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Text Elias Peltonen Picture Markku Mujunen

Why Finland Sucks – This Is the Less Advertised Side of Finland

The history that has been left unaddressed. The unseen people whose opportunities seem lost. Alcohol, violence, suicides… This is the less advertised side of Finland.

Finland became independent a hundred years ago. To celebrate the anniversary year there have been many stories in Finnish media glorifying our country and saying how Finland is ”the best country to live in”.

But there are things Finns aren’t so proud to talk about. If you look at our history, there are grim and shameful times and events throughout the past hundred years.

The use of narcotic substances was common during the war. Some of the soldiers coming back from the battlefront were highly addicted to methamphetamine, morphine and heroin.

In 1918, only a couple of months after becoming independent, Finland was amid one of the bloodiest civil wars in modern history relative to its population. The failed revolution of the left-wing Red Guards ended up killing almost one percent of the population.

Most of the casualties came not from the battles but from executions after the battles or from famine and diseases in prison camps established by the White Guards after the war.

Next few decades were the times of white terror. Fascistic movement Lapuan liike kidnapped leftist activists and drove them to the border of the Soviet Union. The Social Democratic Party was also left out of the national decision making even though it was the largest party in the Parliament during these decades.

 

When the Second World War broke in 1939, the torn nation came together to defend against the attack of the Soviet Union. World War became eventually another stain in Finnish history as Finland fought the end of the war side by side with Nazi Germany.

The use of narcotic substances was common during the war. Some of the soldiers coming back from the battlefront were highly addicted to methamphetamine, morphine and heroin.

After the lost war, the influence of the Soviet Union in Finnish domestic policies started growing. During this time of ”finlandization” the Soviet Union dictated the suitable politicians and ruling parties. This lasted almost to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In 1990s, after a long period of economic growth, Finland underwent a devastating economic depression. The unemployment rate rose to new heights and hasn’t returned to the numbers before the depression. Today nearly half of the unemployed people have been without a job for over a year. There is a great risk for them to be excluded from most social networks.

 

Today Finland is one of the top countries by many international standards: most stable, freest, safest, best governance, least organized crime, best primary education, most literate, lowest maternal mortality.

When the state of the country is painted so rosy, it shifts focus away from the least fortunate and their problems. Professor of Social and health policy, Juho Saari from the University of Tampere, who has specialized in the research of welfare and loneliness, thinks that defining risk groups has gotten harder than before.

”It has been easy to define a sick or an unemployed person as a member of a clear risk group. Now there are more people with problems that are harder to identify. This is challenging for social security systems because of their need to identify a certain risk or reason to function properly”, says Saari.

 

Another challenge comes from the wealthy but unequal society we live in. Saari mentions loneliness as one of the root causes for many of the problems.

”Mostly people think of loneliness as a personal thing or common to a certain type of people, but in reality it is strongly connected to social status.”

In most European countries people turn to their families for support, but in Finland the support comes more often from friends.

”This means that the supportive social relationships are more and more the product of negotiation. There is a risk, that people can be left out of these relationships. It leads to a rising number of transparent people. Nobody seems to notice them. They are left out of social relationships and opportunities.”

Saari estimates that the paradox  of Finnish welfare society isn’t the cumulation of disadvantages for certain people, but that some people can’t get onboard of the advancement like most of the Finns.

”When you are in a common Finnish path of rising prosperity, there are no limits to what you can achieve. The situation for the people who have had difficulties in life, is not getting worse than before, but the gap between them and the general population grows larger.”

When the state of the country is painted so rosy, it shifts focus away from the least fortunate and their problems.

Hopeless situations lead to many of the more visible problems in Finland. For example, Finland has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe. The amount of suicides has been decreasing for 25 years, but in 2015 the suicide rate was still the 8th highest in the European Union.

Another problem for Finland has been alcohol consumption. Finnish drinking culture is heavily centered on getting intoxicated as fast as possible. Also, nearly half of the alcohol is consumed by 10 percent of the total population.

And in many cases alcohol consumption leads to violence. Most homicides, rapes and assaults are targeted at the perpetrators’ family members or friends. Large number of them are done under the influence of alcohol.

In 2014 a study by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency showed that Finland was the second most violent country in the EU for women to live in. In 2015 Amnesty International criticized Finland for not providing sufficient support for women who have been victims of violence.

 

There are also long-term societal matters with conscription army and gender reassignment. All Finnish males must undergo a military or civil service.

UN Human Rights Committee and Amnesty International have repeatedly condemned the imprisonment of conscientious objectors who refuse to serve in military or civil service. The exemption of women is also a gender inequality problem.

The treatment of transgender people has raised some questions. For example, if you want to change your legal gender, you must undergo a sterilization procedure.

Finland is a great country for most people. It’s still far from perfect.

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