El exito de Finlandia: ?politica sin resistencia?


Finland's success: politics without resistance?

* Abstract

The purpose of this article is to study Finland's relatively rapid economic success since the mid-1990s using a conceptual history approach and focusing particularly on neo-liberalist rhetoric. The thesis is that neoliberalist policies were introduced, not in the typical political form bur rather in order to maintain and save the welfare state. It also focuses on questions of lack of resistance and political debate. It is argued that a relatively moderate rethoric has its origins in Finnish history. In Finland, the state has represented something good for many citizens. Although at present the state is competitive, there are problems at the level of the welfare state, which has essentially slowed down since the economic depression of the 1990s.

KEY WORDS: Economic depression, network society, economic competitiveness, political resistance, conceptual history.

* Resumen

El presente artículo tiene por objeto examinar el éxito económico relativamente acelerado logrado por Finlandia desde mediados de los años noventa. Para ello se utiliza un enfoque de la historia conceptual y se centra la atención de manera especial en la retórica neoliberal. Se sostiene que las políticas neoliberales no se introdujeron en la típica forma política sino con la intención de conservar y preservar el Estado de bienestar. Además, se centra la atención en cuestiones tales como la falta de resistencia y de debate político. Se sostiene que la aplicación de una retórica relativamente moderada tiene sus raíces en la historia del país. En Finlandia, para muchos ciudadanos la intervención del Estado ha sido positiva. Actualmente, el Estado es competitivo pero subsisten problemas a nivel del Estado de bienestar, que ha perdido impulso en especial desde la crisis económica de los años noventa.

PALABRAS CLAVE: Crisis económica, sociedad de redes, competitividad económica, resistencia política, historia conceptual.


In recent years Finland has become an attractive proposition in global terms. Economic success, lack of corruption, achievements in education, and even the pioneering digitalisation of the TV-network, have focused on this country in the far North. In the early 1990s the country faced its worst economic depression since the 1930s, but by the second half of the decade had already had several prosperous years, with a 5% annual increase in GNP. Finland is sometimes considered an appropriate 'model' to be followed, as only 50 years ago this wealthy nation was still ranked among poor countries (Castells and Himanen, 2002).

The purpose of this article is to study the background of this relatively rapid economic success, and determine whether there are any particular reasons for it. Moreover, the concept of neo-liberalism is put under focus, i.e. to what extent can present day Finland be considered to be based on neo-liberal thought? My point is that overall neo-liberalism is not particularly popular in Finland, but it seems that political decision-making could increasingly be placed in this category. My reading focuses particularly on naming and rhetoric labeled as neo-liberalist, by opponents and supporters. In this sense, my approach resembles conceptual history, and thus concepts are contested, as they do not have solid meanings but can change and absorb new ones when used in various political and historical contexts (Koselleck, 1979).

In addition to conceptual history, the topic takes us to another level. In 2008, Paavo Lipponen, Prime Minister in 1995-2003, published a critical point of view on Finnish politics. He harshly criticised scholars who had argued that, in the last analysis, his two governments had sealed and consolidated the breakthrough of neo-liberalism in Finland (Lipponen, 2008, 53). In his essay, he argues that in fact, his Government had applied > and its political views two years before Tony Blair used them in Britain. The year 1995 is also important in his book since for the first time in Finland's national history the country was governed by a so-called >. The largest traditional right-wing party, the National Coalition Party, social democrats and the Left-Wing Alliance, cooperated with the Greens and the Swedish People's Party. Moreover, in 1995 Finland joined the European Union and the broad coalition continued to lead the country towards deeper integration.

My thesis is that neo-liberalist policies were introduced, not in the typical political form, but instead under the umbrella and rhetoric of maintaining and saving the welfare state. This type of relatively moderate rhetoric has its origins in Finnish history. I argue that one decisive factor in Finland's success has been its peculiar political culture, which has stressed consensus and avoided high political profiles and politization. Thus, how was it possible to implement probably the largest cuts in public spending in the Western world in normal circumstances (Julkunen 2001, 253) without causing major political clashes? Hence, at a third level, the focus of the paper moves on to questions of (or lack of) resistance and political debate.

Methodologically, my approach adopts a historical angle, as all existing 'models' have a historical origin. The point is not to study the pastas such, but to show how it has made an impact on the present and advance the relevant arguments. To describe views of politics in the 1990s and early 2000s I use Reinhart Koselleck's concepts of space of experience and horizon of expectations. According to this author, the past can be present this very moment, and at the same time affect future expectations: >. Expectations are a part of the present, too: > (Koselleck, 1985: 271-272).


According to every day language, a 'model' is an example or a style that is imitated or attempted to be copied. In the Finnish case, we have to be more specific, that is, we must define precisely which 'model' is at stake, as over the years several political processes have been labeled under this umbrella. At first Finland was presented as a 'model' in the sense that it is a country that only over the past fifty years has changed from an agrarian society to a postindustrial hi-tech network society.

Secondly, during the Cold War, Finland could have been classified as a 'model' of peaceful co-existence. In Europe, Finland's geopolitical position was extraordinary: at the time it was the only capitalist country on the Soviet border, politically sovereign and independent, but bound to the Soviet Union through a military agreement. In WWII, Finland was on the losing side, but since then it has successfully turned necessity into a virtue, paid war reparations and at the same time managed to develop its own industries. According to this classification, Finland was a capitalist mixed market economy, although not liberal in the Hayekian sense. According to a famous Finnish metaphor, political leadership played the part of a doctor in world politics and instead of acting as a judge avoided provoking great powers, particularly its powerful socialist neighbour and main trading partner.

Nevertheless, when analyzing a 'model', in the case of Finland it is even more important to focus on its western neighbour, Sweden. In the 1950s Finnish Prime Minister Urho Kekkonen saw Sweden as a potential path towards reaching the horizon of expectations. According to this, Sweden and Finland could be seen as representing neutral third-way countries, between capitalism and socialism. During Urho Kekkonen's presidency Finland was finally a more socially-democratised society that integrated its critical leftist forces.

In fact, during the Cold War, Finland and its 'finlandisation' became a model' for some East European countries. For example, in the midst of the democratic transition, the Chairman of the Hungarian Parliament wondered whether there was more socialism in Hungary or in Sweden, Finland or Austria. For a Finn, the question was to some extent astonishing although from the standpoint of the global market it did make some sense: Finns did not live in a command economy but in a kind of centrally planned economy that has close ties with the banking sector. Whenever necessary, the state intervened in the economy and helped the export industry with huge devaluations of the markka, the Finnish currency. Liberalisation of the monetary sector was launched step by step in the mid-1980s. One signal came again from Sweden, where social democrats had revised their third-way policy in 1982 and now stood between a traditional social democracy and neo-liberalism (Patomäki, 2007: 52).

Thirdly, social and labour market policies could be characterized as a 'model'. After WWII the idea of a welfare state in which the state plays a crucial role started to prevail through the implementation of a distributive income policy. Elements of the Scandinavian universal welfare state were combined with a more conservative (West) German 'model'. In the field of labour, from the end of the 1960s the government and labour organizations entered into large collective agreements. This almost corporative 'model' did not put an end to strikes but taught political 'realista' and maintained communication between different interest groups. Until recently, the collective income policy has...

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