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Scandal-hit foreign minister Ilkka Kanerva (national coalition Kokoomus party) has pulled out of a seminar in Tallinn that he was due to take part in this morning, reports the Aktuellt news bulletin (Radio Vega). The Estonian meeting arrangers were the ones to annouce this. As reported previously, Kanerva has been involved in a scandal in which he sent over 200 text messages to an erotic dancer. The gossip magazine Hymy will publish a selection of these in its next issue.
Notably Kanerva already arrived in the Estonian capital yesterday. One must wonder what has happened during yesterday evening and this morning in Kokoomus circles? Is Kanerva’s resignation or a reshuffle of Kokoomus’ government ministers imminent?
The human rights organisation Amnesty International has said it is disappointed as to how Finland has reacted to the events in Tibet.
Amnesty Finland’s operation leader Frank Johansson said that he was disappointed that Finland had not raised the Tibet question during the UN’s human rights council’s meeting. Many other UN members have. According to Amnesty Finland, the debate in Finland has varied between two extremes; a total boycott of the Olympic games and the fear of insulting the Chinese authorities.
Amnesty hopes that Finland will demand that a UN inspection group is sent to Tibet to observe the situation. At the current time, Amnesty does not support a boycott of the Peking Olympics games.
The mayor of Easter Island Pedro Edmunds Paoa says that the Finnish tourist that cut part of an ear from one of the island’s famous Moai-statues should pay for his crime with his own ear.
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth as the saying goes. An ear for an ear, that would be justice according to my understanding”, the mayor said to Chilean radio yesterday, according to the the Finnish news agency FNB-STT via Vasabladet’s website.
The mayor was clearly not placated by the Finnish tourist’s letter of apology in which he wrote that he deeply regretted his actions and apologised to the Chilean authorities and Easter Island’s residents.
The 26-year old Finnish tourist cut a part of the ear off of the 4 metre high statue on Easter Sunday and is now waiting to find out his penalty on Easter Island. In similar cases this has been a fine.
Svenska kulturfonden (The Swedish Cultural Fund) will likely make grants worth a record-breaking 38 million euros this year. That’s over 50% more than last year. This is according to a report by Yle.
After the economic depression at the start of the 1990s, the Cultural fund has grown fast. Returns have grown by between 5% and 50% per year since 1995, a year in which the fund gave 2 million euros to support causes.
The Swedish Cultural Fund works to support and strengthen the Swedish language in Finland, to develop skills, competence and creativity amongst Swedish-speaking Finns, and to support solidarity amongst and the identity of the Swedish-speaking Finns.
On an everyday level, it’s probably most well-known for granting scholarships to university students via its participation in the Swedish Study Fund.
Svenska kulturfonden is celebrating its 100th anniversary during 2008.
Even if racism is present out in society, it doesn’t get past the garrison gates. There one is treated surprisingly well, according to Awad Khaliif who is currently doing his military service at Sandhamn (Santahamina).
Hufvudstadsbladet (HBL) reports that immigrants are treated impartially and racism is as good as non-existent within the army.
“I don’t feel like an outsider. The atmosphere is good the whole time,” says Awad Khaliif to HBL.
He comes from a Somalian immigrant family but speaks fluent Finnish, like most of the youth that have grown up in Helsinki. In contrast to his friends of the majority population, Khaliif has experienced a lot of racism out in society.
“But not here. One notes that the training makes sure to do its best so that all feel welcome”
The Defence Forces zero tollerance for racism and discrimination is obviously not just nice words on a piece of paper. That said, Khaliif doesn’t believe that racism stops existing just because one is doing one’s military service. But it does at least become invisible.
“Perhaps it is because of the system that one never hears any swearwords here. The military has its rules. It’s compulsory to follow them.”
Khaliif believes that for the most part racism is on the way to diminishing in Finland. The younger generations that have grown up together with immigrant children are clearly more tolerant than the older people.
“We went to the same schools and now we put on the same military uniforms to learn how to defend the same country. With that skin colour doesn’t any longer matter”
Khaliif seems neither more or less motivated than the other conscripts to complete military service. But if Finland ended up at war, he would fight for the country.
“One certainly must”
Khaliif is doing his service in Uusimaa’s jägare battalion (Uudenmaan Jääkäripataljoona) as is also Fatmir Pllana. He is a Kosovo Albanian and came to Finland when he was four. He is very satisfied with how he has been received in the army.
“Here everyone is treated the same. I know several Somalians and they have never complained,” he says.
Pllana thinks that the Defence Forces are good at integrating immigrants.
“The training can handle people. If someone finds it difficult to understand they have the patience to teach the same thing as many times as necessary until it’s understood. That’s how it must be, we’re dealing with weapons”
Pllana does not believe that the conscripts with an immigrant background are any more or less motivated than others to do military service. On the other hand, he would guess that, as a rule, immigrants are in a bit better physical condition. Being overweight is at least not an immigrant-related problem.
“We have different backgrounds. The Finnish people have been living in such good conditions that they don’t take keeping in shape seriously”.
For Pllana it’s a natural thing to do. He plays football for Grankulla IFK. Accordingly he got through the army’s traditional 12-minute running test well.
“I’ve been playing since I was little. Normally I could pass 3 000 metres in the Cooper test but I had a bit of a cold and stopped at 2 925.”
Nevertheless, not all immigrants have an athlete’s fitness, not even Kosovo Albanians. Jeton Kuka, who’s training to be a signal man at the Swedish-speaking Nylands Brigad’s mortar company stopped at 2 300 metres. Other than that he’s got through Dragsvik (where Nylands brigad is located) well. Even if he has not been affected by racism in civilian life, he does think that military service can facilitate integration because the military command decides who gives and who takes orders regardless of skin colour or ancestry.
“Zero tolerance of discrimination creates a secure situtation where everyone is treated the same. It’s not like that out in society”
Kuka’s family fled the war in Kosovo nine years ago. He was 15 then and ended up in Oravais (in Österbotten) where he began to integrate into the Swedish-speaking Finland, Svenskfinland. He received Finnish citizenship two years ago and therefore was called up for military service.
Apart from the 2 first weeks, everything’s gone well. When he was recruited in January, the independence process in Kosovo was at a sensitive stage and Kuka found it hard to grasp the machine gun training.
“It was terrible but it stopped”
Now he’s not a bit different from any of the other men in the defence service.
“The hardest is getting up in the mornings”, he says.
Kuka will complete his military duty in 6 months. At the beginning of July it’ll be time for the future signalmen to put back on their civil clothes.
“I’m out in 109 days”, he clarifies.
Image: Nylands brigad/Defence Forces. http://www.mil.fi/merivoimat/joukot/uudpr/index_sv.dsp
This blog entry is largely a translation of an article from Saturday 22.3.’s Hufvudstadsbladet. My apologies if it reads a bit hard in English, I’m no professional translator!
Yle is reporting on a piece of American research from Nebraska University that shows a significant growth in the differences in life expectancies within the American population. The lack of equality between groups is staggering.
In the early 1980s, the life expectancy of the richest groups was on average 2,8 years more (75,8 in total) than the poorest (73,0).
By the turn of the millennium, this difference had increased to 4,5 years (79,2 vs 74,7). The largest gap, more than 14 years(!), was found to be between black men (66,9 years) and white women (81,1 years).
Income, education level, ethnic and religious backgrounds could all be clearly seen to have a differentiating effect.
The researchers attribute the figures to better access to health services and more effective treatments/medicines amongst the middle- and upper classes. These groups are also more likely to take heed of health advice regarding food, drink and exercise and to smoke less.
As a mentioned in my introductory first posting about a month ago, part of my inspiration for joining the world of blogging was the blog Finland for Thought – the viewpoint of American Espoo resident Phil Schwarzmann on Finnish politics and life.
Schwarzmann mentioned the author/publisher Alexis Kouros in several articles in his blog during the last year or so. Kouros clearly is not one to take any criticism of himself and so decided to make mischief for Finland for Thought, according to that blog itself. According to Schwarzmann’s blog, in 2007 Kouros wrote to Google’s advertising service falsely claiming he was acting for several Finnish organisations (including the national broadcaster Yle and the news agency STT-FNB) in an attempt to convince Google to pull their adverts from Finland for Thought. Finland for Thought reported that after this smear failed, he reported Schwarzmann to the police who swiftly concluded that there was nothing worth investigating.
This year, 2008, Kouros launched legal action against Schwarzmann in the Helsinki court. Schwarzmann, via Finland for Thought, described that in this process Kouros refused to meet with Schwarzmann or his legal team or to enter into any negotiations. Schwarzmann, via his blog, stated he would fight Kouros’ action, writing in Finland for Thought on 2.3.2008 (in an entry as of 24.3. deleted):
“I hired the best lawyer in Finland when it comes to defending the rights of bloggers, Herkko Hietanen of Turre Legal, co-founder of EFFI (Electronic Frontier Finland), a non-profit advocacy and legal organization with the stated purpose of being dedicated to preserving free speech rights in the context of today’s digital age.
Finns are strong believers in free speech and Finland has an excellent judicial system, I couldn’t be in a better place for a situation like this. I’d be scared if I were in the U.S. where big money and big businesses like Kouros’ can always beat a little guy like me in the courts. The Finnish police have already dismissed these charges, and I know a judge will too. Justice will be served!!”
Yet, mysteriously on the day before the actual trial, Schwarzmann agreed to an out of court settlement with Korous (although notably not even mentioning him by name in the announcement of this) – the terms of which they have agreed to keep secret for 20 years. It has become immediately apparent that the terms must include the removal of all references (no matter how minor) to Alexis Kouros from Finland for Thought. Indeed, all the entries that mention him and even the court case (other than the settlement announcement) have been removed. Hardly living up to the ideals of free speech that Schwarzmann has claimed he would defend.
It’s hard to know what to make of this. Disappointment perhaps. A feeling that Finland for Thought, which had previously allowed freedom of speech on all sorts of controversial matters, is now tainted. Perhaps both of these but also a certain sympathy for Schwarzmann. It is very easy to condemn him for not standing up for free speech but only because it’s easy also to forget that he is one private person who has had to face action from a more influential individual with more resources to fight his case. Finland for Thought will doubtless suffer from a loss of credibility for at least a short time amongst its regular contributors and commentators. Let’s not forget though, that this attempt to prevent the freedom of expression did not start with Schwarzmann.
The controversial outspoken Swedish-speaking Centre party district chairman Peter Albäck has declared (via his blog) that the Swedish Peoples’ Party (Sfp) threatened to quit the government coalition if no proposal for a Swedish-speaking district was included in the court district reform plan (announced about a week ago).
Albäck makes the claim amongst many of his regular denunciations of Sfp (indeed, even to the impartial political observer, his blog seems much more concentrated on forwarding a personal vendetta against Sfp than presenting Centre’s views or policies). Senior Sfp members (including Ulla-Maj Wideroos) have denied that his accusation is true and again expressed dismay that Albäck is threatening the good cooperation between Centre and Sfp at government level.
It is indeed hard not to doubt the trustworthyness of Albäck’s statement, especially given the way he decries any one who does not hold his opinions on his blog (for instance regularly calling people who sympathise with Sfp politics as “taliban”.) If Sfp had threatened to quit, surely they wouldn’t want to keep it secret. For many of their electorate, it would be seen as a good thing; cast-iron proof that Sfp is standing-up for Swedish-speaking Finns. One has to wonder if Albäck’s latest attempted smear on Sfp actually does it more favours than harm.
Image source: Peter Albäck, Centre party’s online image bank. Copyright Suomen keskusta.
The Gymnasium Student’s Association of Finland (SLL) wants an increase in the number of Finnish-speaking students taking Swedish as part of their school-leaving exam. In order to do this, the association is suggesting that the value of the Swedish test is raised to a similar prestige as the civil service language test, or at least for the written part.
The association also suggests that the student exam test in Swedish receives a speaking part.
According to the association, the problem of fewer Finnish-speaking students taking Swedish in their student exam should be solved by measures increasing the motivation to learn languages.