Putting it to the vote
Today I like to tell a bit about the special position you have as a foreigner when it comes to voting in Finland. The issue came up some time ago at a meeting of the Greens in which I participated. What are the democratic rights of a foreigner in Finland? It seems that it is either more than you think or less than you think.
Of course when you have a Finnish passport, you are a Finn. We are not allowed to discriminate according to gender, skin color, religion, sexual orientation or whatever. So with a Finnish passport come Finnish rights. That's the easy one. It's different when you don't have a Finnish passport. My inability to learn Finnish always prevented me from making that application, So I remain Dutch. That's not a punishment, but it makes my stay here permanently temporary, if you know what I mean.
Because Finns and Dutchies are both EU-citizens we have this law that everyone who lives 5 years permanently in some municipality can vote and be voted for in that municipality. That's nice. It makes you feel more a part of a community when you are granted rights like that.
In the Netherlands I also could have voted for the government at regional level (Say Häme), but foreigners in the Netherlands don't have that right and in Finland there is no such elected government. What counts in Finland is parliament and president. Both of which I cannot vote for.
I can vote for the parliament of the Netherlands (the commons). I belong to the voting district of The Hague (Haag)! It's a big voting district because every Dutchie abroad belongs to it. If all those people abroad voted it would have a huge impact on Dutch politics. But they don't. You have to tackle some bureaucracy before you can vote and that makes many people give up beforehand. Most people who left don't feel involved any more, so the votes from the expats are always in the margin.
While it is true I cannot vote for Finnish parliament and president, I get my rights back at a higher level. That of the EU-parliament. Here I have more rights than a normal Finn, because I can choose which country to vote for. The Netherlands or Finland? What shall I do this time? Every five years I get a letter from the city The Hague (Haag) and the maistraatti asking me about my preferences.
While I feel flattered that my vote is so precious that two countries are asking me about it, I feel that one step is still missing. Why can't I vote for a Greek, German or French politician? It is a democratic deficit that such thing is not possible. I understand that nationalist and regional considerations can play a role, but as long as I can't vote for someone with a different nationality we are not one Europe.
A restless sleep without noise
I am writing this blog because I feel an itch. An itch that something is not right. It's hard to put a finger on it, but while I am writing I try to formulate a bit more precise where my itch comes from. It has nothing to do with Finns or Dutch in general, but more with the direction things seem to go in the last decade.
It is ages ago that on Dutch TV there was a program called “ombudsman”. It was copied from Sweden and had it's highlights in the period 1969-1983. This was a time when there were no national appointed people. Producers were the bad guys and the consumer the innocent victim. Life was very straight forward in those times. Faulty washing machine without warranty? Nail him down! Unreadable manual? Make fun of it until he surrenders! Many goals that this program set for itself were achieved. Laws were made. Producers were obliged to do follow the guidelines and us, poor consumers, were more protected than ever. Our society is such good shape that we don't need to complain anymore!!
So we were cuddled to sleep. We don't need to read the warranty before we buy and click on “accept” when a EULA is presented to us on the computer screen. EULA? What's that? Ooh yeah, End User License Agreement. This is a legal contract between a software application author or publisher and the user of that application. No one ever reads an EULA. Not even me. The trouble is that when you don't accept you cannot use that handy program. And it's for free! All your friends are using it so be there too! So you click, you always click (F-secure did a test, in their EULA you gave your unborn child to them). However, I won't go into detail about the problems these EULA's contain. It suffices to say that digital rights movements and pirate parties are dead against the legal clauses they contain.
Still that does not find any resonance with the majority of the consumers. Everyone knows that their rights are taken away with a click, but as long as you are a nice little sheep you won't feel the consequences. So we just swallow facebook's next terms of service update. Just like that. People who have this itchy feeling that something is not right put a disclaimer or copyright notice on their timeline. It's hoax of course, because when you use facebook you are subject to it's terms. You can read those terms when you click on this link. Will it do you any good? Probably not. Facebook has become a necessity for business, cultural life, and social life. So what can you do as a consumer when voting with your feet is not an option? Complain? Where? There are several channels, but they seem more designed to cuddle you to sleep than to raise serious noise about the injustices you are subject too.
>I guess that's what I miss. Where is the noise? Where are environmental activists taking samples of polluting industries? Where is this guy with the geiger teller in the neighbourhood of a nuclear plant? Do we really trust our governments and semi-governmental institutions that much? Yes, they make the laws, but with every budget cut the institutions that should uphold the law by inspection and prosecution are made into a powerless paper tiger. Which inspector leaves his desk and really goes on inspecting? I have serious doubts about the governmental handling of the Talvivaara case, but an inquiry into the problems there will only reveal what the company did wrong, not which mistakes the government made. There is again silence.
The noises I hear come from FEMEN and PETA who use frontal nudity to attract attention to their problem. It's all too well that they do, but to me animal rights mean very little compared to human rights. Censorship , human trafficking, corruption, torture, environmental destruction, and slavery to name a few examples have not vanished from this planet over the last decade. In fact they seem on the rise. But there is hardly any noise there. The answer of the west is silence. We don't know any more what direction to take. Anything we do seems to backfire. We are feeling helpless. It's that feeling of helplessness that I find disquieting. We are the people! We should empower ourselves to take control! That's my itch. Lack of democratic involvement. I guess I should go to sleep now. Father state will watch over me.
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