Thursday, June 29, 2006


Politiek Café
Originally uploaded by
Nic Name.
We´re living exciting times in the Netherlands. Yesterday evening the government discussed about the Ayaan Hirsi Ali issue until three in the morning. Today one of the parties in the cabinet coalition (D66) has announced that they will support the vote of no confidence to Minister of Intergration Rita Verdonk.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is Dutch (again). Her lawyer proved that the name Ali is in her family and therefore she was not lying because the Somali habit of using last names differs from the Dutch concept of names. In her letter attached to the minister´s letter to the parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali apologised for misleading the minister.

If Verdonk gets a vote of no confidence, that would probably mean that the Dutch government is dissolved. As pointed out clearly by the leader of the Social Democrats yesterday, this is not only about Verdonk, it is the Prime Minister who has to carry a substantial amount of the responsibility of this incident.

The big discussion is now about the implications of this turnaround when it comes to the other asylum seeker decisions.

I have been learning a lot of Dutch words lately. Here are a few:
Turkije (Turkey), partij (party), slagroom (whipped cream), vlak (area), kunstenaar (artist), keuze/kiezen (choice, choose), talentontwikkeling (talent development), te hulpen (to help), twijfel (doubt), onderwerp (enterprise), bedoeling (meaning), achtergrond (background), samenleving (society).

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Beauty of Friesland

I have often stated - even to the level of arrogance - that the Netherlands is no music country. I must take some of my words back. Or at least admit that in the Northern part they do make beautiful music.

The reason for this praise is the woman in the picture: Nynke Laverman. She is just absolutely superb. I saw her live a few months back and have been talking about her ever since. But now I bought her new album and have been listening to it on repeat for days.

She is a fascinating combination of things: beautiful and charismatic woman (presumably) with a classical background, singing fado music in Frisian. Frisian is a regional language of Friesland. It is in many ways close to Dutch but not understandable for most Dutch people. Frisian fits well for fado as it lacks the spitting-inwards sounds of Dutch.

I think I am going to market Nynke Laverman when I go to Finland for summer holidays.

p.s. I am one of those people who have constantly a song playing in their head. For days it has been Tom Jones' Breakin' Up Is Hard To Do.
p.p.s. I have totally neglected my project to learn Dutch. The new words I have learned during the last weeks are:
difference between maken (to make) and doen (to do); tussen (between); elkaar (together); difference between mijn vriend (my partner) and vriend van mij (a friend of mine); als (as, when, like, if); waar kom je vandaan (where do you come from); simpel (stupid)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Experiencing diversity

city-info guys
Originally uploaded by
Sometimes I just love the Finns. My former employer, monthly supplement of Helsingin Sanomat, has started an excellent programme with the local radio station. Citysherpas are different sorts of people who volunteer to show tourists around Helsinki. The sherpas range from music enthusiasts to pensioneers. And I even noticed that one of my friends (Nuppu) is among them. I find this project absolutely brilliant.

Another example of experiencing diversity: my employer has a new website.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

No Fear

The Sticker Door
Originally uploaded by
This is an article I submitted for a essay competition of the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant and which was published in their Saturday issue two weeks ago. The competition was part of a British Council event that I attended.

Sorry for the delay of putting it here.

An interesting thing happened in the Dutch translation. My friend (who happened to be a woman) who is mentioned in the article transformed into my girlfriend during the editing. It´s like on MTV: Pimp My Friend.


No Fear

My friend falls into silence as we sit down in the tram. She arrived from Finland an hour earlier. As we pass the Dam square she turns to me.

"People look so….how should I put it…different here." I recognise the reaction from sixteen months back. The move from Helsinki - a city with only 2,1 % of immigrants - to the centre of Amsterdam was a gigantic leap towards a multicultural society.

My friend and I are not alone with this amazement. Many of us experience confusion as the number of people who stand out from the crowd in European cities continues to grow. We are in constant negotiation as we position ourselves according to differences in ethnicity, religion and clothing to name a few. Confusion is experienced both among the majority and the minorities.

Without proper conciliation this transformation leads into dangerous political implications. An increasing number of Europeans feel that the growing diversity questions their lifestyles. A fear of falling changes multiculturalism from happy hugs in Benetton ads into a threat. As a result, more and more people volunteer to trade liberal goals of personal responsibility for tighter government protection. Populist political rhetoric speeds this up by encouraging us to reach for the eject button. “Please make this stop.”

I believe that this development threatens the essential idea of a metropolis. The biggest risk to European cities is posed by control, not immigration. It goes without saying that a spontaneous and slightly disorganised city is a challenging atmosphere to live in. I would still claim that in the end it is better for us all. The public sphere should not be a domain where actions need the approval of a security guard - even if this liberalism means that we need to accept occasional disruption and turmoil.

This is not a call for chaos but for a modern city that allows several ways of being local. I prefer a town where a bar terrace takes over the street on a warm evening or where I may bump into a friend at the market. I like seeing bikes locked or stickers glued to peculiar places. I wish to live in a city where I may need to change my cycling route because of a demonstration and where the bus driver is allowed to wear a headscarf or a piercing. Amsterdam is still flexible enough for a significant amount of personal liberation.

The more of us feel that our lifestyles are welcomed; the stronger is our will to take care of the public sphere. The current lobby for uniformity and stability works against the very idea of personal freedom and playfulness.

Our biggest challenge is creating public domains that are free from representational minority and majority roles. Immigration is an easy scapegoat when most problems are really due to socio-economic differences. It is extremely easy but irresponsible to point the finger at the people who have the most adjusting to do. We can do better than that.

Tommi Laitio

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

In Europe

Standing on Africa
Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
Attitudes that have always bothered me in Europe are cynicism and besserwisserism. I am personally far from being free from these. It is often the case that the only way to seem intelligent in the Old World is to abandon all optimism and fall into doom and gloom.

I have witnessed this a few times during the last weeks. I attended lately a workshop on social diversity in cities and especially on Amsterdam. The sense of despair was very evident. But if you would have phrased things differently, Amsterdam would have offered a lot of reason for optimism. The murder of Theo van Gogh has not only polarised Dutch politics but it has created a sense of urgency to seek for solutions. Same could be said about the NO referenda. Even though they slowed the integration, there is now a lot more discussion on Europe.

I attended yesterday in Vienna a lecture of Professor Tony Judt. He is Professor of European Studies and History at New York University and just published a well-received book on Europe called Postwar. The topic of his lecture was Europe in the American Mirror.

Judt’s main argument was that the greatest difference between the US and Europe is the 20th century experience. The European social model was built by old men born in the late 1800s with the goal to prevent a new war. According to Judt’s the lack of this war experience and massive casualties makes it impossible for Americans to understand that the European social model cannot be evaluated only on economic terms.

He also argued strongly against the common conception of globalisation. As Judt brilliantly pointed out, the shared assumptions on the future in 1900 were the following:
1. War in Europe is not possible both on economic and political terms. A democratic society would not tolerate such casualties.
2. The following century will be the century of Germany in Europe.
3. Globalisation (then industrialism and booming telecommunication) is transforming our lifestyles and makes borders near to meaningless.

Judt asked – rightly so – whether there are huge differences compared to the current views on future.

I started thinking after the lecture what is the generation experience of my peers and me. The European project is less and less founded on the notion of peace. I know very well that there has been a war in our continent in 1990s but still I cannot grasp on the notion of peace. It is extremely abstract to me.

I would like to be optimistic on the ways the ERASMUS exchange programme and grown freedom of mobility have made us see further, across the borders of nation states. I would really like to believe that at least part of the generation have a strong belief in a new way of living together.

For me the most eye-opening experience has been working with people from the Balkans, Romania, Ukraine, Moldova and Turkey. After witnessing the difficulties on our external borders I cannot see any sustainable arguments against further enlargement. Tony Judt said brilliantly that in order to engage into the American Dream fully one needs to leave the current life behind and move to the US where as the European Dream is something that comes to you. This is something to be proud of. I often find it remarkable how so many Finns have already forgotten what it felt like to join ”Europe” in 1995.

p.s. On my way home I completed Philip Roth’s latest novel called Everyman. The author voted as the greatest American writer alive by The New York Times reveals the fear of getting old and sick. The main character who has always been healthy and vigorous is suddenly in a situation where his body tells him clearly that it is time slow down. Roth reminds me in many ways of Ian McEwan in his straight-forward and detailed writing. I read the book at the right time – in the middle of the busiest month this year, on planes and hotel rooms.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Back and forth

Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
Back home, finally. I am been going around for the last 1,5 weeks now and it is actually the first time in a few weeks that I am sitting on my bed at home.

It has been a brilliant week or so. I was in Lisbon last weekend for work. That city is just amazing. Friday night in the district of Bairro Alto means loads and loads of people wandering from a bar to another with their drinks, chatting to strangers on the streets and so forth. And five days in Lisbon is like going to the gym. My colleague and I had the feeling that we were going uphill all the time.

The city is quite amazing. The food is fabulous and relatively inexpensive, men's clothing is not designed for giants (like here in Holland), caipirinhas cost 4 euros, the sun was shining constantly and my colleague speaks Portuguese. What can I say but even with the slight food poisoning it was a brilliant visit. And a female colleague said that she appreciated greatly the fact that men let her sit in peace in cafes. Lisbon is a bit messy but that only adds up to the charm. A city cannot be too bad if even the graffitis are quotes from Fernando Pessoa.

On Wednesday started an event of the British Council called the Network Effect but I think I will write on that issue later. My only comment is that as was said during the last session, a functioning network is not only about bringing the people together. It is also about doing something together.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

On my way

Bicycle in Amsterdam
Originally uploaded by matthew_machine.
Long sigh....just got back after 12 hours at the office. It has been a while since I wrote my blog but I have been trying to be in dozen places at the same time and do zillion things simultaneously. I noticed today at the office how I felt and looked tired. When cycling back home I felt like being in a fishbowl when being surrounded by all those happy, tanned summerish people.

It has been quite a week. Last weekend we did a workshop with asylum seeker youngsters here in Amsterdam. These youngsters have gone through so much that I think I can never understand. Many of them have been living in the asylum seeker centres for six years or so. They are being moved around all the time. And still I met a group of polite, funny and smart 16-21-year-old guys and young women. Their videos are already online. I like many of them but my favourites are the videos by Louis&Vino, Rauf and Hossein.

I really like working with youngsters. The workshop reconfirmed my belief that all talk about passive youth or so is just complete bull.

Tomorrow morning we are off to Lisbon. That should be fab. We have a meeting there on Monday but we decided to use the weekend for seeing some contemporary performances and hanging out.

Tip for all Dutch and Finnish readers: Finnish weekly Suomen Kuvalehti will publish an article of mine tomorrow and the Dutch daily de Volkskrant on Saturday.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Big day, bad day

Three piece of news from today´s stream:

1. Reason for joy

It has been 100 years from the day when the Finnish parliament was decided to be formed as a one-house system and with voting rights for all. This included, as the first country in Europe, women´s voting rights. New Zealand and Australia gave women the right to vote before Finland but in New Zealand women did not have the right to stand as candidates and in Australia no women were elected. In Finland 19 women (nearly 10 %) were elected to the first Parliament. The Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat has produced a beautiful webortage on the subject.

2. Reason for hope and optimism

Helsinki City Council decided yesterday to start a shelter for homeless people in the best area of Helsinki even if most of the schools, entrepeneurs and citizen groups were against it. I would like to congratulate the people voting in favour for their courage. Few comments from the debate yesterday.
"Marginalised people commit marginalised acts that are not things children should see." - Heikki Lampela, Conservatives
"You can´t raise children in a way that they would not see less privileged people." - Anni Sinnemäki, The Green Party

3. Reason for worry

A Russian online newspaper was closed by its Internet service provider on 22 May, three days after prosecutors started investigating its editor, Vladimir Rakhmankov, on charges of “insulting a representative of the state” under article 319 of the criminal code in an article headlined, “Putin, Russia’s phallic symbol". Read full comment from Reporters Without Borders.

Dutch words of the day:
- spullen (stuff, equipment)
- derdelijk (thirdly)
- overnachten (stay over)