THINGS HAVE CHANGED (The End is Nigh)
The International Edition is closing down in its present form at the end of this week
ON SEPTEMBER 14th, 1999...
– Martti Ahtisaari was still Finland's head of state, though not for much longer.
Ahtisaari knew by this stage he was to be a one-term President of the Republic, though he was certainly not yet aware he would be travelling to Oslo in nine years' time to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize, even if he had already made a mark in international peace negotiations in Namibia and Belgrade.
– His successor-in-waiting Tarja Halonen, then Finland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, had problems of Russian involvement in Chechnya on her mind, as the country - taking its first six-month turn as the EU Presidency - found itself front and centre on the political stage.
– Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen (SDP) led a rainbow coalition government not so very different from the current arrangement, with Sauli Niinistö, nowadays Finland's 12th President, as his Minister of Finance and right-hand man. Niinistö was a few weeks away from dramatically turning down the National Coalition Party's requests that he run for President. After a failed bid in 2006, he stepped into the role this year.
– The Finns Party - then known as the True Finns - had just one MP in Parliament. It was not the current party leader Timo Soini.
– Jokela was just a stop on the way to Riihimäki on the train, Kauhajoki was a town in Ostrobothnia, Könginkangas was a tiny dot on the map on Highway 4 near Äänekoski, and Myyrmanni was a Vantaa shopping mall, plain and simple. "Abu Sayyaf" and "Jolo" were just funny foreign words, Khao Lak on Thailand's Andaman Sea coast was a popular resort and diving centre, "tsunami" got you quite a good score as a seven-letter word in Scrabble, and nobody had ever heard of a hydroxyethyl starch plasma expander called "Hemohes", let alone knew what nefarious things Finnish cross-country skiers were doing with it.
Needless to say, none of these names have quite the same associations today.
– Nokia's stock price was still going ballistic as the company swept all before it on the mobile phone front. Soon it would be reported that there were more than 7,000 "Nokia millionaires" in Finland, albeit still denominated in Finnish markkas, not euros. The HEX Index in Helsinki was pushing through the 10,000 barrier, fuelled by the seemingly irresistible rise of the mobile phone manufacturer and the electronics and telecoms cluster that had grown in its reflected brilliance. The dotcom collapse was still over the horizon, along with blogs and tweets and obsessive-compulsive Facebook status updates. Napster was launching the peer-to-peer file sharing revolution.
– Reader's Digest opined in September 1999 that we would be in NATO by 2010. They got that one wrong, but the door remains open if the public mood changes.
– Finland's PISA prowess had yet to show itself in its full glory, and Finns were still innocently delighted when some international comparison study said nice things about us. Familiarity was to breed a certain cynicism as the years went by, and when Newsweek eventually told the world we were the best of the best, we just laughed and pointed out they couldn't add up.
– Jari Litmanen was wearing a Barcelona shirt and turning out - though not often enough - in the Camp Nou. Sami Hyypiä was not yet a Liverpool legend. Mika Häkkinen was on his way to back-to-back Formula 1 World Championship titles in his McLaren, and young Kimi Räikkönen had just moved up from go-karts to Formula Renault. The cross-country skiers were... well, probably the less said about what they were doing the better. Finnish rally-drivers were still winning titles, because the all-conquering Sébastien Loeb machine hadn't been invented.
– Finland was still looking forward to actually getting something more than charity points from Norway and Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest. An expectant nation would need to wait a further seven years before latex masks and Hard Rock Hallelujah carried the day.
– Helsingin Sanomat was still in its old offices on Ludviginkatu, but packing feverishly for the move to the glass-and-steel Sanomatalo by the Railway Station.
– The European Union was still a club of 15, and we were among the rawest recruits, and SO desperate to please our new chums. Enlargement into Eastern Europe - and the elephant in the room of possible Turkish membership - filled the agenda at the 1999 European Council summit in Helsinki, where Finnish farmers showed their angry side. No countries were going broke - at least they were not admitting it.
– The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center still cast long shadows over Lower Manhattan, and WMD and SARS were just a couple of impenetrable acronyms. Three new countries joined the UN this very day (14.9.1999), but Switzerland was still not a member, and Serbia was still the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and out in the cold. Boris Yeltsin was preparing to bow out in favour of a former KGB colonel, and everyone else was preparing for the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it when the computers went collectively AWOL on December 31st, 1999. They didn't, of course.
– Bob Dylan was still without an Oscar to his name, but the tune that would do it - Things Have Changed - was recorded in New York City in August 1999.
– The Helsingin Sanomat International Edition was launched on this day on an unsuspecting world, initially for the duration of that first Finnish EU Presidency spell.
That was thirteen years ago, a lot of water under the bridge, and things have truly changed, even in a country as nominally stable and not prone to drama as Finland.
As events happened over the years, we have tried to present the developments (when they met our original criteria of "Finnish with an international dimension" or "international with a Finnish connection" - it was never the intention that the IntEd would be a comprehensive wire-service clone) in order to assist those living here without sufficient Finnish skills to read the local papers or follow the TV & radio news, and indeed to provide a digest of Finnish news to all who might be interested, regardless of where they might be.
The time has now come, however, to say farewell. The International Edition has run its course in its present format, and when the online services of Helsingin Sanomat go behind a pay-wall from the middle of November, we will no longer be part of them, at least not immediately and certainly not in the manner of a regular daily update like this.
Helsingin Sanomat is considering alternative ways of publishing content in English at some future date.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank our readers for their interest and for their patience with our sometimes rather elastic schedules and to apologise for the annoying typos that have crept in from time to time.
We also regret that we have not been able to employ the large number of individuals who kindly offered their services in one capacity or another (now is perhaps the moment to reveal that we have NOT occupied an entire floor of the Sanoma News head office building with a staff of hundreds at our beck and call…).
We must further spare a thought for the Helsingin Sanomat journalists who on occasion discovered to their cost that certain polemical pieces written in an obscure Finno-Ugric language suddenly prompted unexpected emails from "Angry of Arkansas" or "Furious of Firenze".
I suspect and hope nevertheless that in most cases the authors rather enjoyed having their texts read now and then by a broader audience than the Finnish subscribers of Hesari.
We will be updating the weeklies today for the last time, and will make our last full update of dailies on Friday 26th, although we will be here on Sunday evening and Monday with a round-up (and possibly a bit of analysis) of the results of the municipal elections.
Our Archives, which date back to 1999 and are actually rather comprehensive - even if they have never been particularly user-friendly - will still be accessible at the link below.
Some of the events at the beginning of this piece - if you missed them at the time and wonder what arcane meaning those strange Finnish place-names have - can be found from perusing them with the aid of Mr. Google’s search engine.
WLM for Inted
Helsingin Sanomat / First published on 23.10.2012
More on this subject:
THE INTERNATIONAL EDITION CLOSED DOWN ON OCTOBER 26th
International Edition Archives
Things Have Changed, from the movie The Wonder Boys (2000)