Thursday, 10 December 2015

More Political Scandals, Please!

More Political Scandals, Please!

by Anne Moilanen

His extraordinary suggestion is that the future PM inserted a private part of his anatomy into the animal’s mouth. (The Daily Mail, 20 September 2015)

When I first read that sentence from one of UK’s tabloids, I thought I had come to the right place.

The future PM in the story was Mr Cameron, the animal was a dead pig and a private part of his anatomy is a perfectly British expression.

UK definitely is a place to be, if you are interested in political scandals. Which I am, both related to my work as a journalist and to my current research at the University of Oxford.

Political scandals have also surprisingly occurred in my professional life. After having worked for two decades in Finnish broadcast and print media, I was invited in 2012 to work as a special adviser to the Minister of Culture. My responsibilities included the Minister's press relations and culture issues. I had no party membership, but during my post I witnessed some scandals and near-scandals from inside the political system.

For me, the experience was in many ways pivotal. After the Ministry post, I returned to journalism and to the busy newsroom work at the Finnish broadcasting company YLE. But something had changed. I felt that I should further deepen my vastly grown political knowledge.

In Finland, we have the notable Helsingin Sanomat Foundation, which is related to our biggest newspaper. The Foundation allows study grants for prominent Finnish journalists to the top universities in the world – typically for one year, to study and to live abroad.

I applied to the Oxford University’s Reuters Institute – and got lucky.

The book that The Daily Mail pig news was referring to is Call Me Dave, a sensation book by Lord Ashcroft and journalist Isabel Oakeshott. When published in September 2015, the book caused a small political ”Piggate” scandal that went on for a few weeks before it died as quickly as it had started.

Piggate was not a scandal strong enough to dethrone the Prime Minister. Until this day, it has not been proved whether there was any truth in the allegations or not. However, Piggate was great political entertainment, and probably caused a substantial boost to the tabloid’s sales.
The Daily Mail, most faithfully of all media, kept the scandal alive for the time that it lived. The raw materials of the scandal were delicious: a powerful politician, sex, a mysterious secret society, claimed desecration of an animal’s corpse… actually, very much the same kind of stuff that The Daily Mail has published throughout it’s vivid scandal-filled history.

If you look at the history of the British press, it is very much a history of tabloids. Differing from many other European countries, like Italy or France, UK had lots of working class people that were literate in quite an early stage of history. Newspapers were not luxurious artifacts of elite, but soon became every man’s, or woman’s, daily necessity.

That has had an impact on why the press in UK is as it is. When The Daily Mail was established in 1896, it was directly targeted to lower-middle class and women. Scandals – wars, murders and other crimes, sexual behavior in almost any form – were important news topics for The Daily Mail right from the start.

The strategy has been successful. Already in the beginning of the 20th century, The Daily Mail sold one and a half million copies a day. For a few decades, it became the leading newspaper.

In the second half of the 1900’s, The Daily Mail’s circulation revolved around 2,000 000 copies a day.

Last May 2015, The Daily Mail’s average circulation was still over 1,600,000. That made The Daily Mail the second-best selling newspaper after today’s leading tabloid, The Sun.

On top of all, my dear Piggate scandal was claimed to have happened at the University of Oxford – the most mythical university in the world.

University of Oxford, more specifically Green Templeton College, is also the base of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The Institute, located near the large green University Park meadows, produces research and serves as a center for further education for journalists from all over the world.

Journalists like me. Planning to complete my studies next summer, I am comparing political scandals in UK and in Finland in my research.

In Finland, as you might guess, we do not get as many political scandals as in UK. After the Second World War, Finland has been a strong consensus society. During that era, journalists have also kept quiet about some potential political scandals.

For example, during the President Urho Kekkonen’s prolonged era (1956–1981), the press did not criticize the President.

There were several public secrets related to Kekkonen, for example that he allegedly had several mistresses. Also his dementia, that he started to suffer while he still was in power, was not reported at the time even though journalists knew about it.

The Finnish press started to liberate only during the next President Mauno Koivisto’s and Martti Ahtisaari’s era. President Ahtisaari had to face much crueler publicity than any of his predecessors. In 1994, he appeared with a plaster on his forehead, the grapevine telling that he had been drinking too much and fallen during his trip abroad.

Mr Ahtisaari was asked in a live talk show broadcast: ”Did you wet yourself during your flight?”

In it’s utter disrespectfulness, that moment has left a mark in the national memory. The Finnish media had once and for all broken free from its shackles.

According to a previous research, there were only four political scandals in Finland in the 1970’s. In the 2000’s, the amount was 37. This indicates that there will be even more scandals in the future.

Depending on the country, different things seem to lead to political scandals. In Finland, the most typical reason for a political scandal has been financial misconduct, for example corruption. Only after that becomes inappropriate personal behavior, typically drinking, but not drugs. Historically sex-related scandals have been quite rare in Finland.

So far, I have greatly enjoyed my stay in Oxford. The place feels like home and professionally there are, as well as in London, many opportunities.

Of course, I now only have a one year’s scholarship for studies. What happens after that is still open. And that is wonderfully exciting!

I have got mixed up with political scandals so much that I know, that in life and in politics, anything is possible.

Looking forward to the next Piggate!

Anne Moilanen is a Finnish freelance journalist and communications professional who has specialised in politics, culture and gender issues. For the Academic Year 2015–2016,  Anne is doing a research about political scandals at the University of Oxford, at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Maahanmuutto horjuttaa hallituspuolueen EU-kantaa

Britannian kansanäänestys EU-jäsenyydestä lähestyy. Kampanjoinnin alettua räväkästi molemmissa leireissä EU-myönteisen pääministeri Cameronin luotsaama konservatiivipuolue horjuu kannassaan. Keskeiseksi tekijäksi kysymyksessä jäsenyyden jatkosta on nousemassa maahanmuutto.

Britannian konservatiivien puoluekokouksessa kuultiin viime viikolla kärkkäitä puheenvuoroja maahanmuuttopolitiikasta. Erityistä kohua herätti sisäministeri Theresa Mayn julistus maahanmuuton yhteiskunnallista vakautta ja koheesiota uhkaavasta vaikutuksesta.

Puheenjohtaja David Cameron lupasi ennen 2010 parlamenttivaaleja rajoittaa maahanmuuttoa 100 000:een muuttajaan vuodessa. Puolueen oltua hallituksessa viisi vuotta vuosittainen nettomaahanmuutto oli kuitenkin noussut ennätyksellisen suureksi, 330 000:een henkeen vuodessa.

Kysymys EU:n toiminnasta pakolaiskriisin ratkaisemiseksi on ollut konservatiivihallitukselle vaikea. Se on ajanut kovaa linjaa ja suostunut paineen alla vastaanottamaan ainoastaan 20 000 syyrialaispakolaista vuoteen 2020 mennessä. Oppositio on kritisoinut hallituksen haluttomuutta osallistua, etenkin kun useat muut EU-maat ja jopa Suomi ovat hyväksyneet suhteessa enemmän turvapaikkahakemuksia kuin Britannia.

Konservatiivien EU-kriittisyydellä on pitkät perinteet, mutta viime vuosina vain puolueen sisäisen opposition esittämä EU-kritiikki on nousemassa vahvemmin haastamaan sen EU-myönteistä valtavirtaa. Ennen huhtikuisia parlamenttivaaleja konservatiiveja uhkasi EU-vastainen populistipuolue UKIP, joka kuitenkin lopulta sai enemmistövaalitavasta johtuen parlamenttiin vain yhden parlamentaarikon. UKIP:in saama 12,6% osuus äänistä antoi kuitenkin myrskyvaroituksen, jota tukevat mielipidemittaukset kansalaisten asenteesta EU:hun ovat kääntäneet konservatiivipuolueen kurssia.

Pääministeri Cameron on ilmoittanut jättävänsä puolueen puheenjohtajuuden ennen seuraavia parlamenttivaaleja. Seuraajaehdokkaat ovat parhaansa mukaan pyrkineet miellyttämään puolueen syviä rivejä. Tällä hetkellä parhaissa asemissa ovat tiukan talouskurin valtiovarainministeri George Osborne ja Lontoon populistipormestari Boris Johnson, jotka sisäministeri Mayn ohella pyrkivät nostamaan profiiliaan.

Taloudelliset intressit kansanäänestyksen taustalla

Yksi konservatiivien vaalilupauksista ennen huhtikuun voitollisia parlamenttivaaleja oli järjestää kansanäänestys maan jatkamisesta EU:ssa vuoteen 2017 mennessä. Puoluejohto on aiemmin ollut vahvan EU-myönteinen. Se on julistanut pyrkivänsä neuvottelemaan jäsenyyden ehtoja uudelleen tehdäkseen unioniin jäämisestä houkuttelevamman vaihtoehdon kansalaisille. Kesän ja syksyn aikana Cameron onkin kiertänyt neuvottelemassa EU-maiden johtajien kanssa turvatakseen parhaat ehdot unionista eroamiseen. 

Yleistä EU-kielteisyyttä ovat lietsoneet EU-lainsäädännön ensisijaisuus kansalliseen nähden sekä sisämarkkinoiden vaatimat yleiseurooppalaiset normit ja rajoitukset. Vaikka noin puolet maan tuonnista ja viennistä tapahtuu yhä sisämarkkinoilla, on EU:n hidas nousu talouskriisistä johtanut muun maailman merkittävyyden kasvuun ulkomaankaupassa.

Euroskeptisiä teollisuuspiirejä houkuttelee ajatus kansallisista vapaakauppasopimuksista, jolloin maan ei tarvitsisi ottaa huomioon muiden EU-maiden itselleen vastakkaisia etuja. EU-vastaiset tahot liike-elämässä katsovat, että eron myötä itsenäinen Britannia voisi menetellä samalla tapaa myös tynkä-EU:n kanssa. Toisaalta Britannian taloudelle ja viennille erittäin tärkeä finanssisektori ja muut palvelut todennäköisesti kärsisivät pahoin erosta. Liike-elämä onkin EU-kannassaan varsin jakautunut.

Keskiössä EU:n sisäinen maahanmuutto

Maahanmuutto ja EU-kriittisyys kietoutuvat toisiinsa kysymyksessä EU:n sisäisestä maahanmuutosta ja erityisesti Romaniasta ja Bulgariasta saapuvista muuttajista. EU:n sisäiset maahanmuuttajat nähdään potentiaalisina sosiaaliturvan ja ilmaisen terveydenhuollon hyväksikäyttäjinä, vaikka esimerkiksi Britannian maatalous on vahvasti riippuvainen ulkomaalaisista kausityöntekijöistä. Yksi Cameronin tavoitteista neuvotteluissa onkin poistaa EU-kansalaisilta oikeus brittiläiseen sosiaaliturvaan ensimmäisen neljän asuinvuoden ajaksi.

Konservatiivipuolueen viimeaikainen uho poliittisen keskustan valtaamisesta Labourin siirryttyä vasemmalle tuskin realisoituu aggressiivisella maahanmuuttopolitiikalla. Uskottavan ulkoisen vihollisen puuttuessa puolueen sisäiset ristiriidat nousevat vahvemmin esiin ja julkisuudessa onkin esitetty epäilyjä siitä, kuinka vahvasti hallitus todella onkaan sitoutunut EU-jäsenyyden taakse.
Aidosti monikulttuurisessa Britanniassa erityisen mielenkiintoista on, että mediassa esille tuleva maahanmuuttokriittisyys ilmenee erityisesti itäeurooppalaisiin EU-kansalaisiin kohdistuvana. Muuttajat nähdään vierastyöläisinä, jotka yhteiskuntaan kuulumisen sijasta käyttävät hyväkseen järjestelmää.

Vaarana on, että monimutkainen keskustelu Britannian asemasta EU:ssa puetaan kansanäänestystä edeltävässä kampanjoinnissa massoille ennen kaikkea kysymykseksi vierastyöläisyyden ja työperäisen maahanmuuton oikeutuksesta. Eroa puoltavaa kampanjaa rahoittavien tahojen intressit lienevät kuitenkin toisaalla.

Ville Salo on EU-Suomessa kasvanut yhteiskuntaohjelman harjoittelija, joka yrittää ymmärtää suurvaltamenneisyyden kompleksien vaikutusta nykypolitiikkaan.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

On the Varieties of Otherness

In the blog this week: The Institute publishes a series of articles on contemporary art and philosophy in conjunction with the Talk Art/Talk Society events. The second blog post is written by Valter Holmström and deals with a reoccurring concept in contemporary art and philosophy, the concept of the Other.

First, three entangled quotes. During an event at the Finnish Institute in London, artist Tellervo Kalleinen defined the red line running through her artworks as “making the Other seem like any one of us”.  In a recent interview the British MP Chuka Umunna accused the Tories and UKIP of pursuing a “politics of othering”,[1] and approximately 145 years ago the French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud coined the cryptic phrase “Je est un Autre” in a letter to his teacher – I am an Other.

What does this eclectic collection of quotes mean? The concept of the Other – note the capital O – has gained increased popularity during the last decades, a concept that is steadily creeping into art-talk, cultural critic’s columns and the vocabularies of various public intellectuals. Inevitably, a concept with such a wide use becomes slightly sticky – it attracts a multitude of meanings and as such could do with some unpacking. A return to the philosophical roots of the concept might be in order, to map its conceptual mechanisms.

In its original abstract philosophical sense the concept of the Other is simply a negation, a sort of negative definition: all that which is not “the Same”. And, perhaps more fittingly, that which is not the Self: anything outside self-consciousness. In this sense the Other is often seen as constitutive of the Self, of self-awareness, as the self can only be grasped when an outside to the self is posited – the Other draws a line where the self can emerge as an object of reflection.[2]

Kasimir Malevich's black square painting series from 1915 primarily display contrast (and were in themselves an 
attempt to inject a radical Otherness into the established art scene)

In a slightly different but related sense the Other is specifically used to designate other people. And a similar dynamic of definition through opposition is visible here – we become aware of ourselves and define ourselves through contrasting ourselves to other people. This is especially visible in the construction of cultural identities, which work like collective selves.  We create cultural identities like “Finnishness” through contrasting it to other nationalities and identities. So the construction of this collective Self, this Sameness, is always dependent on a certain construction of Otherness.

A popular conception, for instance in postcolonial theory, is that some groups of people become defined as specifically Other, to work as a form of inverted mirror for a dominant culture. This is why we often construct a common image of the Other that is unflattering to embellish the image of ourselves. The cultural theorist Edward Said, for instance, examined how the dominant view of the far East – as the mysterious Orient – had been systematically constructed throughout the 19th century in Europe. A contrast to the identity “civilized westerner” was created, in culture, anthropology and art. Something decadent, promiscuously barbaric and backwards to bolster the sense of purity and historical progress that the western civilization was thought to embody – the west desperately needed an Other.

Jean-Léon Gérôme's orientalist painting Le charmeur de serpents, 1879.

Indeed many groups or communities run the risk of uncritically projecting Otherness in the attempts to create a common identity. When today, after recent elections in Finland and the UK, we see a kind of cultural protectionism emerging in politics, we can also note an increase of generalized Others in the public imagination. Whether it is the image of the immigrant, the EU-bureaucracy, the Greek or the naive internationalists, a convenient set of counterpoints is created to cement national identity. For an identity often gives a sense of stability and security in a world that is often in flux – it works kind of like a coping mechanism.

Otherness will always be present in our experience of the world to some extent, it is part of our very structure of thought and experience. On a cultural level, however, we can see that Otherness is often very unequally or irrationally distributed, and that these constructions often serve ideological purposes – be it national, class-biased or gendered. Often they work to externalize our anxieties into scapegoats, and in the process create glossy illusions of our own communities and identities.

This insight might be why the concept of the Other has crept into artists’ work and the general cultural discourse. Ideally, its use could be turned into a tactic of using art to redistribute Otherness more equally, deconstruct the myths of Sameness that create sharp distinctions between an "us" and a "them". To repeat Kalleinen’s words, to make the Other seem like any of us, or – as in Umunna’s case – criticize the Othering trends in politics. And lastly, to paraphrase Rimbaud, to see the otherness inherent in ourselves.

[2] Paradoxically, this also means that the Self is always partly mediated through its own opposition.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Caught between the past and present

With so much focus on the future, it can sometimes be rewarding to take a closer look at the past. In this text, Lotta Heikkinen writes about her joint internship between the Finnish Institute and The Public Domain Review.  

For the past five months, I’ve been living a double life. Although it sounds rather sinister, it hasn’t been a Jekyll & Hyde existence. It merely means that my time has been divided between the Finnish Institute and The Public Domain Review, an online journal founded in 2011 by Adam Green and Jonathan Gray.

The not-for-profit project, which is part of Open Knowledge, collects and promotes works that have come into the public domain. The Institute’s interest in open data and digital cultural heritage led to a collaboration which took the form of a shared intern – hence the double life in which part of my time has been spent rummaging through material from bygone eras.

But instead of picking out well-known works by famous writers and artists, the focus is on the strange, exceptional, and forgotten pieces which we want to bring to the attention of a greater audience. Recent personal favourites have included butter sculptures made by Caroline S. Brooks (1840-1913), questions and answers by 17th century ladies and gentlemen wondering where clouds go when they are not in the sky, as well as the photographs of Finnish artist Hugo Simberg (1873-1917) which show both the work and leisure time of the painter.

While researching the various topics, I’ve navigated my way through articles and archives, often struggling to find information and sometimes succeeding in finding it where it would least be expected. Along the way I’ve encountered military campaigns and political negotiations as well as how to build early-twentieth-century DIY projects. The archives also offer a glimpse into forgotten lives, from 14-year-old Mary Browne (1807-1833) who wrote about her family holiday in France (”About Calais was the ugliest country without exception I ever beheld”) to the ladies and gentlemen of the seventeenth century who were unsure of who they should marry. One gentleman had a particular dilemma of having to choose between three ladies; one of which possessed beauty, the second a delightful personality, and the third a fortune. It seems like something out of a fairy tale and I regret that I do not know the outcome or whether he lived happily, unhappily, or indifferently for the rest of his life.

The material, which has been catalogued, is versatile in every way: the form it takes, the time period it represents, as well as the potential it has for further use. Books that are out of copyright can be printed, artwork can be used as starting points for collages and other artistic projects, music as the soundtrack for videos and so on. There is a plethora of material as well as opportunities for using it, which The Public Domain Review, along with other sites and archives, is attempting to bring to a wider audience.

Although copyright laws vary between countries, a good rule of thumb for those in the EU is to go by the “life plus 70 years” rule. If the author or creator has been dead for 70 years or more, and if the recording or print of an item was made 70 years ago, it is free for the taking. Unfortunately, some institutions apply further copyright to the digital copies of these public domain works so it’s always best to research the material. 2015 has seen the works of such names as Edvard Munch and Wassily Kandinsky enter the public domain, and it goes without saying that each year, the material will grow thanks to those preserving it for future generations. Apart from offering interesting research topics and the possibility of artistic or commercial uses, the material opens up the more unusual doors to history, showing the ingenuity found in all fields from medicine to photography and the ways ideas have spread and developed through various cultures.

Preserving this material means that we can have the best of both worlds, which is why I find it enriching to live with one foot in the future and the other one in the past. It is not only a source of knowledge, but an opportunity to see and experience the world around you from a different perspective.

Lotta Heikkinen is an intern at the Society Programme at the Finnish Institute in London. Her interest in the past span from Norse mythology to the everyday lives of Victorian servants.