Welcome to Finland!

One of the tabloids wrote on Thursday that a contingent of American reporters
was being flown to Finland to come and see what’s going on here after
the most recent Finnish school massacre in Kauhajoki.

So I thought I might as well give those
reporters a few story pegs. As a Dutchman, having lived in Finland
for 9 years now, perhaps I have a perspective to offer. I’ll write
this quick-and-dirty, just to get it out of my  system. It will be
sketchy on details and facts to back all this up. But those facts are
out there and can be found (I can help).

(My wife and I are both journalists,
but Minna has been doing the MSM reporting so far this week – to
Dutch TV and radio
)

One of my Finnish bosses in an earlier
life once said to me: ”You Dutch people have a habit of saying:
‘You’re an idiot, but don’t take it personally’”. Well, I would
like to apologize in advance to my dear Finnish friends: I do not
think that you are idiots, and please don’t take any of this
personally. I love this country and it has become my home. I could
write an equally passionate, positive account of Finland (maybe I
should, maybe I will).

Right now I am merely trying to
describe some general observations which offer me some context –
for what it’s worth – to what has happened in Myyrmäki,
Jokela, and Kauhajoki.

The second school massacre in Finland
within a year presents an opportunity for a broad public conversation
about some of the deeper underlying issues in this society, which not
only have contributed to three suicide blood baths in six years, but
which undoubtedly are driving a whole generation of Finns to
desperation.

I was a teenager in the 1980s, the dark
and depressing years of Thatcherism. Our anger was directed against
the way social cohesion, equality of opportunity and meritocracy were
being eroded under the dogma of adaptation to globalization.
(Philips’ Wisse Dekker and the Japanese threat comes to mind).

Back then, in my environment I did not
discern any hatred against mankind or ”inferior breeds”. Yes,
there were neo-nazis, but they were marginalized idiots, not ”calm
and normal students” like these Finnish suicide killers have been
described by their class mates.

Finland is a country of contrasts.

Finland has been colonized,
”Finlandized” and politically and culturally isolated for most of
last century. Finland is the only ”western” country where the
sixties didn’t happen. I mean, the sixties didn’t bring forth democratization movements similar to the rest of the western world.

The Finns are a remarkably homogeneous
nation. Finland has been geo-politically isolated until the 1990s.
The Finns as a nation are significantly different from their European neighbors: their historical descent is different, their language is
neither Latin, Germanic or Slav and hence rather difficult to
comprehend by other Europeans – which I believe has slowed down
Finnish integration in Europe.

Finland is exceptionally thinly
populated. Industrialization happened much later in Finland than in
most other parts of (western) Europe. Finland is one of the European
countries who never had colonies but were colonized instead (for many
centuries, by Swedes and Russians).

Finns display (or rather, don’t
display) a silent resilience against hardship, a quality that has
come with the demanding natural environment, harsh winters, poverty
and colonial rule.

Finland is geologically a rock, which
not only makes the Finns feel safe here (low probability of earth
quakes and ample opportunity to build nuclear shelters), it also
appears to foster a sense of pride and to contribute to people’s
resilience. (It’s called ”sisu” and you’ll hear that word often
enough when you come and visit Finland)

Isn’t Finland also about the only
country in Europe considering to build more nuclear power stations?

Finland is an EU member state, but not
a member of NATO. The Finns are ambivalent towards America. A tension between admiration on the one hand and superiority on the other. The Finns
think they are better off without NATO because it would only upset
Russia, they don’t fully trust NATO’s three-musketeer-pledge, and
they think their army is anyway better trained than most other
armies. They hope that the impenetrable swamps, lakes, and forests
will deter any enemy.

Finland has the strictest immigration
policy in Europe, and the lowest level of national, ethnic, religious
and ideological diversity. Most Finns are registered members of the
Evangelic-Lutheran Church. Physical hardship and religion have
cultivated a strong protestant work ethic. The Finns are disciplined,
hard-working, introvert unless aided by alcohol, modest and
self-depreciating.

Finns don’t take to the streets. Not
for political causes. Not to celebrate new year’s eve with their neighbors. Only on the First of May, and only in the cities – and it ain’t pretty.

Finland had a disastrous banking crisis
in the early 1990s. Unemployment is structurally high. Finland is
among the most competitive countries in the world. The labor
market is flexible in that labor protection is weak. People either
work full-time or not at all. Part-time work is rare, and where it
exists, it is certainly not equally paid or appreciated.

It’s easy enough for employers to lay
people off – a fall in a business unit’s profitability can do
the trick. If that doesn’t work, there are many accounts of people
being bullied into resignation. Society pays a heavy toll in terms of
burn-out cases.

Unrelated: Finland is probably also
unique in that one company’s annual turnover surpasses the government
budget, and how it dominates the domestic stock market.

Scoring consistently high on the
so-called Pisa research[LINK], the Finnish education system is being
admired internationally. The protestant work ethic applies here as
well. Performance and achievement is what counts.

Bullying is a known problem at Finnish
schools. Some attention was paid to bullying after Jokela, but not
much follow-through.

In Finland, things work. You can’t beat
the system. If you drive too fast, you will get caught and your
penalty, by the way, is a function of your taxable income.

I could go on… Finns drink most
coffee and eat most ice cream. Finnish men have the most fertile
sperm. They also have the most fire arms per capita after the U.S.
and Yemen. Domestic violence often ends in fatalities. Finland has
some of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Is it starting to add up?

Gender equality is interesting. Finland
has a female president, Mrs. Tarja Halonen. The previous prime
minister was a lady. Finland was one of the first countries in the
world (I believe after New Zealand) to adopt women’s voting rights.
Women are on average more highly educated than men. Men and women are
equal before the law in most every way.

As a personal observation, there seems to be great gender equality in Finland on paper, and
Finnish women are clearly emancipated in their walking and talking… (I’ll stop right here before I insult anyone)

The old, isolated, homogeneous, consensus-based domestic norms and values have been clashing with the
global culture and influences to which this society has been forced
to open up at an incredibly fast pace.

The Finns had a way of dealing with
their world. Work hard, be modest, give others space, build consensus
and work together to conquer hardship (and keep the Russians out with guerrilla warfare). Now everything is up for grabs. We’re supposed to
market ourselves in a globalized economy. But hey, guess what? We’re
engineers!

Job security is a thing of the past.
Management is still authoritarian (even while organizations are flat).
People are boiling stuff up inside and burning out. School kids have
to perform. Bullying is a widespread phenomenon. There is a
disconnect between generations and between the sexes. Weapons are
abundant; not only fire arms, but also knives, axes, chain saws –
you name it. The tabloids report deadly domestic violence all the
time.

The scandinavian welfare model in
Finland has been eroded without having sufficient new mechanisms in
place to smoothly run a highly competitive market economy while
keeping people sane.

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