Finnish Paper Makes the World Go Round

The Anjala Estate, the Inkeroinen Cardboard Plant, and the Anjala Paper Mill on the shores of the Kymi River near Kouvola, Finland. Photo courtesy of Museumvirasto

If you are reading this review in the print edition of the LRB, you are holding pages made from paper manufactured at the Anjala Paper Mill, which stands (and has stood since 1872) on the Kymi River near the city of Kouvola, in southern Finland. Here, wood (generally spruce) from sustainable forests is made into pulp to which starch binders are added. The paper is coated with a mixture of clay and calcium carbonate. Its name is StellaPress HB: it is matt with a light coating which helps ink brightness and readability, and also gives (try it now) that smoothness to the page.
Adam Smyth, “Ropes, Shirts or Dirty Socks,” London Review of Books, 15 June 2017

The Nineties You’re Glad You Missed

This van has been parked in the “guest” (overflow) parking lot of our co-operative residential building for the last week or so. I assumed someone had bought it used at a severe discount because of the embarrassing logo, emblazoned on both sides of the vehicle.

How wrong I was. A quick check of Radio Nova’s website revealed that the station’s “Retroperjantai” (“Retro Fridays”) program and the unpatriotically dubbed Go 90’s festival are planning to make life in Imatra’s Mansikkala district unbearable on  June 30 and July 1.

These bastards (there is no other word for it) are once again going to rip up the lovely green meadow in the park along the Vuoksi River between the city hall-central library-cultural center campus and the swimming pool so the sagging waistlines crowd can listen to and gaze at the unmissed Raptori for something like 40 euros for a single ticket.

The cultural powers that be ripped up and fenced off the same meadow at least once or twice last summer for commercial music events, including concerts held in connection with the retrograde celebration of noise and air pollution known as the Imatranajo International Road Racing Championship.

This motorcycle race had also quietly disappeared into the semi-distant past, but now it has been revived on a permanent basis by the city council and cycling enthusiasts.

The renaissance coincided more or less with the extinction of the much more environmentally friendly and once-mighty Imatra Big Band Festival and the altogether environmentally friendly and utterly prestigious International Summer School for Semiotic and Structural Studies.

The big band festival had real financial problems, apparently, but the city council, dominated by so-called Social Democrats and members of the now officially fascist Finns Party, chose not to save the world-renowned festival, so it sank and drowned altogether, while the International Semiotics Institute, housed in modest digs at the city library and funded by a tiny subsidy from the city, was banished from the city budget altogether (due its utter obscurity to the “proletariat,” one has to imagine, although it had existed happily in Imatra since 1988), forcing it to decamp to Budapest, if I’m not mistaken.

Eager to ensure that no one could enjoy the non-music on offer for free, the organizers of last year’s concerts in the park fenced off the bike and pedestrian path on the shore of the Vuoksi. I was lucky enough, if you can all it that, to get a snapshot of two worthy local oldsters who were literally baffled by this fence as they tried to cruise down the path along the river, probably the most beloved place in the city for riding bikes, jogging, and strolling. The old people were ultimately forced to turn around and either bypass the entire area or go back home.

In the event, however, the music was loud as hell and echoed off and among the tower blocks situated right across the most heavily populated neighborhood in Imatra, Linnala/Mansikkala.

The funny thing is that back in the wild days before the city fathers and mothers came to their senses and turned this stretch of the Vuoksi into a mecca for decorous recreation, wise urban administration, and the quiet pursuit of knowledge and culture, the so-called Virranpuisto (“Current Park”: I’ve never heard this toponym before or seen it on any map) was the city’s official camping grounds.

The wild days in question were the sixties and seventies. I’ve seen photos of what the Tainionkoski camping grounds looked like back then, and I’m truly glad I had a whole ocean between me and that silly trash- and car-infested mess, dotted with tents, in its heyday.

So it would seem that, on the strength of the false urban planning and administration theory that every largish plot of urban greenery that isn’t generating income either for local councils or local developers (or both), has to be bludgeoned into cashcowdom, however badly that impacts the quality of life of the folks who actually live in the neighborhood, we are returning not only to the nineties but also to the seventies, when the meadow was a swamp of human congestion and consumption every summer.

More or less kittywampus from the newly minted funfair known to boosters (but not to actual people) as Virranpuisto is the scandalously underused Imatrakosken Urheilukenttä (“Imatrankoski Athletic Field”), where, I’ve noticed, traveling circuses set up camp and perform for a few days every summer.

The athletic field has the facilities and space for such entertainments, and it is located in a much less populous neighborhood. Why not relive the nineties there?

UPDATE. My best friend, whose memory is much better than mine, points out it was the Finnish federales who axed the ISI’s extremely tiny budget, not the lowly Imatra city council. I seem to remember the ISI then appealed to the city council for funding, but was turned down. My best friend remembers no such thing.

Photos and rant by Living in FIN


Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, “If You Let the Cows Out on Monday”

cows near kuninkaantie in sipoo-wiki commons

Jos lehmät päästää ulos maanantaina
ne menevät metsään, painuvat pitkälle
pyrkivät putouksiin, kallionkoloon ja alas jyrkänteeltä.
Kuolleet palaavat pihatietä pitkin:
Rebekka, Isolde, Rosamunda.
Allison, Eulalia, Eufrosyne.
Ne eivät tule kummituksina vain vanhoina ystävinä.
Ketä ne, siivettömät, täällä suojelevat?
Laihaa likkaa, laihaa likkaa.

* * * * *

If you let the cows out on Monday
they head for the woods, they go far
they run for the falls, the hole in the rock and off the cliff.
The dead return along the road to the yard:
Rebecca, Isolde, Rosamunde,
Allison, Eulalia, Euphrosyne.
They come not as ghosts, but as old friends.
Who are they protecting here, the wingless ones?
The skinny girl, the skinny girl.

— Vilja-Tullia Huotarinen, Iloinen Lehmän Runot (WSOY, 2009)

Translated by Living in FIN. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons

* * * * *


Hannu Salakka, “The Snowfall Slowly Sifts the Air Pollution”


Lumisade seuloo hitaasti ilman epäpuhtaudet.
Seinät ovat kylmät,
tekee mieli nostaa jalat tuolille.
ihon alla on arpia
niinkuin jonkin tuntemattoman eläimen kynsiminä.
Lapsi juoksi jo lattiala
ja puhuu itselleen omalla kielellään,
se on jo lähdössä,
me jäämässä tähän.


The snowfall slowly sifts the air pollution.
The walls are cold,
Making you feel like propping your feet on the armchair.
Under the skin
In your stomach are scars
Like an unknown animal’s claws.
The child dashes round the floor,
Speaking to itself in its own tongue.
It’s on its way,
We’re staying here.

Hannu Salakka, Ennen kapaisin tähän (Otava, 1983)

Translation and photograph by Living in FIN

Finland Asylum Seeker Blues (MigriLeaks)

10 Problems with Migri’s Processes and Decisions

For the past month, Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers, in particular, have been demonstrating in downtown Helsinki. One of their central demands is that asylum cases in which there have been problems in the handling should be processed again.

The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) systematically refuses to admit the problematic nature of its processes and decisions, let alone fix them. An excellent example of this was Migri Director General Jaana Vuorio’s op-ed piece, “A Negative Decision Is Not a Wrong Decision,” in the 3 December 2017 issue of Helsingin Sanomat. A negative decision is definitely not a wrong decision, but a flawed decision is a flawed decision.

What, then, are these problems?

1. Migri has been using inexperienced and inappropriate interpreters. For example, an Iraqi asylum seeker’s Arabic language interpreter may have been from North Africa. The Arabic dialects spoken in Iraq and North Africa differ to such an extent that the asylum seeker and the interpreter may not have understood each other seamlessly, whereupon the interpreter has made essential errors in the translation. Yes, the asylum seeker is asked whether s/he understands the interpreter, but this is difficult to verify when the asylum seeker cannot know what the interpreter is translating in reality.

2. Migri has been leaving essential questions unasked or unclarified in the asylum interview, even when the asylum seeker has clearly said s/he has more to say. (See, for example, Ali’s case.)

3. Migri has been ignoring and minimizing the testimony offered by the asylum applicants. For example, not all the written evidence has been translated and, among other things, the value of photographs and doctor’s certificates has been nullified.

4. The asylum process should be unique. That is not the case now, however. Migri, for example, has been copying and pasting the texts of asylum decisions that are not in any way relevant to the asylum seeker’s case. (See Item 1 here.)

5. Migri has been leaving out of negative asylum decisions essential details that have come up in the interviews, details suggesting the asylum seeker is at serious risk. (See, for example, Nouri’s case.)

6. In its negative asylum decisions, Migri ignores the fact that persecution is likely to continue in the future, even when the information and evidence given by the asylum seeker clearly indicates the persecution will continue. This, for example, is the case when the asylum seeker has been asked about at his or her parents’ home in the recent past.

7. It is quite common that the actual target of persecution, such as a family’s father, is being blackmailed by threats or even the kidnapping and torture of other family members. Migri, however, seemingly evaluates these cases more from the perspective of Finnish society than from the perspective of the asylum seeker’s society, and thus does not believe that children could be targetted for persecution in addition to the father, even when a direct threat to a child has been presented in evidence. (See Fatimah’s case.)

8. Migri refuses to believe so-called secondary information, for example, that an asylum seeker’s home has been subjected to bombing. Migri doesn’t consider this information reliable if the asylum  seeker has not witnessed it herself or himself, but has only heard about it from another family member, for example.

9. In its negative asylum decisions, Migri has admitted that the asylum seeker is subject to personal persecution, but the decision has been made, however, in light of the overall security situation in his or her country, not on the basis of the application’s personal criteria.

10. Migri’s country guidelines, on which [its assessments] of the safety of a country or region are rationalized, are based, at least in part, on outdated sources and are not in line with the UNHCR’s present guidelines.

Such are all the faults of this kind, which are not based on Finnish laws, but on Migri’s internal practices. Thus, Migri can also fix them.

Although Migri admits mistakes have occurred, it blames them on individual employees. However, the mistakes in Migri’s processes and decisions have been so widespread that they cannot be a matter of mistakes on the part of individual employees. Rather, the mistakes seem to be standard and deliberate practices at Migri.

Migri also evokes the fact that asylum seekers have the right to appeal decisions to the Administrative Court, which corrects possible mistakes. The Administrative Court’s decisions are mainly based on the documents produced by Migri, so mistakes that have occurred in Migri’s processes are repeated  rather than rectified in the appeals process.

MigriLeaks will return to these problematic points in more detail in future posts.

Source: MigriLeaks

Translated by Living in FIN. Thanks to Comrade AR for the heads-up and Comrade EN for help with the translation. Photo courtesy of Meeri Utti/Aamulehti