NEWS ANALYSIS: Strange uproar over President’s task force on youth marginalisation
By Miska Rantanen
Marginalised youth need to be helped, but not everyone and not just any old way. The President should not step into the arena of politics, but on the other hand, he should.
Not much remains in the way of food for thought after examining the debate in the regular and social media, which was sparked by a booklet drafted by a working group set up by President Sauli Niinistö.
The guidebook and website by the same name were made public with much fanfare a week and a half ago at the Jakomäki Comprehensive School in Helsinki.
The booklet contains 36 pieces of advice aimed at fighting marginalisation of children and young people. The booklet does not target the marginalised themselves, but rather those close to them - often their parents.
The negative reactions were not long in coming. The bashing in the social media started immediately on the day that the booklet was published. The advice was seen to be "paternalistic", "condescending", or quite simply "right-wing".
The criticism was undoubtedly spurred by the simple prose that it was written in, which might be seen as clichéd: "Adult, make sure that you can cope. It is important to keep yourself in shape. A rested adult is a better adult", the guidebook explains.
As is usually the case in discussions touching upon personal issues, what is said seems to be less important than who said it.
Especially vocal in their criticism have been young green and leftist activists. Joining the critics on the ministerial level was Minister of Culture and Sport Paavo Arhinmäki (Left Alliance).
The debate continues next week when an alternative site is published on the theme.
Promoting the project are a group of red-green activists who were conspicuously involved in the presidential campaign of the Green League candidate Pekka Haavisto.
Because of exaggerated intensity on the two sides, it is easy to see the debate as politically partisan.
The comments seem to constitute a kind of third round of the presidential election, where supporters of Haavisto are trying to poke the winner Niinistö one more time.
Furthermore, coming from Niinistö, whose background is with the National Coalition Party, the guide is a harmless sparring partner as the municipal elections approach.
But there could be something else as well - the generational dimension. So far, there have been hardly any comments from older leftists or greens; it could be that Niinistö’s advice is less irritating to those who have had more experience of parenting than the critics have.
Niinistö’s pamphlet has been lambasted for not taking a stand on structures - that is, it does not tell politicians what should be done to prevent marginalisation.
The guide touches upon economic influence only in a few pieces of advice, such as that of donating money to volunteer organisations.
The critics have seen in this the bogeyman of right-wing politics, and the aim of dealing with sore spots of society as cheaply as possible.
However, the "free-of-charge" nature of the advice from Niinistö’s working group should not come as a surprise to anyone.
Although the prevention of marginalisation of the young was one of Niinistö’s election promises, he often emphasised that as President he will not step in the territory of actual politicians. Presidential powers do not extend to domestic politics.
If Niinistö had actually started to give instructions to politicians wielding budgetary power, the media might instead have responded by asking each constitutional law expert in turn whether or not the President is going against the spirit of the constitution.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 18.9.2012
MISKA RANTANEN / Helsingin Sanomat