Does Finland answer in the negative too often?

The digital world was abuzz in recent months with reports of bureaucracy gone mad. The Regional State Administrative Agency (AVI) reportedly barred two Finnish bloggers from writing about an event in their private blogs because of the subject matter (whiskey) and the event, the Beer and Whiskey Expo 2014.

This was despite the fact that the bloggers had already contacted VALVIRA, the National Supervisory for Welfare and Health, and had been given the green light to write about the event. Both bloggers were not writing for financial gain and were not featuring advertising on their blogs. Yet, AVI disagreed with VALVIRA’s decision and stated that all logos and all whiskey-related discussion was off limits, both on the expo’s own website as well as on personal blogs about the event.

Furthermore, the word “whiskey” had to be dropped from the expo’s name. This entire circus was dubbed “Whiskeygate” and went viral on blogs, Twitter and in social media. Sure, the Finnish government claims to act in the interest of the people and that these limitations are done in accordance with studies that show the link between increased alcohol consumption and advertising, but how much is too much? Are we living in a gilded cage? Is Finland turning into the Land of No?

In spite of all this bureaucracy, Finland routinely tops Forbes’ “Happiest Countries in the World” list, and is ranked among countries with the highest quality of life by the Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index and among the most peaceful countries in the world by the Global Peace Index. Sure, Finns might scoff at these “happiest in the world” rankings, but with its excellent social welfare benefits, access to free education and low crime rates maybe the government might be right in limiting our rights when it comes to what it deems as harmful. But the backlash against all these limitations is slowly, but surely brewing.

Last fall, the media event Kielletty Maailma (the Forbidden World) was organised in the square in front of Helsinki’s Stockmann. Its aim was to highlight Finland’s not-too-distant future: “Where decisions aren’t based on common sense but feelings. Laws, taxes and bans are downplayed and the rights of an individual are forgone for the good of the many.” Harsh words, but could they ring true?

Take, for example, the action plan by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to eliminate the use of tobacco products by the end of 2040. That means that in 26 scant years, lighting up anywhere in Finland may be a criminal act. And if the tax hikes on carbonated sugary drinks, candy and alcohol continue along the same trajectory, they may price themselves out of the market. Can this really be considered in the best interests of the people, or merely an Orwellian future that we are slowly drifting into?

At least to counter this Finland still has the freest press in the world, according to Reuters. And try as they might, the more you attempt to squeeze Finnish folks into any sort of mould, the harder they will resist. In the words of the old Finnish saying, Kun menee sutta pakoon, tulee karhu vastaan – “When you flee the wolf, you run into the bear.”

Tania Nathan