Finland says farewell to the Markka

"The Euro: what 'value' a currency?"

Before leaving Scotland a friend handed over some old Finnish markka,
challenging me to see if I could “still use them.”

In truth the Finnish markka ceased to be legal tender in 2002. Finland adopted the euro when entering the Eurozone in 1999, and is still the only Scandinavian country to have embraced the single currency.

My only option, then, is to get them changed.  On a day when the euro crisis has deepened, and Nokia Siemens Networks has been forced to announce cutting a quarter of its workforce,  I show the 240 Finnish markaas, including two big green notes depicting the composer Sibelius to Jenni, the teller at Forex Bank.  She looks surprised to see them. “You want to get rid of them,” she advises, adding that from next year nowhere will take them, even the Finnish National Bank.  “Are the Finns sad about that?” I ask.  “No” she says instantly.

“With everything that’s been going on in the Eurozone, do Finnish people want their old currency back?” I ask, adding, “are you fed up of the euro?” Jenni’s smile falters.  She looks at me as if I am stupid.  “No, why?” she asks.

Her reaction will be a disappointment to Timo Soini, the outspoken leader of the far-right party True Finns, who made surprising gains in last year’s election.  Soini is an outspoken critic of the EU, and has since voiced his desire to run for the presidency.  He takes credit as attempts to derail the bailouts of Portugal and Greece.

Every Finn I speak to seems embarrassed by the True Finns.  “Finland is a Social Democratic country, like the rest of Scandinavia,” Taisto Oksanen, 47, a well-known Finnish actor tells me. “But in the last ten years we’ve seen that erode.  We didn’t have too much of a class divide before, but since the Euro some people have got very rich, and a few hundred thousand people have just dropped into poverty. Our education and social welfare has been damaged.   The old parties were seen as corrupt and in with business, so I think people voted for the True Finns for change.  But it’s happening all over Europe – people are voting for those that blame the immigrants.  Look at Spain.  It is history repeating.”

“True Finns are very conservative, want the Finnish markka back and to kind of isolate Finland from the rest of Europe.  I don’t know how the support packages will actually help the citizens and I think that the banks should also take some responsibility for all of this.” says International Business student Milka Tanskanen, 21. “ I was ten years old when we started to use Euro in Finland, so I don’t actually have any real experience of the Finnish mark.”

“The old notes were nice,” Oksanen tells me.  “The euro, the note, doesn’t mean anything to me.  It has less ‘value’.”

 

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