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Finland, Greece of the north
by Thanos Kalamidas
2015-09-17 11:09:25
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“We were in the front lines of those advising the Greeks about what they should do. Now let’s take that advice into practise ourselves. We can’t allow ourselves to get into a situation where others decide on our issues for us.” These are the words the Finnish Prime Minister, Juha Sipilä used in a national televised address to the nation last night and he did it trying to emphasize the seriousness of the situation.

Sipilä said many more things, pointing out what happened with Ireland and Portugal – intentionally leaving out Spain  – and what measures his government is willing to take to deal with the problem, without “others decide on our issues for us,” obviously a hint to the IMF involvement in Greece, Spain and Portugal. He didn’t lie. He didn’t say the truth either. Actually he did exactly what Greek politicians did seven years ago. He said the bitter but comfortable part of the truth, keeping aside the real thing and hoping that things will change in the next six months. Just like Kostas Karamanlis did in Greece seven years ago. What is missing now is an opposition that will promise immediate and painless solutions, – most likely the social-democrats, just like it happened in Greece – and then the whole scene is staged too familiar for the Greeks grounds.

sipi01_400Furthermore, Mr Sipilä and his partners in the Finnish political scene, the last fifteen years didn’t only neglect the advices that were so eagerly given to others, but they also repeated their own mistakes from the past. And it was not a very long past, just two decades.

When I first arrived in Finland, back in the mid-1990s, the first thing that really fascinated me about this country - beyond nature - was the fact that there was absolutely no corruption in your everyday dealings, especially with the state and the public services. Everything worked smoothly and easy. I thought that Finland fulfilled the expectations of every democratic citizen of this world and justified the first position of the country in the list of the least corrupted countries in the world.

That was in the beginning; because soon after I realized that there is a mistake, a handicap in this research for the least corrupted country. The researchers investigated - and still do, since the survey is an annual issue adopted even by the UN – through a questionnaire to citizens of every country if there is any sign of corruption in their everyday dealings with the state and the public services. Of course the majority of the Finns answered no but they did so for two reasons:

First of all, bureaucracy in Finland works perfectly and I can guarantee for that. At least I could. Dealings with most public service is just a case of minutes; a telephone call or an email, including to open a new company. The second, equally very important reason, is the fact that Finland is a new country with strong unity and patriotism – especially after being isolated from the world for more than half of a century - that would never allow them to say anything negative about their country.

Just think of Italy for example. Even if Italy had the perfect bureaucracy, no corruption and everything worked just like it works for Finland, would the Italians say in any survey unanimously – like the Finns – that there is no corruption in their country? No way! And the same applies to Spaniards, Greeks, French, British or any of the other European nations.

So fact is that you cannot say that Finland is the least corrupted in the world, what you can say is that the Finnish people in their everyday dealings with public services never cross corruption, keeping in mind that the Finns would never say anything negative about their country no matter what. Period.

What happens in other levels of life, including politics and governing, is another issue all together. But even in this case the factor of patriotism I mentioned before plays a huge role since even the media cooperate in intentional or unintentional cover-ups. Like it happened a few years ago, when a prime minister funded his electoral campaign with money his government was giving to help nearly bankrupt semi-governmental companies, and their directors were returning the money to his campaign. Think of any other European country where something like that would have happened – including stereotyped Greece – and this politician would not be in prison now. In Finland the certain prime minister just resigned from his position with the excuse of personal problems and he spends his days as a plain member of the parliament. That’s all. And even though the media in the beginning started reporting here and there that there was something going on, soon after everything vanished. Which rises suspicions that other sides of the executive establishment of Finland are not so …innocent. So corruption exists. It is not just so obvious. And it exists the same way it exists in Greece or any other place in this world; unfortunately.

Finland has also some similarities with the Greek past situation. Greece kept borrowing money because its politicians were hoping that a general growth will also push the Greek economy to grow fast and attract investors. Greeks invested for that into a growing tourist industry, growing construction industry and low cost of life compared to other European countries and the saw the success of the state through their success. But the global economic situation didn’t help hopes, plus the mistakes politicians did borrowing to cover older loans, borrowing even more to promote their work or expensive causes – like the Olympic Games in Athens – and of course borrowing to feed their corruption through armament programs and lost causes, brought the bankruptcy and a pilling debt.

sipi02_400Finnish politicians did an unjustified mistake. They tied the economy of the country with a group of private companies, mainly Nokia. And when Nokia fell everything garbled. In the meantime, the state kept borrowing money in an effect to help the private sector to stand up. In vain! Nokia was falling fast and they all knew it. Still they kept investing. And it was not only Nokia; Nokia is just the obvious and more known example. Forest companies, mining companies, tourist companies, even elevator companies are on the list. Still no big list to justify the fact that the country invested its future on their success.

Here is another element very similar to what happened to Greece, yet so different at the same time. Finland lived through a serious economic crisis in the 1990s. The banks created a huge economic balloon by lending uncontrollably money to everybody. When the balloon crashed it left thousands of families and companies bankrupt and the state responsible to control the situation. The one solution was to turn to IMF but that would also mean a series of austerity measures that would force the country to its knees, a very slow growth and of course a lot of sacrifices from a nation that just came out of isolation. The government took a different path. They borrowed from private banks and especially from Swedish banks, under the guarantee of the always friendly Swedish government and tried to turn the country into recovery and growth.

Doing that there was a small detail that worked perfectly with the Finnish aims. Borrowing from those private banks and doing so using loopholes of the laws, allowed the Finnish governments to stabilize the annual budget and show perfect balance economics. Despite the hit, Finland still looked as a healthy country under fast growth. Just like Greece did to enter the euro and the first few years inside the Eurozone.

However, borrowing from Swedish private banks - and Danish soon after – always with the Swedish government guaranteeing, it became a habit and soon a solution to any problem rising and yes manipulating budgets continued despite all the accusations of the Finnish politicians to the Greek ones for doing …exactly the something.

The combination of all those, plus the failure and impotence of a series of governments with today’s financial minister, Alexander Stubb holding a prime position, the debt kept rising. And rising. And rising. But still not in the papers, or at least the papers they were showing around, especially to the EU Commission and authorities. In the end, just like it happened with Greece, the general economic situation didn’t go as well as the Finns were hoping and wishing. Nokia died and the gaming industry – the next big hope – proved to be …just a game.

The whole thing actually reminds a lot of Spain. Again creating a balloon through the private construction sector and investing the banking future of the country into one sector of the economy. I think that’s why Mr Sipilä, very cleverly avoided to mention Spain in his speech. He didn’t want to rise similarities. While he often mentioned Greece to rise fear.

Not long ago the Swedes warned that this is not a bottomless well and their economy has also suffered with the global economic crisis, limiting their flexibility to constantly help others. A few months later the Danish banks sent the same warning. On top of that political situation changed in Finland bringing into the main scene a xenophobic – to put it mildly – Eurosceptic, far-right (political correct for fascist) party, the True/Pure Finns, bringing them into government in a partnership with the two conservative parties (Keskusta and Kokoomus) and creating a lot of sceptics around Europe about their relationship with this new Finland.

And the balloon crashed, leaving no room for lies but for actions. However, politicians even in Finland are politicians and Mr Juha Sipilä chose to say the convenient truth and hide the whole truth. Furthermore, what he announced leaves suspicions on how he and his government have any plan to save Finland or there is a different agenda running. In an obviously last stand, he tries to help the industry and the banks hoping that their growth and survive will save Finland. Like the plan hadn’t already failed. So he came with some bright suggestions.

“I call once again on the sides in the labour market. Instead of means that have been shown to be difficult, such as [cutting] Sunday bonuses, find easier solutions within the collective agreement. There are still a few days before Parliament begins to consider the measures proposed by the cabinet. The entire package presented by the government could be replaced by extending the work day by about 20 minutes or by giving up on bonus holiday pay.” This is a week after the government announced radical cuts to benefits, holidays, pensions, overtime work, salary rises and of course layoffs in the public sector.

A week after the government with another announcement provocatively exhibiting its far-right partner’s xenophobia and discrimination, made clear that the refugees that will come to Finland from Syria not only they will be treated like as unwelcome visitors without much help and less benefits but they will be moving according the needs of the labour-market anywhere in the country any time the government decides awaking memories from another era.

So 20 minutes more. But the question is for whom? Because the only ones who profit from this are the industrialists and the bankers. The state just hopes that all of them will be first patriotic enough not to take their money to Luxembourg - like so many others have already done - and that gradually they will create many small Nokias to recover the country. The same exactly mistakes continue which makes you wonder who the hell was the economic brain who came with these ideas or if Mr Sipilä has a different agenda, not so innocent. After all he is an industrialist himself and he knows the pain industrialists feel with the loss of profits.

As for the Finnish people, well just like the Greek people, the Portuguese and the Spanish, they have to pay for these bright ideas. Ideas that don’t work and have nothing to do with the nation’s future. Furthermore, nothing to do with the survival of the famous Finnish welfare state.

Now looking back at what happened with Greece, in a few months - say a year - the government will call for an early general election or will make a reshuffle of the partners, leaving the True Finns outside and replacing them with the social democrats – the True Finns always give plenty of excuses to be out of the government any time – and ask for help from the EU Commission and IMF. Just like it happened in Greece. Of course more austerity measures will rise, more people will lose their jobs and be homeless in Finland can be lethal.

The last few weeks and very fast, Finland killed the welfare state and now labour rights. And I’m afraid just like Greece has already done, Finland states the blue print and the future of a very ugly Europe if we don’t do something to change it. On Friday, organized by all the unions, there is a general strike in Finland. Is not enough. People must act every day, they must put pressure on their government otherwise I’m afraid IMF is waiting just round the corner and after the Greek experience IMF will be much harder with Finland that ever was with Greece. Especially after all these similarities make Finland, the Greece of the north.


PS 1. The hit to the Finnish economy will definitely show in the neighbouring Estonia at least, soon. While Finns invested their future in the few of the Finnish private companies, a lot of Baltic countries and especially Estonia, invested their economy in the future of the Finnish economy.

PS. For years I have personally – just like all my compatriots in Finland – been under the constant torture of insults and prejudice remarks. I have even suffer of prejudice from state employees and officials. I’m sorry for Finland, I’m really really sorry for the Finnish people; and I promise never to repeat their insults to them, hoping that now they have learned their lesson.


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Emanuel Paparella2015-09-17 12:00:11
Indeed Thanos, this is quite an eye-opener. To proclaim that one will never say anything bad about one's country (the "my country right or wrong" syndrome) is the same as saying "I love my mother and I will never say anything bad about her." But if one's mother happens to be a drunkard and one remains in denial and refuses to acknowledge that fact, one is ensuring that one's mother will never recover from her addiction. The question then becomes "Do you really love your mother or is it just an illusion and a pretense? The same applies to "love" of one's country. Some time ago a very good man was condemned to death on that very issue by city fathers who thought that to criticize one's country is being unpatriotic. They charged him with "corruption of youth." His name was Socrates.

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