Praying For Permanent Peace
The Queen’s University of Belfast is one of the largest universities in the British Commonwealth. Founded in 1845, the University is the leading institution in Northern Ireland, producing such famous graduates as the poets Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon and actors Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea.
Ask students around campus about their studies at Queen’s and most will indicate their satisfaction. Although Tony Blair‘s Labour Party has threatened to terminate direct study aid and apartments in the Belfast area are hard to find, students seem pleased with the quality of their education and the social atmosphere of the picturesque campus.
Ask Queen’s students about the political situation in Northern Ireland, on the other hand, and the collective bliss melts away. Most of the students have been asked these kind of questions before and aren’t afraid to talk straight. The peace negotiations between Ireland and Britain are source of exasperation for the majority. Chrissie McCartney, a student of pyschology and art history at Queen’s, says bitterly, “They are just a bunch of little boys fighting in the sandbox.” The goals of both parties are so contradictory that a working compromise is seen as impossible.
Of course everyone hopes for lasting peace, if only to avoid the other alternative. Simon Doyle is pessimistic about the future. “If the peace process falls on its face, the consequence may be the worst wave of violence in Northern Ireland’s history.”
Although the University is not religiously affiliated, 55% of Queen’s students are Catholic and 45% are Protestant. Religion in Northen Ireland affects one’s politics. Catholics are raised in the Irish tradition, Protestants in the British. Emily O’Mara, a U.S. citizen studying at Queen’s, comments, “Among the young people of Belfast, the division lines are very clear. At the University, religion doesn’t play such an important role.” But others disagree. Law student Paul Turnball feels that students stay in their own exclusive groups. “It is often the case that the group of friends one makes in primary school stay with you into the university.”
Then comes the question: Is Queen’s British or Irish? Turnbull claims the university is Irish, “because the Queen’s sporting clubs compete in the Irish university series.” Connor Bradley, a student of social sciences, feels the name says it all: Queen’s.
The Uncertain Future of the Finnish Comic Strip
Comic strip animation is alive and well in Finland, but perhaps not well enough to survive. “There is no sense publishing Finnish comics,” comments Kari Puikkonen of Like Publishing, one of the two largest comics publishers in Finland. “Finns don’t buy domestic comic series. Comics we choose to publish are more or less just a matter of improving our profile.” Puikkonen sees the comic serving a marginal culture and predicts that the market will become even more marginal with time.
Researcher Merja Heikkinen of the Central Committee for the Arts disagrees, “There is a marginal market for Finnish prose as well, but that doesn’t stop its publication.” Heikkinen has studied the comic in Finland and stresses its importance in Finnish culture, alongside literature and art. “Finland has accepted the comic strip as a form of art in the 90’s. Now comic artists receive their share of support and financial aid.”
Kivi Larmola, editor of Finland’s Comic Strip Society’s magazine Sarjainfo, admits that no one can make a living in Finland as a comic artist. “A Finnish comic strip album sells about as much as a collection of poetry: few sell more than 2,000 copies.” Larmola still feels that comics are managing just fine in Finland, there are many artists and even university studies on the subject.
Juha Herkman has recently completed the latest academic analysis of Finnish comics. “Any day now a Finnish comic artist could make an international breakthrough. I don’t see any reason why someone like Hans Nissen or J.P. Valkeanpää couldn’t do it.”
Hans Nissen himself isn’t as enthusiastic about Finnish comics, “I can count on one hand the number of comic artists in Finland that I am interested in. Although the Finnish comic is high-quality internationally, it is immature compared to other art forms. Comics are the bastard of the art world.”
May Day Celebrations and Alcohol
On Finnish May Day, or Vappu, all Finns are equal for a day. Everyone has colorful streamers around their necks, their arms around a sweetheart and, last but not least, their hands around a bottle. As long as there has been a May Day in Finland there has been alcohol to go with it. Even during the Finnish prohibition years, alcohol was smuggled into the country from Estonia for the festivities.
It wasn’t until 1969, however, that alcohol was widely available in Finland. Alko, the Finnish government-controlled alcohol monopoly, allowed medium strength beers to be sold in grocery stores. Soon alcohol consumption figures were soaring. Attempts to impose limits on alcohol sales in the seventies were short-lived.
In the 90s the Finns changed their strategy. Alko (still magically in existence despite the EU’s ban on monopolies) lowered taxes on wines and mild alcoholic beverages. Decision makers concerned about Finland’s drinking habits hope to encourage citizens to embrace a more civilized, ‘European’ drinking culture in which people know how to use their alcohol, i.e. sipping wine in the company of friends with no intention of getting drunk. For some reason, Finns like to see their drinking culture as indiciative of their lack of sophistication. After passing out on Vappu Eve like the rest of his neighbors, the standard Finn is ashamed of his lack of self-control and weakness for vodka and cheap beer.
Statisitics show us that Finnish alcohol consumption is below average among European states. In the so-called civilized countries, wine is consumed almost daily and cirrhosis of the liver is a common cause of death.
Finnish limits on wine imports will cease in the year 2004 and the cost of alcohol is expected to drop 15-40%. The Finnish authorities will be forced to cut taxes on domestic alcohol in order to keep it competitive. It is difficult to imagine how Finnish alcohol use will maintain its low level in Europe after that. But what is the point? We haven’t been able to ‘better our ways’ quite yet, so why should we now? Happy Vappu!
Cheating is A Piece of Cake
Bad boys cheat, but only the stupid ones get caught. How easy is it to cheat on a test these days? I decide to try my hand. I enter the Porthania I hall and take the obvious seat way in the back of the room. After the test begins, I am disappointed to see that a test room monitor has set up post right behind me. Guess I’ll have to resort to plan B, give up and write a story lying about how I successfully cheated on a university test.
But wait! After an hour, the monitor moves off to a new roost and I am free to continue with my experiment. Common sense has told me that the smartest way to cheat is to write up a paper full of answers that I can take out after one hour. Then no one can accuse me of cheating because I could have just as easily written them down during the exam. My one hour is up and I carefully take out the paper. No one reacts. This is easy – and fun!
Looking through a book or getting messages on a mobile phone is too obvious for me. I have got a note taped to my wrist and a little paper with figures and names in my pocket. I peek at them both with no problems.
As the clock winds down, I realize that nothing is going to stop me now. I hand in my test with the smile of a victor. Göte Nyman, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, is aware that it is quite easy to get away with cheating in today’s testing situation. “Monitoring testing rooms is a total waste of time,” says the Dean.
Ministry Money For Young Politicians
The Ministry of Education has once again made its allocation decisions for young people’s organizations and this year, 64 different groups share a total of 40 million FIM. The largest organization receiving funding this year is the Finnish Scouting Organization, snagging 10% of the pot. The next largest group are the young person’s political organizations, the largest of which are the Young Conservative Coalition, Center and Social Democratic political parties, receiving two million Finnmarks each.
Recent survey results have made the fat sums going to the political parties each year questionable. In a Ministry of Education poll, a mere one percent of 10-29 year olds reported that they belonged to a young persons’ political party, a total of only 14,000 people. Sporting clubs are 33 times more popular, and three times as many young people are members of environmental protection groups.
So why do political groups receive more funding? Ministry funding is largely determined by the number of members the group declares. Whether the names are legitimate or not is another matter. Ministry employee Hannu Tolonen is aware that many numbers are fabricated and recalls that “In the 70s, the Malmi cemetary was a favorite member recruitment center.”