Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Whole lot a blurring going on

Private Eye Cover
Originally uploaded by
My fascination on British politics has been long-lasting. I wrote earlier this year a big article for Suomen Kuvalehti on the rhetorical talent of the man in the left in the picture. Even if it would not be Blair talking, I love to follow a political setting where wording is appreciated.

Well, now there´s a genuine hype around the man on the right. David Cameron is the new leader of the Conservative Party and at least based on his first interview with the Guardian/Observer he seems to go for the same strategy as the guy on the left: reaching out for all, especially the socially conscious and increasingly wealthy middle class.

Few quotes from the interview:
"We think immigration is good for Britain; we think that there are clear benefits in a modern economy from having both emigration and immigration, but that net immigration has to have a very careful regard to good community relations and the fair provision of public services."
"I´m passionately committed to giving people who are being tortured and persecuted asylum, and that means not just letting them in."
"Political clubs ought to be open to everyone. Politics is an equal opportunity thing."

But then my favourite part of the interview: Cameron, who says he is a liberal Conservative (what an earth is that, I would say contradiction in terms) says he is a practical person and not a deeply ideological one. I find these kind of comments really worrying because they really make people dislike politics and politicians with values and belief. Politics should not be about management but about working towards certain goals with clear values.

The most worrying thing is that when you read more closely what Cameron is saying, he is driving a small government policy. The following statements are far from practical solutions but strong value statements:
"Rolling back the state must never leave the poor, the vulnerable and weak behind, and that´s where the state clearly has a role."
He says that the state should give over much more of its work because voluntary bodies are "doing the most innovative and incredible work".
"There is such a thing as society. It´s not the same thing as the state."

Hmm...I think it is quite classical conservative rhetorics to brand public sector as ineffective and promote voluntary work where it would save costs.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Who to vote for?

Putin and Halonen in Turku
Originally uploaded by
When being ill last week I spent hours and hours in bed. Boring as everyone knows. So I amused myself by playing with the election machines (websites where you answer a list of questions and the software calculates which one of the candidates is closest to you with his or her answers, check YLE, MTV3 and Helsingin Sanomat).

Well, of course the election in question is the one of the Finnish president. We Finns are going to vote in January. The current president (in pic) is likely to win already on the first round. I just received my letter indicating where I should vote.

I also spent two hours watching a stream of a presidential debate a few weeks back. Both in the machines as well as in the debate I was highly interested in how they see the role of Finland in the global and European context and how they formulate their views on immigration. I think these are the few issues where the president really could have an influence.

Well, I found myself being disappointed again. Most of the candidates bring out the issue of unemployment of "real" Finns when immigration is considered ("Before taking more immigrants we need to tackle the problem of unemployment"). I was highly irritated. It is not like our unemployment problems will be solved by closing all borders. In that sense it was excellent that the current president questioned - although very quickly - the goal of full employment.

I was quite disappointed by most of the candidates saying that we need to be more selfish in our immigration policy. More selfish with a 2 % immigrant population? Surprisingly I think it was only the Conservative candidate who mentioned the enriching impact of foreigners to our culture. The ethical question of brain drain was not even mentioned.

Pfff....a recent book published by a Finnish think tank MSL said it quite accurately: Finns tend to forget that we have always relied on other people´s help and that Finns still tend to think like being Finnish would be an ethnic concept. Even taking into consideration the recent integration problems in the Netherlands I do think that Finland and Finns would have a lot to learn from the Dutch way of thinking.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

It's not all about the money

Flag in Ohrid
Originally uploaded by Fif'.
One of my best friends in Amsterdam is Macedonian. He was a bit silent the other day so I asked whether something was wrong. "Not really. Just the situation in my home country", he answered.

I was embarrassed. I had absolutely no idea what was happening. He elaborated by telling that the European Council would decide on the candidate status of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He said that a negative result would really slide the country into a dangerous direction. "There would be loads of people saying 'we told you so, they would never accept us'", he explained.

Without this discussion I would have totally missed the issue. I followed the summit closely both on Finnish and British media. It was all about the budget. I am not saying that the budget would not be a gigantic issue but I was not able to find a sentence on the decision on Macedonia from the BBC news page.

Well, the EU website helped in this respect. I downloaded the Council conclusions and the paragpraph X.24 reads as follows:

"In the light of the Commission's analysis, the European Council decides to grant candidate country status to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, taking into account, in particular, the substantial progress made in completing the legislative framework related to the Ohrid Framework Agreement, as well as its track record in implementing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (including its trade-related provisions) since 2001."

I met my friend today. He was happy, I would even say jolly. He said that this means that the change and progress needs to continue whoever forms the government. He was saying that this means stability for the nation.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Day with the BBC

BBC White City Entrance
Originally uploaded by chiefmoamba.
I love my colleagues. Sharing the morning coffee at the kitchen is splendid. But the negative side of this is that the bugs are shared as well. Yesterday was my time to bite the bullet, head home earlier and spend today in bed.

I hate being ill. Especially when you are totally powerless and you are not able to think. I tried finishing some documents for work but wasn't able to. Well, I had to admit to myself after 15 minutes that being ill should mean resting, not working with half speed.

I spent the day with the BBC on. The wonderful thing in the Netherlands is that we also get BBC One and Two. I don't know how many news shows I have seen. But I do know by heart Tony Blair's statement on solidarity regarding the EU budget because they showed it three times (oh sorry, they are showing for the fourth time as I write this). I have seen the interview with a French farmer twice. Now the Iraqi prime minister is speaking on Newsnight. Peter Mandelson has blamed the US twice of egoism in the WTO talks. And I have witnessed twice an in-depth analysis on speed cameras on UK roads. A day with the BBC proves a common remark of today's television: recycling is the word of the day.

p.s. I saw for the first time an episode of the Culture Show. I fully recommend it. It combines pop culture and high arts (including Kaiser Chiefs, Martha Wainwright, Gilbert and George, Woody Allen and Damien Hirst). It is a brilliant example of well-done interviews with artists communicating their passion.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

It was a joke!

Originally uploaded by

I had dinner yesterday with a friend of mine (let´s call her Miss M) who is visiting Amsterdam. We went for dinner to a fabulous Turkish-Moroccan food hall called Bazar. Beer, falafel, humus, olives. As good as it gets.

I and Miss M started discussing about Finnish sense of humour. Example from a few days back might explain this. Miss M has a another friend (non-Finnish, let´s call him Mr G) living here in Amsterdam. Miss M gave my number to Mr G so we could set a place and time for a meeting. Following text message correspondence:

Mr G: - Hey, this is Miss M´s friend Mr G. Has she arrived? Should we get together this evening?
Me: - Sure. Just picking her from the station and then we will have some dinner. Should we meet around twelve at xx?
Mr G: - Sounds great.
Me: - Ok then. Should I ask Miss M to come along?

Me and Miss thought this was superfunny. I would have answered a message like that with the following:
"Well, if you have to. And hey, someone has to pay the drinks."
Mr G answered:
"How could you not?"

Not the first time this has happened. The odd thing is that this never happens with Slavic or British people. Miss M said the same. We are constantly in situations where people just do not get our black humour.

p.s. If you want to understand what I was writing about, go and see the film called A Good Woman that is based on Oscar Wilde´s Lady Windermere´s Fan. A few quotes:
"If the skeletons are rattling in the closet, why don´t you let them dance?"
"My own business always bores me to death. I prefer other people´s."
"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."
"Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about."
"Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

It´s a mess

My confession
Originally uploaded by
Whoof. My head seems to be a blurry mess today. It seems like there are fourty schemes fighting for Lebensraum. That´s why this entry will be bits and pieces a bit here and there.

1. Narnia: Film critic of the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw, gave five stars (out of five) to the blockbuster of this Christmas, Narnia. Polly Toynbee´s critical article on the religious references in it taught me new things on this film.

2. Rock: A friend of mine asked for recommendations for good rock documentaries. Well, after IDFA it is easy. Jeff Feuerzeig´s The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a moving story of a mentally ill musician who is adored by musicians and bands such as Tom Waits and Pearl Jam.

3. Media is sexy: It has been clear during the last years that more and more youngsters wish to work in the media industry. Now they are even releasing a board game on media ownership. How weird is that?

4. Finnish presidential elections: When I am not in the country, I have developed a passion for news on the election debates. For my non-Finnish readers, we will have elections for president in January. The current president Tarja Halonen is supported by more than half of the population but apparently the right-liberal candidate Sauli Niinistö is doing better and better. The biggest daily wrote that Niinistö was clearly the winner of yesterday´s debate organised by YLE. Good! I want more politics into politics.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Finland for Finns

Originally uploaded by

Independence day. I am heading to the embassy in the evening. Looking forward.

I glanced this morning to the website of the biggest Finnish daily, Helsingin Sanomat. Main news article: Majority does not want more immigrants. Based on a recent poll 60 % of the people interviewed thought that Finland has enough immigrants.

What is enough? Well, apparently 1,99 %. This is what Virtual Finland tells us:
"In the years 1990-2002, net immigration to Finland was around 69,000 persons (including returning Finnish citizens). In 2002 Finland had about 152,000 residents born outside Finland. Of these, nearly 104,000 were citizens of other countries. Approximately 40 percent of Finland's foreign community is from the former Soviet Union. Of this group about 25,000 are Ingrian Finns and 10,000 are Estonian. The next largest group is composed of Swedish citizens, of whom there are around 8,000."

Just a quick comparison with the Netherlands: 3,038,758 (out of 15 million).

My brother was visiting last weekend. He asked me what I think of Finland. I said that I see a number of positive things but the thing bothering me the most is the inward-looking attitude. There is a strong tendency of thinking that we are doing fine without others. I don´t know how this can be changed but I do think it is clearly the biggest problem in the national dna.

Friday, December 02, 2005

What does it do to a man?

Originally uploaded by herman71.
Wow. I had yesterday my heaviest IDFA experience. And it was quite unexpected so it hit hard.

Me and a friend of mine went to see Canaan Brumley's documentary on U.S. marines´ training called Ears, Open, Eyeballs, Click. It is like a real-life version of Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket showing the sadism and out-of-proportion shouting and humiliation. It is made in a cinema verité style with no voice overs or preaching.

My friend who has not been to the army whispered to me at some point:"Oh my God." I answered:"Yes, I know. I've spent a year of my life in an institution like that."

When the documentary continued, I started feeling really odd and uncomfortable. I was glad that I was with someone I knew. If I would have been there alone I would not have stayed until the end. The documentary showed how effective the human mind is in pushing uncomfortable or even hurtful memories aside. I realised how much of that I had forgotten.

There is a saying in Finland that military service turns boys into men. As if. It is still an organisation where to a large extent using your brains only makes things worse. It humiliates and turns perfectly normal men into sadist leaders. When I now look back, I see some of those features in myself as well. For no other reason but because you can and there is nothing to stop you.

I found myself wondering questions such as:
- What kind of a welfare state rips a year from a life of all 18-19-year-old men for this?
- What is the necessity for humiliation in military service?
- What is the link between making your bed without wrinkles and succeeding in the battle field?

The film entered my dreams last night.

Ears, Open, Eyeballs, Click was a perfect example of how differently people react to films. After the screening I met a Finnish girl who was also in the cinema. Her first comment was:"Whoa. How boring was that?"