[This article was published in Jacobin Magazine.]
You’ve got to hand it to Finland: in its centennial year, the country enjoys “strong brand recognition” and “positive brand sentiment” — to use the kind of corporate-speak that’s in vogue with much of Finland’s contemporary political class.
Judging by the international news stories circulating on social media, our native country is a veritable Shangri-La. Its citizens are ecstatically happy — perhaps because we are a mysterious people “of quiet strength and pride”, or because we’ve uncovered the “Secret to Success With Schools, Moms, Kids… and Everything.” Finns aren’t just technologically but socially innovative. Everyone is taken care of, from the cradle to the grave, by a friendly Santa Claus state: even as we speak, Finland is pushing the boundaries of its already stellar public education and social welfare systems. The country is welcoming and egalitarian, with free healthcare for all and high speeding tickets for millionaires. It’s inclusive and progressive: last in corruption, number one in homoerotic postage stamps.
But here’s a more urgent story you aren’t likely to see: much of what once made Finland an exceptional place to live is being systematically dismantled. Finland should not be held up as a beacon of equality and progress. All the media hype and myths notwithstanding, there is no secret Nordic formula for social justice. The famed Finnish welfare state, while still much more generous than the US’s, mirrors the trajectory of other industrialized nations, from its advancement after World War II to its current erosion. And now, with the curtailment of the welfare state, political space is opening up the far right.
So how did we get here?
Above: One of the designs for a planned series of commemorative coins, scrapped after a public outcry, depicting an execution during the civil war. Another coin was supposed to depict a drowned Syrian refugee child carried by a Turkish police officer, emblazoned with the words “Global Justice”. (Source: Mint of Finland)
Header image: Former Social Democratic Party leader Mauno Koivisto in 1982. (Source: National Board of Art Collections / Flickr)