Finland/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.8 Social cohesion and cultural policies

Although the flows of immigrants and refugees accelerated in the 1990s, Finland is culturally and linguistically still a very homogeneous country. The share of the Finnish- and Swedish-speaking Finns is still somewhat above 97% and the share of foreign language speakers is thus below 3%. Even the share of Swedish-speakers is only around 5.5-5.7%, and the number of people belonging to other traditional minorities is small: the total number of the speakers of Sami languages, Roma people, Tatars and Jews add up to some 22 000 -24 000 people. A similar homogeneity prevails to religion: 84.6% of Finns belong to the Lutheran State church. The share of the "second" state sponsored church, which is Greek-Orthodox, is 1.2% and the share of other religious communities amount only to 1.1%. The share of the population who do not belong to any religious community has been rising in the 2000s; at the end of the 1990s the figure was 10%, while in 2009 it was already at 18%.

Under the surface of apparent cohesion there are social and economic trends which may in the long run generate tensions and raise new difficult challenges to central government and local and regional decision makers, including those of cultural policy and administration.

One such trend is uneven regional development, or, in other terms, the accumulation of employment opportunities and highly educated people to the Helsinki Metropolitan region and to a number of major cities. This development, together with stringent central government financial policies after the 1991-1993 recession, has started to shape both the audience composition and the content provision by the artists and cultural and art institutions. The result might be, in the longer run, even more rapid concentration of cultural and art supply to Helsinki Metropolitan area and other big city centres. This in turn will increase competition within these centres and subsequent division of labour and content differentiation in art provision and cultural services. This, in turn might have in the longer run negative effects on overall national cohesion.

The second trend is the increasing inequality in terms of income distribution and poverty. Since the recession of 1991-1993, subsequent boosts in rapid economic growth, and the "marketisation" of the public sector, have increased income inequality and relative poverty (the number of people having a net income of less than 60% of the national medium). These trends, and the subsequent inequality in opportunities to consume and enjoy the arts and culture by everyone in every part of the country, are probably the main threats to cohesion promoted by the arts and culture at present.

The third trend concerns the role of the EU in regional development and the development of national arts and culture. There is a paradox that most industrial and occupational sectors – including the arts and culture – have gained more than they have lost during the EU membership and its trans-national policies; yet the citizens' attitude to the EU as a whole has become increasingly negative. Within the period 2005-2006, the share of people with a negative attitude to Finnish membership increased from 23% to 31% and the share of those positively oriented decreased from 42% to 33%. The division here is scarcely a problem from the point of view of Finnish national cohesion. The intensity of attitudes is neither high enough that the EU issue, if couched in general terms, would cause national divisions. The negative attitudes, however, reflect problems in communication policies of the central government in respect to more specific EU policies. Politicians inform citizens about the "games" played in Brussels, not about outcomes and consequences of specific policies. Failures in "games" are reported by the media, while positive outcome are seldom reported. This happens also to cohesion policy programmes of the EU, which forebodes a better future for national cohesion of the member countries than for the cohesion of the EU itself.

These three assessments are conjectures, but they identify potential basic logics of the interplay between economic factors, national and EU policies and national and regional policies. As an outcome of this interplay, emerge cohesion problems, which should be considered in the financing of arts and in organising the management of cultural and art institutions. The Finnish cultural policy programmes do not deal directly with these trends of development.

Chapter published: 25-04-2017