May 14, 2011

DOESN'T IT SEEM LIKE AN AWFULLY LONG TIME AGO...:

A True Finnish Spring (ANU PARTANEN, 5/13/11, NY Times)

Having lived for two years in the United States, I arrived for a visit home this month to a changed land. The long, dark Nordic winter was finally over and the streets of Helsinki were bursting with the bright green of new birch leaves. Usually Finns are gleeful this time of year, but the mood now is sober. My parents and friends talk of nothing but the election results and the risks and benefits of Finland’s policies toward the European Union. Political discussions are even breaking out among strangers in the subway — unheard of here, where we are famous for keeping to ourselves.

The most heated debates revolve around a country at the other end of Europe: Portugal. On the heels of the bailouts of Greece and Ireland, debt-ridden Portugal has been counting on a 78 billion euro rescue package, about $115.5 billion. When the True Finns won 39 seats in Finland’s 200-member Parliament, they became the third-largest party, with enough leverage to try to block Finland from contributing its share. This had the potential to derail the entire rescue package, calling into question the survival of the euro zone itself.

The True Finns have, like populist parties in Denmark, France and the Netherlands, campaigned to restrict immigration, defend family values and stand up to the European Union. In America you might consider them the equivalent of Tea Partiers (if they didn’t support the welfare state, that is).

Their rise is interpreted as a reaction to the harsh realities of the new millennium. Finland’s flagship company, Nokia, is shedding jobs at home. Our welfare state is facing cuts because of the global recession. Europe’s lack of travel restrictions has led to an influx of Eastern European panhandlers.

Myself, I’ve benefited a great deal from the European Union — I’ve studied abroad, traveled easily, enjoyed a strong euro. Like most of my friends I believe in solidarity and in helping the weak.

Yet I was shaken when I learned that we Finns were supposed to lend money to Greece. It didn’t seem fair that my taxes would go to a country that had been living beyond its means.

Our resentment toward being asked to help our far-flung partners in the Union is also exposing the hypocrisy behind another dearly held Finnish tradition: our disgust at how little compassion Americans seem to have for their fellow citizens in terms of sharing the wealth. When my friends criticize the United States for failing to provide universal health care, I point out that America is twice the size of the European Union. It’s not quite parallel, but if Finns were asked to contribute to the health care of the Greeks, the Irish and the Portuguese, they might feel a little like Americans.

And now they do.


...that folks imagined the EU would subsume nationality?

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Posted by at May 14, 2011 7:12 AM
  

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