By Enrique Tessieri
Björn Wahlroos, chairman of the board of banks Sampo Group, Nordea and forest group UPM-Kymnmene, was quoted on Sunday’s Helsingin Sanomat as stating that the present social welfare state system is the main culprit for marginalizing Finns. He said that outgoing President Tarja Halonen had put a dent in the credibility of the executive branch by polarizing Finnish society.
“During Halonen’s mandate the [credibility of] presidential institution has suffered,” he said. “I wouldn’t [go as far as to] state that she was not fit to be president, but her position has been different from what the people expressed in the parliamentary election.”
What is Whalroos implying? Does he claim that while 81% of Finns did not vote for an anti-EU and anti-immigration party, the Perussuomalaiset (PS), the president should jump on the populist bandwagon and echo what 19.1% of Finns voted for?
Since Whalroos represents the conservative model of our society, or the epitome of capitalist greed for some, his views have a lot of relevance to Finns but especially to immigrants and minorities.
If more social inequality is going to occur in Finland in the years ahead due to the diminishing role of the welfare state, the impact on Finns, immigrants and minorities will not only come in benefits but in a totally new set of values. This, I believe, is the central issue. What are those new values that will guide us in an ever-growing dog-eat-dog society?
One of the first matters to fly out of the window in Whalroos’ economic model for Finland is social equality (tasa-arvo).
But concepts such as social equality have little meaning for immigrants, minorities and Finnish with international backgrounds if they do not exist in practice. Even if we have to take Wahlroos’ claims with a pinch of salt, he is right in claiming that the present social welfare system does marginalize some people, especially immigrants. City officials and politicians use social welfare services to sweep under the rug serious social problems like acceptance of immigrants.
Moreover, Whalroos, a former activist of the communist party when he was a student, simplifies things and stumbles on the same problem that other conservatives make: Less control of the economy will resolve all of our society’s problems.
If you want to see what kinds of societies economic liberalism has created, visit the United States and other countries like Argentina. You will rapidly get a good idea of how neo-liberal capitalism has fueled social inequality, poverty at the cost of higher dividends for shareholders.
While Whalroos speaks highly of President-elect Sauli Niinstö, it is unclear if the new president will be as outspoken as his predecessor on issues like social inequality and racism.
A poll by MTV3 of the presidential candidates showed that Niinistö agreed with PS chairman Timo Soini and Sari Essayah of the Christian Democrats that the far right did not pose a threat to Finland.