Nudity, Shame, and The Donald: A Comparison of Finnish and American Culture & Politics

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A loaded title like that deserves a bit of an introduction. I moved to Finland in August of 2016 from the United States where I was previously working as a public school teacher in the state of Ohio. I’ve been enrolled in Helsinki University since August and I began working in Finland this January as a barista. During my undergraduate studies in the United States, I also did an exchange in Finland in 2012 for one semester; that 2012 experience, plus a wonderful Finnish man, brought me back to Finland for a longer stay in 2016.

So, what does nudity and shame have to do with Donald Trump and Finnish politics? Well, I originally set out to embark on the journey of answering the perpetually perturbing question that I receive steadily from Finns at the cafe: “Why, why, why did Americans vote Donald Trump into power?” Being from Ohio, a swing state in which I knew a lot of Trump supporters, I went to Facebook to pose this question myself, because I was just as stumped as the Finns who asked me.

The interesting thing about the Facebook post was that it wasn’t very interesting. The people who answered my question gave the answers that most of us have already heard: Hillary Clinton was a classic, corrupt politician with little interest in national security and cracking down on immigration, while Donald Trump was a successful businessman who offered security, prosperity, and success. Thus, the vicious cycle continued and my feeble attempt at research failed.

My failures brought me to the public swimming hall on Yrjönkatu. At this particular place, swimwear is optional, and if you choose to use the hall’s sauna after your swim, swimwear is actually banned. Yes, my fellow Americans, I have attended the sauna nude, with strangers, many, many times now. So, as I sweated my way through my Wednesday sauna session I inadvertently stumbled upon the things I wanted to talk about: nudity, shame, and politics.

I couldn’t think of anything to say about Donald Trump’s election that hasn’t already been said  before by much wiser, more qualified writers and critics. What I do know about is how my own politics have changed and grown since moving to Finland and how those changes are directly correlated to how both cultures handle nudity and shame.

For example: Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall. I mentioned earlier that swimwear is optional. If you ever go there you will see women of all shapes, ages, and sizes swimming nude. Your definition of breast stroke will probably change, and back stroke will certainly never be the same. On an important side note for my American readers, there are men and women’s days; nudity is almost always separated by gender. Although there are male lifeguards, which I admit is a bit odd.

However, the first couple times I went to Yrjönkatu I wore my bathing suit. Then the Wednesday came that I forgot it and so I did the whole thing nude: swimming, sauna, walking around. It was great. But it didn’t feel that way at first. My eyes were peeled wide open as I walked around in my birthday suit. I kept thinking someone was going to notice me, despite the fact that the whole  place was basically nude. I, self-centeredly, thought everyone would somehow sense my Americanness and point and stare and probably laugh.

Instead, what happened, and what continues to happen there, is that I run into the sweetest old ladies who are always willing to speak English with me, or help me with me Finnish. They tell me about their adventures and why they love that swimming hall after all these years. Even though I’m naked, they talk to me for me; I genuinely feel welcome at that hall.

The way that Finns handle nudity is reflected in the welfare state style of government. It doesn’t matter how old and wrinkly you are, or how diseased and troubled—you will be taken care of. Is the system perfect? Of course not. But what I find admirable about the Nordic welfare state is that people are always, always people. And I believe consistent nude interaction with your fellow countrymen and women wakes you up to this concept. When it is normal and natural to see a person naked, flaws exposed, acceptance more easily enters the mind.

In contrast, nudity is completely taboo in the United States. Well, sort of. It’s completely acceptable for a young, attractive woman to wear a string biking which basically covers her nipples and butt crack, but if anyone else would wear such a bathing suit, it is immediately revolting and disgusting. Americans specifically struggle with the female nipple and I’d wager that just reading the phrase “female nipple” makes Americans uncomfortable.

This attitude plays out in our governments. Where the  Finns see a person as person, flaws and all, Americans tend to see the flaws first and make a judgement based on those flaws. “Are you on drugs?” You don’t deserve welfare. “Do you work?” Because if you don’t you don’t deserve welfare. “How many jobs have you looked for?” “How much have you sacrificed?” The questions we ask to determine a person’s worthiness go on and on.

This constant search for fault that is something I rarely see in Finland. When I talk to Finns about the welfare state, every single one I’ve ever met has admitted that there are those who take advantage of the system. This knowledge has never led any of  them to say to me: “We need to cut welfare” or “those people don’t deserve help.” The talk usually revolves around incentive and job creation. “How can we get more jobs in Finland?” and “How can we encourage people to work and avoid getting comfortable living off of welfare?” The questions are totally different.

This is where shame comes into play. From what I’ve noticed in my short time here, Finns feel a huge sense of shame when they aren’t working. If they’re studying, that’s a different story, but many Finns I know at the university have part time jobs and attend university as well. I would argue that this sense of shame also exists in America. I have not met a single welfare recipient in the US who is proud to take welfare. The difference in shame between cultures lies in the type of job.

For example, I was a teacher in the US, and now I work as a barista in Finland. The only time I ever feel a sense of shame about being a barista is when I tell other Americans. There’s usually a slight frown. “A barista? Why couldn’t you find a teaching job?” I make a livable wage as a barista here in Finland. I turned down a teaching offer because I didn’t feel comfortable in that particular school. My Finnish friends couldn’t have been happier for me when I told them I got a cafe job. I’m not quite sure why Americans job shame so much, but it’s a real problem in the US.

This attitude of job shaming even seeps into American schools. As a high school teacher, I noticed every year that students would stray from technical school or trade jobs, thinking those jobs were somehow lesser. I would argue that the vast majority of my students felt a massive pressure to go straight to college from high school and to know exactly what they wanted to major in as soon as they entered university. Remember, Americans pay thousands and thousands of dollars for university so there isn’t much time to think about what you really want to do.

Conversely, it is completely normal for Finnish high school students to wait a year or two before entering university, which is free of charge. However, once students graduate, they are expected to enter the workforce immediately so that they can contribute back to the system that just afforded them so many opportunities.

So, we covered two major cultural differences: nudity, and job shaming, which leads to the mother of all cultural differences: small talk.  The stereotype is that Finns don’t “do” small talk, which is a favorite American past time. Finns are known for being notoriously straight faced, shy, and quiet, whereas the Americans are known for being loud, talkative, and hyperbolic. I think both nations could learn valuable lessons from each other here.

Take for instance, the simple, but important question “How are you?”. To Americans, this is just a greeting. We don’t actually want to know about your day at the check-out line in the grocery store. For Finns however, this is not the case; they will sincerely answer your question.

For example, sometimes I slip into this American habit at work and ask Finns “how are you?” while I’m moving around, making their coffee, or giving them change. I’m sometimes greeted with startled expressions and “umm, ohh, I’m okay.” One guy in particular actually informed me he really didn’t like small talk and didn’t know how to answer my question. We ended up having a great conversation about cultural differences in greetings. So it wasn’t that he wasn’t friendly or talkative, he just didn’t see the point in the kind of useless banter that arises from the American “how are you?”

Like nudity and shame, this is yet another quality I see reflected in our cultures and governments. Donald’s rhetoric and the way he perpetually talks around issues and not about them, just seems like another version of small talk. Instead of getting straight to the issue, he creates small phrases that are catchy, but don’t really mean anything, and the greater meaning of the issue is lost, just like in the case of “how are you?”

However, the midwesterner in me misses talking to neighbors and petting any dog that walks by on the street. Here in Helsinki I have smiled at people on trams, and said hello to dogs on the street and I receive looks that say “Are you crazy or a murderer or both?”

What it boils down to, in my eyes, is that the Finns see Donald naked, just as the person and conman that he is. His drive to acquire and acquire and acquire-money, votes, fame-this is what Finns find shameful about Donald Trump. When Finns set out to establish free and equal school systems, they created a government in which free and equal school systems actually happened. When you step into school systems across the entire country of Finland, you will find the same basic supplies and buildings. Their government did not use small talk to make empty promises.

The final point I want to make is about this notion that Finland, and all of Scandinavia, is able to have a welfare state government because they are small and homogenous countries. Finland has had a bloody and difficult history. They gained independence from Russia only in 1917, and maintained their independence even after battles in WWII. Finland left the wars extremely poor, but autonomous. They made a conscious decision as a nation to invest in education and welfare for all; none of that discussion was small talk among Finns. Each Finnish citizen sacrificed and continues to sacrifice a large portion of their salary to contribute to this welfare system. Paying taxes is not the epitome of evil in Finland.

That is a concept and decision that hasn’t been considered in America. As long as Americans believe a country is a business, money will continue to be placed above people. And as long as welfare states continue to see people for people, then humans will be more important than money.

My hopes for the future are romantic. I wish that America would stop shouting from the rooftops “We are the greatest country in the world!” and learn from other countries that have things figured out a little better than we do at home. And I wish Finns would be more vocal about their culture, and the things that work so well for them.

Is Finland perfect? Absolutely not. Battles are fought everyday in the wintertime in Helsinki about who will walk on the part of the sidewalk that has been shoveled and who will walk in the snowy sludge. I have lost every one of these battles. So, how do I combine the best qualities from both my beloved homes? I can’t be sure, but sauna usually solves all my problems. Maybe President Donald Trump and President Sauli Niinistö can sweat it out traditional Finnish style, in the nude, with some birch branches in case a certain someone needs an extra wack when they get carried away with nonsensical small talk.

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The Festival of Political Photography: A Visual Feast

Food Waste

Most of us think surprisingly little about something as essential as food. Even for conscious consumers, the daily necessity of eating creates a tendency to interact with food mainly through habit and ritual. But viewed from unfamiliar angles, mundane foodstuffs can look provocative.

This year The Festival of Political Photography focuses on food. Multiple exhibits around Helsinki recontextualize food production, distribution, and consumption, highlighting the politics, ethics, and humanitarian issues embedded in something everyone needs and most of us consume daily. The festival runs through May with exhibitions at the Finnish Museum of Photography, Virka, and Stoa.

Like most kids, I was taught not to waste my food, and like most urban adults I rely on supermarkets and restaurants to feed myself. Despite good upbringing and good intent, I am (and likely you are) implicated in a massive amount of waste before food even makes it to the plate.

The exhibitions at Virka focus on the wastefulness built into the food distribution systems of western countries. The show features several videos alongside still images. I gravitated towards Polish artist to kosie’s looped videos. Recorded with a hidden lapel cam while she worked as a waitress at a hotel breakfast buffet, the first video shows to kosie scraping plate after plate of food into the trash. Fruit salad, beans, toast, eggs, sausage, and porridge appear temptingly tasty as they tumble into the bin.

Dumpster Bagels

Photo by Sachi Yoshitsugu. A day’s worth of unsold bagels.

Her second video captures a dumpster diving session behind a supermarket. The camera angle, head height and overlooking a pair of hands, invites you into the scenario. I quickly found myself visually sorting the tossed buns, packaged bread, bruised fruit, and assorted vegetables, mentally filling up a shopping bag as the hands deftly made their own selection. Some of the food, especially the packaged items, is clearly still edible, appetizing even. Other items had been visibly spoiled only by the act of throwing them into a dirty bin.

To kosie’s videos are a distressing visualization of the dry statistics a quick google search spits out. Up to 40% of food on US supermarket shelves winds up in the trash. Through the whole farm to tummy process, one portion of food is lost or trashed for every portion that ends up on the table. Numbers vary between the United Nations, Business Insider, and Wired, but the estimates are all distressingly large.

Less immediately captivating if visually engaging in its own way is Filippo Zambon’s “Into the Bin,” images of trashed food framed by the neat square created by looking straight down a lined trash can. The colorful food tumbling abundantly over the folds of black plastic recalls Renaissance still life. The very state of being trashed imbues the food with aesthetic value, inviting the viewer to pluck the lovely yellow curve of an apple from a twining bed of leek greens. The images are pleasant to view but upsetting when aesthetic appreciation leads to consideration of what is wasted.

Many of the images at the Finnish Museum of Photography are difficult to look at, visually aggressive and distressing. The exhibit focuses on methods of food production and distribution. The easiest photographs to view are from Tim Franco’s “Metamorpolis” series. Surreal in composition, the photos depict tiny farmers working in patchwork fields beneath towering skyscrapers. Franco captured these images of abrupt rural to urban transition in the Chinese countryside where rapid urbanization creates strange juxtapositions of steel and greenery, glass and dirt.

Tucked behind dividers that allow visitors to choose whether they will view the photos are images of factory farming and another series showing the human consequence of farming Monsanto soja using glyphosate herbicide in Argentina. These are shot in a photo journalistic style that highlights subject matter over aesthetic. Indeed, viewing bodies twisted and broken by exposure to high levels of herbicide as aesthetic would be a bit suspect. Yet there is something compelling in the stark black and white textures.

While some of the works can be painful, others have strange beauty. I highly recommend a visit to at least one of the exhibits. It’s easy to habitualize and ritualize something as essential as food. Stopping for a moment to view it from another angle, to think, can make the mundane surprisingly enlightening.

Inaugural Interviews: Sampsa Granström, SUB President

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Since times immemorial, BTSB has interviewed presidents of SUB and photoshopped their faces onto movie posters. This is that story.

Sampsa, congratulations on your election to the high halls of SUB! How would you describe your first months in this hallowed post?sampsa

There’s a saying that’s purported to be an old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” The times are definitely interesting in many ways and quite a few challenges have already risen, but we’re on top of things and I honestly don’t think there’s anything we couldn’t handle with the people we have on the board. But “busy” is a pretty damn accurate summation if you need just one word.

You started university at a somewhat more mature age than most. Do you think that affects your style of studying or the way you do stuff in SUB?

Such a nice way of saying I’m as old as the hills. I don’t think it has too much of an effect. I recognize that my studying skills aren’t quite as good as many others’ as I did have quite a long break from studying actively. As for the way I do stuff in SUB? I’d say I’m maybe a little more patient than some would be, and I have a tendency to think a little bigger than people around me, but I’m not sure if that’s age or just my personality and this stupid blind belief that if we do things together we can achieve pretty much anything.

I understand you’ve kept busy with a lot of things, producing the 2016 Humanistispeksi, for instance. Projects like that obviously take some time and commitment. How are you planning to devote enough time for the SUB presidency?

I’d say the 2016 Humanistispeksi was pretty much the greatest thing I’ve achieved so far in my life and saying it took “some time and commitment” is such an understatement. It took over almost everything for a while and left a bit of a hangover now that it’s over.  At the moment I’m definitely putting SUB way up my priority list.

Are you cutting down on your extra-curriculars now that the speksi run is over?

I do feel that my positions in the university collegium and the institute council of the Department of Modern Languages (phew that’s a mouthful) only give me more insight into what we at SUB should and could do as an organization when it comes to the big picture. Also, while my style is very hands on, I trust my board members to be able to handle things without me constantly butting in (but I probably will a bit anyway, sorry guys).

Last year, I put then-president Caitlin on the spot on SUB’s stance toward political decisions affecting students. Since then, the decisions have gotten even worse. How do you see SUB’s role in particular and subject organizations’ role in general in fighting the kinds of unprecedented cuts that higher education is facing on several fronts? Do you think it’s in flux?

While SUB is not a political organization as such and we are a very diverse group of people, I do think that we can all agree that the cuts we are facing are ridiculously severe and will affect all our lives in a negative way and I do think that we need to take a more vocal stance on these issues. It does seem like everything is in flux. Right now we are facing huge changes in the university’s organization, in the faculty system, even in our degree structure, and the cuts we are facing aren’t helping in any of this.

What do you think could be done?

Of course things might change when the government changes, but things lost aren’t easily recovered so we have to be more active. As students our means are limited, but at the very least we can attend rallies in numbers and make noise. I have to admit that I’ve never been very politically active so I’m not sure of the different ways that we could make our voices heard, but I am finding out, and I hope that the government hears our roar.

I’d like to hear a little more on the topic, since I do think that times like these would call for even drastic measures from student organizations. How are you planning to advance concrete resistance against decisions that directly affect your members, current and future?

As I already said I’m not sure of the measures that we could take, but I will look into things. A good old fashioned letter campaign might be nice, because being buried under a mountain of paper grabs your attention more than an email or a petition no matter how many names it has. I do somewhat fear that too drastic measures might alienate some of our members and have an adverse effect on our organization so open and transparent communication with the whole organization would be the key to forming any resistance. As we are only 541 strong, co-operating with other student organizations would also seem to be the way to go to reach a critical mass.

Any comments you’d like to convey to the government on the latest plans to wreck the Finnish student allowance system?

Most things that come to mind are probably best left in my mind. Just short-sighted, stupid, and silly. The whole government somehow reminds me of the upper class twit of the year sketch by Monty Python:

Moving on to less political issues, what’s the direction you see yourself taking SUB during your term? I’ve gathered that at least you have a very dedicated and versatile group in the board, what do you guys have in mind?

We’re going to keep the momentum that my predecessor put in motion and diversify our activities even more. We’re also doing a lot co-operation with other organizations and putting more energy towards promoting our members interests. I’m also personally interested in bringing the faculty and the students closer to each other as I think that especially with everything going on it would help all of us to communicate more freely about how we are dealing with all the changes.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for SUB in the near future?

Biggest challenges will probably come from all the changes that are in motion at the university, but it’s hard to pinpoint what it will be. I do know that we are going to be able to handle it because of the people I have with me on the board and as members of SUB.

How about greatest opportunity or strength?

This actually comes from the same source as the challenges. All the changes that are shifting and swirling around us are still malleable. If we remain vigilant and grab the opportunities from this turmoil, I believe we can actually make something good out of all this negative around us.

Now, we here at BTSB indeed went ahead and ‘shopped your face onto a poster of Leo DiCaprio’s Oscar-buster film The Revenant. What are the lessons we should take home from Leo’s crawl into a dead horse if we think of the student life context?

First thing that comes to mind is that you can learn a lot from Empire Strikes Back. Second is that no matter how dark and dreary things might seem it is possible to survive, and when we do, we need to find ways to make sure that no other student has to crawl into a carcass, because it’s damn disgusting, or at least not crawl in there alone.

Would you characterize yourself more as raw liver-eater or trout-biter?

Tough one, I love sushi, but I did eat raw liver sometimes as a kid. Hmmm. Probably trout-biter, but I’d spend an inordinate amount of time on ripping it open so I could avoid the skin.

Finally, if you’d give a single piece of advice to our readers about anything related to life at the university, what would it be?

Don’t forget the people, that’s where the knowledge you came to learn here comes from and that’s where it grows. I think that’s a thing some people tend to forget here while they just focus on passing the exams.

Thank you very much for you time, Sampsa! We wish you a glorious reign at the helm of the S-U-Boat!

A Letter To Gloria Steinem

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Dear Gloria Steinem,

I am currently in the midst of reading your book My Life On The Road as it was chosen as the first book in Emma Watson’s feminist book club. In that context, and as a feminist myself, I quite anticipated it to be good, and you to become a feminist role model for myself too. And you were well on your way to being that, until after the New Hampshire presidential primaries when I read about your comments regarding young women who support Senator Bernie Sanders.

Even though I am not eligible to vote myself, I am a supporter of Sanders – and I am also a young woman and a feminist. According to you, I, and other young women like me, only support Sanders “because the boys are with [him]”. Does that really seem likely to you? Please do not underestimate the intelligence of young women. Our support of Sanders has got nothing to do with whom men are supporting. We support him because we truly feel like he is the best chance America has at becoming a better, more equal country. Unfortunately many feel that Hillary Clinton as an establishment candidate will not truly inflict change.  And that has got nothing to do with her gender.

As a feminist, I feel like any political candidate I support has to advocate feminist values too. Bernie Sanders has sent a clear message of gender equality and I am certain he would not act against it. I find the idea that a woman must support a woman, whatever the opinions of the candidate, ridiculous. Did you support Sarah Palin when she was running for vice president in 2008? I didn’t think so. I will support a candidate who promotes gender equality and who in other aspects has opinions that align with mine. Whether they are a man or a woman is irrelevant. A man who advocates gender equality is as good as a woman who does the same.

I find your comments sexist and inherently un-feminist. You are implying that young women are not able to think with their own brains while young men are. Furthermore, you reduced Hillary Clinton into only representing her gender when it is only a part of her. You also implied that the reason older women are voting for Clinton in bigger percentages than young women is that women get more radical as they age, because women lose power as they get older. I find that idea very weird, since out of these two candidates, isn’t Bernie Sanders considered the more radical one? I’m aware that you probably meant women getting more radical with their feminism. Still, the majority of liberal young women seem to believe that Sanders as the president will execute feminism and equality in general better than Clinton will.

You tried to shame young women into voting Clinton, and that is something a lot of us find hard to overlook.

You haven’t even offered a proper apology for your words yet.

I, too, would like to see a female US president sooner rather than later, but right now it just doesn’t look like the best choice there is. And as for your book, I want to finish it, but right now I’m having trouble getting myself motivated to doing it.  I suspect I’ll cool down in time; you have, after all, done a lot for gender equality throughout the years. But that is why it is even more outrageous to hear such comments from you.

 

Sincerely,

Eve, a fellow feminist

 

Chief Editor’s Note: Dinosaurs and Politics – Haven’t we learned anything?

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Have you watched the new Jurassic World trailer that came out yesterday? You should. After watching it, I was not only hyped about seeing dinosaurs on the big screen, but also thoughtful about the disastrous learning abilities of human beings. We know from the trailer that there are two important lessons Jurassic World is trying to make us understand. Number 1: Hey, new generation of kids! Please love dinosaurs as much as your creepy big siblings and parents and make them buy you loads of valuable dinosaur merchandise. And number 2: Human beings never learn anything.

I mean we all know what happened last time, right? Everybody knows what a terrible idea it is to put people and dinosaurs in an enclosed space. This time however, there’s a twist: A genetically manipulated super-dinosaur that kills other dinos for sport. The super dinosaur isn’t only an antagonist and an excuse to make Chris Pratt ride a motorcycle with raptors (what a complicated mix of feelings of “whadup” and “wtf”). It is an intertextual reference to Frankenstein’s monster and a big, teethed, warning sign about not learning from your mistakes in time. Much like Frankenstein creates another, 2.0. version of his monster, the scientists in Jurassic World up the game by creating this super dinosaur. The fictional characters are trying to tell us important lessons about not repeating the same mistakes we seem to make all the time.

Books, films and television series tell us about us in the most naked and grim ways. It is not surprising that in a time where social media is giving us the impression that other people’s eating and exercising habits, their appearance, and sexual habits, are somehow our business, television is defecating reality series where nothing is sacred. It is impossible to tell, which one of these phenomena came first, but one thing is clear: it creates horrible side products (see e.g. revenge porn). Entertainment products not only reflect our society, they also work as cautionary tales about everlasting themes, such as learning from history. That is why, entertainment is a dead serious topic that needs to be broken down and analyzed.

I long for the ability to learn from history when I look at the results of Finnish parliamentary elections. When we’re scared because of the economy, we turn to conservative values. The problem, then, is that we don’t know what we’re buying into when we rely on violent argumentation and conservative members of the parliament. We might think that since “Koti, uskonto ja isänmaa,” a common phrase in Finnish culture (“home, religion, and fatherland”), sounds familiar its modern form doesn’t involve values such as segregation, racism, and economic stagnation. We have seen that during times of recession, some people seek scapegoats and when public talk about the economy sounds too forbidding, we seek blame in our fellow human beings. We move away from values that should be self evident and unquestionable. Instead of what we should do as civilized human beings, aspiring towards values such as equality between genders, or people with different sexual orientations, we are fooled to think that rights are similar to pies. Whenever you give someone a piece, you don’t get to have it.

We need stories such as Jurassic World (and tons of other great movies with a more serious exterior) to remind us to remember. We need art students and academics to tear them apart, put them back together and go “See?,” thus helping us understand their possible meanings. We also need poetry, dinosaur movies and stories to help us forget our current state and BTSB is here to help you with all this.

This is our second to last issue of this spring and boy, what an issue it is! Ile and Elizabeth are serving us very original fiction pieces, Juho and Inka poetry, Jesper shares his break-up story with Twitter, Ari shows the Alien trilogy in a brand new light, Esko interviewed SUB’s new president, and Laura gives an account of trying out new sports.

We’re over-the-moon happy to present to you our new lovable editor-newbies, Eve, Sampsa and Milla, who share their brilliant thoughts and experiences on Finnish sauna culture, the national meeting of English students, and cleanliness, respectively.

We’re also so proud to give you Nely Keinänen’s speech from SUB’s anniversary dinner party.

Annual Round-up on Student Austerity

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I seem to return to this topic annually, but budget cuts to student welfare have turned out to be a recurring theme in Finnish politics. Last year, the current government promised that it would not cut student allowances. A year later, they might be able to argue that they’ve kept their promise, semantically, but one can’t really claim that the situation is getting any better for students in Finland. The next parliamentary elections might prove critical as regards student welfare for the foreseeable future. The ever-exciting question remains: will students remain as a perfect target for austerity, or will we be able to elect representatives that fight for our rights?

Here’s a collection of the most recent government decisions that directly hurt students and their welfare (and my apologies for the links in Finnish). Keep them in mind next time you pick who to vote.

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60 years of better student health, says YTHS at least before funding cuts come to effect.

1) Student healthcare cut 4 million euros
How about that! Four million is some 10% of Finnish Student Health Service’s (YTHS) budget, representing 67 annual man-years. Currently, 640 people work for YTHS, meaning we could see less psychiatrists, dentists, and other specialists after the cuts take effect. Even the reduced services might show as a larger bill for students, as YTHS is also funded from student union membership fees. Furthermore, healthcare will not be available for students at universities of applied science, as was originally planned.

2) Student housing cut c. 2 million euros
For a 50m² HOAS flat, the cut could result in a 12,5 € monthly increase in rents. So in addition to being sick, you might also get to do fieldwork back at your mom’s flat.

3) Student allowance and (possibly) student loans won’t be available for a second degree
The government decision to disallow student allowance for students doing a double-bachelor’s or a double-master’s degree attacks what’s left of academic freedom. The problem might be more marginal than 1) and 2) above, but so is the phenomenon the cut’s supposed to tackle, raising questions over the quantity (and quality) of savings achieved by the decision.

4) Research struck for 50 million
Dafuq. The Academy of Finland faces 50 million in cuts to its research funding between 2015-2017, which probably won’t help landing that research grant after graduation.

5) Overall university funding cut 50% for 2015
Believe it or not, all institutes of higher learning see their index support halved for 2015, cutting government spending by 16,5 million euros. Maarit Valo, chair of the Finnish Union of University Professors, says many were prepared for even worse. Aalto University was the first to announce plans to reduce 130 employees as a response to adverse developments in university funding. A round of bingo to pick the next uni to show people dem doors?

Homework:
How does the outlook of higher education look in Finland, based on the latest government decisions? How do you think the government sees research and teaching in Finland? Do you think your work as a student and a possible academic employee is appreciated by politicians? Discuss over a can of Pirkka beer. It’s the one we might be able to afford.

Student Alzheimer’s

From opintotuki.fi

I’m going to sound like a broken record, but for the hard-of-hearing that’s probably what it takes to get through. So let me start reminding.

Last March, Finnish students joined forces in Helsinki to demonstrate against student allowance cuts planned by the Finnish government. MPs from all coalition parties and minister Arhinmäki, in charge of the student allowance system, came out on a cold spring day to the laureled steps of the Parliament House and guaranteed that no cuts to student allowances would happen when this government is in session.

SYL, the National Union of University Students in Finland, went on to thank the government and especially minister Arhinmäki for his concern for the students. We at BTSB had a few reservations.

Then came summer.

Then it went and the government sat down to discuss its budget and reached a bunch of conclusions in late August – conveniently just before students returned to their academies of higher learning.

At that time, when no-one was really looking, the government decided on the following decisions w/r/t studies and student allowances:

The number of allowance months will be reduced from 60 to 55, starting from August, 2014.

The government will reconsider the +2-years rule that has so far guaranteed the right to study two years past optimal graduation times in higher education.

University funding from the government is currently based on the number of graduates and that of students completing more than 55 credits each year. The latter factor will weigh more in the future, encouraging academic institutions to push students towards faster graduation.

I’ll remind you again, dear reader.

They promised not to touch the student allowance system.

SYL issued a statement condemning the moves, while HYY, the Student Union of the University of Helsinki, merely summarized the government decisions (although, it helped write this article, thank you). Ylioppilaslehti did next to nothing to report or comment.

No demonstrations, a weird lack of blog-posts, no rousing messages on mailing-lists.

Did we, like, forget the kind words that we heard in March? Did we accept that this is just the way it is, we’ll get screwed no matter what, our demonstrations are just petty gestures about which no-one gives a shit? Did we graduate and stopped caring or were we freshmen who just got in and didn’t know that we should care?

I think we got a bad case of student Alzheimer’s. The predictable nature of the government’s betrayal (that’s what I’m calling it), the seeming inevitability of cuts and sanctions and this-probably-won’t-apply-to-me nihilism had us, as a student body, shrug our shoulders and move on like nothing happened.

Someone will say that this was no biggie, that it could have been worse.

Duh, I reply. But these decisions stand as the first steps of an agenda designed to end free higher education in Finland and move us back to the dark ages of our parent’s youth when there was nothing but loan to get you through studies. That would save a tanker-load of cash on the short term. And that seems to be the only term Finnish governments, elected for four short years at a time, can think of.

According to SYL, the student allowance law has been changed 2,5 times each year after it came to effect in 1992. The major changes of 2011 have not even been evaluated and already we stride forth into new exciting territories of financial instability for students across the country. Maybe it’s time we start shaking all this dementia and stop voting these guys into the Parliament?

Chief Editor’s Note: Students on the Streets for Financial Aid

Today, 20th of March, thousands of students marched with signboards and shouts that told the Finnish government to “Get your hands off student financial aid!” BTSB encouraged SUB-members to join the event via Facebook and was present in person, but also livetweeted the event and other news concerning the happening. The vast band of students travelled from Senaatintori to the Parliament House to meet representatives from all the parties currently reigning at Arkadianmäki.

The event left me, and I would imagine many others, empowered by that feeling you get by roaring your lungs out, marching in the middle of Aleksanterinkatu, knowing afterwards that you were part of something bigger, something important. But there are other feelings present as well, such as confusion and frustration.

Why in the first place did we need the demonstration? I remember marching for our student allowance just two years ago, and the representatives promised to take care of it. Well, we got the promise to index student allowances (it’s supposed to happen in September 2014).

No wait, now I know! It’s about the ongoing discussion about making careers last longer in Finland (with the financial crisis and all). Students should graduate faster, so that they would start working earlier and thus their careers would lengthen. But wait, wasn’t there a proper expert from Statistics Finland in the news just claiming that this won’t work? Didn’t he clearly state that the only real way of adding working years was to activate unemployed Finnish people from ages 30 to 50? Why aren’t they so afraid of their everyday income that they’d be marching by the thousand in the middle of Helsinki?

Could it be because the representatives are afraid of losing their middle-aged voters that they won’t even talk about making changes in these people’s lives?

The answer that some parties have for making the students graduate faster is to make them finance their studies with loan money. This has been an ongoing discussion for a long time, for example, the National Coalition Party, reported in 2011 their willingness to make student allowance more loan-based. Other issues that have been on display are the financial punishments for students who earn too much money per month from jobs and different kinds of incentives to make students graduate faster. However, only the Green League and the Left Alliance have expressed their current takes on the discussion on how to develop student allowance. Other parties have given vague comments on the matter. The student organizations have already asked some clarity to the issue at hand.

But there has been some vagueness going on with SYL (National Union of University Students in Finland) as well. SYL (who represents university students in the allowance negotiations) was one of the main organizers of Wednesday’s demonstration, and depending on what you want to believe, they sure as hell had the responsibility to do so. According to delicate memos and e-mails that were leaked to Fifi, the webzine of Voima magazine, SYL unofficially blurted out their minimum demands to the Social Democratic Party. Thus they gave their unofficial blessing to even consider loan-based student allowance. SYL sent an email to student organizations the day before the demonstration with a PowerPoint presentation attached. There was no other comment about leaking the information, other than “Neuvotteluissa päätettyjä linjoja ei ole vuodettu julkisuuteen. Tällä hetkellä kaikki arvauket ovat parhaimmillaankin arvauksia” (free translation: “Negotiation stances have not been leaked to the public. Right now, all guesses are just that, guesses”). Hmm, thank you for clarifying that! But didn’t SYL’s chairman claim in Fifi’s interview that this was a backup plan? Fifi cannot give the name of the leaker, because of his/her anonymity, but I really don’t see any reasons why they would lie about this. So I imagine SYL’s meetings are going to have some interesting topics in the near future.

Back to the demonstration, what was achieved today? The members of parliament all gave their promises with big smiles that they are supporting the current student allowance in upcoming budget negotiations. Something was missing though and I have to point the finger at the people interviewing them in front of the Parliament (although otherwise they did a really good job). Yes, you support student grants, but for what period of time? Three years? Five? One? Do you think that financially blackmailing students to graduate faster is the way to produce new experts and new mature academics in Finland? Have you read the studies stating that this isn’t the way to increase working years? Are you bullying us since you cannot bully someone your own siz- age?

I guess only time will show. But remember to keep an eye on the politicians, your own and the parliamentary ones.

One of the yells we roared as a group today was “Promises are empty, we’re not stupid.”

EDIT 3/21/2013, 4.45pm: Today, the government announced that they would keep their hands off student allowances like we asked. We won this battle, but remember that this is not the end of the discussion and that we might meet at the barricades again (who knows, maybe in just two short years).

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this month’s BTSB, we proudly present you some insights on sexism in roleplaying games and on political bullshitting from around the world. We’re also very happy to present to you more Dr. Who reviews and some wintery photos! And please, give us some comments! Let us know how we’re doing, what do you think about these issues and what kinds of articles would you like to see in the future!

Sources (terribly sorry, only in Finnish):
http://www.hs.fi/kotimaa/Opintotukiuudistus+hiertää+hallituspuolueiden+välejä+/a1360734388692
http://www.hs.fi/politiikka/Opiskelijajärjestöt+tivaavat+hallituspuolueiden+kantoja+opintotuesta/a1362363956509
http://yle.fi/uutiset/vain_tyourien_nostaminen_keskelta_parantaa_huoltosuhdetta/6513710
http://yle.fi/uutiset/kokoomus_haluaisi_opintotuen_lainapainotteisemmaksi/5307947
http://fifi.voima.fi/artikkeli/2013/helmikuu/demarit-opiskelijoille-pakkolaina