Antti Rinne, the chairperson of the Social Democratic Party, has caused a ruckus by encouraging Finns to reproduce.
“This year, fewer than 50,000 children will be born in Finland for the first time since the famine years of the 1860s,” he was quoted as saying by Helsingin Sanomat at the summer convention of the Social Democrats in Kouvola on Wednesday.
“This is a very serious issue. No nation can develop itself unless there are new generations to secure its future.”
Rinne’s comments stirred up controversy on social media and apparent unease among his party comrades due to his rather questionable choice of words. He encouraged the public to participate in talkoot, a Finnish term for a traditional form of neighbourly help that is associated with a strong sense of community.
The number of births has decreased for six consecutive years in Finland, most recently by over 2,800 to roughly 52,500 between 2015 and 2016. The number of births recorded last year was the lowest since the country gained independence in 1917.
Rinne argued that the historically low birth rate necessitates the adoption of a comprehensive strategy on family policy. The baby boomers, he reminded, were encouraged to reproduce with the slogan “fourth one for the homeland”.
“It’s self-evident that parties don’t get to decide what goes on in bedrooms also in this respect, but we can erase the concerns people have about starting a family,” he said according to Helsingin Sanomat.
While many admitted that the low birth rate is a concern, the rhetoric employed by the opposition leader was widely deemed questionable.
Liisa Jaakonsaari (SDP), a Member of the European Parliament, tweeted that the term synnytystalkoot brings to mind national socialism and the Third Reich.
Sanna Marin, a deputy chairperson of the Social Democrats, reminded that the party is an advocate of abolishing daycare fees, reforming the parental leave system and improving the financial situation of families with children, but estimated that synnytystalkoot was a wretched choice of words.
Jiska Gröhn, the chairperson of the Christian Democratic Youth of Finland, contrastively lauded the opposition leader for his efforts to encourage discussion on an important issue.
“The choice of words was poor, and now we are witnessing the consequences. The danger, however, is that this important issue is ignored completely. The baby is thrown out with the bathwater,” he wrote in a blog on Puheenvuoro on Thursday.
“Our skewed demographic development is one of the most crucial questions for our 100-year-old home country. The next generation always pays the pensions of the previous one. Who will pay your pension?” asked Gröhn.
The Social Democratic Party on Thursday responded to the controversy by presenting six measures to improve the well-being of families: reforming the family leave system, raising the enrolment rate in early-childhood education, introducing hobbies to the school day, lengthening compulsory education to 12 years, developing the occupational skills of working-age people, and increasing affordable housing production especially in population centres.
Rinne, in turn, said he had deliberately chosen an outdated word because his previous attempts to generate discussion on the issue had proven unsuccessful.
“It may sound outdated and it may have been poorly chosen, but I was annoyed that I was unable to get the message across earlier. I thought that I should use a word that encapsulates the problem and receives attention,” he explained to Helsingin Sanomat.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Jussi Nukari – Lehtikuva