Resistance and acquiescence in Europe
By Paavo Rautio
Idiots! Fools! When a Finn emerges unexpectedly in the middle of a demonstration in Paris, the first reaction is one of sharp disapproval: Idiots! Fools! Although the leg of society is festering, the French shout: "Don't amputate!" Time flies, but the French just sip their café au lait, pondering whether or not the weather is right for another protest.
What is most frightening is that the country's leaders collapse in the face of these idiots, change their policy if needed, and cancel decisions that have already been made. What wimps those leaders are!
Finns have internalised the wisdom spoken by veteran Centre Party politician Johannes Virolainen, who said that once democracy has spoken, it's time to shut up. After the demonstrations have died down, and the Finn has returned home, the reaction changes: "What if they are right and we are wrong?"
In France, the people see their democracy as a democracy of the elite. Decisions are made by enarchist friends who have lost contact with the people and the trade union movement. When the prime minister falls out of favour, he moves behind the door of the entrance to wait: soon he will nevertheless be called to make decisions on a good salary.
France is also a country where the people's belief in the power of the state is stronger than it is in Scandinavia. If there is a fault, the state can rectify it. If it does not do so, the fault is with those who use the power of the state: the politicians. If jobs are exported to China, the state can do something to stem the flow.
What if the French are right? It could be that we Finns allow ourselves to be used as pawns in the game of the modern economy without any resistance. We accept authority too easily and believe that it is possible to influence decisions by simply voting in elections. Is French democracy that much different than Finnish democracy?
We look down our noses at a nation that has the courage and the ability to say no, and which believes in the power of politics. We believe that they are going to hell in first class, while we adapt, enact structural changes, and reform our society.
There was an interesting little news item in the Financial Times recently, according to which the Americans had been trying hard to sell the format of Donald Trump's TV show The Apprentice to Japan. In the programme, which also has a Finnish version, competitors try to succeed as sales people, and the weakest link is eliminated by Donald Trump saying "You're fired".
Those selling the format have not been successful in their efforts in Japan. The format did not sell because it would be abhorrent in Japan to treat an employee in such a manner. It is simply not done to people in a country where employers who offer lifetime employment are bowed to deeply. In that country people devote their lives to their jobs, even though nobody is threatening to fire them.
In Finland the Trump mentality was accepted much more easily, although the expression used by the Finnish host Jari Sarasvuo "Minä vapautan sinut" ("I release you") is much softer. Still, the idea remained: bring in more money, or you get booted out.
What if the Japanese have it right? It could be that we Finns acquiesce to be pawns in the modern labour market without any resistance. We accept the transformation of the economy into a jungle of short-term tasks and believe that the flexibility of the labour market means the enslavement of working people. We become more flexible with respect to life, in which a spotty-faced economist can emerge from the corner of an office at any time and shout "I release you!"
Why in the world do we look askance at the Japanese-style market economy while looking with admiration at a nation which enthusiastically buys shirts (at 36 dollars apiece) with Trump's exclamation printed on them?
Author and researcher Sylvie Goulard sits in a Parisian cafe. She speaks effusively about reasons why Turkey should not be allowed to become a member of the European Union.
Her hands fly around as she insists that the EU is not ready to accept a country that deviates significantly from European values, and which would become the EU's largest and most influential country in the Union in 2020.
Goulard sees the idea of Turkish membership as an indication of the EU's inability to listen to the will of the Europeans.
In Finland, the strivings of the EU are far beyond the reach of the people. There are no referendums here, and there is little questioning of policy decisions concerning the EU made by the leaders. Brussels is somewhere in the direction of Brussels, and here is here. The EU lacks legitimacy, but people do not miss that much, as it is always rolling in some direction.
What if Goulard is right? It could be that we Finns acquiesce to be pawns of European integration without any resistance. We accept the idea that the leaders know what is best for the EU, that economic protectionism is evil, that enlargement is good, and that those who reject the constitution are the baddies.
It may well be that enlargement is the enemy of deepening, and that what the EU needs now is calm and a deepening of cooperation among the present member states. If the constitution is seen by the people as setting up the groundwork for new enlargements, it could be that the French and the Dutch were right and performed a valuable service when they forced the leaders to look back. Perhaps Turkish membership would not be the right decision for the EU, since the Europeans do not want it.
Travelling around Europe, it is embarassing to listen to all the praise that is heaped on Finland. Structures have been reformed, the pension bomb is being dismantled, education is state of the art, there is flexibility in labour, and productivity is growing. How can your nation of turnip friers manage that?
To answer these questions it is necessary to study factors behind the national mentality: rationality, practical orientation, adaptability, and faith in authority. Finland is a country where contrary arguments are isolated, like the legendary Finnish popular song about a robbery on an express train in Mexico in which an old maid indignantly silences a gentleman who is trying to persuade the bandits not to abduct her.
Finland seems to be managing because the people are like putty in the hands of the modern market economy. We are not out on the streets. We accept the increase in short-term jobs, and we do not question the decisions made by leaders. "I guess we just have to", a Finn will say, pulling up his trousers.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 26.4.2006
PAAVO RAUTIO / Helsingin Sanomat