Ozan Yanar (greens): when the Finnish government cuts from research and education, it is one of the worst political things you can do

Ozan yanar
 Could you present yourself for our readers?

Yes, my name is Ozan Yanar. I am a Green member of the Parliament from Helsinki, and I’m 28. I’m a quite young politician. As people might know, there are 14 people who are under 30 years old in Parliament, so it’s like 7% of the Parliament, which is really, really good, in my opinion, and I am one of them. And I was elected when I was 27. Now I’m 28. My parents are Turkish and I lived in a lot of countries before I came to Finland. I was born in Istanbul, in Turkey, and then I lived in England. I lived in Cyprus. And then, I came to Finland when I was 14. So, this is my story, in the short version.

I am trying to make Finland a better place, and also the world a better place. I think we need good decisions right now, and that’s my goal.

And what made you go into politics?

I was studying in Helsinki University, and then I went into student politics. Student politics is a big thing in Finland, and student politicians try to improve the society, to influence the policy-makers in the society, and make the students’ life better. I liked the fact that you can really affect things.

And usually, they say that, in politics, one person can’t do much. I disagree a lot. I think one person can do a lot. One person can change the discourse, give a new perspective in a heartbeat, and that is great. I have seen situations where one speech has changed the whole scenery of a decision-making policy. And when I saw that you can actually really affect things, it was for me a great inspiration.

So I became a European Parliament candidate, and that was my first campaign. And it went pretty well, for a person who was a first-timer. I got more than 2000 votes, and it was a really nice start. Then I became the head of the Green Youth in Finland, and I’m still head of the Green Youth until the end of this year. After that, I will let my position.

And we made a pretty big campaign in these parliamentary elections. It is certainly because we saw what we did well in the last European Parliament elections, what we didn’t do so well, so we made the necessary adjustments. And I’m really happy that we were rewarded. I couldn’t have it done without my friends and other people that I didn’t even know who came to help for the campaign. We had a good campaign team, and a lot of volunteers, so I think they made this happen, and I am really thankful. When sitting in the Parliament, I think about these people who helped me for the elections, people who think green, people who think internationally, and people who think that social justice is important.

Are these the topics which are important for you?

Certainly. In particular, I am fighting for social justice, social equality, it’s a really important issue in any society, the fact that we have free education, quality education, and we have social benefits, which help people who are not doing well in a society. I think those are really, really important issues.

And of course, from the global point of view, we have the climate crisis. We have to stop global warming. It is the biggest challenge for our generation. Let us see if the result of the Paris conference will help to stop the climate change. I really hope so.

Equality matters also a lot for me. It shouldn’t matter what your skin color is, what your ethnicity is, what your religion or way of seeing the world is, or your sexual orientation. Equality is for everyone and I think that’s something really big. Three issues are my priorities, even if I’ve studied economics. It is quite useful to have an economical point of view on things, but without a social approach, it does not mean a lot.

The Finnish government has presented a program. What are the good points in this program, and what are the points you like less?

Well, I can start from the negative parts, because there are a lot of negative things, so the positive point of view doesn’t even come to my mind right now. What is negative? Well, they’re cutting from education. I think that’s something Finland should not be doing. We all see that the economy is really bad right now. It has been like that since 2008, and right now, we have this whole discussion in the Finnish public that we have to find new Nokias, new products, new services, new things, with which we can create jobs and everything. Then it is evident that education, research and innovations are really important. So when the Finnish government cuts from research and education, I think that’s one of the worst political things you can do. It sounds crazy!

There is also, from a simple economic point of view, the fact that they’re cutting too much from everything: if we cut too much, it will also slow our growth, the inner economy. To put it simple, if people don’t have money to buy things, it will also affect the entrepreneurs, and it will affect their willingness to hire people to work. So, when we do this kind of politics, it just destroys our growth, it takes away our confidence, and it pushes for unemployment. It is not a clever economic policy.

And the third big issue is that the government is cutting in the wrong places. For example, they’re trying to save money by cutting the access of children of unemployed people to daycare. Right now, every child has the right to be 40 hours, so 8 hours a day in the kindergarten. That’s beautiful, because people from different social backgrounds meet in the same place, they get this quality first education from society, and Finland has one of the world’s best kindergarten educations. Now, the government’s plan, if one of the parents is not working, or is unemployed, is that the child will not have the right to go to the daycare with other children. The government is creating this new kind of society where kids have to be in a different status because of their parents’ job market situation.

And as we all know, the job market is changing. People are making freelance work. They’re making part-time work. And I know a lot of people whose work situation is not all the time the same over time. It’s going to change from one month to another. So, this government decision will lead to this situation where there will be a lot of bureaucracy to point out whose parents are not working enough, an incredible hassle, and the costs of that bureaucracy will also go up. So it will not save any money, it will be socially unjust and it is really bad politics.

These are issues which are really bad. And in addition, who pays the bill? All cuts affect the benefits of people who are not doing so well—elderly people, students, and unemployed people. It will just make things worse.

You say they are cutting in the wrong places. What would be the right places?

As I said, we Greens would not cut this much. The Finnish system needs renovation. That’s for sure. But we would like to, for example, bring in the basic income to push people to work more without people worrying if their income will drop after taxes. And with that kind of thing, it would bring more people to the job market, and more tax money. That is a positive way of getting money for the state, and balance our economy.

But if we really have to cut seriously cut, I think one of the biggest things is to develop green taxation and stop subsidies for carbon-producing energy, like they did in Sweden. I was in a climate forum in Istanbul last week, and they were also speaking about this. Governments—not only the Finnish government, but a lot of governments around the world—are subsidizing fuels. Recently, there was this research about how much government pays for these kinds of subsidies, and you would not believe it, it is about 3 billion a year! Well, the government is cutting 200 million from that. We would cut 600 million more, and we would save the cults on education, for example.

I think this shows, really concretely, what the Greens would do. We have these discussion with the other opposition parties, and in the Parliament, where opposition is bringing its own recipes to make the economy better.

Is there a common view in the opposition? Or is it each party bringing their own ideas?

In the opposition, of course, there are a lot of things on which we can agree. But we are 5 different parties in the opposition, and every party have on specific topics their own way of looking at things. But I am in the budget commission, and there we have, for example, common written critical reports (vastaus in Finnish) with the Left Alliance and with the Social Democrats. In particular we have written these critical reports for all of the extra budgets which are coming 4 or 5 times a year.

So, of course, there is collaboration. But in some issues, you have your own point of view, because we’re different parties. So, it’s normal that we don’t have 100% the same view. For example, in the Social Democrat program, they are pushing for something called the Arctic Cooperation, and they feel that Finland would benefit from it. We, the Greens, we think that the fact that somebody would go to the Arctic, for example, Shell and these oil companies, and try to take fuel from that place, would be a really risky business. And we’re against that.

What is the position of the Greens on the social and health reform, the new plan to reorganize the health system?

Some weeks ago, we had this big discussion about the social reform. But I really have to say that I think nobody knows what it means, concretely. It was really amazing to see that even the government parties had no idea. So there was this big crisis with the number of regions. The government was actually falling apart. And the only thing that we clearly know, it is that they decided on the number of regions: 15 regions, which will create their own health system and then 3 regions which are called regions, but have no power on their health system, they will collaborate, and nobody even knows how that will work. Nobody either knows how the money will be collected—what kind of system we will have, what will be its repartition between the regions. Nobody knows the amount of health personnel for each region. And I listened to that debate for 3 hours and I was really like, “OK, nobody knows anything about this.”

So we are in this crazy situation to just know the number of regions, meaning mainly how many regions will go to each party of the coalition, and it is totally disappointing to see that nobody asks “Will people get quality treatment in the future? Will they get quality services? And will the services be near them?” Nobody talks about these issues. It is purely a power issue, Keskusta wants more regions to govern, positions for their leaders. This shouldn’t be a power struggle, it should be really about improving people’s health services. It is really disappointing.

But I would say that, of course, as the Green Party, we are criticizing when we should criticize, because we usually think that opposition has a role as a critic, and we have seen in this term that when opposition criticizes, the government may change his mind, for example for cutting housing benefits for elderly people. They were planning to cut police forces in charge of fighting economic crimes and tax evasion, so we criticized that and they changed their mind, which proves that they are able to listen. So, of course, we will criticize when we see something wrong.

If you had full power in Finland, what would you do? What reform would you push?

Well, I think the same-sex marriage law was a good one, from the equality point of view. And I think there’s a lot of things to be done regarding people with transgender. Amnesty and different human rights organizations are pushing to improve the situation in Finland, I would make it happen.

Of course, we have this refugee crisis in Europe, and the speech towards refugees is pretty harsh, sometimes full of hate. So, I would also personally love to make that discussion a bit calmer, a bit reasonable.

But I think a lot of things are related to the economic policy, also—the fact that we have to create a society where people are not dropping out. For that, we should help people who need help, especially young people. We have this youth unemployment, it is enormous and a big risk for Finland’s future, so we need to tackle it because youth is our future. And I’m really sad to see that this government is cutting in a lot of things which are related to making Finland more inclusive.

And government is actually making new plans to have a different social security for immigrants, so that the first couple of years, they would get less social benefits, and after that you might get more. This is not going to facilitate their integration. The government is creating a society which is unjust, they think that it will oblige people to come into the job market, but a number of them cannot because of social problems. I think that’s really cold politics.

You spoke about the refugees. What should be done to faster integrate them in Finland?

That’s a big question. The first thing is that refugees, when they come to Finland—they can’t work. They don’t have a right to work during from 3 to 6 months, which is bad. It has to be changed, because regardless of if the person will get a refugee status or not, it is good that he or she is active. Also, we need to have more Finnish classes. The Finnish people who are anti-immigrant are talking about the fact that people are not learning Finnish and everything, but the Finnish immigration system, up until now, has not been so good, because the language courses are full, all the time full, and people are waiting for them during months, 8 months, or 10 months. And then, after that, they’re getting this one little language course, and they’re waiting again 8 to 10 months for the second or third courses! And these courses are not related to the job market in any way. So, we have to pay for more, and make them connected to something concrete. These are also really important issues.

Also, the first-generation immigrants who come to this society have, of course, a different situation than people who are the second generation. For example, for persons like me or my friends who have the same type of background, we went to the primary school, the middle school, the high school, and universities, it functions. So we need to facilitate the life of the newcomers who have not had this opportunity, we need to give them access as fast as possible to the school system, with these open-door people who are helping the youth, whatever their origin, to shape their future and give advice, on what to do.

When I look at my background, my life in Finland, it’s a big chance that I became what I became. I bumped into some people at critical moments of my life, and talked with them about my future. Should I study politics? Should I study economics? Should I study law? And somebody could have said something, and a sentence got into my mind, and then with that specific point of view, I went to some way, and then I bumped into some other person 3 years later who said something useful. This advice is really important.

There is also the matter in Finland that, in Finland, people don’t want to disturb other people. We have this totally correct society. We are so polite. We don’t want to interfere. It does have a positive aspect. But we need also to have people helping others, like social workers, people working with the youngsters, to say to these young kids that there’s a lot of opportunities in this country, and “Yes, you can do it. Believe in yourself”, which is not the typical Finnish attitude. Actually, I know a lot of organizations who are making a really good job with youth, like creating nice places where youth can meet, and they try to make their self-esteem go up and teach them how to succeed. That is precious.

One last question: your future—how do you see it? You have been elected. You are young. Are you planning to be a politician all your life?

I don’t know. People are asking this, actually, a lot. I’m in the Parliament for 4 years, 3 and ½ more. And I would like to become a good politician in these 3 and ½ years, give everything that I have, and try to make things better, speak out, and bring in the issues which I think are the most important issues. But then, of course, people will decide, after 4 years, if I should continue or not. And then, actually, the short way of answering this is that I will give everything I have for them, and I will try to give back to people who helped me, and try to improve our society.

But, really, I don’t know about the future. I worked in research. I studied economics. Actually, I’m still doing my Master’s. I haven’t finished that. But I have worked as a research assistant, I was researching on economic matters, mostly about labor economics. So, I really enjoy labor economics—that’s why I like to talk about jobs. I like also to talk about youth inclusion. I also like that, to research. I think it’s also really rewarding. But to become a researcher, you do it alone, by yourself, and politics is much more social, which I like a lot.

So I like economics, and maybe I can do something in this field, if I leave politics, if I decide to change. But I like politics a lot. There are a lot of things to be done, and I’m really thankful for people who come from different parts of society and write to me saying “Hey, you are doing a really good job. Thank you. It’s great that you are there.” So I will continue that and let’s see what will happen. In 2017, there are local elections…

Categories: Economy, Environment, Parliament

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