Finland’s egalitarian Eden has a dark side | Letters

Robert Lee and Julian Wells say Finnish history is far from perfect, while Mary Fawcett says the country should be proud of its education system and David Rainbird says it is right to not squander its resources on pursuit of great-power status

Finland is a highly egalitarian country in terms of income distribution, but to assume it was never hierarchical is problematic (Free and fair: How Finland came up with the answers, 13 February).

The 19th-century aristocracy, many of Swedish origin, held extensive estates; the profitability of timber exports enabled ship owners to accumulate very considerable fortunes; and by the 1850s Finlayson’s cotton factory in Tampere was the largest in the Nordic area. Even within the peasantry there was a huge disparity between the owners of reasonably sized holdings and “houseless” day labourers.

Much is made, quite rightly, of Finland’s high-quality education, but to claim this can be traced back to the introduction in 1866 of a free education system is debatable, as attendance was only made compulsory in 1921.

Moreover, recent trends cast a shadow over Finland’s success. The ruling coalition is pursuing a policy of deregulation, including dismantling parts of the welfare state, and education budgets have been cut. Racism and neo-fascism are on the rise. The Finns party is overtly nationalistic, while the Nordic Resistance Movement aims to create a national-socialist state. The integration of immigrants has not been a success and the policy towards refugees is reprehensible, with over 80% of Iraqis deported.
Emeritus Professor Robert Lee
Birkenhead, Merseyside

• There may be things to like about modern Finland. But your uncritical account ignores uncomfortable facts about the country’s history – in particular, that an alliance of industrial capitalists and aristocrats launched a genocidal civil war against Finnish workers in 1918, and that the same reactionary elite allied the country with the Nazis during the second world war.

It might reasonably be claimed that the current Finnish social settlement is an attempt to escape this history, but that argument depends on first recognising the country’s dark past.
Julian Wells

• Your article refers briefly to Finland’s education system. Many people are aware of its high ranking in international achievement ratings. But what is perhaps less well known are some of the key elements.

Children start school at seven years after play-based state preschools. They then proceed to schools that are all publicly funded and comprehensive (no grammar or religious schools). Teachers all have masters degrees from fully subsidised universities and are well regarded in society. They have a large degree of autonomy in the classroom, with no pressure from testing since children have no exams until the age of 16. Children are indeed seen as unique individuals.

Education is conceived within a social democratic environment where children in this non-competitive atmosphere also learn to care about each other.

Could it be that Finland’s educational system contributes more than economic success? A more equal and healthier society?
Mary Fawcett
Retired director of early childhood studies, University of Bristol

• In my view, your analysis of Finland’s success as a nation omits one important factor. Unlike us, the Finns do not squander their resources on a fatuous pursuit of great-power status, with aircraft carriers that leak and carry no planes, hundreds of billions of pounds wasted on nuclear weapons etc.
David Rainbird
Wallasey, Merseyside

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