Finland and the Politics of Crises

What such politics establish at the European level is not only polarization into good and bad states, but a sense of imposition upon those states that have played by the rules. Such a feeling of imposition, which is generated through profligacy and abuses of solidarity, serves as the means through which politics of austerity can be perpetuated. Vital here is the reversal of positions that takes place; those states that are in full-fledged economic crisis are seen not as victims but as perpetrators, whilst the real victims are those states that ‘played by the rules’ and now have to bail out their irresponsible Southern European counterparts. Such reversal makes it possible for the ‘non-crisis’ states such as Finland to argue that Southern European states should not just be bailed out, but also pay for their bailout both fiscally and morally. In short, they should suffer for burdening their Northern European partners.

To understand this logic we turn to the work of Maurizio Lazzarato and his book The Making of Indebted Man, which examines the intersection between capitalism, debt and the perpetuation of crisis. For Lazzarato, capitalism functions through the proliferation of a power-relation based upon debt as the means through which capitalism is able to reproduce itself on an ever-expanding scale. Building upon this, as Stefano Harney also pointed out in his lecture, the response to the crisis has not been to abolish the debt-relation but to re-organise credit. As such, European states have injected money into the financial system to re-establish the debt power-relation, yet the perversity of this lies in the fact that ‘the costs of re-establishing this relation of exploitation and domination will have to be paid for by its victims.’[11] Thus, the crisis appears as a mean through which capital is able to gain a tighter and more complete hold over those subjected to its operations. Yet, when applied to the Finnish case, Lazzarato’s argument suggests that such debt-relation expresses itself through the proliferation of morality of debt. Here morality too functions through this double-bind, evident too often in the Finnish response to the crisis. As Benjamin argued in Capitalism and Religion, capitalism is fundamentally a proliferation of blame and guilt from which there is no expiation. One only becomes more guilty as in the case of Southern European states, whereby the more they ask for help the more they are held to be at fault for their situation, ultimately making salvation a remote prospect.

Yet insofar as crisis is proliferated through these politics of debt, we would like to argue that such crisis does not function through a simple inside/outside model. Rather, as we have shown previously, Finland has itself been undertaking crisis politics within its own borders, both before and during the problems within the Eurozone, whilst also exporting such politics abroad through European mechanisms. We would like to link these two instances to argue that for a politics of debt to be effective abroad, countries such as Finland must first show themselves to be good debtors through politics of austerity and fiscal contraction, along the lines of the principle that one can only blame another for what one has not done oneself.

And finally, from the perspective of the crisis of capitalism itself, there is no simple distinction between inside and outside or harbours of peace amidst the seas of chaos. As the Finnish case shows, crisis is perceived as both ‘out-there’ and at any moment capable of rising from within. The crisis would therefore seem to be the perpetual spectre or the completely normalised possibility that shows the very functioning of capitalism today being experienced as a permanent crisis. This was certainly true of our experience of Berlin, which as the capital city of the leading advocate of Southern European austerity, is assumed to be the heartland of European wealth. Yet, as Berlin’s urban politics and a wider perspective of German welfare politics of the last decades show, capitalism fundamentally perpetuates itself through processes of uneven development. This, in turn, prolongs crisis politics within the heartland of Germany itself. How this dual nature of crisis will play out in the Finnish case is yet to be seen.


[1] Finnish Broadcasting Company, ‘Interview with Jutta Urpilainen,’ August 7, 2013. Http:// (Accessed August 13, 2013).

[2] The Finnish Ministry of Finance, ‘Julkisen talouden kestävyys ja rakenneuudistukset: Talouspolitiikan strategia 2013’ [‘The Sustainability of Public Finance and Structural Change: The Economic Policy Strategy 2013’]. Http:// (Accessed August 13, 2013).

[3] Finnish Broadcasting Company, ‘Interview with Björn Wahlroos,’ August 30, 2012. Http:// (Accessed August 12, 2013); Finnish Broadcasting Company, ‘Interview with Leena Mörttinen,’ June 7, 2012.  Http:// (Accessed August 12, 2013).

[4] Finnish Broadcasting Company, ‘Interview with Leena Mörttinen,’ June 7, 2012.  Http:// (Accessed August 12, 2013)

[5] Marja Hannula, ‘Kriisikuntavaroitus Kemijärvelle’ [Crisis town warning for Kemijärvi], Lapin Kansa, July 14, 2013, 4.

[6] Suvi Lyytikäinen,‘Valtio tuli väliin – Rakenteellisten toimenpiteiden vaikutukset työelämän sukupuoli-segregaatioon Itä-Lapissa’ [The state intervened – the effects of structural measures to the gender segregation of working life in Eastern Lapland], accessed November 4, 2013,

[7] Weekly events, from Midnight Sun Rowing Festival to Pike Week, International Woodsculpting Symposium and Schlager Festival, drew a diverse and numerous audience: locals in their holidays, people from neighbouring towns, tourists. See ‘Kesätapahtumien kulta-aikaa’ [The high times of summer festivals], Koti-Lappi, July 4, 2013, 4. Olli-Pekka Salminen, ‘Tapahtumien Itä-Lappi’ [The Eastern Lapland of events], Koti-Lappi, July 18, 2013, 4.

[8] ‘Kemijärvi – tapahtumien kaupunki’ [Kemijärvi – a town of events], Municipality of Kemijärvi, accessed November 4, 2013,

[9] (Accessed 12/08/2013)


[11] Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of Indebted Man, (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)), 2013.

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