Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Independence Day – Finland 99 years as an independent state! – Part Four: The post-war decades of independence

December 6th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my three previous posts I have been writing a series of blogs to celebrate the 99th Independence Day of Finland. The first post gave a brief overview of the time before independence and the second one discussed the process of nation-building. In the third post I discussed the struggle for independence and on the first decades of independence – including the many wars during the World War II. In this final post I will discuss the post-war decades of the Finnish experience.

The years of post-war reconstruction, tensions, and recovery (1946 – 1956)

The first years after the interim peace have recently been characterised as a period of ‘uneasy peace’ (rauhaton rauha), since the return to the new normality was not merely in the hands of the Finns. The allies had set a Control Commission (led by a leading Soviet politician A. Zhdanov) to monitor that Finland is properly implementing the terms of the peace treaty – such as abolishing the ‘fascist’ and and similar parties and voluntary organisations, taking the pre-war leading politicians to a court that will judge them as guilty of war etc. And at the same time the political, economic and cultural life was to be given a new start. These were years of change – the radical right-wing party was abolished and the traditional conservative party landed to opposition, The government was relying on centre and left wing parties. Yet, the political leadership was handed over to the veteran politician J.K: Paasikivi, who served firstly as the prime minister and then as a president of republic 1946 – 1956. (Paasikivi had already been prime minister in 1918 and he had led the Finnish delegations in the peace treaty negotiations in 1920 and during the World War II.)

Paasikivi was able to work together with different post-war government coalitions and with his firm conviction to rebuild the relations with the Soviet Union on the basis of trust between the neighbours he tried to educate the Finnish people understand the new realities and take bitter pills if needed. In this way the transition period from the interim peace to the peace treaty of Paris passed without major complications. The special trial of the pre-war politicians sentenced some of them to 2-6 years in jail – but no more than that (and their reputation was not ruined – they just had to suffer the punishment of the country being on the wrong side in the war). Yet, after this chapter was put behind, the Paris treaty came into force and the Control Commission was abolished.

In addition to political tensions (and fears of possible Soviet intervention) there was a great economic pressure on Finland. The peace treaty required Finland to pay major sums of compensation in industrial products to Soviet Union for the damage caused in the war. This, however, helped the country to start new industries and to support the development of different regions by allocating industrial plants to different parts of the country. A major role in this development was played by state-own industries in mining, steel production, machinery and chemical products. These compensation payments were completed by 1952. Two years later – after the death of Stalin – the Soviet government gave up the military base in Porkkala and ended the ‘tenant’ contract. Thus, by the end of his second term of presidency, Paasikivi had ‘schippered’ the country through the uneasy post-war years to new stability.

The era of president Kekkonen (1956 – 1981): Peaceful co-existence, welfare state and CSCE

When Urho Kekkonen started his term as president, he was a controversial politician from the agrarian (centre) party – very experienced but ambitious. Also, the political life in the country was disturbed by internal splits in several parties and in the trade union movement. This had triggered a tariff conflict and a general strike in 1956. Also, during the first term of Kekkonen several government coalitions were fragile and short-lived. Whilst the governments may have not been so successful, Kekkonen’s authority due to his success in foreign policies – in particular in creating personal relations with the Soviet leader Nikita Hruštšev. This became apparent during the period of the Cuban crisis, when some of the fringes of that tension reached the Finnish-Soviet relations.

After being re-elected for the second term Kekkonen together with a newer generation of political leaders and social partners was forging new patterns of national consensus. The newer broad-based centre-left government coalitions (led by social democrats) and the tripartite framework agreements on trades and tariffs paved the way for major social reforms (comprehensive education, public health services, social insurance, national pensions, children’s daycare). All these created systems of social welfare state that enabled a massive transition from traditional agriculture to industries and services. And if the employment opportunities were not available in Finland, then in Sweden – and the unified Nordic labour markets were already at place. At the same time the bilateral trade with Soviet Union was upgraded with major projects – such as building new industrial town complexes on the Soviet side by Finnish companies and by building the first Finnish nuclear plant by a Soviet company.

In this way Finland, led by Kekkonen, was in the position to host the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) between the US and Soviet governments in the early 1970s. And shortly afterwards Finland took the initiative to host the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) that took place between 1973 (foreign ministers’ conference in Helsinki), 1973-1975 (expert commissions in Geneva) and 1975 (concluding summit in Helsinki). This conference stabilised the intergovernmental relations in Europe, eased the tensions between the military blocks and set new standards infree movement people and ideas. After this success the whole nation and all major political parties were supporting Kekkonen for yet another term of presidency in 1978. However, due to health reasons he had to give up in 1981.

(In the light of recent experiences with the armed conflict in East Ukraina, it is worthwhile to note the work of the CSCE was continued by Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE) – and it appears to be the body that maintains communication channels that give some hope for solutions in the said conflict.)

The years of unchallenged neutrality and the end of Cold War (1981 – 1995)

During the first term of presidency of Kekkonen’s successor, Mauno Koivisto the old bilateral agreements with the Soviet Union were renewed to ensure further bilateral trade projects and mutual trust. However, the shift of emphasis in foreign trade was moving to increasingly towards Western economic integration. Yet, the old centre-left governments, supported by smaller parties (including the agrarian populist party) were keeping a rather traditional course. But during his second presidency a new coalition emerged between the conservatives and social democrats (leaving the centre in the opposition). This new coalition took major steps liberalise the financial markets and opened the access of wider circles to obtain loans in foreign currencies – which was good when the economy was growing but when the growth of the late 1980s ceased, the recession of the early 1990s hit badly the Finnish economy – the bank crisis, the crisis of major ‘rustbelt’ industries and a rapid growth of unemployment.

In the meantime there had been major changes in the leadership of the Soviet Union. Mihail Gorbatshov had declared perestroika (reconstruction) and glasnost (openness) as the new guiding principles. That was taken positively in Finland but the economic erosion in the Eastern block brought new problems – people were losing confidence and the old regimes started to lose power. And this led to a chain reaction. Critical situations were experiences when the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were ready to take the decisive steps to  re-establish their independence. The coup d’`état of the traditionalists of Soviet Union raised once again worries but ended with the collapse of Soviet regime and in the dissolution of the Union into set of independent states. This, for Finland caused economic problems because the bilateral trade ceased and several industrial sectors (reliant on Soviet trade) collapsed, when global competition took over their domestic markets.

The years of prosperity and European integration (1994 to present date)

Already Koivisto had expressed a priority to shift the emphsis from president-led policies to stronger parliamentarism. After his presidency the successor, Martti Ahtisaari, was a former UN-diplomat and civil servant with less involvement in Finnish  politics. In the beginning of his period the centre-right coalition was struggling with the recession and with the challenge to negotiate the terms of membership for Finland to join in the European Union. In the next phase a new government coalition was led by Paavo Lipponen with top politicians of the social democrats and conservatives – involving the whole spectrum of parties in the ‘rainbow coalition’. This coalition had the challenge to pull Finland out of recession but at the same time it had the parliamentary support to bring Finland to the Euro-zone and to the inner circles of the EU with maximum involvement. At the same time the Nokia boom helped the national economy to overcome the crisis.

In 2000 Tarja Halonen, the social democratic foreign minister of the rainbow coalition became the first female president of republic. Lipponen continued as prime minister with his second rainbow coalition government. In the next elections in 2003 the centre party came into power and formed a coalition with social democrats. By that time all parties had already been in coalition with all possible counterparts. Finland was deeply involved in the EU but kept itself outside NATO – except for the partnership of peace program. After Halonen’s two terms as president the former minister of finance of the rainbow coalitions, Sauli Niinistö was elected as the first conservative president after Paasikivi. During his presidency the government coalitions have been led by younger conservative or centre-party politicians. Yet, as president, Niinistö has emphasised continuity in Finnish neutrality – even if the ministers have been favouring membership in NATO. Yet, as the crisis in Ukraina aggravated, Niinistö was the head of state to maintain communication channels between EU and Russia.

– – –

I think this is enough of the developments during the post-war decades. During this perod Finland made its way through from post-war reconstruction to stability, prosperity and and into European integration. This was reflected in the self-esteem of Finnish people and Finnish popular culture. This will be reflected in the way in which the pop-star Juice Leskinen celebrates his rural home municipality – which in terms celebrates its own celebrity. See the video “Juankoski here I come”:

With this celebration of Finnish (rural) identity I conclude this series of blogs.

More blogs to come …

Independence Day – Finland 99 years as an independent state! – Part Three: The first decades of independence

December 6th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I started a series of blogs to celebrate the 99th Independence Day of Finland. The first post gave a brief overview of the time before independence and the second post discussed the process of nation-building and of making Finnish language a national language. In the third post I will try to give an overview on the struggle for independence and on the first decades of independence with the multitude of experiences made by the young nation.

The periods of oppression and resistance (1900 – 1916)

As I have mentioned in my previous posts, Finland had got a special status as an autonomous Grand Duchy under the Russian rule. This was topped up with the reforms that gave Finland its own currency (the Finnish Mark) and its own language rule (recognition of Finnish and Swedish as equal domestic languages). In the beginning the of the 20th century the new Czar Nikolai II was pushed by the pan-slavist movement of Russia to try to to abolish this autonomous status and the specific legislation inherited from Swedish era. These attempts are known in the Finnish history as the first and the second period of oppression (led by the General governors Bobrikoff and Seyn). The interventions of the Czar and the General governors met massive protests – petitions, demonstrations and campaigns for solidarity in Europe. Finally, the bigger events worked in favour of the small nation. In 1905 Russia lost the war against Japan and this led to a turmoil. As a concession, Czar Nikolai had to give up. Russia got its parliament – the Duma – and Finland got its own one-chambered parliament with equal voting rights for men and women (irrespective of social status).

Finland – with its newly elected parliament – was being consolidated as a nation state but the panslavists pushing the Czar did not give up. New attempts were made to withdraw the concessions and to stop the parliament working by dissolving it time and again. However, the times had changes. Already during the years of turmoil (1905-1906) bourgeois parties and the labour movement had started to set up their own armed forces to protect themselves from Russian police forces. And when the World War I broke out, many things changed. Firstly, Russia brought into Finland its own soldiers and refrained from calling Finns to military service. Secondly, part of the protest movement took steps towards armed resistance and sought cooperation with Germany. Thus, nearly 2000 young Finns travelled illegally to Germany to get military training there – and subsequently fought against Russia during the war.

The declaration of independence in 1917 and the civil war in 1918

The collapse of the czarist regime in 1917 led to a new situation. The Finnish (socialist-led) parliament took the course towards independence. The provisional government in Russia (led by Kerenski) blocked this and dissolved the parliament – once again (and this was supported by some bourgeois parties in Finland). When the new parliament was elected and constituted, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia changed the situation once more. Now, all parties were ready to take the step to full independence. The declaration of independence was approved in the Finnish parliament on the 6th of December 1917.

However, the newly declared independence did not remove the tensions. In January 1918 a civil war broke out between the armed forces of the bourgeois parties (the White guard) and of the radical labour movement (the Red guard).  The young nation was divided – socially and geographically. A bitter civil war with atrocities on both sides was fought and finally, the White guard was winning. At that time the returners from military training in Germany came back with contingents of German troops and gave their ‘helping hand’ in conquering Helsinki from the Reds.

So, in the beginning of the period of independence the country was split – part of the elected parliament was either jailed or exiled. The bourgeois majority took initiative to set up a kingdom with a German royal house. But then Germany lost the war and the German troops left Finland. So, the time was ripe to start as a republic with a democratic constitution (originally drafted by the first president Ståhlberg) and to to try to bring the nation together again.

The years of reconstruction, unrest and recovery (the 1920s and 1930s)

The first years of the young republic were characterised by post-war reconstruction and by rebuilding the nation with its own institutions and modes of governance. Education, healthcare and public transport were reorganised. The economy started to recover and foreign trade started to boom – the forestry sector was in the lead. A major factor in good and bad was the struggle with the prohibition law – smuggle and distribution of illegal alcohol created powerful commercial networks. But – the end of the prohibition law led them to legal business rather than criminal networks.

In politics the country remained divided. When the economic development turned towards depression, the political life was polarised. The country was shaken by a fascist-like mass movement that terrorised left-wing politicians and bourgeois liberals and was about to start a military coup d’état. The bold measures of the conservative president Svinhufvud (one of the leaders of the earlier independence movement) stopped these attempts and paved the way for years of appeasement. Thus, the latter half of the 1930s was characterised by economic recovery, political cooperation between the social democrats and the agrarian party (the centre party). And these years are also remembered because of long and hot summers.

The three wars during the World War II (1939 – 1945)

Once again, bigger events intervened into the destiny of the small country. By the end of the 1930s the expansive and aggressive policies of Nazi-Germany gave clear signs of the coming war. But the crucial strike for Finland was the Hitler-Stalin agreement and their secret agreements on zones of interest (regarding countries between Germany and Soviet Union. Accordingly, Soviet Union made a proposal that Finland should give away an area at the Karelian isthmus and get as compensation another area from the Soviet Karelia (further north). Finland did not accept the proposal and a war broke out. In this “Winter war” 1939-1940 Finland was fighting alone against Soviet army. However, the Finns had a powerful ally – the coldest winter of the century. The Finnish troops were better used to the climate whilst the Soviet troops were badly equipped and were not prepared for hard resistance. After 100 days of fighting and major losses on both sides a ceasefire was agreed and the peace treaty of Moscow was negotiated. Although Finland had been able to defend its territory, the defense had reached its limits and therefore the terms were hard – the Karelian isthmus and the municipalities around the Ladoga lake, the Petsamo (Petshenga) mining area in Lapland and some smaller areas were given away. In addition, the Soviet Union got the the right to have a military base in Hanko (near Helsinki, opposite Tallinn) as a ‘tenant’.

The following period (1940-1941) was already at that time called the ‘interim peace’ and the the bigger picture moved to that direction. When Nazi-Germany with its allies attached the Soviet Union, it declared Finland as one of the allies. Although there was no written agreement between the governments, preparations had already been made for a second war – counting on being on the same side as the Germans. I would like to emphasise that Finland was not ruled by Nazi-minded puppet government (like Quisling in Norway) but by coalitions that would have preferred to side with Western allies. But that was not on the cards. So, when the Germans attacked, war broke out between Finland and Soviet Union as well. This time the Soviet army was retreating and the Finnish army was conquering back old Finnish territory – and continued to those parts of Karealia that was never part of Finland. Then, for quite a while the fronts were stable. But in 1944 there was a massive offensive of the Soviet forces – and the Finns had to retreat. The final defense battles were fought on the ‘old’ and ‘newer’ borderlines – and the defense held. At that time the Soviets were more keen to get rid of this minor battlefield and move their troops further – to reach Germany and Berlin before their Western allies. So, in summer a separate interim peace was reached between Finland and Soviet Union and the new borders were drawn (on the basis of the 1940 peace treaty). And now, instead of Hanko, the Soviets wanted a military base from Porkkala (closer to Helsinki and Tallinn), again as a ‘tenant’. This was the end of the ‘Continuation war’ (1941 – 1944) as the Finns call it.

Once again, the lost areas from Karelia were to be emptied from Finnish inhabitants (if they had not already been evacuated) and other terms of the interim peace had to be respected (see more in the next post). But the most important obligation led to the third war in which the Finns fought during the World War II – the War of Lapland (1944 – 1945).

The background of this war dates back to the years 1940-1941. At that time Germany had occupied Norway and had agreed transit rights for German troops (going on holidays and returning) via Finnish territory to the Northern part of Norway. In 1941 when Germany attacked Soviet Union, it sent several contingents of such ‘transiters’ to Northern Finland. And in a short while a mutual agreement was reached that these contingents will be based in Lapland and they will be in charge of the Northern fronts (next to the Petsamo/Petshenga mining area). Now, when Finland got its separate peace agreement, the Finnish government got a strict deadline to chase the German troops out of its territory – peacefully or with arms. The Germans had no intent to go quickly nor quietly, so another period of war was fought – and the retreating Germans burned down all towns and villages before they left. By April 1945 the last German contingents had left Finland. The mission was completed – and the Soviet troops had entered the Finnish territory – ‘to give a helping hand’. Finland had fulfilled its obligations and was trying to return to the new normality.

– – –

I think this is enough of the first decades of the Finnish independence and the hard ride of the young nation alongside the European turmoils. As the musical theme I add “Evakon laulu” – the song of a family evacuated from Karelia. The pictures of that period give a clear impression on, what kind of story the lyrics tell.

 

In my final post I will continue the story of Finnish independence with the post-war decades.

More blogs to come ...

Independence Day – Finland 99 years as an independent state! – Part Two: Building the Finnish nation

December 6th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I started a series of blogs to celebrate the 99th Independence Day of Finland. The first post gave a brief overview of the time before independence – the long centuries under the Swedish rule and the one century under Russian rule. In this second post I will take a look at the process of nation-building and of making Finnish language a national language. Here again, we have two different periods – the slow development under Swedish rule and the ‘hatching period’ under Russian rule.

The ‘invisible’ Finland and Finnish people under Swedish rule

In my previous post I mentioned that when the Swedes conquered Finland, there was no geographic nor national entity that now is called ‘Finland’ (or – to precise: others call it that we, for us, the nake of our country is ‘Suomi’). And even that name refers only to ‘land’s end’ – the final outposts before the dark wilderness. Neither had the Finns of that time a perception of national identity – they were scattered ‘tribes’ speaking local dialects that were understandable to each other. But that was it. The Swedish rule brought stability and defence against Russians (with whom there was a constant struggle, who gets the uninhabited areas that were in no-man’s-land beyond the vaguely defined borderlines.

This all changed due to the Lutheran Reformation. Young priests travelled from all parts of Scandinavia to Wittenberg study theology in the new spirit. And already in Wittenberg these young pioneers started to translate the New Testament to their national languages. And please note that the young Finnish priests of that time – Mikael Agricola in the lead – translated the New Testament into Finnish (the first major book to appear after the Finnish ABC-book and the Psalmbook). So, that was the start of the Finnish language to make ist way to a written language and to a national language.

This was the start and with the help of the basic books for religious teaching the whole Finnish population was shepherded to the Lutheran state church. The priests took care of bringing the elementary reading skills to the people – who were to demonstrate on regular basis in public events that they can read from the books and that they know by heart their prayers. That was the level of literacy  needed in Finnish language. The ones to get school-based education and higher education had it in Swedish. At the end of the 18th century there was an initiative to start a Finnish newspaper but it was very short-lived (yet, the effort to go ahead was already there).

The emergent Finnish nation and the emancipation of Finnish language under Russian rule

When Finland got under Russian rule, the educated people had an identity crisis, which led them to look for a new perspective: “We are no longer Swedes, we don’t want to become Russians, let us be Finns!” 

In this spirit the young intellectuals started a movement to revitalise the Finnish language and the Finnish culture. Some of them (like J.L. Runeberg and Z. Topelius) wrote poems and novels of the glorious past of the Finnish people – in Swedish, but with Finnish spirit. Elias Lönnrothcollected old folklore and sagas from rural areas and composed the national epos ‘Kalevala’. The philosopher J.V.Snellman had a great influence – not so much with his highly respectable academic work as a Hegelian intellectual – but more with his work to start the Finnish press (in both Finnish and in Swedish) and then as a politician. During czar Alexander II he was a senator (read: prime minister) and managed to push through the new language rule, the currency reform, the start of the Finnish railways etc.

The above mentioned language rule was an important cultural concession of the liberal young czar to the autonomous Grand-Duchy of Finland. Instead of imposing Russian as the official language, it recognised Finnish and Swedish as two equal ‘domestic’ languages. And it obliged all public civil servants to obtain and demonstrate their command of both languages. Please note that this language rule is still in force in independent Finland. The Russian rulers expected that such a concession would help to distance Finland from the old ‘motherland’ Sweden and to become loyal vis-à-vis the czar and his Empire. For the Finnish national movement this was a great boost forward – the Finnish public education (in Finnish language) started to spread all over the country, the Finnish press got an upswing and the Finnish literature started to take off. The first novel in Finnish – the “Seven brothers”  of A. Kivi – appeared to the contemporaries far too rustical but afterwards it became beloved by the whole nation. Also, many artists in music and in fine arts with inspiration from the national movement made career – not only in Finland, but in the wide Europe in which they travelled and got engaged with different influences. Jean Sibelius – the most famous of this generation – became world famous already before Finnish independence and even more after that had been achieved.

Obviously, not all Russian rulers were pleased with these developments taking off. By the end of the 19th century pan-slavistic movements gained more power and put (among other things) the special status of Finland under question. In the beginning of the 20th century czar Nikolai II started twice a campaign to get rid of the autonomous rule of Finland. But these were stopped by bigger events of world history – firstly Russia lost the war against Japan and got into turmoil in 1905. Secondly, the World War I broke out and the Russian Empire needed to keep the border province Finland (next to the capital St. Petersburg) in peace and quiet.

– – –

I think this is enough of the story of the nation-building and of the emancipation of our language and culture.  As a musical  theme, let us listen to Sibelius’ Karelia Intermezzo and view the landscapes of Finnish Karelia and the Karelia lost in the World War II (see my next blog).

In my next blog I will give insights into the struggles for independence and developments in independent Finland.

More blogs to come …

Independence Day – Finland 99 years as an independent state! – Part One: Time before independence

December 6th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

Quite some time I have started all my blogs with reference to the ongoing project. Now that I have said goodbye to the project work (after my contract came to an end) I have felt puzzled – what will I be blogging about after the active engagement in a long-term project. Today I have a clear answer, what to start with – the Finnish Independence Day.

Countries with long history as independent nation states do not necessarily have a concept of ‘independence day’. Their histories are not characterised by being under the rule of a bigger nation. Instead, they have constituted their nation states by processes of unification or dissolution of major empires. But there is no clear point of becoming independent from a ruling power. And the constitution of the nation has been a long process – national language having become written language, ruling language and cultural language. For most countries that is old history.

Therefore, my non-Finnish friends may ask: “What is so great about national independence and of Independence Day?” I will tray to answer it with three blog posts. With the first one I try to sketch the time before independence . With the second one I discuss the emergence of the Finnish nation. With the third one I sketch a picture of 99 years of independence.

The long centuries under Swedish rule

The history of Finland is different from the ones of bigger nations – characterised by long periods under foreign rule. When the Swedish vikings conquered Finland centuries ago, there was no concept of ‘Finland’ (Suomi – as we say it) as a national entity. The name ‘Finland’ comes from Latin and refers to ‘land’s end’ before uninhabited tundra. Then, Finland became the border country between the expansive Swedish kingdom and emerging Russian empire. At a certain point the Swedes promoted Finland into Grand Duchy (one of the Swedish princes being the Duke). But the legislation was that of Sweden and the centre of administration was in Stockholm (and a province governor in Turku on the other side of the Botnic bay).

During those centuries Finland was considered as a periphery, as a border province to be expanded to keep the Russians out. Also, when Sweden was expanding during central European wars, Finland sent soldiers to Swedish armies. Finnish forests provided wood and tar for ship-building. But not much more was thought on the province. The ruling Lutheran church was keeping the ordinary people in discipline with religious teaching and preaching in Finnish. But the language of education and culture was Swedish. And if things would have continued this way, it would have been more likely that the Finnish language would have disappeared rather than emancipated as a national language.

The one century under Russian rule

Things changed due to the bigger picture of European politics. Napoleon Bonaparte had become Emperor of France and was isolating Great Britain with his continental blockade. He had got the Russian czar Alexander I to join the blockade (after a war) and wanted to get Sweden (ally of Great Britain) to join in as well. Therefore, he pushed Russia to start a war against Sweden – and promised Finland to Russia after the war. The war was fought in 1808-1809. Sweden lost, the Swedish king was sent to exile and the new royal house – the Bernadottes – were imported from France. And, indeed, Russia got Finland as its new border province in the north.

The Russian czar was not so greatly interested of the new province – although it was in the immediate vicinity of the Russian capital – St. Petersburg. So, the the representatives of the Finnish upper class saw their opportunity. Already during the war (when major part of the Finnish territory was conquered by Russians) they negotiated a deal with czar that as a reward of their loyalty vis-à-vis the new ruler they could keep the status of Grand Duchy and old Swedish legislation -adjusted to the new circumstances. The czar would be recognised as the Grand Duke of Finland and he would have his General Governor and regional governors in Finland. But mainly the administration would rely on the Finnish senate and civil servants (using Swedish as their ordinary working language but Russian with their new rulers).

This special status of Finland was topped up during the rule of czar Alexander II when Finland got its own currency – the Finnish Mark. For many reasons Finland – in the vicinity of the Russian capital – had become an interesting economic zone with rapid industrialisation and good infrastructure due to good railway connections and many channels that connected inland lakes to routes towards St. Petersburg. So, quite a lot of foreign capital was invested into this special economic zone (before that concept was invented) and foreign industrialists themselves came to start the new industries. Thus, Finland was becoming more and more self-governing and self-reliant – with many export articles traded with its own currency. But – not to forget – this economic growth was not a steady progress to prosperity. Finland still mostly agrarian country in a rough Nordic climate zone and these periods were also characterised by several years of crops lost and people in the countryside suffering of famine. Yet, with the economic development things appeared to be getting better. However, once again the big picture of European politics changed to a new direction.

– – –

I guess this is enough for the starters – the time before independence.Let us add the musical theme of the awakening of the national history with the old instrumental piece with modern interpretation and landscape photos and ‘historical video – The band Piirpauke and the melody ‘Church bells of Konevitsa monastery’ (at lake Ladoga):

In my next post I will discuss the nation-building and issues on Finnish language and culture.

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

 

Emerging consensus in england around teaching computing in school?

November 4th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Willard Foxton is an investigative journalist and television producer. According to his profile in the right learning UK Daily Telegraph newspaper “he writes on skulduggery wherever he finds it, especially in the world of technology.”

Two weeks ago Foxton achieved something few online reporters can claim. He received 897 comments on an article entitled “The Government wants to teach all children how to code. Here’s why it’s a stupid idea.” And almost all opposed him!

Foxton wrote:

My Telegraph Blogs colleague Jack Rivlin is looking for a developer, and is frustrated because he can’t find one in Shoreditch. Jack is the perfect poster child for why our kids can’t code – he’s a normal person, rather than an exceptionally dull weirdo, like the bulk of developers.

I’m all for people to learning to code – I wrote a piece arguing we should teach it in prisons earlier this year – but I think we need to be aware of its limitations. Coding is a niche, mechanical skill, a bit like plumbing or car repair.

As a subject, it only appeals to a limited set of people – the aforementioned dull weirdos.

As you can imagine, there were many incensed replies. But what is interesting is that there would now appear to be a consensus, at least from those who read the Daily Telegraph technology pages, that programming is a subject that should be taught in schools. And I doubt that such a consensus existed a few years ago. Of course there remain challenges for the English target of introducing the subject from next year, not least in curriculum development and in professional development and support for teachers. But teaching 5-7 year old kids key ideas like understanding the definition of an algorithm  as well as being able to “create and debug a simple computer program” is no longer seen as the crazed imagination of a weirdo!

Flipping Something out of Nothing

October 25th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education from sam seidel on Vimeo.

I had the pleasure to present alongside Mike Neary and Joss Winn at the Mobility Shifts conference in New York. They are working on the idea of students as producers. This theme is also taken up in this excellent video, which looks at the theme of students as producers within hip hop culture.

Researching education and training: Notes on cultural approaches

April 29th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

I have had several requests for this paper, co-written in 1990 with Jenny Hughes, and realised it was not available on the internet. So I have published it to Scribd.

The paper looks at comparative research in Vocational education and Training and the possible uses of cultural theory as a research methodology. This extract explains some of the thinking behind such an approach.

The focus of much comparative research has been the comparison of different paradigms in VET. Set against a common background of globalisation of the economy, the rise of multi-nationals and shared technologies, these paradigms show a marked convergence across Europe and there is a seductive similarity between, for example, work organisation paradigms, curriculum paradigms and research paradigms. This has increased the tendency to undertake ‘point to point’ comparisons across member states, often based on task or functional analysis. And yet the outcomes of such research, whilst providing descriptive data which empirically reinforces the notion of converging trends is often at odds with what VET researchers ‘know’ to be true and which the general populus assumes as ‘common sense’; that is, that there are major cultural differences leading to apparently inexplicable divergences of practice. The challenge for VET research is to construct more robust tools for analysis which can accommodate and reconcile both the convergences and divergences.

Much of the existing comparative research takes as its starting point a single VET paradigm and deconstructs that paradigm into its elements. Thus, ‘VET’ would be the highest level of a tree diagram and the paradigmatic sets under observation would be branches below it.  These  may be labelled, for example, `employment patterns’,  `new production methods’, `trainer training’, `cultural issues’, `curriculum’ and so on.  The elements or items within the paradigms would form the next level of branching. For example under `new production methods’ there might be elements labelled `Just-in Time’ or `island production’ or `co-makership’.  Under  employment patterns there may be `self employed’, `employed by SME’, `unemployed’ and so on. Each of these elements can also be subdivided into properties or descriptors (which are actually paradigms in themselves).  For example `unemployed’ could be expressed as ‘average length of unemployment’ or `number of unemployed males over 25’ or `average qualification level of unemployed women’ or whatever.   The  number and type of paradigmatic sets are similar across member states as are the items within each paradigm, hence the apparent  convergence. Much quantitative comparative research maps and compares element against like element looking for differences in properties across member states. Occasionally it compares paradigm with paradigm but work at this higher level of aggregation level is more often seen in collaborative research.

What is rarely taken into account is the syntax which exists between the paradigms, a syntax which is determined by the culture which generated it and is as culturally specific as the rules of grammar are language specific. The syntagmatic relationship (or syntagm) which defines the way in which one paradigm articulates with another is, for the most part, ignored but it is here that the divergences across member states are located.

What VET needs is a grammar capable of analysis at a systemic rather than structural level. It needs a grammar robust enough and sufficiently rigorous to challenge and provide a real alternative to both functional and structural analysis but sophisticated enough to examine the cultural realisation and cultural meaning of sectoral and regional differences, national identities, gender, class and language.

Thus the model should not take  `VET’ as a starting point for the tree diagram and then simply disaggregate it – with `the cultural dimension’ being a paradigm or even an element within several paradigms and the assumption that it lends itself to comparison as readily as unemployment figures.  Rather we should put ‘culture’ at the top of the tree diagram with VET being one (disaggregated) manifestation of that culture

Functionalist analyses break down VET into a series of components that, not only .fails to recognise their significance within societies and cultures, but renders comparisons less, rather than more, meaningful.  Stucturalist and post structuralist schools continue to pursue structures of likeness and contrast, differences played against similarities. It follows that if all the factors which determine VET culture are themselves different then the component parts of those features are bound to be different.

Given the role of culture on Vet and of VET itself within its cultural context, then it may be of value to access that corpus of knowledge and theory in the field of cultural studies. The next section of this paper will look at some different ideas drawn from cultural theory and examine their applicability for comparative VET studies.

New Culture Paper

Solidarity with the students

November 13th, 2010 by Jenny Hughes


Graham and I have just got back to Germany after a meeting of the Politics project team in Cardiff. We were following Wednesday’s demonstrations against the proposed hike in university fees live on TV at Cardiff airport – both of us getting very excited and cheering a lot.

The occupation of the Conservative Party headquarters in London was an impressive piece of collective action so to all those involved in the organisation and to all those that turned up on the day, a message of support from Pontydysgu!

However, it did make me wonder how we ever used to do all this without mobile phones, computers or social networking media. Apart from using print media, I seem to remember a lot of organising time spent in public telephone boxes pressing button A and button B. In fact, one of my early ICT competences was learning how to tap the receiver rest up and down to mimic the operation of the dial in order to save the 4d (less than 2p) it cost.

The Culture of our Institutions

October 31st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Great stuff from Ken Robinson in this RSA Animate production. Central to Ken’s argument is that school is modelled on the basis on Enlightenment thinking and industrial production system organisation. For many this culture is not conducive to learning!

Found via @grahamBM in the latest edition of the Graham Attwell Daily.

Defintion of plagiarism continue to plague academic community

July 2nd, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I have been writing a fairly boring report today, and as a distraction, reading more of my Twitter  messages than usually. And on of them, I cannot remember why, directed me to the Times Higher Education web site. And I noticed an article about plagiarism.

The article is pretty routine. It reports on a study in Sweden which “found that when a problem was identified, academics were reluctant to label it plagiarism, instead choosing words such as “unacceptable”.

“The staff held extremely heterogeneous views about the examples and also had different explanations for those views. No two lecturers gave the same response,” Dr Pecorari said.”

The article goes on to say: “But the different explanations given by participants in the study for finding, or failing to find, plagiarism also exposed a lack of common understanding, she argued.

In a bid to address the problem, academics in the US are attempting to draw up an international definition of plagiarism. Speaking at the conference, Teresa Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University in South Carolina, set out a model definition.

It rules that plagiarism occurs if an author “uses words, ideas or work products, attributable to an identifiable person or source, without attributing the work to the source from which it was obtained, in a situation in which there was a legitimate expectation of original authorship, in order to obtain benefit, credit or gain.”

Dr Fishman said that plagiarism was not theft, copyright infringement or fraud, and should not be confused with poor citation skills.”

A find this fascinating at a whole series of levels. I have always argued that the meaning of plagiarism is culturally and socially derived and changes over time. And just agreeing a common definition does not overcome the different cultural meanings associated with it. Indeed, in line with Jenny Hughes work on pragmatics and semantics and featured on this blog over the last two weeks, it is not so much the paradigm of plagiarism that we should be looking at to understand its meaning but the syntagmatic relations between say, the idea of  plagiarism, ideas of tecahing and learning and especially concepts of copyright. And this is confirmed as an academic catfight breaks out in the comments.. To give a flavour:

“The position of some “experts” on plagiarism directly contravenes the law, contravenes the accepted university rules and even their own words”

“What makes some “experts” on plagiarism to falsify what the law of plagiarism and the universally accepted rules of academia actually say?”

“surely that shows that views on plagiarism are culturally contingent and academics in one country drawing up an “international definition” is an inherently flawed idea?”

“if your undergraduates are so incapable of ‘original authorship’ that they cannot even summarise others’ work competently without copying it out, you are royally screwed.”

“Dr. Fishman, that plagiarism ITSELF constitutes a fraud, has been explained and confirmed uncountable number of times and included in academic policies. If you are making a point to deny this, you have to have a novel reason for this. May I ask you to say what this reason is?”

And so on. It is all very polite but it is clear that we cannot define plagiarism without understanding the cultural and social background to the idea itself. Lets face it, if plagiarism (and present day copyright laws, had been around in the times of Shakespeare, his plays would never have been performed or published.

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    News Bites

    Learning about technology

    According to the University Technical Colleges web site, new research released of 11 to 17-year-olds, commissioned by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity which promotes and supports University Technical Colleges (UTCs), reveals that over a third (36%) have no opportunity to learn about the latest technology in the classroom and over two thirds (67%) admit that they have not had the opportunity even to discuss a new tech or app idea with a teacher.

    When asked about the tech skills they would like to learn the top five were:

    Building apps (45%)
    Creating Games (43%)
    Virtual reality (38%)
    Coding computer languages (34%)
    Artificial intelligence (28%)


    MOOC providers in 2016

    According to Class Central a quarter of the new MOOC users  in 2016 came from regional MOOC providers such as  XuetangX (China) and Miríada X (Latin America).

    They list the top five MOOC providers by registered users:

    1. Coursera – 23 million
    2. edX – 10 million
    3. XuetangX – 6 million
    4. FutureLearn – 5.3 million
    5. Udacity – 4 million

    XuetangX burst onto this list making it the only non-English MOOC platform in top five.

    In 2016, 2,600+ new courses (vs. 1800 last year) were announced, taking the total number of courses to 6,850 from over 700 universities.


    Jobs in cyber security

    In a new fact sheet the Tech Partnership reveals that UK cyber workforce has grown by 160% in the five years to 2016. 58,000 people now work in cyber security, up from 22,000 in 2011, and they command an average salary of over £57,000 a year – 15% higher than tech specialists as a whole, and up 7% on last year. Just under half of the cyber workforce is employed in the digital industries, while banking accounts for one in five, and the public sector for 12%.


    Number students outside EU falls in UK

    Times Higher Education reports the number of first-year students from outside the European Union enrolling at UK universities fell by 1 per cent from 2014-15 to 2015-16, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

    Data from the past five years show which countries are sending fewer students to study in the UK.

    Despite a large increase in the number of students enrolling from China, a cohort that has grown by 12,500 since 2011-12, enrolments by students from India fell by 13,150 over the same period.

    Other notable changes include an increase in students from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and a fall in students from Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.


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