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The Finnish people are not particularly concerned about the security situation here as a result of the events in the Caucasus. According to an opinion poll, ordered by Finland’s public radio and tv company Yle, 60% of respondents didn’t see the war as having any effect on Finland’s security status. A third did consider that the events in Georgia mean Finland is less secure than before. People living in eastern Finland (i.e. nearer the border with Russia) were slightly more concerned than those elsewhere in the country.
38% of Finns saw Russia as more guilty of starting the conflict. 10% believed Georgia was more in the wrong. 28% believed both parties bore equal responsibility. A fourth didn’t wish to take a position on who was more behind the conflict.
Events in Georgia continue to cause concern despite the ceasefire now having been signed by both Moscow and Tbilisi. Russian troops appear to be leaving Georgian territory deliberately slowly. Yesterday, President Tarja Halonen telephoned Russian president Medvedev. According to the president’s press office, Halonen pressed Medvedev to accept an increase in the number of OSCE monitors from 10 to 100. This seems to show that the nominally-social democratic president of the republic is supporting foreign minister Alexander Stubb´s (Kokoomus national coalition party) OSCE-chairmanship and backing up his rather strong involvement in this crisis. It would have been easy to assume that there might have been tensions between NATO-enthusiast Stubb and the president, who has been restrained (and some might even say, too deferential) when dealing with the Russians in the past. Responsibility for foreign policy is shared by the president and government, according to the Finnish constitution. The president is perceived as having the right to lead it.
Russia has also announced it is to fit nuclear weapons to naval vessels patrolling the Baltic sea. This is perhaps concerning more for the risk of accidents than any actual deliberate chance of them being used as force. According to many reports, much of even the operable parts of Russia’s naval fleet are in extremely poor condition. In other words, things haven’t improved since the Kursk disaster. Let’s just hope something more serious doesn’t occur in the Baltic.
Centre Party / Kronoby
The chairman of the Swedish-speaking district of Finland’s largest political party, Centre party, Peter Albäck has admitted creating a false profile on the popular Österbotten blogsite Bloggen.fi according to a report from Österbottens Tidning.
Albäck, whose blog is a considerable talking point in local politics in northern Österbotten, created a profile called ‘Mirakelmannen’ (The Miracle Man), supposedly a 27-year-old bilingual law student from Vasa. He then used it to post positive comments to entries on his own blog – particularly those critical to the Swedish Peoples’ Party (Sfp), which is the dominant force in local politics in the largely Swedish-speaking districts of Österbotten. Albäck is hoping to lead the recently formed Swedish Centre Party district to success in Swedish-speaking Finland, where the Centre party has not been a force in the past. To do so, he will need to win votes from Sfp. Albäck´s own blog on the Bloggen.fi website is used by him to pursue his throughts on politics and more often post articles that are heavily critical of SFP. He often makes very harsh reponses to anyone that does not share his ideas, regularly making personal attacks on his opponents. This has, however, made his blog a popular page on the internet – it is, it’s fair to say, far from a dull and dry read!
The bloggen.fi system allows blog-owners to see the IP-numbers of commentators. Albäck’s false identity was revealed when Albäck and ‘Mirakelmannen’ posted remarks on the blogs of other bloggen.fi users with the same IP-number. Although it is technically possible for 2 users to have the same IP-numbers, in one of the comments made under the ‘Mirakelmannen’ fake tag, the Kronoby politician wrote he was in the US where clearly it’s even less likely that another user would have the same Finnish IP-number as that of Albäck’s internet connection.
Just one and a half hours after this revelation by another Bloggen.fi user on their blog, ‘Mirakelmannen’ had deleted his blog entries and left a message stating ´Young and disappointed. Now you can find me on Suomi24 [a popular Finnish-language web portal and discussion forum] where there is nobody from SFP´.
According to the newspaper Österbottens Tidning (ÖT), Peter Albäck made telephone contact with them late this afternoon. ÖT’s reporter asked ´What comments do you have on the allegations that the computers of you and Mirakelmannen both have the same IP-number?´
Albäck responded, ´I have set a trap for them. This is a scandal. If you write something about this, then you are involved too. This is an unbelievable smear campaign that is going on against me´.
The paper reports that Albäck then went on to speak about a conspiracy against him and admitted that Mirakelmannen was an invention. The paper asked him of whom.
´We are several´, Centre’s district chairman replied.
When asked who these were, the politician acused ÖT’s reporter of working for the Swedish People’s Party. He then asserted that apart from 3 (users called) ‘X’, the SFP parliament member Ulla-Maj Wideroos is also involved in the internet plot against him,
´Mirakelmannen has, like a miracle, proved who is behind the plot against me´ said Albäck, according to ÖT’s report.
After these events, it’s hard not to call into question the trustworthyness of the Centre party’s district leader. Not only has he created a fake identity, if ÖT’s quotes are accurate, he has effectively attempted to stifle the freedom of the press. It will remain to be seen what reaction central Centre Party headquarters has on this matter. It would seem strange if they find this sort of behaviour acceptable. It’s also hard not to see how this scandal can not harm the Centre party’s chances of making a breakthrough with Swedish speaking voters in this October’s municipal election. Surely party chiefs in Helsinki will, at least, be embarrased by behaviour like this by a senior party official. Or perhaps it will get missed, as they don’t read Swedish-language papers. Watch this space… the municipal election in Kronoby municipality promises to be particularly tense and exciting!
For those that read Swedish, you can find Peter Albäck’s blog here: http://www.bloggen.fi/riksdagskandidater. The blog of so-called Mirakelmannen can be found at http://www.bloggen.fi/mirakelmannen. Österbottens Tidning’s article on this matter is located here: http://www.ot.fi/story.aspx?storyID=25144
Obviously, the news in the last few days has been heavily dominated by the events in Georgia. Finland is abnormally prominent in having a role in events as we happen to currently hold the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europa, OSCE. Foreign minister Alexander Stubb (Kokoomus national coaltion party) has, together with the French foreign minister (France holds the EU presidency just now) travelled to both Georgia and Moscow to mediate.
Yle’s online news service has published an interesting look at what the press is saying on the conflict. I’ll do my best to summarise it here.
The Centre party’s organ Suomenmaa has compared Georgia’s fate with Finland’s. South Ossetia is a small strip of land, smaller than the northern municipality of Kuusamo, and yet the region has now become the centre for a conflict, the paper analyses. Stalin installed a Soviet-friendly government, the Kuusinen Terijoki government in Finland, but Russia has not done something similar in Georgia… yet, the paper says.
´Our neighbour finds itself with a war, with another neighbour´ writes the highest circulated Swedish-speaking newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet (HBL). HBL warns against drawing close parallels despite the easy to make associations with the Winter War and a Finnish West Karelia and a Russian East Karelia. ´The truth is not so simple´, writes Björn Månson in HBL, ´despite spontaneous sympathies with Georgia. It’s not coincidence that the European Nato-member countries have persistently opposed Georgian Nato-membership due to it being seen as an open provocation against Russia.´
If Georgia’s leadership believed it could have counted on US, Nato or other allies turning their verbal support into material action, then they made a miscalculation – according to HBL.
Several of Sweden’s newspapers take the similar viewpoints and go further in stating that there are clear indications that is is oil and gas that ensures an cautious EU reaction to the conflict.
Stockholm’s Dagens Nyheter’s leader column notes that a Russia that can’t tolerate a neighbouring country that has ambitions to move nearer to the west is a failed state with a leadership that looks as if it acts in panic. Oil and gas pipelines mean there is a potential for energy-related political pressure in several directions – and an extremely short distance from the exchange of words to all out war.
History has not ended, writes Stockholm’s Svenska Dagbladet (SvD). ‘Now we see with what ease Russia finds excuses to take itself to war with a neighbouring country. Is it not time for a new debate on defence policy?´ ponders Claes Arwidsson in SvD. In his leader, he quotes Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt (Swedish moderate party) who is presently the chairman of the Council of Europe:
´With the possible exception of Cyprus in 1974, the Council of Europe has never had to deal with a situation where there is war between two of its member states´.
Picture: Georgian president Micheil Saakasjvili, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb meeting in Tbilisi on Monday 11.8. Taken from Alexander Stubb’s blog (www.alexstubb.com).
Astrid Thors has announced that she will stand as a Swedish People’s Party (Sfp) candidate in her hometown, Helsinki, in October’s municipal election. Thors has never before been a candidate at municipal level. She has, however, previously been a civil servant at municipal level and worked for the Association of Municipalities. She has also served in the European Parliament.
According to a press release released by Sfp, Thors, who currently represents Helsinki as a member of parliament, says it’s “natural to also engage in municipal level politics”.
Thors is the Europe and Migration Minister in Finland’s government and has been involved in driving through more immigrant friendly policies. The Swedish People’s Party has one of the most positive attitudes towards immigration of Finland’s political parties. According to Sfp’s press release, Thors said that “As minister with responsibility for integration policies, I know that it is the municipalities that are decisive if integration policy is to succeed”.
Thors also believes that it’s vital that Helsinki is developed so that all of its citizens have sufficient recreation areas and access to sports facilities suitable for all ages. She also believes that elderly care must be improved and that it must be possible that service is available in one’s native language, “that includes elderly people with other mother tongues than Swedish and Finnish”.
Minister Thors was born and grew up in Haga and has lived in both Vallgård (Vallila) and Ulrikasborg (Ullanlinna). She currently lives in Tölö.
Two Swedish-speaking girls employed by the Soldier’s Home at the naval base in Obbnäs (Upinniemi in Finnish) in Kyrkslätt (Kirkkonummi) municipality received orders from their manager not to speak Swedish between themselves, according to a report in this morning’s Hufvudstadsbladet.
The paper reports that the incident occurred during the middle of June this year. One of the girls no longer works at the Soldier’s Home but the other is still there. Both are teenage upper-secondary school students.
According to the girls, they received on several occasions an order not to speak Swedish to each other in front of customers, which they regarded as embarassing. Both think it is tedious that as two Swedish-speaking Finns they should be forced to speak Finnish with each other. With customers, they always spoke Finnish.
The older colleague who made the instructions insists that she did it in a separate room away from customers. According to her, it’s not polite to speak Swedish and Finnish-speakers can become upset if they hear it. That Swedish is one of the country’s official languages is of no regard, according to her.
The head of the Solidier’s Home in Obbnäs, Raili Pursi, told Hufvudstadsbladet that the older colleague has now herself received instructions that she may not make demands regarding the Swedish language in the future. He told the paper, “Naturally, Swedish-speaking employees may speak their native language. Anything else is unacceptable.”
Soldier’s Homes are places run by the independent association ´Sotilaskotiliitto-Soldathemsförbundet ry/rf´ which is not a part of the defence forces. They are placed at military bases and are places for soldiers to spend their leisure time at, with cafeteria and games facilities etc.
Image: The Soldier’s Home in Dragsvik – where it is definitely allowed to speak Swedish, both between the staff and to the customers!
The American newspaper, Sports Illustrated, is predicting that Finland will only win two medals during the forthcoming summer olympic games in China’s capital – both in the javelin. According to Yle Sport, the newspaper predicts Tero Pitkämäki will win gold and Tero Järvenpää bronse. The javelin final is on 23 July. The javelin is one of the most popular athletics events in Finland and we have a good record of medals from the event in the past.
Sports Illustrated also predicts that the hosts, China, will pass Russia to take 2nd place in the final medal table. It suggests that the USA shall again rank highest in the summer games.
The newspaper predicts Sweden will get 5 medals – including 1 gold from Stefan Holm in the high jump. If the paper is correct, Norway will only get 2 silvers, Denmark can expect 2 golds.
Taking away only 2 medals from Peking would be a grave disappointment – although perhaps not totally unexpected. In the past, Finland has punched way above its weight in Olympics games. In fact, if one counts the total medals rewarded in the history of the modern games, we have the highest number of medals per capita. However, Athens in 2004 was a disappointment with Finland’s worst performance ever in the modern summer games – we took only 2 silver medals. Still, a gold in the favourite event javelin would be a popular and much celebrated victory. Good luck Teros!
Pictured is Tero Pitkämäki (celebrating becoming world champion, taking gold at the world championships in Osaka, year 2007)