Saturday, 14 November 2009

Governance Police and Democracy

Finland is a funny place, one finds the most unexpected things here.

One of the unexpected things for me was the way Finland seems to be an interesting blend of socialism and democracy with surprisingly little corruption getting in the way of things.

My dealings with official representatives (like police, border guards, public officials) has been typically "Finnish" : terse, to the point, and impartial.

It came as a surprise to me that overwhelmingly most people consider the Police to be genuine, honest, hard working people. In fact they have the most un-police uniforms I've ever seen ... basically blue car mechanic overalls with a utility belt to hold radio, torch, restraining devices and their gun.

Perhaps this is an important point ... as there is no "ceremonial uniform" tying to represent them as being some dressed up fancy group which is separate from society? Despite the fact that we're often used to police wearing "smart dress uniforms" which hark back to military officers, maybe its better to regard them as being practical dispensers of the public will (which would be the laws of our society).

Watching TV lastnight I saw a programe about "Australian Border" and there was an excellent representaion of all that is wrong with the Australian (and probably English, US and other) official representatives.

Essentially the situation was that a tourist from Coloumbia was entering sydney, neatly dressed, calmly spoken and a gentle sort of fellow. The machines which the customs officers have detected chemistry which set off an alert for drugs and so the customs officers began searching his baggage.

Now it was the particularly opressive gestapo arrogant attitude of the officer conducting the search which rubbed me entirely the wrong way. I was impressed despite her arrogant attitude that he remained calm. It was clear that she had decided he was guilty from the start and began with an attempt to badge and cajole him. To his credit he remained calm and stayed friendly.

When he suggested that he understood what they were doing and why, the officer went into a more high pitch attack nearly baiting him up ... "how would you know what we are doing? Are you hiding something"

He was subjected to a body search and asked to go to a "controlled toilet" where his 'dump' was to be examined he said that he understood what they were doing again, and said they were probably looking for drugs in his stomach.

Well, that was like waving bait in front of a dog, and the officer went even more ballistic asking him why he suggested they look in his stomach.

Oh come one you fool, was this your first day on the job?

Eventually it was found that he was carrying medications which contained compounds which also trigger the chemsitry detection of the device. Exactly as he had been saying all along, he did not have illegal drugs.

This is exactly the difference between Australian Police and Finnish Police.

The Finns act like un-involved professionals simply following their jobs, while the Australians often bring their personal prejudices and anger along on the job with them.

If this is making you think that Finns themselves are somehow a motivated and politically motivated group actively involved in citizenship and keeping their civil servants and politicians in check, well frankly nothing could be further than the truth. Finns are as laconic and un-involved in anything other than their own affairs than any country town Aussie would be.

So why are the two places different?

Let me quote from: the Victorian Office of Police Integrity report 2007

The original policing of Australia derived from eighteenth century England as inevitably as the First Fleet itself. The new settlers of 1788 had left behind a country where there were harsh laws, an entrenched class system, much poverty and crime, much public disorder and violence. Criminal punishments were draconian – horrifying, by modern standards. Many in both the Magistracy and police were notoriously dishonest and ineffective.
So given this its hardly surprising to read that the history of the formation of the Victorian police lays in:

In September 1836, Victoria’s first three police officers arrived. They had been sent
by the government in Sydney, where all three had already been dismissed for drunkenness. By March 1837, all had been sacked from their new billets in Port Phillip: one for repeated drunkenness, one for repeated absence, and one for bribery. Despite the discouraging start, replacements were appointed....
Lovely start to things ... no wonder I've always been sus about Victoria

But this highlights a core difference between Australia an Finland.


The patch on the map we call Finland has had (more or less) the same people living in it for some centuries. They may not have called themselves Finns, and at some points they've been part of the Swedish Empire and the Russian Empire. However they've always maintained their own language and different cultures. Between the 17th Century and the 18th Century the control of Finland changed hands from the Swedes to the Russians. Finally after quite some wars with Finns stuck in the middle (of course taking sides variously).

So when Finland obtained independence from Russia in 1917 they were really taking possession of their own destiny.

Australia is quite a different kettle of fish, our history of formation was as a penal colony of England, and independence was obtained quite differently with years of planning to transit from being a Colony to a Federation of States and become independent (to an extent) from England in 1901. Australia was essentially set up as a carbon copy of English legislature, but set in a background of a more wild west sort of location and by a people who were not really considering themselves as Australians.

I think this has a profound effect on the fundamental premise of governance in Finland and this is not something which is restricted to the Police.

So while Finland seems to be populated by laconic people who seem among the last I would envisiage as "active participatory citizens" there seems to be something at work here making Finland public service actually work better ... warrants further investigation if you ask me

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