A certain prominent figure in Finnish politics visited an Aalto lecture on economics and asked a question from the hall of hundred-something students: how many of them were somehow involved in politics, or were at least interested in being involved in the future? No one raised a hand.
A couple of years ago the weekly social media outrage was achieved when Sampsa Kataja, a representative of the National Coalition Party Kokoomus, announced he was stepping down as a Member of Parliament. He publicly complained that the monthly pay of an MP, totalling at around 7000€, wasn’t lucrative enough to attract best and brightest of the country. The comment sections were buzzing, but Kataja seems to have had a point.
As an economist, you fairly easily get paid more than an MP. Also your job doesn’t consist of campaigning in the cold outdoors, being the official scapegoat of the people, or putting up with journalists looking for another scandal. An economist
might even get thanked for a job well done, and those who end up changing their opinion on something don’t get accused of being turncoats. Add to this the media’s habit of painting the national and municipal politics with a brush as grey as a November morning and it’s no wonder that the show of hands at the aforementioned lecture was far from enthusiastic.
At the start of the year Aino addressed the political reluctance among Aalto students, and the student magazine Ylioppilaslehti has also written about students’ disinterest in party politics. Both AYY activists and researchers have voiced their concern towards the issue.
There are always exceptions to the rule. People who start banging the gavel already at middle school student meetings do exist. Even as teenagers they clad themselves in clothes associated with middle-aged folks, and practice that confident yet approachable smile. As university students they prefer sitting around tables where educational and socio-political policies are made over sitting around sitsit tables singing inappropriate songs in broken Swedish. They’re driven to attend these meetings because they’re precocious, or hungry for power… or at least that’s what other people think.
We’re giving the floor to three young politicians so they can tell you what got them into party politics and whether the stereotypes ring true.
Recently graduated Mikko Laakso, 25, is not an ordinary Aalto student. During his political career he has already been active in the Youth of the National Coalition Party, the national and xisuropean Parliaments, as well as been a campaign manager and written a book on social media campaigning. Now he has a seat in Espoo City Council, as well as literal one across from me at a trendy restaurant we’re at.
At first glance Laakso is the spitting image of a politician. The sensible shirt-and-cardigan combo gives the impression of exactly the kind of chill assertiveness you expect from a young Coalition member. Even though Laakso had strong political opinions since he was very young, he attended his first political meeting around his age of majority. So in that sense he doesn’t tie into my image of someone active in politics.
“I wasn’t in the student body in middle school or high school. It never seemed very serious to me. I’ve always shunned the kind of organisational spectacle, where you attend all kinds of advocacy groups. To me my values are priority, and politics is just a way to get that ideology out into society.”
People who start banging the gavel already at middle school student meetings do exist.
According to Laakso, carrying values out into the society is best done by politicians, not researchers, writers or ministry employees. He wants to do things, not just suggest them.
“Nobody’s interested in reading reports. The quiet power of specialists is not effective. It’s better to be a strong leadership figure and speak out.”
Indeed, Laakso doesn’t answer my questions in a cautious and roundabout way of a common politician. On the contrary, he’s surprisingly poignant about certain issues. He talks of politicians as lions and mice, just like a proper advocate of a liberal market. He accompanies his most important points by banging his fist on the table – the strikes frequent and relatively hard.
Laakso has been a rebel since he was young.
“My type of rebellion hasn’t been the revolutionary kind, but instead I rebel by revering Margaret Thatcher and opposing the authority of the State. Why the fuck should the state have a say in what’s the strongest wine an adult person can buy from the grocery store?”
Laakso became an advocate of the liberal market through logical reasoning. His worldview is based on values instead of lobbyist politics.
“Negative liberty, meaning freedom from external restraints, is the basic value that lies as the core of my thinking. My whole ideology is derived from this point.”
Nevertheless, Laakso is aware that ideological purity and the state of politicscan not always coincide.
“You can’t just take an ideological utopia and then cry that there’s something wrong with the world. If you want to change the world you have to play by the logic upon which the world is functioning.”
Hanna Huumonen, 29, also bases her political worldview on pure philosophical analysis. She has acted, among others, as a chairperson of Finnish Student Sports Federation OLL and Social Democratic Students, as well as an assistant in the European Parliament.
Huumonen’s basic value is justice, and she found the right ideology behind the veil of ignorance coined by the philosopher John Rawls. According to Rawl the best possible society is achieved when those making up the rules don’t know what status they are going to have in that society. Through this thought experiment Huumonen established, that a social democratic would be the most just one.
“Nobody’s interested in reading reports. The quiet power of specialists is not effective.”
I meet Huumonen on dangerous territory – at least if Mikko Laakso’s recent tweet about the terrorists of Hakaniemi is to be believed. Huumonen calls them labour unions instead. The café we’re at isn’t playing communist Taistoist songs, but Finnish pop rock songs that were popular in the 80’s, around the same time as Huumonen’s political party, the social democrats.
Even though Huumonen has always leaned towards the left she chose her political party only after her teenage rebellion turned into “constructive irritation” (fin. “vitutus”). In addition to ideological support, in the Social Democratic Party she also
found a pragmatic take on doing politics.
“People are quick to point out faults, but very few actually do something about the state of things. Nonetheless, I’m a positive person and want to believe that things can change if you do something about them.”
Still, the reality of politics scares Huumonen. She admits that she’s naïve. ”I’m afraid that if I dive all into politics, this naïveté would fade. Or maybe sincerity is a better word.”
Huumonen got to know the drawbacks of politics when she lead the campaign against MV-lehti, an online publication accused of spreading hate speech and fake news. The readers of the publication threatened and attacked Huumonen as you would expect them to, and machinated the search for her home address. In the end, that only managed to add fuel to the fire of Huumonen’s passion to work for things she finds important.
Still, nightmares of real world politics follow Huumonen into her dreams.
”I had a nightmare where I had become a talking robot. I couldn’t speak anything else but jargon, and no one understood me. It was terrible.”
In addition to jargon a politician’s everyday life is filled with endless meetings, and handing out campaign posters in freezing sleet. According to Huumonen it’s just as fun as it sounds like. When you’re campaigning you also have to carry the weight of your party’s past on your shoulders.
”Sometimes people scream at me and tell me I’m absolute shit because when SDP’s Lipponen was Prime Minister, he made the pension cuts. Of course there are also a lot of good conversations and nice encounters.”
Unlike Huumonen, Hilkka Kemppi, 29, actually enjoys campaigning outdoors. She just ended her term as a chairperson of Finnish Centre Youth, and now she acts as a chair of both Asikkala City Council and State Youth Council.
Passion for politics is what keeps her awake at the meetings.
”During meetings I somehow get this feeling that this stuff is important as heck and if I’m not awake now, the whole world will explode. I guess some people would find it hard to understand that when others go out to get wasted, I head to a general assembly. General assemblies are the best.”
Kemppi seems to truly believe this. Her CV is filled with positions of trust, and for the past four years politics has been her full-time job. This is also something people find difficult to wrap their heads around.
”When I tell people I’m a politician, some of them still ask me what my actual job is. This is a job as any other, and requires its own set of skills and knowledge. It’s process management, mostly.”
You can tell that Kemppi is a professional politician from the way she presents herself. She knows the dangers of speaking out, which makes her answers cautious and calculated. With Laakso and Huumonen I felt like a person talking to another person. Now we are our titles, a politician and a journalist.
”During meetings I somehow get this feeling that this stuff is important as heck and if I’m not awake now, the whole world will explode.”
Combining ideological purity and real politics is not a problem for Kemppi. She didn’t choose her party through theoretical analysis, but very pragmatically: by reading every party’s values and goals and deciding the best fit for her.
For Kemppi politics is both work and a lifestyle. Still, she says she doesn’t chase titles but instead chooses positions where she can affect issues important to her. These are for example educational policies and combating the social exclusion of young people.
Kemppi seems to have an answer to why Aalto students and other young people don’t have the same interest as students did in the 70’s. During that time tens of thousands of students attended different parties’ assemblies, and politics were seen in schools, universities and on the street.
The world, including Finland, was afraid of youth politics radicalising, Kemppi says. Politics were weeded out of the school curriculum and education altogether.
”Now we work to get back into primary schools so young people could see political youth organisations there.”
According to Hilkka, the significance of political parties has also changed since the 70’s.
”It used to be that political activity wasn’t just about politics, but political parties also got young people together.”
So young people went to Centre Party’s summer assemblies because they didn’t have a choice. When music festivals became an alternative for assembling and channelling one’s rebellion, the political parties’ part ended up being just taking care of things.
”Young people who are 15–16 years of age are the biggest new segment joining the Centre Party’s activities. I’ve head the same thing from other parties. These young people are more politically inclined than the previous generation.”
If Kemppi, Huumonen and Laakso are to be believed, they’re all linked by a true desire to make the society better. For them, politics and the power it brings are tools to achieve this goal.
So what’s so annoying about young politicians then? Why are people who are busy with associations or political work called mean names? Why does the Finnish language have the concept of a political broiler, a demeaning name for someone who has never worked anywhere else but in politics?
Maybe it’s easy to see young politicians as factitious, or just naïve – Huumonen even admitted it herself, didn’t she? Credibility comes with age and experience and young people try to achieve it through clothing choices.
We’ve also strayed far from Plato’s ideal democracy. According to him, no one who wants to be a politician should become one. Instead members of a society should choose their representatives from amongst themselves, leaving the chosen ones humbled and moved.
But in the current state of affairs you really have to strive to become a politician. Perhaps the confidence these young politicians have in their convictions reminds us of our own uncertainty. It takes courage to put yourself in the spotlight and promote your own agenda. Few of us can do that.
However, the atmosphere is changing. According to Kemppi the generation growing up in our schools will soon be ready to take on the torch we never dared to pursue