Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dedicated Followers of Fascism (Part II)

Another marvellous link I must post here is to Naomi Wolf's article in today's Guardian Unlimited about how the path taken by my favourite administration in the world mirrors that of fascist movements in interwar Europe. Though it's pretty scary stuff, it does make for excellent reading. Well done, Naomi!

PS: While we're on the subject of heinous fascists, thank God Le Pen didn't get through to the second round. Allez Ségolène!

YS goes Turku

On Saturday Ylioppilaskunnan Soittajat visited my favourite city in Finland, the former capital Turku. Sadly it was sleeting all day, and there wasn't much time to hang around the town soaking up the culture (must come back in the summer). Still, lots of people enjoyed a trip round the medieval castle – the oldest in Finland.

As for the concert, YS played very well indeed, much better than in the previous concert on Thursday. Apart from a slight hiccup involving the celesta (too long a story to interest anyone; suffice it to say that I spent about three hours sorting this out yesterday when common sense should have prevailed...), the only unfortunate matter was that there were so few people in the audience. This always seems to be the case with our concerts outside Helsinki, though this time we imagined that the composer (who himself studied in Turku) might have rallied all his friends to the concert.

One of the members of the audience was a reviewer from Turun Sanomat. His review demonstrates that, though many may find this hard to believe, people in papers other than Helsingin Sanomat can write thoughtful, insightful reviews that put concerts in their proper context. The subject of HS's music criticisers :-) is one I'm sure I'll come back to many times in the future.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

You lay the table...

The revelation that somebody actually reads this blog (you know who you are and, though we disagree on many things, your readership is very valued) has spurred me on to post here more often. Here is an unpublished translation that I did years ago of a poem by Mirkka Rekola.

I had just spent a weekend at an old ramshackle cottage in Pukkila with an eminent Finnish poet who was trying to encourage me to venture into poetry translation. We had talked about many different poems, and miraculously during that drink-fuelled weekend we managed to come up with some pretty good translations of a number of challenging poems. This one caused us a great deal of frustration. Rekola's imagery is always challenging, and I remember sitting on the backseat of the bus on the way back to Helsinki (with said eminent poet and half a box of wine) discussing the implications of the imagery in this poem – after we'd already debated it all afternoon! Here it is, so make of the translation what you will.

Katat pöydän, näe nyt nälkäsi.
Puolikas leipää, lasillinen punaviiniä.
Kukahan osti sen toisen puolikkaan.
Selkeää puhetta yhteisestä ateriasta:
suupalat samaa leipää, puolilasillista viiniä.
Ei täällä ole ketä katsoa. On.
Juo pois kuvasi ja lakkaa sinuttelemasta.

– Mirkka Rekola

You lay the table, now witness your hunger.
Half a loaf, a glass of red wine.
Who could have bought the other half?
Simple talk of a shared meal:
morsels of that same loaf, half a glass of wine.
There's no one here to look at. Oh yes.
Drink up your reflection and stop calling yourself you.

– trans. DH

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How wrong we can be

Just when we all thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, the full horror of the new Finnish government was finally revealed yesterday. Some people may think that the appointment of incompetent ministers to positions in the government was what Kokoomus meant by the slogan “Finland’s Hope”. For anyone else, however, the grotesqueness of these appointments verges on a something of a sick practical joke.

Of course, given the results of the election overall, it was always going to be impossible to find a foreign minister as competent as Erkki Tuomioja. In many ways, Tuomioja embodied what it means to be truly European: he speaks a multitude of languages, he has international roots; he is extremely articulate, well-read and sophisticated, with a long grounding in international diplomacy. What’s more, he wasn’t going to be told what to do by a certain president of the United States (conspiracy theorists may wish to read this article by the Times' William Rees-Mogg on the subject of Jack Straw’s unfathomable removal in the 2006 cabinet reshuffle from his post as foreign secretary. Given the audacity and arrogance of the present US administration, nothing would surprise me…)

And so, despite offering ‘hope’ (albeit of a rather dubious nature) to the citizens of Finland, the Kokoomus, in their wisdom, has offered us Ilkka Kanerva. With most Conservative governments, sleaze only begins to seep through their squeaky-clean exteriors after several months in power (e.g. the Conservatives in Britain during the Thatcher / Major years, and more latterly the new Swedish government, whose culture minister, it was revealed, had neglected to pay her television licence for years, and whose trade minister was found guilty of tax evasion and resigned after one week in office. Of course, the US administration goes without saying. Will these people never learn?) But now, to add to the sheer perverseness of the new Finnish appointments, we have a series of ministers touted for government positions whose shady dealings have already been exposed on more than one occasion.

So, as foreign minister we now have a man not renowned for his social, political or linguistic adroitness, but who has throughout his political career been embroiled in countless scandals, notably one involving several young women and a series of lewd text messages, and whose stubborn demeanour makes him utterly unsuited to a position in international diplomacy. The question as to how (or, indeed, whether at all) he will cooperate with President Tarja Halonen (who vetoed his appointment as head of the Bank of Finland) remains to be seen. Cynics and conspiracy theorists may also see this as yet another concerted effort to make sure Halonen no longer takes part in EU summits. To quote a colleague, it’ll only take a few excruciating evenings at the same table with him to make Halonen stay at home of her own accord…

Then there’s the former culture minister, Suvi ‘golf course’ Lindén, who resigned after it was revealed that she had secured government funding for a golf course in which she owned a considerable number personal shares. Conveniently for her, she’s now been moved to the department of communication, where her shady dealings won’t cause as much harm. I was very surprised to read that student organisations were largely happy with the new government. Jyrki Katainen (one of the many current parliamentarians who believe that universities are factories and that students should be forced to graduate regardless of whether they have in fact learnt anything) has predictably been appointed chancellor, and the idea that he, of all people, is prepared to give students a penny extra to alleviate their poverty is absurd in the extreme. At least, in a show of some sanity, Astrid Thors has been appointed Europe minister.

Anna mun kaikki kestää…

Friday, April 13, 2007

Dedicated Followers of Fascism

Here's a link to Sarfraz Manzoor's review in today's Guardian of what sounds like a very interesting film indeed – and what an excellent heading! The issues this review points up are worthy of much further discussion later (when I've got less work to be getting on with...)

Without having yet seen it (why does it take so long for British films to reach Finland?) Shane Meadows' This is England seems to continue in the footsteps of other recent British 80s and 90s Zeitgeist films (Billy Elliot, The Rat Catcher, The Queen – see my post below). I'm sure I'll eventually write a more extended piece about this film once it arrives in cinemas here, so if anyone from Finnkino is listening, you know what to do!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Burden of Freedom

It's hard not to take issue with the news in this morning's Guardian Unlimited (which you can read here) that plans are afoot to introduce a programme of "civility enforcement" throughout the blogsphere. The need for a set of guidelines on how to behave within the online community is perhaps timely, though it does raise the issue of to what extent freedom of speech can be exercised in a forum that is at once private and public.

Freedom of speech is something of a problematic concept. In the West, newspapers claimed that freedom of speech gave them the right to publish potentially inflammatory cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. It seemed (at least in the press here) that many people were surprised at the scale of the backlash in the Muslim world against these "innocuous" cartoons. People failed to see that, under the banner of freedom of speech, Muslims were exercising their right to say that they found the publication of this material offensive. Freedom (of speech or any other kind) is a subjective category and has to work both ways, something that blogger 901am is quoted on in the article in today's Guardian (though I fail to see what the issue of censorship has to do with "rabid feminists"... Explain?) Freedom of speech gives the BNP the "right" to whip up tension in volatile areas of the country and spread a message of hatred and intolerance; David Irving and others like him have the dubious "right" to deny the Holocaust if they wish. Orhan Pamuk most certainly has the right to touch upon unfortunate aspects of Turkish history.

At the Edinburgh International Book Fair in August last year I went to an event held by the International PEN, an association "promoting literature, defending freedom of expression". There are far more journalists around the world facing prison sentences than we can imagine. The list of examples on PEN's website of journalists imprisoned for doing their job is too long to comprehend. In the light of this, the idea that blogs too should be censored, and that those who breach the "contract of civility" criminalised, is hard to swallow. Freedom of expression comes in many forms. Murdered journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Veronica Guerin felt not only a right but a duty to expose facts for what they are and to hold those responsible to account. Guerin was murdered by the very criminals she was writing about, and as for Politkovskaya...