1998 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating: 1.0
Civil Liberties: 1
Political Rights: 1

Overview

Under Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, Finland's coalition government has sought closer integration into the European Union. Lipponen's Social Democratic Party (SDP) heads a "rainbow" coalition with the country's Conservative, Green, Swedish minority, and ex-Communist parties. In October, Lipponen survived a no-confidence vote that had been prompted by a party cronyism scandal.

Finland declared independence in 1917, following eight centuries of foreign domination. Its current constitution, issued in July 1919, provides for a 200-seat parliament elected for a four-year term by universal suffrage. The directly-elected president holds considerable power, particularly because the multiparty, proportional representation system prevents any single party from gaining a parliamentary majority. The president can initiate and veto legislation, dissolve parliament at any time, and call for elections. He also appoints the prime minister. The president currently holds primary responsibility for national security and foreign affairs, while the prime minister's mandate covers all other areas. Eleven mainland provinces are headed by governors appointed by the president, while the Swedish-speaking island province of Aland enjoys autonomy.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Finns can change their government by democratic means. In 1994, the country held its first direct presidential election since independence. Legislation passed in 1992 provides all Finnish citizens with the right to their own culture and equal protection under the law. Nevertheless, Gypsies, who have lived in Finland for nearly 500 years and who outnumber the Saamis (or Lapps), often report being treated as outsiders by the largely homogeneous population. Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, language, or social status is illegal. By law, newspapers cannot identify people by race.

A wide selection of publications is available to the Finnish public. Newspapers are private, and the self-censorship that was traditionally practiced on issues relating to the Soviet Union is no longer in effect. Traditionally, many political parties owned or controlled newspapers, but several dailies have folded in recent years. The Finnish Broadcasting Company controls most radio and television programming, but limited private broadcasting is available.

Finnish workers have the right to organize, bargain, and strike, and an overwhelming majority belong to trade unions. The 1.1 million-member Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions, which is linked to the SDP, dominates the labor movement.

Only 60,000 people in the country are foreign residents. While a strict refugee quota of 500 persons per year maintains the homogeneity of the population, those refugees who are granted admission receive free housing, medical care, monthly stipends, and language lessons. In an effort to prevent "ethnic ghettoes" from forming, some refugees are placed in small villages in which the residents have never seen foreigners. The government has instituted educational programs to teach children about their new neighbors.

Finns enjoy freedom of religion, and both the predominant Lutheran church and the smaller Orthodox church are financed through a special tax from which citizens may exempt themselves.

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