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The First of May is a public holiday in Finland, traditionally a day of political activities (marches by political groups and speeches by various politicians from all parties – notably in Sweden and many other countries, it’s exclusively the left of centre that does this, in Finland it’s become a more general day for politics). The day before (30th April) is called, in Swedish, Valborgsmässoafton or more commonly Valborg – or here in Finland, often in Finland-Swedish Vappen (Vappu in Finnish). This is most especially a day for the university students, but often all of us who graduated from school wear our white student caps at some point. Everyone can join in the parties and general fun of the day, which is traditionally seen as the marker of the start of spring.
So, perhaps you’re a foreigner in Finland, and aren’t quite sure what to do on Valborg. Here’s a beginner’s guide.
Picnic. It’s not really the done thing to eat inside on Valborg. After all, spring is here. So, grab some sausages and get the grill out. It’s sausages/hotdogs that rule the day of Valborg cuisine.
Feel cold. Unfortunately, the Finnish weather is often not as aware that it’s the beginning of spring as we perhaps would like it to be. On Valborg, one generally feels cold at some point because we’ve managed to convince ourselves in advance that it’s practically the beginning of summer. Either that or you’re too drunk to realise that a t-shirt and shorts doesn’t work in a sleet storm.
Summer house party. Well, as it’s practically summer, often the partying takes place in the summer house – for perhaps the first time of the year. A restaurant or bar would just be too “indoors”, and if it really is too cold then the summer house is still a respectable component of the out of doors summer lifestyle.
Beer. Booze. Well, probably you’ve realised that drinking is a major part of most Finnish holidays. This one is no exception and perhaps only second to midsummer in terms of drunkeness. And you can’t beat a good cold beer on the warm spring day of Valborg… hmm. (If you in a city, it’s a good idea to watch where you’re walking the next morning – the pavements often show evidence of the “aftermath”).
Speech. If your (un)lucky, especially in some Swedish-speaking areas, somebody prominent in the local community (usually some old guy, who has already had a little too much to drink by this time) will make a speech to welcome the spring. If there’s a cold wind, rain, sleet or even snow, this will generally increase in strength at this point.
So, enjoy the festivities. And remember to stock up on headache pill in advance! Glada vappen!
I will be back with more regular blogging soon. Right now, it’s holiday time. And aside from that, I’ve been very busy with some work projects of late.
Finnish politicians, or at least those in the governing coalition, appear to be split on whether or not they should boycott the summer olympic games in Beijing.
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (centre party) has made it clear that he will attend the opening ceremony and stay for a few days to watch events with Finns competing in them. He made it clear that he thought that Olympics is a sporting event and not a political one. Vanhanen’s decision has been criticised by all of the candidates for the chairmanship of the opposition SDP. Although, interestingly, it seems that President Tarja Halonen (who is a nominal social democrat, although Finnish presidents resign party membership when elected) will attend.
The Minister of Culture and Sport Stefan Wallin (Swedish peoples’ party Sfp) has made it clear that he will be on his summer holiday during the period of the Olympics, with no further comment, clearly trying to avoid entering into the controversy.
Today, in a prominent difference of opinion with the prime minister, the foreign minister Alexander Stubb (coalition party Kokoomus) said that he wouldn’t attend if he were invited. He did say he thought it would be ok to participate if China began negotiations with the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama. Clearly, Stubb does not share Vanhanen’s opinion that the olympics is just a sporting event.
From both the statements and the actions of the Chinese government, it’s hard to see how the games are removed from politics. The Chinese domestic media’s coverage of the worldwide torch relay has clear propaganda undertones, with the protests that dogged the torch’s progress in places like London, Paris and San Francisco glossed over and choice pictures of the flame with dignitaries emphasised (and often the only pictures shown). The Chinese government were probably hoping to use the Beijing Olympics as the ultimate propaganda tool – a way to make China look great and impressive on the world stage and show their own people that China is popular abroad, with world leaders there sharing in China’s achievement. Their plans for this have horribly back-fired, with it instead focusing the world’s gaze towards China’s human rights abuses. It’s hard not to imagine the Communist party’s top officials cursing over ever applying to host them.
Sport, ideally, should be apolitical. It would be grossly unfair to prevent the athletes from attending and competing at the games. After all, many of them will have spent the entirity of the last 4 years (if not longer) preparing for olympic competition. It would be cruel to deprive them of their chance to compete. However, politicians do not need to be at a sporting event for it to take place. In fact, politicians – who are, to state the obvious, political in nature – give the event a political aspect by their very attendance. People like Vanhanen and Halonen are, after all, not going as private people to spectate. They’re going to represent Finland by virtue of their political roles. So, it’s rather rich for them to suggest there’s nothing political about the games in that context. Thus, I do think they should reconsider their decisions to go. They can send a message to the Chinese regime that they will not endorse a country which is grossly violating human rights by staying at home. Better still, they can use the Olympics as leverage. Tell China they’ll come – but only if China improves its human rights situation markedly and starts talking to the Dalai Lama. This event might be the only opportunity the rest of the world has this much leverage over China for a long time. Perhaps our politicians use take it.
A Pirate Party has now been established in Finland, according to the newspaper Turun Sanomat. The party’s main policy is to loosen regulations surrounding copyright.
The group has modelled itself on Sweden’s longer-established Pirate Party which has the aim of legalising the sharing of materials such as films, music and games via file-sharing services on the internet. According to the law, such activity is at present illegal and a breach of copyright. It must be said, that the Swedish party has not received many votes in Swedish elections since its founding but has had some success in bringing debate on copyright law higher up the political agenda. The Swedish Left Party (which is represented in the Swedish parliament) has said that it now supports an easing of copyright restrictions, so long as file-sharing doesn’t become commercial.
Because I know how much you all like gossip (but of course, would never admit to) – and because I don’t have much time at the moment to write something more intellectual (or at least lenghier!), here’s a picture of Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (centre) together with his girlfriend Sirkka Mertala from yesterday evening. They are seen being received by the President of the Republic Tarja Halonen at the annual dinner for foreign diplomats at the president’s palace in Helsinki. It’s the first time they’ve appeared together in public since the Emma Gala (music awards) at the beginning of March.
To bring a glimmer of credibility to this posting, Hufvudstadsbladet reports that President Halonen used her dinner speech to speak on the topic of climate change, international development funding and Finland’s role in the international community. She emphasised the effect of climate change on the lives of women in poor developing countries.
Picture: Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari via Hufvudstadsbladet’s website
The Nordic Youth Council (UNR), the youth political organisation of the Nordic Council, has decided that it will allow the English language to be used when necessary in meetings. This goes against the official Nordic language policy which stipulates that the working languages are Swedish/Norwegian/Danish (which are mutually intelligible).
According to UNR, Nordic cooperation should be open to all individuals in the Nordic countries and not be an exclusive club for those that can speak a Scandinavian tongue.
UNRs president Lisbeth Sejer Götzsche said that she had come to the conclusion that speaking English on occasion would not make her any less Danish or Nordic. However, she pointed out it would be easier for UNR to operate in solely the Scandinavian languages if it received more support for interpretation.
It’s hard to understand why this decision is necessary. Finnish-speaking Finns, Icelanders, Greenlanders and the Faeroese all must study one of the mainland Scandinavian languages (in practice Swedish for Finnish-speaking Finns and Danish for the others) in school. UNR seems to be sending out a signal that says the education systems are failing to perform their roles. It also seems to be conceding and even collaborating with the English take-over of various domains which is damaging for the vitality of the Scandinavian languages. Of course, English is a global language and it’s convenient that we have such a tongue – afterall, this blog is written in it to reach out. But the Nordic Council and its youth wing are meant to be forums for the Nordic countries – it’s not an entity that encompasses the wider globe. English or any other non-Nordic language simply shouldn’t be necessary.
Picture is of the Nordic Youth Council’s members. Source: Nordbild/norden.org
There’s been a couple of wrangles over what things should be called in Swedish-speaking Finland in the last few weeks.
Firstly the south-western municipalities of Pargas, Houtskär, Iniö, Korpo and Nagu which are merging to form one district at the beginning of 2009 are having difficulty in coming to any kind of agreement as to what to call their new municipality. There have been numerous proposals. The joint committee of decision makers from the five municipalities originally intended their new municipal name to be Väståboland (West Åboland). However, the quasi-government langauge body ‘The research institute for the languages of Finland” recommended that the new entity call itself Gullkrona. Other candidates were Berghamn, Erstan, Östad, Skärgårdsstad and simply Pargas after the largest existing town. The name Pargas was predictably popular with the Pargas town councillors. However, the others can’t seem to form any agreement. The latest suggestion is Havskrona.
The Finance Ministry has clearly got fed up with waiting to hear what the new archipelago municipality will be called. This week it announced that the district has a maximum of 2 more months (until mid-June) to settle the issue otherwise it will impose a decision upon the new municipality. If this should happen, it would be the first time that a municipality has failed to be able to agree on what it should call itself.
The other name debate that has been raging has been in northern Österbotten. There, the daily newspapers Jakobstads Tidning and Österbottningen are merging to form a single paper from 23 May this year. The papers are centred in the two towns of Jakobstad and Karleby (Kokkola), who are traditionally local rivals. Last month the newspapers’ board announced that the new merged newspaper would be called “Norra Tidningen” (“The northern newspaper”). This was met with uproar by the readers of both newspapers, who wrote into the paper’s letters section wondering if they were now living in Lapland. Additionally, the proposed abbreviation “Norran” does not come off the tongue well in the dialects of Österbotten – plus it’s already in use by the Swedish newspaper Norra Västerbotten. So, after continued pressure from the readers (and even a few politicians), the newspapers’ board relented and gave their readership the option to vote between three options; ‘Norra Tidningen’, ‘Nya Österbotten’ (“New Österbotten”) and ‘Österbottens Tidning” (“Österbotten’s Newspaper”). It was announced this week that Österbottens Tidning had won the day convincingly. Something that even the residents of Jakobstad and Karleby could agree on.
Newspaper image copyright Jakobstads tidning/HSS Media ab.
Nearly 4 out of 10 Swedish-speaking Finns believe that an organised resistance exists towards Swedish-speaking Finns and Swedish-speaking culture in Finland.
This is revealed in a opinion survey that the Swedish department of Finland’s public service broadcaster Yle ordered from the Institute for Finland-Swedish Societal Research (IFS) at the university Åbo akademi.
38% of Swedish-speaking Finns believe there is an organised opposition to all things Finland-Swedish, 35% don not share this view and 27% chose not to answer this question.
According to Yle, IFS researcher Kjell Herberts thinks the trend is clear – Swedish-speaking Finns feel concerned and anxious and see that understanding for the Swedish-speaking element in Finland can no longer be taken for granted. Herberts believes that, for example, the handling of the restructuring of the municipalities and basic services can have contributed to this viewpoint. In the view of Herberts, things felt much more secure in the past. Now Swedish-speaking Finns often see that it’s just talk, not action, when decision makers promise to safe-guard Swedish-language services.
Low marks for almost all decision makers
As part of the survey, respondents were asked to rate various institutions and the parliamentary political parties, using a school-style grade (from 4-10), for how good they are in handling Swedish-speaking issues. Few got good grades.
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen’s (centre) coalition government received a low 5,9.
The Swedish Peoples’ Party (SFP) received the best grade, 8. This is quite a surprise as SFP has been criticised in recent times for not managing to succeed in defending Swedish-speaking interests well enough – it has sat in coalition governments that have removed Swedish as a compulsory element of the school graduation exam for Finnish-speaking students and that have reformed institutions in ways seen as marginalising the Swedish-speaking influence.
The other political parties received even worse grades. The Social Democrats (SDP) received 6,3. The Christian democrats got 6 and the Green party 5,9. The Left Alliance received 5,6. The two biggest parties in the current parliament, National Coalition (Kokoomus) and Centre received 5,5 and 5,4 respectively. The lowest grade was given to the True Finns party, who received 4,4.
85% think Swedish should be part of the school graduation exam
If it were up to Swedish-speaking Finns, Swedish would again be introduced as a compulsory element of the school graduation exam for Finnish-speaking students.
53% of respondents would make the other domestic language (i.e. Swedish for Finnish-speakers and Finnish for Swedish-speakers) obligatory in the test. 32% support making it compulsory but don’t believe it’s a realistic proposition. 15% thought it should not be compulsory.
In the future it will be hotels without pornographic tv-channels for Åland’s provincial government employees when they travel outside of Åland on business trips.
The requirement is part of the Åland provincial government’s new travel policy. The porn-free model is taken from Sweden, until now the only country that lists “porn-free” hotels.
“We know that it can be difficult to book porn-free hotels on the Finnish mainland and in the other Nordic countries. But, that is our goal”, says the head of Åland’s provincial civil service Arne Selander, according to FNB-STT newsagency.
Looks like there’s going to be a lot less “Other refreshments” showing up on the hotel receipts of Åland’s officials.
None of the Nordic countries’ prime ministers are ready to boycott the summer Olympics in China.
“I’ll make my decision in the summer but I’m likely to take part in the opening ceremony” said Finnish prime minister Matti Vanhanen (centre) from Sweden.
None of his colleagues are planning to travel to Beijing but the Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen underlines that this shouldn’t be seen as a political position, “I didn’t take part in the opening ceremony in Greece either”
The Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg commented that one should never say never but was extremely doubtful that a boycott would have the desired effect, “Even the Dalai Lama isn’t calling for a boycott”.
The prime ministers are taking part in the Nordic Globalisation Forum in Riksgränsen in Sweden. The host is the Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who also has firmly rejected the idea of a boycott, “Sweden shall not boycott the Olympic games, neither opening ceremony nor any other aspect”.
Reinfeldt has come under a lot of criticism during the last few weeks, particularly from the Swedish opposition Social Democrats, for his planned official visit to China this coming Saturday.