sacked (and replaced by the Irishman Steven Elop).

The CIA’s Gini index measures the degree of inequality in the distribution of family income in a country. The more unequal a country’s income distribution, the higher is its Gini index. The country with the highest number is Sweden, 23; the lowest, South Africa, 65 (data from both, 2005). Finland’s figure is 26.8 (2008), Germany 27 (2006), the European Union’s 34. The United Kingdom stands at 34 (2005), and the USA at 45 (2007). The figure in Finland seems to be on the rise though, as the figure back in 1991 was 25.6.

There’s been plenty of research and debate on economic inequality and the ways it harms societies. This link takes you to a fascinating video lecture (July 2011 – now seen by almost half a million people) by Richard Wilkinson, British author, Profefssor Emeritus of social epidemiology.

Jouko Halmekoski: Orjamarkkinat. Huutolaislasten kohtaloita Suomessa [The slave market. The fate of auctioned pauper children in Finland]

17 November 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Orjamarkkinat. Huutolaislasten kohtaloita Suomessa
[The slave market. The fate of auctioned pauper children in Finland]
Helsinki: Ajatus Kirjat, Helsinki, 2011. 225 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-20-8391-6
€ 26, hardback

Auctions of people were at their most widespread in Finland in the 1870s and 1880s; ‘auctioned paupers’ were entrusted for a year at a time to the one who put in the lowest bid for the pauper’s upkeep, then recompensed by the local authority. The people who were auctioned off included children, the elderly, disabled and mentally ill people. These auctions were banned in 1923, but they continued for some time thereafter. Although the practice was widely known about, the paupers’ shame prevented much discussion of the subject. Those who wished to provide help to people  in need were probably greatly outnumbered by those who sought to benefit from their plight. In most cases, orphaned children ended up being auctioned off. Children born out of wedlock were another significant group. Jouko Halmekoski advertised in the newspapers in order to trace the lives and descendants of those who were auctioned off. Not all the auctioned paupers’ histories are tales of horror: this book, consisting of 25 of them, also includes stories of children who were treated well.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Tiia Aarnipuu: Jonkun on uskallettava katsoa. Animalian puoli vuosisataa [Someone’s got to dare to look. Half a century of Animalia]

28 July 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Jonkun on uskallettava katsoa. Animalian puoli vuosisataa
[Someone’s got to dare to look. Half a century of Animalia]
Helsinki: Like Kustannus, 2011. 209 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-01-0582-2
€ 33, paperback

This book has been published to mark the 50th anniversary of Animalia, the Federation for the Protection of Animals. The public image of the organisation has varied between one of a conservative club of ladies and gentlemen and that of a radical terrorist group. Animalia was founded in 1961, inspired by Johan Börtz, a Swede who gave lectures on the plight of animals used in experiments. Animalia began making visits to inspect animal testing facilities, which were completely unregulated in the early 1960s. Gradually the animal rights movement became more radicalised, somewhat later than in places such as Britain. Animal rights became a subject of wider debate in Finland in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the organisation was falsely linked with attacks made on fur farms by direct-action youth groups. Animalia’s stance has been to renounce vandalism and violence. In February 2010 Animalia launched its largest-ever information campaign, aimed at ridding Finland of fur farms by 2025.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Vesa Puuronen: Rasistinen Suomi [Racist Finland]

6 July 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Rasistinen Suomi
[Racist Finland]
Helsinki: Gaudeamus, 2011. 286 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-495-196-8
€ 36, paperback

Multiculturalism, immigration and racism have become more frequent subjects of discussion in Finland, particularly as a result of the 2008 local elections and the subsequent speeches and writings by people critical of immigration. This book aims to move the discussion forward by describing and defining racism, presenting developments in research into racism, racism perpetrated by Finns against Sámi and Russians, and the history of Finnish enmity towards Russians from the early 20th century to the present day. The author considers the use of shaming and subjugation as tools of exterminating Sámi culture, as well as linguistic discrimination and denial of land ownership rights against the Sámi. The book also examines the development of hate crimes since the 1990s, racism in Finnish politics and the politics of multiculturalism as practised in Finland, which studies have shown treat different minority groups in different ways. Vesa Puuronen is a sociologist and a researcher into racism who works at the University of Eastern Finland.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Saamentutkimus tänään [Sámi research today]

30 June 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Saamentutkimus tänään
[Sámi research today]
Toimittaneet [Edited by] Irja Seurujärvi-Kari, Petri Halinen & Risto Pulkkinen
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (SKS), 2011. 449 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-220-6
€ 28, paperback

This volume examines the Sámi people, the only indigenous tribe living in the European Union, via writers representing fourteen different fields of research. It is an updated and expanded edition of Johdatus Saamentutkimukseen (‘An introduction to Sámi research’, 1995) and makes use of The Saami. A Cultural Encyclopaedia (SKS, 2005). This book defines what is meant by the terms ‘indigenous tribe’ and ‘Sámi’, as well as describing the Sámi people’s biological and geographical environment, their prehistory and history and a linguistic and genetic outline. It also deals with their spiritual and material culture, from folk beliefs to handicrafts and arts, as well as reindeer herding. The status of the Sámi people is examined with regard to human rights and land ownership rights and compared to the situation of other indigenous tribes. Currently between 70,000 and 82,000 Sámi live in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia, with around 10,000 of them in Finland. The Sámi population in Finland has remained constant for the past 15 years, but as many as 60 per cent of them now live outside the traditional Sámi homelands.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

The politics of difference

17 June 2011 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Right or wrong, my country? Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Big electoral turnouts are generally considered a good thing. But, writes columnist Jyrki Lehtola, in Finland the fact that the vote went up in the last Finnish general election caused a revelation. Educated urbanites and the media (perhaps near enough the same thing), are shocked by how 20 per cent of their fellow Finns think – and the ramifications caused tremors all across Europe

Listen up. Diversity is a resource. Except of course if it’s the sort of diversity that is a resource for the wrong people.

That sort of diversity isn’t the least bit nice. In Finland in the spring, we ran into the sort of diversity that even got the rest of Europe to start worrying. Out in the thickets and forests, diverse people had been springing up in secret, people of whose existence we urbanites were entirely unaware.

And they threatened to bring Europe down. Europe. Which was a bit much. More…

Språk och politisk mobilisering. Finlandssvenskar i publikdemokrati [Language and political mobilisation. Finland-Swedes in public democracy]

10 June 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Språk och politisk mobilisering. Finlandssvenskar i publikdemokrati
[Language and political mobilisation. Finland-Swedes in public democracy]
Red. [in Swedish; ed. by] Kimmo Grönlund
Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland (The Society of Swedish Literature in Finland), 2011. 236 p.
ISBN 978-951-583-224-5
€ 29, paperback

Under the Finnish Constitution, Finnish and Swedish are the country’s national languages. The status of Swedish is currently the subject of debate: on the one hand there is concern about the adequacy of Swedish-language services, while on the other there is a strong opposition among the Finnish-speaking majority to the mandatory study of Swedish. This book discusses, for example, the basis on which Finland’s 5.5 per cent Swedish-speaking minority elects its party and its candidates in national elections, and the importance of the Swedish language in this choice. Research suggests that Svenska Folkpartiet, the Swedish People’s Party, would gain increased backing if it were to emphasise the language question and seeking support for Swedish-speaking districts, rather than by targeting Finnish-speakers and bilingual citizens with an interest in minority issues. The book also contains a summary of the results of the Svensk politik i Finland (Politics in Swedish-speaking Finland) research project; Kimmo Grönlund – also director of research at Åbo Akademi – was head of the project.
Translated by David McDuff

Heikki Hiilamo: Uusi hyvinvointivaltio [The new welfare state]

1 June 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Uusi hyvinvointivaltio
[The new welfare state]
Helsinki: Like Publishing, 2011. 131 p.
ISBN 978-952-01-0615-7
€ 17, paperback

There is concern in Finland about the decline of the Nordic welfare state and the return of a class society. Problems exist with regard to issues such as the country’s aging population, changes in the structure of the labour market, the increase in income disparity, and lifestyle issues. The impoverishment caused by the recession of the 1990s did not decrease in the early 2000s, as could be seen in things like the rise of bread lines, much debated by Finns. The author – an expert on the welfare state and a poverty researcher – examines the values of the good society and its institutions. He discusses welfare as the politics of social possibilities: ‘The current system does not sufficiently allow the individual to come up with his own initiatives for positive change – instead, it fetters those initiatives.’ Hiilamo’s campaining book reflects on how the welfare state could be developed twenty years after the recession crisis, and how the middle class might be brought to realise that the growth in income disparity also affects their own welfare.
Translated by David McDuff


Kvinnornas Helsingfors: en kulturhistorisk guide [Women’s Helsinki: a culture-historical guidebook]

6 May 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kvinnornas Helsingfors: en kulturhistorisk guide
[Women’s Helsinki: a cultural-historical guidebook]
Red. [Ed. by] Anna Biström, Rita Paqvalén, Hedvig Rask
Helsingfors: Schildts, 2010. 251 p., ill.
ISBN 978-951-50-2007-9
Finnish-language edition: Naisten Helsinki: kulttuurihistoriallinen opas
ISBN 978-951-50-1994-3
€ 34, paperback

A group comprising fourteen women has addressed the question of what the map of Helsinki would look like seen through women’s history: what are the most significant places and monuments; what traces of women’s history could one read in the fabric of the city? This book portrays various eras in the city’s history from the 16th century onwards, along with profiles of female pioneers in fields from architecture to parliamentarians, from early political activists to present-day squatters. Helsinki has often been called ‘the city of women’ due to the large influx of women who came to work in the Finnish capital, particularly in the early 20th century – the increase in the number of office girls even boosted the publishing and film industries. In his Finnish letters written in the 1890s, Spanish author and diplomat Ángel Ganivet expressed his horror at the bicycling women of Helsinki. This book also includes pieces written by prominent contemporary women, from Finnish President Tarja Halonen to author Pirkko Saisio.
Translated by Ruth Urbom

Kirjoituksia sankaruudesta [Writings on heroism]

25 March 2011 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kirjoituksia sankaruudesta
[Writings on heroism]
Toim. [Ed. by] Ulla-Maija Peltonen & Ilona Kemppainen
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2010. 330 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-207-7
€ 29, paperback

This book examines Finnish heroism and anti-heroism by using approaches from folklore studies, history and literary theory. Political ‘heroism’ manufactured by the media is explored through a study of in-depth personal portraits of Finnish politicians published in the country’s biggest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, between 1981 and 2005. According to the research material, a positive impression is made by a narrative about a politician who is an independent thinker even in the context of his own party, from an ordinary home, engaged in manual work in his youth and risen to success overcoming setbacks through his own merits and without intrigue. The story of the European Union’s Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, is a heroic story about a politician who dares believe in a European Finland even when it was disadvantageous to his career. Since the 1990s, writers have begun to take a renewed interest in war heroism; the climate in the 1960s and 1970s was pacifist, but now the ‘Winter War spirit’, which is deemed heroic, has been surfacing in an ever-increasing variety of situations, including economic crises.
Translated by Ruth Urbom