Registration Deadlines Set For Postgrads
As of last fall at the University of Helsinki, postgraduate students must now obey the same registration deadlines as undergraduates. While almost all of Finland’s undergraduates are members of their local student representative organizations, only about 5 000 of the 18 000 postgraduates in Finland are paying members. Helsinki University Student Organization (HYY) members pay 348 FIM, less than 70 USD, at the start of each academic year, which entitles undergraduates to substantial discounts on food, health care and transportation. Postgrads pay the same amount but receive no discount at university cafeterias or from transportation offices. More than half of the 4 400 postgraduates in Helsinki have chosen not to join HYY.
The deadline of September 15 in the fall and January 15 in the spring was imposed because several postgraduates were found to be registering as HYY members in the middle of the academic season in order to take advantage of discounts at the University Student Health Care Foundation (YTHS). A recent report by YTHS shows that the amount of dental work done on postgraduate students in Helsinki exceeds that done on undergraduates significantly. Anna Parpala of HYY’s Academic Policy Division explains, “We hope to encourage people to think of the YTHS health care payment as insurance, instead of using it only when there is a need. The changes mean that undergrads and postgrads are now on the same ground.”
Finland’s Security Police Turns Fifty
Each year the Finnish Security Police makes its official list of enemies of the state. Recent years have seen mention of Hell’s Angels, animal rights activists, and Satan worshippers. The Finnish Security Police, commonly known as Supo to Finns, turns 50 this year and will publish a book in celebration. The history of Supo runs parallel with the Cold War: founded in 1949, Supo had a clear and certain enemy in communism and the Soviet Union. Helsinki was crawling with KGB agents and all members of the Finnish Communist Party were suspect. In fact, members of the Finnish Communist Party were included on the enemies of the state list into the 1980s, when President Mauno Koivisto saw that that practice ended.
In the 80s, Supo arrested a Finnish Public News reporter named Matts Dumell for having had contact with the KGB. He was labeled as a traitor in papers throughout the country before he even stood trial, at which time most of the charges were thrown out. A recent case of the same nature has recently made big news in Finland. After several months of tracking, Supo arrested Foreign Ministry worker Olli Mattila this January for spying for the Russians. Helsingin Sanomat, the nation’s largest daily paper, says that Mattila was targeted for handing over insignificant materials and Mattila himself says that he was the victim of manipulation in a self-serving investigation. Jukka Kekkonen, Professor of Legal History at the University of Helsinki, comments, “Supo, like any other state institution, must legitimate its existence. Therefore, it is important to call a lot of attention to cases like Olli Mattila.”
There are several Finns that believe that the days of Supo are over and that security issues should be transferred to the criminal division of the police. In 1995 Supo’s current director Seppo Nevala himself suggested this in a Helsingin Sanomat article, when he was still an employee of the Ministry of Interior criminal police. Erkki Tuomioja, a member of the Finnish Parliament, has pushed for the termination of Supo since the 1960s. He feels that Supo has always been paranoid about younger people’s activism. Tuomas Rantanen of the Finnish environmental group Luonto-Liitto is of the same opinion. “The Security Police work the media skillfully, giving political content to all matter of things and creating threats.”
Juha Keltti, secretary of the group representing conscientious objectors in Finland, accuses Supo of breaking several constitutional laws. “In the mid 90s, animal rights activism was linked to anarchists and the punks. In the shadow of illegal strike investigation, information about perfectly legal organizations and their members was gathered, using illegal police methods. The dirty work, like home searches, was left to the criminal police, but the Security Police created the enemy mindset.” Keltti points out an article from the Swedish language paper Huvudstadsbladet in which it is said that Supo knew the plans of the animal rights activists several months before their strike on fur farmers in Orimattila, but could not present this evidence in court because it was procured with technical devices that are illegal.
Supo currently employs 171 people, making it one-quarter the size of Sweden’s Security Police force and a tiny fraction of Russia’s. 30 ‘field men’ work for Supo, 12 of which are on loan from the police. Despite the recession, Supo’s budget has doubled in the last ten years, at present totaling as much as 47 million Finnish marks, approximately 10 million USD.
Power and Influence in the 21st Century: Part 6
Heli Paasio believes in political influence. Her grandfather, Rafael, and her father, Pertti have left her some pretty large shoes to fill after their years as Parliamentary Chair, Party Chair, several terms as Ministers and most recently, as Representative to the European Union Parliament. Heli Paasio, at 26, has just been elected to represent the Social Democrat Party in the Finnish Parliament and is eager to regain the power that politicians once had. “Business and the media have taken it away, although politicians have also given it away. Now it is time to look in the mirror: power is being distributed and it will go to those that take it.” Paasio feels that party politics is still the best way to make a difference. “I don’t know what else would be. Politics is a system created in order to have influence.”
Paasio hopes to encourage discussion within her party, speaking openly and even disagreeing, but putting everything on the table. She wants to work as a group. “Each party has a few key people that need to support you if you want to have any hope of influencing the whole group”, she explains. The future of the Social Democrats doesn’t look too shiny of late, losing several seats in the last election. Member numbers have fallen from 100 000 to 65 000 in the last twenty years. “I believe that the parties will remain and that the number of members will grow again”, says Paasio. A rise in membership would require that parties reflect on where they stand and what they represent. Paasio feels that the theories have to take on a more practical form, parties need to speak the same language as the people. She compares the effort to her own campaign.
Driving over 3 000 kilometers through her constituency in her motorhome, she gave out balloons with a smile and “talked with people.” She ended up winning more votes than anyone in her party at that district. “As I travelled, I saw that people need answers. I soon realized that parties provide these answers, or at least channels to answer them. We do talk about everyday life and how to make a difference”, says Paasio. This is how party politics can take back the power that is due it in a democratic state: citizens will see that it is one of the most important instruments of influence in their lives and the single most important holder of power for society.
Defender Of The Down-And-Outs
Markku Fredman is a young Helsinki lawyer that has made a name for himself as defender of the less fortunate. He has defended Somali refugees, a Russian plane hijacker, sex victims suffering from HIV, young environmental activists caught freeing fox from a fur farm, mercenaries, and heroin addicts. Key words in Fredman’s cases are those of individual, individual legal rights and human rights, all of which are sometimes in contradiction with large organizations and social systems.
In many ways, Fredman could be considered an idealist. Ten years ago, he started a team along with some other young lawyers, specializing in immigrant issues. At that time, the legal state of immigrants in Finland was shockingly poor. Even today, many get trapped in the bureacracy. Fredman tells of an immigrant mother who was simultaneously receiving unemployment compensation and home child care aid from the same state office, when she should have been receiving home child care aid and livelihood money. Now that the office has realized its mistake, they are asking that she repay her unemployment compensation and has yet to receive any livelihood money.
These days Fredman doesn’t choose his cases, but he does admit that they are very interesting. He presents himself as a normal lawyer that simply attends to the cases that are offered him, although he knows that his actions speak for themselves and indicate his specialties. He would like to compare his work to that of a doctor: if a doctor comes upon the scene of an accident, he doesn’t ask who is paying or if the victim has insurance before he tends to their wounds. Fredman feels that “lawyers should have this same kind of duty to help those in need.”
by Pamela Kaskinen