July 2001

Politicians behind water canons

Like elsewhere in the world, Finland's press has been publishing much comment on the demonstrations and riots in Genoa. "People in the streets, politicians behind water canons" was the headline of a leading article in the left-wing newspaper Kansan Uutiset (24 July 2001). The article says that "the gap between citizens and politicians seems to grow wider with each summit meeting".

"Citizens experience understandable frustration when their messages and demands are ignored. The only way out of the endless spiral is to finally accept citizens as equal participants in debate with politicians. In Finland, this has to start with our own ministers.

"Before the Gothenburg summit, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen showed absolutely no interest in listening to or acknowledging the views of citizens' organisations. On the contrary, Lipponen condemned outright the Tobin tax as 'nonsense', without wanting to engage in a wider discussion about global problems and their possible solutions."

Kansan Uutiset complains that the conservative party, Kokoomus, is only interested in discussing security arrangements at summit meetings, not political themes taken up by citizens' organisations.

The Finnish social democratic Minister of Justice, Johannes Koskinen, in his column in the regional newspaper Turun Sanomat (24 July 2001) asks the media to restrict their coverage of rioting. He believes this would make it more difficult for small groups of rioters to gain publicity.

"As someone who grew up in citizen's organisations, I am disturbed by the anti-democratic ethos of the neo-anarchists who are showing outright fascistic tendencies. The vanguard seems to believe that they have a right to gratuitous violence in order to attract attention."

An article in the regional newspaper Aamulehti (24 July 2001) has the headline "Rebel when young — the way to the top goes via alternative movements". The writer of the article, Matti Pitko, accuses Minister of Public Services Osmo Soininvaara of a lack of sense of history. Soininvaara had complained that some of the brightest Finnish youths participated in the Genoa demonstrations. He thought this was in contradiction to the fact that they form the part of society from which future decision-makers will be recruited. Pitko disagrees.

"Current reality proves that the road to the highest pinnacles of power as president, prime minister, minister or professor, has been decorated by flying flags, and the route has been full of alternative movements and demonstrations."

Pitko then goes through the personal history of some of the leading Finnish politicans. Most of them have a personal history of defending radical causes. President Tarja Halonen has been a member of practically every alternative movement. Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen was once fined for supporting conscientious objectors. Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja know how it feels to be hit on the head by truncheons and being jailed by police. Osmo Soininvaara himself has taken part in environmental demonstrations, Pitko reminds readers, and concludes:

"If one is not a rebel in youth, one does not end up as a wise elderly person."

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