Book Review: “What Finland Keeps Quiet About” Esko Seppänen, journalist and politician

Esko Sepmista--_suomi_vaikenee_kansi-402x600pänen (born 1945) is a thoughtful a left-wing politician, journalist, and writer who has been a member of the Finnish Parliament and of the European Parliament.

I remember reading his two first books in the early 1970’s “Finland & Co” and “Big Bad Money”. They were my first 2 forays into the Finnish language and into the money and power structures of the country. In those days there was not much difference between the banks, big companies and the political elite – nor is there now! And this is the point about his latest book “What Finland Keeps Quiet About”, (“Mistä Suomi Vaikenee?”), 2016, Into Kustunnus Oy.

The great disappointment about this book, and all of his other 20 books, is that none have been translated into English. He is an excellent writer who can produce clear and factual works about Finland, its successes and struggles, its financial and political elite, without too many slanted comments; and these comments can easily be forgiven because there are so few writers and columnists here who have done the research and have broad experience of these topics.

The book’s first 60 pages touch upon Finland’s WW1 and WW2 relationships with Germany and Russia. The it quickly jumps to our more recent relationships with Nato and our apparent loss of sovereignty within the European Federation. It is a useful version of history with his own characteristic stamp that is actually no better than the conventional official stories told by the main political parties and the main newspaper “Helsingin Sanomat”!

After this introduction, he starts on the meatier parts of current Finland. He calls into question the Conservative (Kokoomus) and Center Party (Keskusta) parties’ infatuation with American and British neoliberal values; and, unlike these 2 parties, he rightly questions the TTIP arbitration demands of the Americans, pointing out the loss of sovereignty to American corporate behemoths in these arbitration proceedings is a “clear and present danger”, now faced, inter alia, by Slovenia and Canada.

He continues in the same theme, quoting Roman Hezog, the former German President a right wing member from the CDU, that we have more laws emanating from the EU than we do from our own Parliament! It is a common theme, which Seppänen, like Cameron today, keeps driving home throughout the book. He also accurately describes the financial wizardry of many of the largest corporate deals where a small group of bankers and institutional investors have pocketed large amounts of money at the taxpayers’ expense, and, in some cases, maximizing tax avoidance with schemes that are apparently practiced and sanctioned by our PM.

He decries Finland’s loss of its own currency; how, without the right to lower our currency’s value, the economy has been frozen; how the application of ECB’s and Germany’s austerity programs have caused unemployment to soar, and how ultra-low and negative interest rates “irrationally” set by the ECB are eating at ordinary folk’s savings. Seppänen is definitely a European, but he deeply questions why we have been pulled into a legal system over which we really have no real democrat and which lacks legitimacy. Is it possible that his views are so close to those of another right winger, Cameron?

The last half of the book is devoted to pointing out a whole bunch of current political, financial and corporate abuses. It is all good stuff about how our banks, large and small, can be held responsible for joint and several liabilities under EU laws. There is nothing smart about Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs all of whom have been saved by taxpayer’s guarantees form huge losses. “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis and Gillian Tett’s “The Fool’s Gold” attest to these thoughts.

He then goes on to describe the following other matters of concern to him:

  1. How the Finnish Conservatives and Center Parties stealthily tried to pass a new law where Finnish stock holdings could be easily hidden from view. The law was quickly kicked out when revealed by the media.
  2. How private debt collection firms are being used by public authorities for late payments. How these firms have effectively become the new loan shark mafia. How they threaten the impoverished, without legal controls, with credit blacklisting that stops them from having credit cards, home insurance, rental agreements, mobile telephone agreements, etc. Ordinary life becomes very difficult for these folk, while a handful of wealthy Finns have effectively been given tax amnesties through legal loopholes.
  3. How dividends from the biggest companies have ballooned, while new investments in the real economy have been weak, unemployment exploding and demands by the political elite for 5% cuts.

The end of the books puts him back on familiar ground. It is an analysis of the wealthiest individuals and their financial and political networks. It is common ground with those 2 books from the 1970’s and just shows you that “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…”

Alas, Seppänen does not cover the growing power of the trade unions. What else could you expect? Nor does he see attack the lack of competition in financial, commercial and industrial markets that have been hijacked by these companies in this small country. Never the less, it is a good read. It just needs an English translation because we all know that 75%, (or more) of what he writes about is true, but we don’t dare say it!

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