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Trust in short supply in Finland

Trust in short supply in Finland

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén

The welfare state is based on a system of trust where citizens take a lot of things more or less for granted. But there are fundamental changes going on. Researchers in Finland, for instance, say the country is rejecting the idea of integrating immigrants.

Over the past two years Finland has been shaken by a deep-rooted political scandal involving businessmen channeling large sums of money to political campaigns during national and local elections. No wonder trust in politicians is at an all time low. Just one in ten say they trust politicians, compared to two in ten in neighbouring Sweden. The Finnish do trust authority figures like police, fire fighters, teachers, pharmacists and first and foremost pilots. Their attitude does not differ much from that found in other European countries, according to Reader's Digest's European Trusted Brands.

"People wouldn't fly if they didn't trust the pilot. They have to trust the pilot. It is easier not to trust politicians, it does not put you at any immediate risk of loosing your life," says Olli Lagerspetz, professor of philosophy at Åbo Akademi Universtiy.

Near the bottom of the list along with politicians you find journalists and trade union leaders.

That comparison is interesting in that it confirms the picture of a division between Finnish decision makers and popular opinion which other research has already pointed out. Mr Lagerspetz is a leading researcher on trust in Finland. He feels a fundamental change in social conditions is taking place.

"Living in a society involves a degree of total trust in certain things. You don't have to wonder whether you can trust people," he says. 

Trust is built into us: you wait at the bus stop because you're convinced there will be a bus, or you place a call because you know someone's going to answer. The Nordic societies are to a large extent build on a continuation of this system of obvious trust. But it no longer seems to include all citizens. Immigrants aren't included, young people have a hard time achieving the same level of trust as others and the same goes for people who move to a new city.

"It strikes me that we no longer try to integrate people the way we used to."

Customers of power

Our view of society has changed on an ideological level. We no longer consider ourselves citizens who 'love' to pay tax - we now see ourselves as customers of the authorities who in turn have changed into service providers. 

"We pay for their services through tax. If I don't need one particular type of service, then why am I paying for it?"

Mr Lagerspetz admits that he is pessimistic about this development. Even legislation meant to protect workers in the workplace is being undermined - black labour has become common in the building industry.

"We have been taking the welfare state for granted, yet historically it has existed for a very short period."

Yet the welfare state still has strong support judging from opinion polls. But according to Mr Lagerspetz words don't seem to be turned into action by the decision makers.

The world's best

Finland and the other Nordic countries time and again end up top of all kinds of international comparisons of welfare. The American magazine Newsweek recently named Finland the world's best country. Olli Lagerspetz takes it with a pinch of salt - along with many other Finns, if you believe the comments in the media. 

More important are the Pisa tables (The Programme for International Student Assessment), which show Finnish 15 year olds to be the best educated in the world. 

"We need to protect our education system. The Pisa tables show our system is uniform, you don't have to live in a particular area to get a good education. This is part of the integrated nation state which was built in the 1800s. "

The education system along with conscription form institutions which create an image of togetherness; Finns are part of the same system and share the same ideas.


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