Plenty of Sympathy, But No Money
On April 27, a student demonstration took place on the steps of the Finnish Parliament House in Helsinki, where over 5 000 university students of the Helsinki area universities gathered to protest university funding.The financial situation of the universities in Finland has worsened dramatically over the last decade, with no funding increases despite growing enrollment. “We have persecuted ourselves and others long enough by demanding results before money. Now we demand commitment,” said Professor Juha Siltala on the Parliament stairs.
Those that represented the university community were clearly fed up with the inner turmoil in the higher education institutions. Professors, worried that their departments must show results in order to be funded, are pushing their students to graduate quickly. Students are often eager to oblige, but are first faced with jam-packed lecture halls and a lack of textbooks.
Several parliamentarians spoke at the event and Sauli Niinistö, the Minister of Finance, even promised a resuscitation for the abandoned universities.The event was also successful in that it generated media attention. Editors of several major publications mentioned the university funding needs.
Helsingin Sanomat, the nation’s leading daily newspaper, preceded the demonstration with an article comparing student radicalism of years past with today. The paper seemed to suggest that the current funding emergency is exaggerated, although it did mention that the students were entitled to their “rebellious, but controlled demonstration.”
Four Hundred Fab Finns In London
It is raining outside at Trafalgar Square. Black suits and bitter ale fill the bar as more people arrive. Tomi Toivonen, Chairperson of the Finnish Student Club of London, greets his guests. “Last year, we had 200 new members,” says Toivonen from behind his beer. The club was created in 1997 at none other than a sauna party. It seemed that more and more Finns were arriving in London, all with the same sorts of questions. How do I find an apartment? How do I open a bank account? Where can I get some good sourdough rye bread?
The club was formed to help Finns adjust to the British culture. Mika Kuusela of the club’s board explains: “Things have a way of working out here, but nothing is organized so well as in Finland.” After the initial questions are answered, the club makes it a point to not let its members forget their Finnish ways. Once a month, the Finnish church hosts a sauna evening. Twice a week, a match of floor hockey keeps the Finns in shape.
Finnish holidays are paramount, “The highlight of the year is the May Day, or Vappu party. We have had between 500 and 700 people partying,” says Toivonen.With 400 members, the club has strength in numbers. Bacardi sponsored their last Vappu party and Finnair has offered club members round-trip tickets for 137 pounds, or about 1 300 Finnmarks. “Today we are going to see the opera for just three pounds a head,” says member Miikka Metsänvirta.
Toivonen is optimistic about the club’s future. “We plan to extend our activities throughout England.” For more information check http://opiskelijaklubi.cjb.net
Money Rules Supreme
Which is more valuable: Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s oil painting White Roses or Sami Hyypiä, Finnish soccer player? Hyypiä, of course. Last year Liverpool bought him for 25 million Finnmarks. A rare work by Gallen-Kallela, Finland’s beloved painter, went for one-tenth of that price in London last April.
Few of us believe any more in our country, God or politics, but money gains more followers every day. Karl Marx knew that economics was the basis of societal order and making ends meet dominated the lives of the poor. But he probably wouldn’t have predicted that just a short 120 years after his death, economy and money would dominate the thoughts of the entire middle and upper-class western world as well.
What do we speak of when we discuss the subjects of university education, information technology or political parties? Instead of talking about new research, the potential of artificial intelligence or ideological differences, we talk about university financing problems, the market worth of Internet companies and national budgets. We talk about money. Money makes it easy to compare.
In Finland, money’s place as supreme being is secure. At bars, people discuss the stock market. Sauna nights are spent lamenting the economy. We now have twice as much money as we did twenty years ago. When did this surrender to money overtake us? Sociology Researcher Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen ventures an answer. “The 20 century saw the spread of the market economy. The modern world revolves because of money and more of the things we do are measured with money. We dress in money, we live in money, we move from place to place in money.”
The media reflects our obsession. Five years ago, every sixth news story on the Finnish news broadcasts was about the economy or business. Papers and magazines no longer exist to further a noble principle, but to advertise to as many readers as possible. They aren’t kept afloat by subscriptions, but by advertisers.
At the turn of the previous century, philosopher Georg Simmel was concerned about the ills of a money culture. He predicted the culture of money could only flatten everything else. All treasures could be measured on the same scale. Art would be given a price tag, despite each person’s personal understanding of the image and any new revelations that it may bring.
Lehtonen explains: “As long as we can compare everything, we have no special relationship with any one thing. Love is a very special, unique and lasting relationship with something. Having this kind of relationship in the material world is critical.”
by Pamela Kaskinen