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Number 11 (2/2003)

Finnish Society as Portrayed in Surveys

Mari Kleemola  9.5.2003

Published at the end of 2002, Dynamic Finland. The Political System and the Welfare State by Pertti Pesonen and Olavi Riihinen is a book about Finland's political system and welfare society for an international audience. The book describes the development and present state of the Finnish civil society. As a source material Pesonen and Riihinen have used many Finnish opinion surveys and statistical data.

Most of their source material surveys are archived at the FSD. Here are some conclusions, based on the secondary analysis of archived data, that the book presents.

Finns feels Finnish rather than European

Contrary to often presented claims, Pesonen and Riihinen say that Finns are not inclined to suffer from inferiority complexes. EVA's surveys on Finnish national attitudes https://www.fsd.uta.fi/en/data/catalogue/series.html#evakans show that most Finns agreed with the statement "It is a privilege to be a Finn". Eurobarometers https://www.fsd.uta.fi/en/data/catalogue/series.html#eb have studied EU citizens' national identity from 1994 onwards by asking whether respondents saw themselves mainly as citizens of their own nation, citizens of both their own nation and Europe or mainly as citizens of Europe. Responses indicate that Finns - like almost all other Europeans - identify themselves mainly with their own nation, rather than feeling European. Younger generations, however, see themselves more often as both Finnish and European.

EU Membership Referendum in Finland 1994 (https://www.fsd.uta.fi/en/data/catalogue/FSD1195/) and World Values Survey 2000: Finnish material (https://www.fsd.uta.fi/en/data/catalogue/FSD0154/) show similar results. Pesonen and Riihinen say that the years ahead will show to what extent Finnish national identity will be affected by a more international environment.

Reliable institutions

Although on the whole Finns are proud of their country, many have become sceptical about the role and performance of certain political institutions. Most Finns feel that political parties, the government, bureaucrats, market forces and the media have too much power in the society. On the other hand, people feel that individual citizens do not have enough influence on decision-making (Finnish National Attitudes 1998, https://www.fsd.uta.fi/en/data/catalogue/FSD1086/.

World Values Surveys (https://www.fsd.uta.fi/en/data/catalogue/series.html#wvs) chart citizens' trust in institutions. Finns trust and have always trusted the police and armed forces. Between the years 1981and 2000 the parliament and judiciary system (courts) have lost some of the confidence people had in them. However, Pesonen and Riihinen note that according to Eurobarometer 55 Finns tend to trust institutions more than Europeans on the whole. Finns are also satisfied with local government. Finnish local government barometers https://www.fsd.uta.fi/en/data/catalogue/series.html#ilmapun indicate that there is little support for extensive privatization of municipal services.

According to various surveys half of the citizens are very or rather interested in politics. This has not changed much over the years. Pesonen and Riihinen predict a change, however, since in the latest World Values Survey (https://www.fsd.uta.fi/en/data/catalogue/FSD0154/) only 28 per cent of respondents answered that they were interested in politics and 22 per cent claimed to be totally uninterested. Regarding elections, interest in individual candidates rather than in parties is becoming more common.

Social capital

At the end of the book Pesonen and Riihinen say that one of the basic preconditions for Finland's economic and social development has been political stability: even during extreme circumstances the country has been able to maintain its democratic system. On the other hand, stability itself is based on the high level of social capital: people trust each other, corruption is rare and social morals are high. The 19th century Finnish philosopher Snellman emphasized education as the strength of a small nation. The writes of the book add dynamic innovativeness as another strength.

* Pertti Pesonen & Olavi Riihinen: Dynamic Finland. The Political System and the Welfare State. Helsinki : Finnish Literature Society. - (Studia Fennica, Historica; 3)

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