Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Finland’

10 Years of 12 Star Culture

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 31st October, 2017

Straw decoration FinlandThis evening I was at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House (the offices of the Representation of the European Commission in Westminster, London, rather deliciously, as Europe House located in the building in Smith Square that used to be the Tory Party HQ — remember that picture of a triumphant Maggie Thatcher, waving from an upstairs window in 1979?). Anyway, tonight’s exhibition on the ground floor was of work by the Finnish artist, Pirjo Vaisanen: Straw Dimensions, building on the Finnish tradition of Christmas decorations (often in the form of mobiles) made of straw. Straw is an interesting medium for artists to work in; seemingly fragile, it is actually very strong, yet when wet can be shaped into interesting forms. I particularly loved one of her 3D compositions, which to me represented a Japanese Kabuki actor, seen from behind.

12 Star galleryThis year is doubly significant, as it is the 100th anniversary of Finland’s declaration of independence (from Russia) in December 1917, as well as the tenth anniversary of the 12 Star Gallery, which, under the expert and imaginative guidance of the Commission’s Cultural Attaché in London, Jeremy O’Sullivan, has put on an extraordinary range of exhibitions and other events over the past decade — initially at the Representation’s old offices, opposite the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, also in Westminster, and latterly at Europe House. Culture is an extremely important part of European cooperation; people who believe that the EU is all about economics and regulations are, frankly, missing the point. Over the years, I have been happy to write for the London representation, originally on Jeremy’s culture website and more recently contributing to two books marking the decade of  EC involvement in cultural activities throughout the UK, often in collaboration with the Cultural Institutes or Embassies of the EU member states concerned. I was pleased to be able to “top and tail” the latest book,  10 Years of 12 Star Culture, in the sense that I wrote both the Introduction and the final chapter (on Festivals). It is a handsome volume, in a royal blue cover, beautifully illustrated; a tribute to what has been, and what could still be, if Brits came to their senses and rejected Brexit.

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Finland: Identity and Independence

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 4th October, 2017

100 Wishes from FinlandFinland is celebrating the centenary of its independence this year, so the exhibition that opens today at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House in Smith Square, Westminster — “100 Wishes from Finland” — is timely. It is also very appealing, not least for anyone who has ever been a philatelist at any stage in their lives (probably true of virtually every boy and many girls of my generation). The idea is simple but works beautifully: about 100 blow-ups of colourful Finnish postage stamps are displayed on boards with short, relevant quotes. The stamps are arranged thematically, covering everything from Finnish interior design to sport and  cartoons for children. There is even a stamp showing men in a sauna (though apparently not with a crate of cold beer, which is my usual experience of saunas in Helsinki). There are reputedly more than 2,500 different Finnish postage stamps, meaning anyone tempted to revisit their childhood stamp-collecting will find lots to choose from. More seriously, the stamps reflect the pride Finns have in their identity, for which national independence is of course a crucial component — something now being tested in various parts of the world, from Catalonia to Kurdistan. The 100 Wishes from Finland exhibition runs until 27 September and is open 10am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

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Tallinn, European Capital of Culture

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th June, 2011

During the long years of Soviet occupation, most of the coast around Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, was off-limits to the local population, as a military, ‘frontier’ zone. From viewing platforms in Tallinn’s magnificent old city (now thronged with tourists), they could look out across the sea towards Finland, but otherwise the city and its inhabitants were forced to look in on themselves. It’s 20 years since Estonia regained its independence and this year also sees Tallinn as one of the designated European Capitals of Culture. The programme for this is less ambitious than some in the past have been in other European cities — at a time of austerity, funds are low — but there is nonetheless a wide range of exhibitions, concerts, plays, films (including screenings in the open air on the roof of a shopping centre), children’s drumming under a Brazilian Master and a host of other events. But maybe the most striking new venture is the work currently still going on in the old seaplane hangar that was put up in 1916, when Czar Nicholas II was boosting the defences of St Petersburg in the First World War. This extraordinary structure — the most advanced concrete building of its time, erected by a Danish company for which Ove Arup worked — boasts three domes and when restored it will form Tallinn’s new Maritime Museum. The star exhibit of that will be the 1936 UK-built submarine ”Lembit’, which is currently in dry-dock being tarted up. Though the project won’t actually be finished in time for the 2011 cultural capital deadline, the whole area will be a wonderful legacy for the city and should lead to a total regeneration of the coastline which, at long last, is in the people’s reach. 

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Reinventing the State with Paul Holmes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st January, 2009

paul-holmes       The first of a monthly series of informal discussions on themes within the (currently out-of-print) Liberal Democrat policy book Reinventing the State was held at Portcullis House, Westminster, this evening. For those who don’t know or have forgotten, the tome was a complementary counterblast to the far more controversial Orange Book. It was seen by some critics as a reposte by ‘social liberals’ to the ‘economic liberals’ of the earlier volume, though as I said in a long review I wrote at the time for ‘Liberator’, the situation wasn’t as simple as that. Indeed, some canny individuals — including Chris Huhne, if I remember correctly — wrote essays in both publications.

Anyway, this evening’s session was originally intended to be a tour d’horizon by Steve Webb, MP, but because of a diary change, the gritty Member for Chesterfield, Paul Holmes, stood in instead and focussed his attention on education. It soon became clear that he did take a social, not economic, liberal view of the subject. He made no bones about his relief that certain aspects of the policy paper written by David Laws, MP, (which is going to be debated at the Harrogate Spring Conference) have been modified by the Federal Policy Committee.

Paul was a history teacher is secondary schools for 22 years, and it shows. His delivery has a sufficient mix of punchy controversy and sly barbs to keep schoolchildren and politicos engaged. He is an ardent advocate of comprehensive schools, blowing a giant raspberry at all forms of selective education (among which he included the ‘free schools’ Nick Clegg was promoting a while back, trust schools and Andrew Adonis’s beloved Academies). The very best educational results are achieved in countries such as Finland where comprehensives are the norm, he argued. And he welcomed the fact that under New Labour (for all its many faults), spending on education in Britain has at last reached the Western European average.

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Freedom of the Press

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 1st May, 2008

Christopher Walker, Director of Studies at Freedom House, New York, gave a presentation to the Association of European Journalist (AEJ UK) at the European Parliament office in London earlier today, outlining the situation regarding media independence in OSCE member states. This showed just how far some countries in the ‘greater Europe’ have to go before they can be proud of their record. Freedom House ranks countries using a scale of negative points out of 100 judged on their degree of press freedom, with Finland and Iceland coming out top, at an impressive 9, while Turkmenistan is right at the bottom with an appalling 96, even worse than Uzbekistan. The UK can’t crow, as it comes out at 19th equal, on 18 points, alongside Lithuania. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, interestingly, are the only former Soviet republics that score well enough to be granted the status of ‘free’. Ukraine and Georgia are in the next category down, ‘partly free’, while all the other 10 former Soviet Republics, including Russia, are slated as ‘not free’. All of the Western European countries manage to get into the ‘free’ category, though when Silvio Berlusconi was last Prime Minister, Italy dropped into the ‘partly free’. It won’t just be Freedom House in New York which will be watching to see if Mr Berlusconi’s recent return to office will once again mean that Italy slips.

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