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Posts tagged ‘Nordic Land of Finland’

Finnish brewery creates quirky beer for Trump-Putin summit

July 14, 2018

HELSINKI (AP) — A small Finnish craft brewery is paying a humorous tribute to the Helsinki summit. RPS Brewing has issued a limited-edition lager depicting cartoon U.S. and Russian presidents on its label, with text for Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin saying “Let’s Settle This Like Adults” and “Making Lager Great Again.”

The beer has been in high demand since it hit the shelves nationwide a few days ago and the whole 10,000-bottle lot had been sold out ahead of Monday’s summit. Samples have also been delivered to the U.S. and Russian embassies in Helsinki.

CEO Samuli Huuhtanen told The Associated Press on Saturday that “a couple of good beers can help any negotiations,” especially if followed by a visit to a Finnish sauna.

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Finland’s president skates to overwhelming re-election win

January 28, 2018

HELSINKI (AP) — Finnish President Sauli Niinisto crushed his competition with a landslide election victory Sunday that saw him receiving more than five times as much voter support than his closest challenger.

With all ballots counted, Niinisto had 62.7 percent of the vote, while his leading rival, Pekka Haavisto of the Greens, had 12.4 percent. Haavisto, the runner-up in the 2012 election, conceded the race long before the vote-count was completed, telling Finnish national broadcaster Niinisto “is the republic’s new president with this result.”

None of the other six candidates received more than 7 percent of the vote. Niinisto, 69, a former finance minister and parliament speaker, has been a highly popular president since he took office in 2012. He needed a majority to prevent a runoff and to win re-election outright.

He ran as an independent with no association to the conservative National Coalition Party that he earlier chaired. Finland’s president designs the blueprint for the country’s foreign and security policy together with the government. As head of state, the president is the key foreign policy player, particularly on issues outside the European Union.

The president also acts as the supreme commander of military forces and can veto legislation. To most Finns, the president’s key task is to assure friendly ties with both neighboring Russia, which shares a 1,340 kilometer (833-mile) border with Finland, and the West, particularly the United States.

Judged by his vast popularity, Niinisto seemingly handled the balancing act well. Finland joined the EU in 1995, but doesn’t belong to NATO. Recent polls predicted Niinisto would get between 58 and 63 percent of the vote and Haavisto of the Greens would garner some 14 percent.

Winter is here: “Game of Thrones” ice hotel opens in Finland

January 19, 2018

HELSINKI (AP) — A “Game of Thrones”-themed ice hotel complete with a bar and a chapel for weddings has opened in northern Finland in a joint effort by a local hotel chain and the U.S. producers of the hit TV series.

Lapland Hotels said Friday they chose “Game of Thrones” to be the theme for this season’s Snow Village, an annual ice-and-snow construction project covering 20,000 square meters (24,000 sq. yards) in Kittila, 150 kilometers (93 miles) above the Arctic Circle.

Snow Village operations manager Janne Pasma told Finnish national broadcaster YLE that he was a huge fan of the series and it was “a dream come true” that HBO Nordic agreed to go along. The hotel, which stays open until April, suggests that guests stay only one night due to below-zero temperatures.

Japan leader Abe vows Arctic, Russia cooperation in Finland

July 10, 2017

HELSINKI (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday pledged to increase cooperation with Finland in Arctic issues and on furthering Russian relations, after talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

Abe noted that Finland is currently chairing the Arctic Council and said his country would increase its role in the agency by “positively contributing more than in the past to (its) activities.” “We will be enhancing our cooperation in the area of the environment regarding the Arctic regions,” Abe said in prepared statements by the two leaders.

Niinisto said that the two countries signed several agreements, including on developing environmental cooperation. Abe congratulated Finland on this year’s 100th anniversary of independence from Russia, with which it shares a 1,300 kilometer (800 mile) border, noting that Russia is “an important neighbor for both of our nations.”

“We reaffirmed our close collaboration in our relationship with Russia,” he said. Neither leader gave any details of the content of their talks. Before arriving in Finland, Abe met with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in Stockholm, where the two leaders demanded that North Korea halt missile tests, and pledged increased cooperation in the U.N. Security Council. They also agreed to combat terrorism together.

Former Finnish President Mauno Koivisto dies at 93

May 13, 2017

HELSINKI (AP) — Mauno Koivisto, Finland’s last president during the Cold War who led the Nordic nation out of the shadow of its huge eastern neighbor, the Soviet Union, and into the European Union, died Friday at the age of 93.

The Finnish president’s office said that Koivisto died in the evening in a Helsinki hospital. It gave no cause of death or other details. His wife, Tellervo Koivisto, said earlier this year that he suffered severely from Alzheimer’s disease and could no longer be cared for at home.

Koivisto served two six-year terms between 1982 and 1994, enjoying great popularity among ordinary Finns. His down-to-earth manner and dry humor, often laced with sarcasm and philosophical pondering, won him the heart of the nation but also brought political opponents.

For most Finns, his presidency marked the end of the long reign of predecessor Urho Kekkonen, who had ruled Finland with an iron grip for 25 years until his resignation in 1981. Koivisto was seen as ushering in a new, freer era, changing the face of the country by reducing the powers of the head of state and strengthening the role of Parliament.

Above all, he was recognized for his foreign policy skills with a fine balancing act of maintaining the small country’s good relations with the West — particularly with the United States — and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War years.

His second term in 1988-1994 was crucial in cementing the Nordic nation’s neutral status until the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 — a great concern for Finland that shares a 1,340-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia.

A fluent Russian-speaker, Koivisto developed a particular bond with the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev but also stayed in close contact with U.S. President George H.W. Bush with whom he regularly exchanged views on developments in the crumbling and rapidly changing Soviet Union. In 1990, he hosted Bush and Gorbachev at a U.S.-Soviet Summit in Helsinki.

Earlier, he reportedly also had a good rapport with former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who stopped over in Helsinki in 1988 for talks with Koivisto en route to Moscow. Ahead of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the fall of 1991, Koivisto started to steer Finland out of international isolation. He unilaterally declared two treaties as null and void — the 1947 Paris Treaty, which placed restrictions on the Finnish military, and the 1948 Finnish-Soviet pact on mutual assistance, which hindered Finland’s integration with European security structures.

In 1992, Koivisto initiated the country’s application to join the European Community — the precursor of the European Union — and eventually led Finland to join the EU in 1995 after overwhelming support for membership in a referendum.

Born into a religious family in 1923, Koivisto was a rare breed among Finnish heads of state as he possessed first-hand war experience. At the age of 16, he served as a volunteer on the home front in the bitter 1939-40 Winter War against the Soviets.

He also fought in the Continuation War in 1941-44, when Finnish troops battled the Russians beside Nazi Germany. After the war, Koivisto joined the Social Democratic Party, completed his education, graduating with a philosophy degree and gained a Ph.D. in sociology in 1956.

Koivisto emerged a key figure among the Social Democrats in the late 1960s and helped raise the party’s popularity in Finland, which had been dominated by the former president Kekkonen’s agrarian Center Party in the post-World War II era.

Before becoming head of state, Koivisto held several ministerial posts, including of prime minister, and had served as the governor of the Bank of Finland. The tall and lanky Koivisto — a particular favorite figure among Finnish political cartoonists — was passionate about volleyball, playing into his elderly years with a group of industrialists and politicians.

Koivisto is survived by his wife, whom he married in 1952, and their daughter, Assi. Funeral arrangements were to be announced later.

Finland, US to deepen military ties through pact

October 07, 2016

HELSINKI (AP) — Finland and the United States have signed a bilateral defense cooperation pact pledging closer military collaboration at the time when the Nordic country is increasingly concerned over Russia’s activities in the Baltic Sea region.

The deal was signed in Helsinki on Friday by the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work and the Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinisto. While Washington and Helsinki already closely cooperate through joint military drills on air, land and sea, the non-legally binding pact seeks to deepen the ties through information exchange, joint research and development in areas like cyberdefense and training among other things.

The pact covers cooperation in ship building, nuclear defense and developing technologies for the Arctic – an area of increasing interest for both nations. In the three-page declaration, the U.S. and Finnish defense ministries jointly state that “the U.S. presence in and around the Baltic Sea undergirds stability in the region, and creates opportunities to increase defense cooperation between our countries.”

As a stark reminder of the military realities in the region, Niinisto said earlier Friday that Finland suspects that Russian SU-27 fighter jets violated the country’s airspace on two separate occasions in the Gulf of Finland on Thursday.

The claim was quickly denounced by Russia’s defense ministry which, as quoted by news agency TASS, said the planes flew over international waters “in strict compliance with the international regulations.”

While the Finnish media speculated that the air intrusion may be related to Work’s visit, others claimed it was caused by an ongoing air drill by Russian air forces in the region. Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila considered it “serious” that two such incidents took place on the same day, and urged a thorough investigation.

Estonian national broadcaster ERR reported that Russian military has been transporting short-range Iskander missiles by sea to the Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad this week complete with substantial air escort – something that could explain intrusions on the narrow international air strip on the Gulf of Finland.

Estonia’s military reported separately that a Russian SU-27 fighter plane had violated its airspace early Friday for less than one minute. The United States has expressed concern over what it says is Russia’s aggressive and reckless behavior on the Baltic Sea, where Finland, Sweden, Estonia and Latvia – among other nations – have reported air violations and there has been other activity by Russia’s military near U.S. aircraft and ships.

During his one-day Helsinki visit Work met with Nordic and Baltic defense officials in a regular gathering to discuss regional defense issues, including Russia’s recent maneuvers. “Unfortunately these (Russian air intrusions) are becoming a norm rather than an exception,” Work told a news conference after the meeting. “It’s hard for me to fathom that Russia would consider Finland a threat in anyway, and activities like these are hard to understand.”

Finland’s close Nordic neighbor Sweden concluded a similar kind of military pact with the United States in June. Non-NATO members Finland and Sweden each struck such a defense cooperation deal also with Britain earlier this year.

Anti-immigrant vigilante patrols cause concern in Finland

January 22, 2016

HELSINKI (AP) — In the snowy streets of Finland’s cities, black-clad vigilantes are on patrol, to the alarm of the police and many residents. They say they’re there to keep Finnish people safe from what they say is a new and clear threat — the increasing numbers of asylum-seekers.

The rise of the Soldiers of Odin, which claims 500 members, has sparked both concern and ridicule in the Nordic country. Opponents dressed as clowns recently to accompany the ominous-looking men on their patrols.

But the Soldiers of Odin, who derive their name from a Norse god, insist their patrols are needed to protect the peace in the sparsely populated nation of 5.5 million, which wasn’t a major destination for migrants until 32,500 people applied for asylum last year. Most came from Iraq but also from Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.

“It’s chaotic and getting out of hand,” Mika Ranta, a 29-year-old truck driver who founded the group, told The Associated Press. “We should be more careful about who we let into the country.” The Soldiers of Odin say they are unarmed, though Ranta acknowledged he carries pepper spray, which is legal in Finland. They wear black jackets bearing their logo on the back — a mustachioed man wearing a Viking helmet and Finnish flag as a neckerchief.

Speaking by phone from the northern city of Kemi, Ranta said the posse isn’t racist, but considers the newcomers a threat because “they are Muslims.” “Islam has never adapted anywhere and only brings problems with it. They don’t tolerate anyone else apart from believers in Islam,” Ranta said.

He said police are overworked and need help to deal with the migration situation — a claim rejected by Finland’s top police official. National Police Commissioner Seppo Kolehmainen said the tenfold increase in asylum requests in 2015 has greatly increased the workload for police officers, including the need to fingerprint applicants, keep order at reception centers and protect them from arson attacks, mostly by drunk Finnish men — not always successfully.

“But we categorically don’t accept any street patrols that have been set up solely against immigrants or asylum-seekers. It’s the duty of the police to keep law and order,” he added. Formed in October when the flow of migrants peaked, the Soldiers of Odin raised their profile on social media following reports that Finnish women were harassed on New Year’s Eve in incidents that resembled a string of attacks in Cologne, Germany, that were blamed largely on foreigners.

Police are investigating 15 reported cases of sexual assault, including rape, attempted rape and groping in downtown Helsinki during New Year’s celebrations, with many of the suspected perpetrators having foreign backgrounds, including some asylum-seekers.

So far, the Soldiers’ patrols have been uneventful — they haven’t had any encounters either with asylum-seekers or with the police. But they have created debates on social media, radio and TV shows and worried officials. They have also sparked counter-movements.

Last week, a group calling itself the Sisters of Kyllikki, named after a mythological Finnish female figure, began street patrols of their own “to spread love and caring” in the southeastern town of Joensuu, where a week earlier the Soldiers of Odin held an anti-immigrant demonstration.

That group’s fame has spread on Facebook, with patrols planned in at least four other towns. A troupe of clowns calling themselves the LOLdiers of Odin, in apparent reference to the text messaging abbreviation, LOL, for “laughing out loud,” has gone even further.

Dressed in crazy clothes, including Viking helmets, tin hats, and long flowing gowns, they taunted and mocked the vigilantes on one of their patrols last week in the southern city of Tampere. The clowns sang children’s songs, threw cartwheels and slid down piles of snow along the black-clad men’s route.

Ranta said one of the clowns poured water on a patrol member when the temperature outside was as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 14 Fahrenheit). “They just tried to provoke us,” he said. “If they poured water down my back I’d throw pepper spray in their face.”

Unlike the clowns, some take the vigilantes seriously, including Prosecutor General Matti Nissinen, who described them as sending “a racist and threatening” message. “If we go back in history, we see that nothing good has ever come out of street patrols by this kind of uniformed group,” Nissinen said.

The patrols have also caused consternation at government level. While Prime Minister Juha Sipila initially appeared to dither about taking a stand, Finance Minister Alexander Stubb quickly condemned the groups, saying the government would seek ways to ban them. Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who leads the anti-immigration Finns party, said he condemns racism but didn’t take a clear stand on the patrols.

Ranta’s group claims offshoots in Britain, Germany, the U.S. and Estonia as well as neighboring Sweden and Norway. It hasn’t got a foothold in the Helsinki region, where people are used to foreigners and are generally welcoming toward them.

“We’re not there yet, but it’s just a question of time,” Ranta says. “Those New Year attacks are a clear sign we are needed.”

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