Political discussion tsunami taking over Finland

Ah, this cold country of mine seems to be offering plenty to blog about this week.

First, it was (and is) the national outrage of being called racist (see previous blog post). The scale of that discussion is still growing, and somewhat descriptive of it is the following statistical piece of information: in the last two days of the year, the original article, source of the passionate discussion, became the most read online piece on Helsingin Sanomat (link in FIN) website in 2012, with some 410 000 reads. And before you say anything about the minuscule amount, please remember, this is Finland, a country with a modest population of approximately 5 428 000.

With the waves of xenophobia still hitting the shores, a new topic suddenly emerged. One that has at least as much fervor as the one on Sunday.

Taking a few steps back, you may remember that we elected a new President last year. It is customary for the President to give a speech on the first day of the new year. This year, the newly elected President Sauli Niinistö held his first official New Year’s speech. In the speech, he suggested that:

“[…] people’s sense of justice has withered – they might no longer do what is right, but instead seek to maximise their gains. This attitude erodes trust in the community. But we are living in lean times. And thus we must now consider whether there are benefits we can do without. That is the way to build integrity.”

Of course, the speech was analyzed and talked about, as usual, but the big splash came today. The President published his request of lowering his annual fee with 25%, as a sign of solidarity in these “lean times”. Money-wise, we’re talking about an annual cut from 160 000 to 126 000 Euro.

The nation jumped.

A remarkable political move. Brilliant branding. Fantastic timing. The kind of elegant leadership that makes many go oooh. His political strategists (and hopefully communications people, too) must be clapping their hands, as they should.

What happened next was a tsunami of press releases, speeches and comments on lowering salaries and fees in general. And if I say everyone was talking, I really mean everyone. Who should do it? Parliamentarians? Big money corporate bosses? You? Me? How should we do it? Should we do it?

If I look at the news feed of any Finnish news outlet now, it’s still full of the same topic. Different organizations are coming forward with their opinions, ministers, you name it. Everyone’s on it.

However, it does not take a genius to figure out the fiscal importance of the President lowering his fee or the two hundred parliamentarians cutting their salary. It’s not much, and many commentators in social media have brought to our attention the importance of shaping the nation’s economy with tax policies instead of moral instant wins, and basing the welfare state in something else than simple goodwill of the kind and generous.

Of course, I agree.

But, hold on. In the sense of setting an example and concretizing values, today’s proposal was great. It’s exactly the kind of value leadership I also appreciate. Do I even have to mention that the topic per se is not really included in the President’s mandate (i.e. domestic policy). But with a simple proposal, the entire domestic policy agenda was hijacked in a second. Just like that.

Almost hate to admit it, but they played this one really well (I voted for the other guy).

♠ In the meantime: We’re losing all the snow! It’s been raining for the last couple of days, and I have not been able to test my skis anymore. I want the snow back! I even got a bigger snow shovel.

♣ Song of the day: The Black Keys, Strange times

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