Bad Ruses, Good Reasons: How To Avoid Military Service In 5 Countries

In the countries that require military service, those who refuse to serve must either try to explain their exemption or find a creative short-cut to avoid the obligation. Here are some examples.

Military conscription has ebbed and flowed through history, typically depending on national security (wars), economics (jobs) and demography (young men). In recent years, many countries have outright eliminated the draft or replaced it with a civil service requirement. At the same time, other countries have been bringing back obligatory military service to respond to security threats or as a solution to rising high school dropout and unemployment rates. Morocco reinstated conscription in 2018 after 12 years, with a 12-month required military service for all men and women aged 19 to 25.

Amid newfound tensions around the Baltic Sea, the Swedish government also decided to reintroduce military conscription in March 2017, though for a limited number of citizens - 4,000 men and women were selected from a pool of 13,000.

Watch Video Show less

Tom Of Finland, Double Life Of The Gay Icon Who Changed A Nation

His erotic drawings of virile men captured the homosexual zeitgeist. But in his country, where it was illegal to be gay, the artist had to remain undercover. A revival is now spreading around Finland, and helping to change attitudes.

TURKU — For him, he was just Uncle Touko. Tapani Vinkama recalls the vacations he spent in Helsinki with a man who so many foreigners keep asking about. Now 72, Vinkama manages the Kvariaatti bookshop on one of the main streets of Turku, a city in southwest Finland. Only in the fall of 1991 did Vinkama discover the secret life his mother's brother, who had just died.

Behind the successful graphic designer Touko Laaksonen, born in 1920, was the illustrator of homoerotic drawings Tom of Finland, praised abroad but who stayed undercover in his homeland to respect the promise he had made to his sister never to reveal his alias. More than a quarter-century later, a new biopic has been released that retraces his journey for the whole world to see.

Keep reading... Show less

In Scandinavia, Populists Face The Harsh Reality Of Governing

In Finland and Norway, right-wing, anti-elite and anti-immigration parties have had to adapt to the problems of power, but they still can fire up the base by playing to their gut.

His blue eyes gazing out of black-framed glasses, the silver-haired Hans Andreas Limi readily admits: "It's much easier to be in the opposition, no doubt about it." A bell rings and he's gone. It's voting time in the chamber. On the wall of his office hangs a small Norwegian flag under a layer of Plexiglass along with a smiling portrait of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

Limi is one of 29 deputies and the former secretary of Norway's Progress Party (FrP), one of the northern European parties that came to power through "anti-elite" speeches and thrilling promises. In recent years, right-wing populist parties have entered the government for the first time in Norway and the second time in Finland. Speaking out forcefully and carrying bags full of promises: With them, the demands of the people would be better taken into account; the real problems, treaties and national interests, defended. Since then, the parties have had different fortunes, both discovering that exercising power is not simple. It can also harm popularity.

Keep reading... Show less

Baghdad To Lapland: Cold Migrant Truths Along Northern Route

SALLA — On the door of the tourism bureau in Salla, Finland, there's a poster proudly informing visitors that they are "in the middle of nowhere." That much is indisputable: Salla is a dark, remote place, lost in the middle of hundreds of miles of Laponian pine forests and covered in a thick mantle of white snow.

"Many tourists like to come and ski in this isolated natural setting," says Heli Karjalainen, the young blond woman who runs the bureau.

Keep reading... Show less

Polar Family Circle

Though it has long, cold and snowy winters, Finland's northernmost province of Lapland, famous for being the traditional home of Santa Claus, has warm (enough) summers. Here, my wife Claudine, my daughter Cécile and I are posing for a sunny family portrait along the polar circle.

Pavel Tarasenko, Mikhail Korostikov, Ivan Safranov and Galina Dydina

Ukrainian Crisis Rekindles Russia Fears In Finland

Military commanders in Finland want to beef up capabilities on the country's eastern border with Russia amid the backdrop of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

HELSINKI — Back in April, Finland joined its Nordic neighbors in strengthening military cooperation to counter any potential Russian threat, saying in a joint statement that "the Russian army is challenging us at our borders."

Finland still has no intentions to join NATO, but since the start of the Ukrainian crisis, it has increased its cooperation with the western military alliance and launched rapid reforms of its military.

Watch Video Show less

Eurovision 2015 Contestants: Finland

Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät — which, for brevity's sake and because we don't want the Internet to run out of space, we shall refer to as "PKN" — is a punk rock band that was formed in 2009 in a charity workshop for adults with developmental disabilities. They entered the Eurovision Song Contest to raise awareness for people with Down's Syndrome.

Watch Video Show less

Song Du Jour #20, Steve'n'Seagulls

The Finnish band Steve'n'Seagulls did a rather amazing cover of ACDC's "Thunderstruck".


Suomi Scrabble

We went to Finland multiple times. Once we even brought a Finnish dictionary with us to try and understand a few words of the very peculiar suomi language ... Many headaches ensued!


The Little Reindeer Girl

Had this adorable young girl really come down from her remote Lapland to sell her reindeer hides in Helsinki? I suspect that even 46 years ago, Finns understood that folklore sells well with tourists.

Suvi Turtiainen

Sweden And Finland Face Their Russian Fears

The two Nordic countries, one of which shares a long border with Russia, have so far been carefully neutral as Moscow flexes its muscles. Could NATO membership be the answer?

BERLIN — The Baltic states have clearly expressed their concern with regard to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. The annexation of Crimea has awakened deep-seated anxiety, given their history under Soviet domination.

“Thank God we’re NATO members,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said last month.

Watch Video Show less

Finnish Reindeer Get Glow-In-The-Dark Antlers

Step aside, Rudolph — your red nose is no longer en vogue. This season, apparently, it’s all about the glow-in-the-dark antlers.

Breeders belonging to the Reindeer Herders' Association have started spraying the animals’ antlers with reflective paint. But it's not really about winter style, but rather traffic safety. Every year in Finland there are 3,000 to 5,000 accidents involving reindeer, says Anne Ollila, head of the association.

Watch Video Show less
Smarter Cities

7 Cool Underground Projects To Help Cities Grow Downward

From the concrete jungles of New York and Mexico City to the outbacks of Australia and Tunisia, ground-level isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. With our populations rising and spreading out across the lands, it makes sense to dig deeper into the earth.

There are a growing number of projects embracing this solution to urban sprawl, and here are seven underground projects across the world we found particularly inspiring, innovative ... and just plain smarter.

Watch Video Show less
Philippe Escande

Nokia Crash Shows How Far Europe's High-Tech Has Fallen

Not prone to emotional effusiveness, the Finnish have developed a particular taste for euphemisms: “Naturally, this is a day of big change for Finnish industry,” Premier Jyrki Katainen affirmed modestly last Tuesday, when the country’s best-known company, Nokia, sold its mobile phone outfit to Microsoft for $7.2 billion. That is about 15 times less than its estimated value in 2000.

But it is necessary to add that this event also carries major significance for Europe as a whole: With Nokia’s takeover, the continent has lost its last gem in the consumer electronics industry.

Watch Video Show less
Céline Zünd

Human Capital: The Formula That Makes Finland's Schools So Good

Though the country spends less per pupil than many other developed nations, students here consistently test better than nearly all their global counterparts. Here's why.

HELSINKI — After a while, it starts to get really annoying. The Finns are always at the top of the class. They top the international testing scores conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which every three years since 2000 has evaluated the performance of 15-year-olds throughout the developed world in math, reading and science.

The most recently available results of the so-called PISA tests (2009) placed the Finns — once again — among the best in the world. They came close to No. 2 South Korea (Shanghai, China was No. 1), even without employing the kind of sleepless nights and corporal punishment that would be unthinkable in the land of Father Christmas.

Watch Video Show less