“Boyish faces now dominate facade of Finnish politics”
Essayist reviews bilingual collection of columns by Finnish Foreign Minister
By Antti Nylén
When the digital reformation of copying is eventually extended to literature, books will also become the kinds of sad fetishes that vinyl records and photographic film already are.
I predict that some will want to publish old-fashioned books even at a time that they are nothing more than the childish retro hobby of a few stalwarts.
I am referring to leading politicians.
The explanation is a natural one. For a politician, a book - the politician’s own book - is already a tangible symbol of power. The weight of a book cannot be denied. We know how difficult it is, under the scrutiny of a publisher, to actually get into print, and politicians can make it through that filter easily!
A book is something that is desirable in itself. It can be sold, even if it resonates with hollowness, but a text file with exactly the same words is less desired than a toy balloon.
It is quite funny that politicians specifically need books, considering that their main task is to maintain the dominant culture that disdains material goods and promotes quick gratification: a culture in which the old is obsessively, and without thinking, cast aside in favour of the new.
Just such a politician’s book, whose basic purpose is its own material existence, is The Naked Truth and other stories about Finns and Europeans, by Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb (Nat. Coalition Party). But even if the genre of the work (collection of columns), and its purpose (fishing for popularity) are taken into consideration, it is downright stunningly devoid of content.
“I have nothing against aviation safety. On the contrary.” “People really love the Sauna in Finland.” “The USA is at present the world’s undeniable superpower.”
Rarely does one get to read something like that in a book. And believe me, in this volume there is not much else in the way of content!
The most astounding single chapter is the one which advertises fancy Helsinki restaurants, as well as a certain cheap brand of sausage; when fawning over the most common of the common people, it is always worth trying.
It is quite astounding that for the bilingual volume Tero Valkonen has had to translate all of that again into the mother tongue of the original author, because the stories were originally typed out in English and published in an airline in-flight magazine.
The closest point of comparison to The Naked Truth - perhaps even its inspiration - is a book by [then Speker of Parliament] Riitta Uosukainen, which first brought her great public popularity, and then candidacy in the Presidential elections.
However, it seems that Stubb’s name came out in Presidential polls already before the book, and Uosukainen’s book had a certain amount of relentless lyrical passion.
Our new Foreign Minister, for his part, is stunningly decent and level-headed, and his book is most genuinely hollow.
Of course these kinds of snide remarks are easy and cheap to make. Why is this? Because the only thing that these kinds of works even attempt to do is to create impressions. Only an idiot blames trash for being trash.
The creation of a positive image - a “brand” - of Finland for one’s self and for others is so important for Stubb that he writes about it twice.
And even if The Naked Truth primarily brands Stubb himself, the open promotion of “Finland” is one of the additional purposes of the book. After all, this is why the original English stories are there in the book: a great souvenir of Finland, and it’s easier to pack it in a suitcase than a reindeer pelt.
So let’s play with the same rules - impressions.
The replacement of the overly-enthusiastic text message-writer Ilkka Kanerva by Stubb in the spring of 2008 was a symbolic and superficial event, devoid of content: branding. The old was replaced by the new in Finnish politics, whose facade is now adorned by the fresh boyish vaces of Stubb and Minister of Finance Jyrki Katainen.
I don’t like them.
Stubb clearly has nothing to hide. He openly tells us that he uses “face cream” and that he “loves shopping”, and describes every kilometre of his marathon running.
A real statesman is supposed to have awful secrets, and no preferences as a consumer, or athletic achievements. Otherwise he does not deserve (my) confidence. A ruler is supposed to be where decisions are made about whose heads will fall. He needs to give of himself for his community, but not as a victim, but as an executioner. It is naturally a terrible stigma.
I continue to speak of impressions; they are all nowhere.
The only ideological content of the brand of Finnish politics is defeating the opponent, and one’s own growth. The United States, China, and India are, in the words of Stubb, “our competitors”, and the worst of all sins is national protectionism, because “it has never created growth”.
Perhaps these are merely the mutterings of an arrogant and depressed person who shuns both face cream and exercise, but I do not see any ideals or ideologies that would apply to the community in politics on the state, or EU-level. I see no mothaf***in’ point.
There is only a living herd of individuals in some area, all of whom should be made to prosper and to fare well as soon as possible. So-called politics is simply a never-ending advertising campaign for a product that is ultimately nothing more than the work of some people, as Stubb himself sighs in his column marking his ascendancy to the post of Foreign Minister:
“This is no coincidence. This is not senseless. This is my work and I enjoy every moment of it.”
Stubb is just five years older than I am, but to tell you the truth, I don’t understand him at all.
As a beggar for grants, I certainly do not enjoy every moment of my work, but I feel pity and horror when I think of what the work of a Foreign Minister or MEP must be like.
Or perhaps I am just horrified that people my age are suddenly important ministers. Am I finally supposed to take responsibility for something?
But if my prediction of the fate of the printed word is realised, then perhaps I, Stubb, and all those like him will find each other on the eve of the end of the world - as friends and producers of analog books, for instance.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 7.6.2009
The writer is an essayist and translator.
WSOY Publishers: Alaston totuus ja muita kirjoituksia suomalaisista ja eurooppalaisista - The Naked Truth and other stories about Finns and Europeans, by Alexander Stubb
Alexander Stubb homepage