Knowledge on the Nordics

Uncovering the Nordic Region with Mary Hilson and Peter Stadius

July 01, 2021 nordics.info Season 3 Episode 11
Knowledge on the Nordics
Uncovering the Nordic Region with Mary Hilson and Peter Stadius
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Hot topics in current academic research on the Nordic region today include welfare, colonialism and heterogeneity. These – as well as a host of other issues - form the content of this podcast, the last in the series ‘The Nordics Uncovered: Critical Voices from the Region’. 

Editor of nordics.info, Nicola Witcombe, is joined by Mary Hilson Professor of History at Aarhus University in Denmark and  Peter Stadius Research Director at the Centre for Nordic Studies at Helsinki University. Their conversation also takes in: 

  • Traditional histories versus new perspectives.
  • A Europe of Regions e.g. the Oresund.
  • The rise of nationalism.
  • Finnish colonialism.

Find out more on nordics.info.

Sound credits from freesound.org including "Noir" Reel by Hainbach by makenoisemusic, loneliness by rashta and The Plan - Upbeat Loop by ispeakwaves.

Nicola Witcombe:

Welcome to the final podcast in the series the Nordics uncovered critical voices from the region for the research dissemination website nordics.info. My name is Nicola Witcombe, and I'm the editor of the website. And in this podcast series, I have virtually traveled between the Nordic countries, speaking to scholars on subjects such as welfare, childhood, colonialism and homogeneity. In this podcast, I'm joined by two historians to discuss some of the recurring themes in the series, such as regionalism against nationalism, as well as new things such as the cooperative movement in the Nordics. To do this, I have two academics to help me they are Mary Hilson professor of history at Aarhus University in Denmark. And Peter Stadius, research director at the Center for Nordic studies at Helsinki University in Finland. Welcome Mary Hilson and and Peter Stadius. Yes, we've all worked together for about the last three years as part of the project Reimagining Norden in an Evolving World, which I should say is a cross Nordic university research hub within the social sciences and humanities. But you to go further back, you work together at the center of Nordic studies in Helsinki, which was originally started by Henrik Stenius and in various other contexts. So before we start, I'd like to find out what language you speak when you're talking together. Mary, you're British and originally learned Swedish but have now adapted to live in in Denmark. And Peter, you're a member of the Swedish minority in Finland, so speak Finnish and Swedish fluently as well as Spanish and probably other languages too.

Peter Stadius:

I think we mix

Mary Hilson:

I wouldn't like to say whether I still speak Swedish or whether I speak as sort of Danish or whether I speak Scandinavisk or what it is,

Peter Stadius:

and Mary can speak Danish to me, I would understand it maybe better than the Dane.

Mary Hilson:

But my Danish isn't Danish Danish either.

Peter Stadius:

*laugh* nor is mine.

Nicola Witcombe:

So the previous podcasts were useful springboard for our discussion today, not only in terms of what has been included and reoccurring themes, but also what has been missed out and what you agree with and what you disagree with. You've both got many years of experience in studying the Nordic Region as a whole as well as specific aspects of it, which we'll come to. But Mary, if we could start with you could use please pick out one or two things that you find particularly relevant.

Mary Hilson:

I think for me, they all raise the similar questions about what is the Nordic Region,its extent, its boundaries. And I think Lill-Ann Krber put it nicely in her podcast. It's its messiness, its heterogeneity. The complex contested and Tangled nature of this region.

Nicola Witcombe:

Yes, Lill-Ann Krbert researches literature, media and culture. And her podcast was about the legacies of Nordic colonialism. Let's just briefly listen to some of what she had to say.

Lill-Ann Krber:

How can we reimagine northern, beyond the nation states and beyond the privileges of national majorities, and also beyond the branding of individual countries and the region as a whole because this process very often tends to reduce a nation or a region to know easily recognizable features, and they tend to leave out all the messy are contradictory. Contestant aspects or demand dimensions offered

Nicola Witcombe:

Yeah, food for thought there. But it should be said that Leland doesn't discount looking at things on an audit level. She points out that it can be reductionist, but she also supports the idea if the context is right. Would you like to comment on that, Mary?

Mary Hilson:

Sometimes it's relevant to think of things in an audit perspective. And not always, because if one is to pursue transnational comparative research and research questions, then studying the Nordic, the other Nordic countries just makes sense. You have the language, which gives you easy access to sources and you have structural similarities, which means you don't have the apples and pears problems when you're when you're comparing, then you have some fundamental differences as well in differences of national narratives and self understandings. And then you have a lot of entanglements that you can't really consider the Nordic countries separately from each other because their history has of this part of Europe, this corner of northeastern Europe has inevitably been entangled. We have to be critical about the Nordic as the container for that, because there might be many other configurations of ways of thinking about that.

Nicola Witcombe:

Thanks. So So Mary, were there any other points from the podcast that you would like to pick out?

Mary Hilson:

For me, I think one of the most interesting ones was Miika Tervonen talking about the myths of Nordic homogeneity, about questions about "us" and "them", ways in which people are carried, categorized, very problematically, he also talked about he talked about his new project on national historiographies and the systematic omission of cultural diversity and talking about the Nordic Region. And I think that was backed up by many the others. Yeah, again, under underlining the need for to appreciate if we're going to think about this region, we have to be careful not to centralize it.

Nicola Witcombe:

And I mean, it also reflects maybe a more local debate on Danish history as well, where this is a very popular book at the moment for, for example, called 'Kvinder, kend din historie', "Women", you know, "women, know your history" where the author has sort of picked out some key female figures in history, because even books that are published this year have have often have very little reference to women. And, you know, don't reflect the diversity in the community as well.

Mary Hilson:

Yeah, history is manifoldly. It's about many different voices, many different aspects, many different experiences. And we have a duty to try and unpick all of that messiness. Inevitably, when we create historical narratives, we try to impose some sort of structure on things. But we also need to be aware of our own role in doing that.

Nicola Witcombe:

So before we move on to Peter, to find out what resonated with him, particularly, I'd like to ask you about the cooperative movement, Mary. I mean, you've looked at Labor and Social History in the late 19th century, both in and outside Northern Europe. Going back to Cathie Jo Martin's podcast, which was on collectivism, she picked out some examples throughout history of cooperative working within the Nordics and particularly Denmark. Could you tell us a little bit about the cooperatives in the Nordics within that context?

Mary Hilson:

Cathie talked about a Danish version of Darwin, I think she mentioned and some sort of cultural affinity towards cooperation. And that is sometimes discussed in the context of the Nordic countries. And that, certainly the 'andelsbevgelsen', the cooperative movement was very important in Denmark, from the late 19th century, and indeed, in the other Nordic countries. But I'm not entirely sure I agree that it's something that's distinctively Nordic. So, cooperatives, cooperative societies, cooperative businesses are found in all sorts of different cultures, and all sorts of different historical periods. There's nothing innately Nordic about them at all. And that said, they have flourished in the Nordic countries across the regions. But there are there are many different reasons for this. cooperatives are essentially about resource pooling. So if you and I have limited means, we can put our means together. And that means we could buy goods in bulk or we could invest in a cream separator or a slaughterhouse or any of the other things that cooperatives were used for. And so is there a way for people to in the 19th century and people have limited means, especially to reposition themselves in a changing market.

Nicola Witcombe:

Yes. Could you say a little bit more about the note the sort of more Nordic mass manifestation of cooperatives?

Mary Hilson:

The model for consumer cooperation in the Nordic countries, like in most European countries was the Society of equitable society pioneers founded in Rochdale in northern England in 1844. And then, in the agricultural sector, farmers use cooperatives as a means to raise capital and adopt new production methods, especially after the agricultural depression in the 1870s. And in Denmark, but also in Sweden, Norway and Finland, the part of the switch from grain production to processed animal products of butter, dairies in particular, but also pork products. But again, the idea is part of a very broad transnational exchange; societies from Germany, other parts of the European continent and cooperatives have existed in all sorts of different societies at different historical periods across the world.

Nicola Witcombe:

Are there any particular reasons why the cooperatives flourished in the Nordics then?

Mary Hilson:

There are different reasons for why they did that in different parts of the region, often it in some cases, it's down to accidents of personality of local conditions. The conditions in which they will flourished are also quite different so that in Finland, for example, it was very important that there was national legislation that to find what a cooperative was and how it should be set up. Whereas in in Denmark, there was never a sort of similar national legislation. I find it hard to think that this is there's cultural explanations for this. I think it has a lot more to do with the state of the economy. And the fact that if you take with consumer cooperatives, they developed in a retail sector that was relatively underdeveloped. And it just happened that that these societies emerged as a time when there's a gap, you know, when there's a niche, which they can very quickly fill, and that they were able to take advantage of other economic trends and developments. I suppose another key characteristic of them in the Nordic Region is that they flourished very much in rural areas. So that small towns, having their cooperative societies, cooperative stores is a very important part of the development of the rural infrastructure. But at the same time, you get large urban cooperatives as well, Alandur in Helsinki is a very good example.

Peter Stadius:

I guess the idea about this Nordic cooperative, cooperative movement is also the fact that it's in a way seen as as a counterbalance to capitalism. And if we look at continental Europe, the Nordic countries don't have as strong of a bourgeois city culture as maybe German Hanseatic, etc, tradition. And then I think this earlier comment about it being part of a cultural thing, maybe in comparison with a very open capitalist society, like the United States, it might look as, as a very, very somehow cooperative culture, but I think similar cooperatives in the United States as well, in rural areas, most probably,

Mary Hilson:

yeah, although many of them founded by Finns, actually, you know, undermining my own argument. But the Finish migrants North America were often quite active. But but this is, it's about how ideas travel. And so new forms of organization, new business models in the late 19th century, and in certain places at certain times, ideas flourish, and they find a fertile soil. And they also find a niche. And the Danish cooperative movement, which became about much more about agricultural production, also developed in a context where it was a flourishing export business because it was part of an open international economy supplying processed agricultural products to primarily the British markets, butter, bacon.

Peter Stadius:

Yeah, one more thing, if I if I may add, also, I think this is one example of what is usually referred to as this, the Nordics as as original and good adaptors, like most ideas come from abroad, but in some cases, the Nordic countries, they take it on as their own and develop it and became a very vital part of, of Nordic Nordic society. And I think this is a very, very typical example. And one more thing about the cooperative, I think we'll also want to ties it to something very Nordic, at least what we we see as a Nordic model. And that is the case of the Luma lamp, the Swedish Kooperativa Frbundet (KF) own light bulb factory, that that was built in southern Stockholm, I think in the 30s. And they broke a very big international cartel, and lower the prices of, of the light bulbs. And this was taken as an example, just in the 1930s. And of this, what Marcus childs talks about this middle way and Sweden where capitalism is controlled, so became kind of this very visible example of how things can be done differently and how the capitalist system can be challenged without making a Soviet Union.

Nicola Witcombe:

So here you're referring to the sort of Nordic way as being a middle way between capitalism and communism. And there was a famous book by an American author called marquees child, published in the 1930s, I believe originally called Sweden, the middle way, which also had a chapter on Denmark. Mary, do you have a final comment on this?

Mary Hilson:

A lot of his book is about the role of cooperatives in the Swedish economy. And this really establishes this idea of cooperatives in the American context. And in fact, President Roosevelt sent a commission in 1936, to study the Nordic cooperatives, and also to study cooperatives in other parts of Europe, they went to Czechoslovakia and Britain and France. So so it's sort of that that also cemented the idea that cooperatives were somehow part of things. But they also fit to kind of ambivalent sort of middle way idea, because cooperatives that both see themselves as alternatives to capitalism, another way of doing business, which is outside that the capitalist economy, but at the same time, they're actually part of the capitalist economy. And Peter's example of Luma, is about the way in which the Swedish Cooperativa Frbundet (KF) used its muscle to break what it saw was a regrettable trend in capitalism, which is the concentration of capitalist production into trust and cartels and to reintroduce competition into the market, because the utrust's and the cartels were raising the price and harming the interests of the consumer. And Luma broke the cartel and brought the prices down. So they have a very interesting ambivalent position in all of this. G

Nicola Witcombe:

Great,so if w can move on to Peter, the Peter, could you tease out on or two important points from th podcast or perhaps eve something that you disagre with

Peter Stadius:

Stefan Olafsson is taking up this this, he says that, in a state of crisis, the welfare state seem to be something that the people turn into a kind of countdown, I find the whole idea about the welfare state Nordic welfare state being part of, of how the people perceive their societies quite interesting and how it also appears in in political retorics.

Nicola Witcombe:

Yes, let's just listen to Stefan for a moment,

Stefan Olafsson:

we're still dealing with a situation that we were dealing with around the year 2000, the near or liberal interest and business interests of pressing on, but the rest of society trying to hold back and, and now we have the lesson of the bubble economy and the collapse. So I can't see the neoliberal tendencies going as far as they did before. And then the experience of the pandemic now is, so everyone's showing the importance of both of government and also of welfare states in dealing with situations like that. So I think neoliberalism has been discredited quite a lot.

Nicola Witcombe:

Here, Stefan's talking about the welfare state, mainly to do with Iceland, which is perhaps a more specific example, because of the large amounts of investment and purchasing that was done prior to a deep financial crash in 2008. So it's got these almost two more polarized views. And the crash has been very important in the political debate since then, at least on paper. Peter, do you perhaps have an example from Finland?

Peter Stadius:

in Finland, quite often, those who portray a more more right wing, conservative or market liberal political views, they usually present as an argument for for austerity measures and facilitating corporate taxation or lowering and so on, that we need to create economic structures that enable us to preserve the Nordic welfare state. And they are coupled with also policy proposals that make certain social security benefits, lower and present cuts. So there is an obvious paradox there, but it's all done within the idea of preserving the Nordic welfare state. And it that shows that presenting a political program, whether you're, even if you're on a traditional right wing side, it's kind of still not possible in Nordic countries saying that we are going to trash the welfare state.

Nicola Witcombe:

I find this particularly interesting at the last election in Denmark, there were posters up for Venstre, which is the Liberal Party in Denmark, which is more on the right, on sort of opposite side from the Social Democrats. And their election posters were basically saying vote for them if you want more welfare, which again, underlines what you're saying, I suppose.

Mary Hilson:

But I think when we think about the podcast as a whole, I think there's an interesting tension there, because there are some of them that are very much about the welfare state. And so we're back to the national state. And so Norden as consisting of five nation states, and we can compare welfare in different parts of the region, and so forth. And then there's a more sort of maybe the more cultural perspectives on it, as I've gone, Gunnrunn and Lill-Ann talking really challenging the idea of what the Nordic Region should be. So micro histories, different perspectives on the region from periphery. Lill-Ann also talked about the North Atlantic, which sort of mirrors an earlier discussion we had in the 1990s, about the Baltic, as a way of thinking about regional identities. And, and those are about challenging national frames and national boundaries.

Peter Stadius:

The whole welfare state project is a both a democratic project and a modernity project, and definitely has its virtues, from historical point of view, at the same time, the agent is very much clearly the state. And now when we look at the diversity issue, for example, internal colonialism, so on, what has the state performed in the name of modernity? And we come into two individual rights, minority rights, the rights of Swedish, Finnish speakers in Sweden, for example, or Finnish speakers in Norway, or Sami. How did the finish date or Norwegian state of the Swedish state act when establishing state owned mines in the north and northern most area present part of south? And these are the kinds of questions that we are posing right now.

Nicola Witcombe:

With respect to Finland and colonialism. I think we should just focus on that for a moment. And it's interesting as you don't often think of Finland as a colonial power, you know, as it's been ruled over by Sweden and Russia. And but I think your work on the Arctic corridor, which Finland had in the early 20th century, exemplifies some of the discussion around the issue of Finland, and colonialism. So could you tell us a little bit about that?

Peter Stadius:

I worked with with the Finnish corridor to the Arctic Ocean Petsamo, after the Second World War, in the interwar period, from 1920 to 1944, Finland had a corridor to the Arctic Ocean, east of the present border between Norway and Russia. This became kind of a space for the young, I mean, Finland became independent 1917. So it became a space for for this young Finnish state to perform some kind of a colonial policy and border settlement, border colonial expansion. They built one of the biggest nickel mines in Europe were opened in the 1930s there. The state audit three different reports on how to use this region, and how that also was an expression of of sociology of absence, basically, in many of these reports, ignoring the local indigenous Sami population, not in all senses, it ties to the question of Nordic exceptionalism and also in the finished case of, of a very heated debate at the moment that have Finland being part of Western colonialism?

Nicola Witcombe:

Yeah, we'll come back to Nordic exceptionalism, a little in a minute, but I guess that access to the Arctic Ocean at that point must have had been very important strategically. How did that work in terms of national borders and so on?

Peter Stadius:

I mean, historically, during the 19th century, the northern most parts of Norway and also on the Russian side, Finnish speaking opulation kind of poured over he border there was even if the borders were defined, there ere a lot of migrations is no igration also. So there was a resence of Finnish speakers on he Norwegian side on the wedish side and also on the ussian side, they have been laimed for for having a orridor. But somehow it never aterialized and and the utonomous Grand Duchy started o finance partially the road owards the end was already utside its proper borders. And hen there was also this idea of bigger Finland, of an xpansive finished territory. So hen in 1920, when the peace etween Finland was an ndependent republic by then and oviet Russia, was was conducted in Tartu Dorpat in present day E tonia. The final the final piece that was signed, the agree ent was that this region fetzi a was to become part of Finla d. And among the negot ators, and among those who were ery in favor of this large Finland idea of including more s finished picking era dente le partially finished picki g erode into regions, there will be a bit disappointed becau e they had kind of urged for m re, but in a way, this line f thought of a bigger Finla d, a greater Finland, Finla d as the champions among pheno ugric nations and tribes. This his all this was projected into etter mine away because that as the only only thing that hat really concretely didn' get out of it. And then it wa part of Finland. Then in 1944, it was was lost during the war.

Mary Hilson:

I think, Miika Tervonen, in his podcast, as I remember, was, was talking about the Karelia in the Finnish imagination and in this part of the Finnish nation as well, because that eastern border, formerly the the eastern border of the Swedish realm, until 1809, but then the after 1970, the eastern border of Finland, and therefore of the Nordic Region is also a highly contested area, and one that's never stable, but but shifting.

Nicola Witcombe:

So if we could go back to Nordic exceptionalism, now, could you explain how that fits in here? Perhaps investigating some of these issues about colonialism, be it be it internal colonialism or or otherwise sort of pushes against Nordic exceptionalism?

Peter Stadius:

So there is an interesting connection between this strong statehood, and current debates about colonialism, Well, cancel culture, whatever you want to call it, all this is tied together. And these are international trends. It their challenges also, there's Nordic exceptionalism idea of the Nordic exceptionalism, that after the Second World War, the Nordics were kind of, of those countries that didn't have a colonial past. So we were kind of extra well equipped to be the mediators, the doctors of the world in a decolonizing process better and more moral and more reliable than the former colonial powers. And if we speak about internal colonialism in the Nordic countries, which we are doing more and more, this exceptionalism is being now contested. We all know that this is now one of the most important and and, and research France where things are really happening at the moment. And it's really interesting to follow.

Nicola Witcombe:

Yeah, well, that brings us in some ways nicely to another overarching issue, which I'd like to explore as it kept on coming up in the podcast series, and has been referred to a conference at Helsinki University as whiteness. and elsewhere, it has been referred to as a racializing people in the way that you're talking about them either overtly or indirectly. And Caroline de la Porte in her podcast on the Nordic model, and specifically talking about child care, also talked about this "us" and "them" paradigm. But we have this problem here, Peter that you have to help us with, because on the one side, we have the Nordic Council organizing lots of interesting events on trying to promote Sami, art and literature and culture. And also events on Black Lives Matter, trying to be inclusive. But on the other side, you can see nordism as being something that's traditionally seen as being mainly white to do with racializing the Nordics in a specific way. And in that sense, Nordism can exclude people on different levels. So how do we square these two different visions of nordism if you'd like.

Peter Stadius:

I think in all these kind of positive, democratic and participatory somehow, narratives, they have their own history. And they have maybe been born out of a certain historical context, if we speak about the French Revolution of "Libert, Egalit, Fraternit" could be conceptually challenged. And also, can you have liberty and equality at the same time? Probably not. They are there's contradiction of term. So if we look at the Nordic Nordic cooperation, how it's born after the First World War, as as an 20th, century version of, of 19th century Scandinavianism, what is central there is that that in the 1920s 1910s, we have a society that is very traditional in many ways. Very centralized where the main don't dominated very white were very, and the context for Nordic cooperation and Nord ism is that of a small state foreign policy doctrine. That goes back to the late 19th century, small states need to act together, need to cooperate against the big ones, and against realism, and talk about international rights, about conventions about international law. And then somehow the Nordic countries make becomes the Primus inter pares among the small nations that we are now the Nordic small nations, and listen to us, because we actually have a lot of important things to say. And the way we think, actually is a very good way of thinking. And it becomes part of the self identity of Nordic cooperation and building up a positive idea about the Nordics. And then after the Second World War, where I just mentioned this exceptionalism. Human Rights comes in. And we have already the P Nobel Peace Prize, and so on, and this whole kind of identity and brand internationally as well. They're kind of in, they reinforce each other. So the whole idea of Nordic cooperation, Nordism, and this idea, it has the aura of being something very positive. And when this narrative lives on, parts of this narrative that has been also very much present in previous times, might kind of fall off about the Nordics in the 20s that racial discourses. It turned out then that there was a huge overrepresentation of Roma women, for example, being sterilized, and things like that.

Nicola Witcombe:

Yeah, here, Peter, I guess I should just add that you're referring to the fact that in the 1920s, and even as late as the 1940s in some instances, some Nordic governments experimented with different types of eugenic policies, including sterilization and abortion laws aimed at certain people who were perhaps mentally disabled or considered socially undesirable sometimes for their race.

Peter Stadius:

And when you go back into the 20s, you know, you read the strong man behind the founding of the Norden Association, NGO, Alexander Foss who was the head of the Danish industrial union and an important important person in Denmark he in his inauguration or texts in the first number, he speaks about the challenges of the white race, on a global scale. And, for example, this family metaphor of five nations, which is based on this idea that there shouldn't be too much integration, too much amalgamation, but that they should, each country's sovereignty should be respected the Norwegians and the Finns and Icelandic because they have been part of the two big realms historically. This has created also this disregard for remote regions, and and also, in a way reinforce this centralized idea.

Nicola Witcombe:

Yeah, this is a very topical issue. I mean, we can't judge people in history with today's glasses in one sense. But on the other hand, we need to because we need to see the distance that has occurred between us now and Alexander Foss saying the challenges of the white race only what was it 100 years ago or something like that. But I guess what I'm really interested in is maybe not looking back at history. But how we solve it today. You know, how I mean, there's no easy answers, but how does the Nordic countries present themselves in all that diversity, as well as branding themselves as a region? It's, it's almost contradictory.

Peter Stadius:

I don't know if I have a easy answers to this. I think it's a dynamic also of three different factors. One is the National slash Nordic narratives and self images. One is the idea of branding the Nordics, which which is the idea of somehow promoting Nordics as something positive in order to facilitate a certain certain sectors in a global market. And then thirdly, the need within Nordic cooperation to actually do cooperation speak about cooperation. That is something that my colleague Johan Strang has talked about a lot that less branding more cooperation reality.

Mary Hilson:

One of the problems is, is the universal welfare state. So if if you treat everybody who's in the welfare state the same, then you can't then make exceptions for people who might need extra or need differential treatment within the welfare state.

Peter Stadius:

I mean, the welfare state, it's not a question it's based on on size, which is based on on reason, which is based on enlightenment, it means that there are experts who have the research based science based knowledge. And then they have been benevolence, make up policies for the benefit of everybody. And the universalism is also that everybody in the census involved in this, you can't really be outside, you have to be inside the community. So so and and during included in the community. So if you are filthy rich, you will get the same maybe box or the equivalent in money, because you're part of this society, and that's your task. And you need to work, for example, if you're a princess, you need to bloody hell go there. And, you know, wave your hand.

Nicola Witcombe:

So this sort of refers to the mismatch between priority making, if you like, I mean, is it right that we have universalism of the welfare state, and that's challenged them by the advent of human rights in a way and seeing everything in terms of rights, which is more or less constructed around the individual?

Peter Stadius:

In these policies, universalistic policy similarity project that, and those who make up the policies, haven't maybe been able to see that different the group rights, for example, or individual rights, and they're in a certain kind of, of time, based knowledge level at a certain time. So for example, in Sweden, the idea that you need to learn Swedish, in order to be part of this modern life. So those who spoke Finnish in the north, who were socially economically not able to defend themselves, like the Swedes in Swedish, because in Finland, they were told not to speak Finnish with it, you know, they should learn Swedish, because otherwise they will be excluded from modern life. And that's not good for them. So they felt a responsibility for them to turn them towards the Swedish language. Of course, we understand today that you can take a different take on it. In general, the classical universalistic welfare state project modernity project has not been very good at recognizing diversity.

Nicola Witcombe:

It's a complex issue. And but it kind of leads on to another main theme, which is nationalism against regionalism. Mary mentioned earlier that sometimes the Nordic perspective can be useful and sometimes it's not pertinent or not relevant. And, Peter, you have some experience in comparing regions. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Peter Stadius:

When we talk about the Nordic Region, and Nordic cooperation, we very seldom talk about other regional cooperation how similar other like for example, we love panslavism, we have different kinds of Central European or South Eastern European or Pan American ism. What is the main narrative? What is the main goals how have they differred? But at the same time, often the self assessment is done in a kind of a bubble or a vacuum saying that for example, Nordic regions should be the most integrated region in by 2030. What is the competition what is going to be established? And that is also something that can be of use when we look at the European Union, for example, and the fringes of the European Union in 'How does this pan regional affinities work as a possible factor?'

Mary Hilson:

If politicians or researchers or whoever claim that the Nordic Region is highly integrated, I'd like to see some more empirical comparative study to say, well, it is highly integrated compared to what, and that is other regions in Europe or it could be other regions elsewhere in the world.

Peter Stadius:

The main idea with within the EU in the 1990 Europe of the regions, a way to break down the nation state, with trans border regions, becoming strong actors and creating a multipolar space of Europe a developing going alongside with with the diminishing role of the nation state. Of course, if we look at the political development, we know that it has gone fairly the other way around. But still, that doesn't mean that that we should not be be looking at at pan regionalisms. Because now there is also the talk within the EU, for example of regional blocks, something that has been kind of taboo earlier.

Nicola Witcombe:

I didn't quite understand what you meant when you were talking about the regional context being a bit taboo. Why was that?

Peter Stadius:

I mean, the idea was that decision making would be taken away from the nation, centralized nation state and the border regions, for example, the Oresund region, these would become kind of dynamic regions opening up the border, lifting away the border obstacles creating the Schengen Area, they would kind of organically go to grow together and in its own right, become stronger economic, social political centers, and does not so heavily rely on a nation state central government. And in the continental Europe, you have plenty of similar examples. So the Europe of the regions was a way of kind of establishing the European Union, at the expense of the nation's centralized nation state.

Nicola Witcombe:

I mean, it's interesting, I mean, it will be useful to look at why the nation state has had a revival or so much support over the last 1520 years or since the 1990s, then

Mary Hilson:

Would be hard to disagree that that the nation state is back that nationalism is back. And this may be has been one of the lessons of the past 18 months of the COVID crisis as well that national boundaries have really mattered, partly because they've become hard, including in the Nordic Region where we've not been able to travel and to cross what we could previously take for granted that one could even in a really integrated transnational region like the Oresund. And also because the the nation state, the state has had such an important role in in coordinating response to the crisis. It's accelerated a trend that's already there. It was obviously there before COVID. But the COVID crisis has done nothing to undermine the nation state. Which is kind of ironic, because you think something like a virus viruses aren't national, viruses crossbelt borders, some of that's been the problem obviously.

Peter Stadius:

This crisis has shown a demand for state agency. And that goes against the kind of last 40 or 25 years of development, which can be labeled a bit controversially, but still, I think, can be labeled an era of neoliberal reforms and a neoliberal term that is marked by taking away border obstacles, free movement of capital and workforce and products. And that has created the world that we lived in, up until the COVID crisis, and in general, a decreased power of the nation state. This idea of an elitist project and a cosmopolitan, elitist project by enlightened minds, that in a way has has hit the small people, the workers, those who are not the jet set mobile, etc, etc. In a way it is here in Finland, we have a social democrats lead to government, all the sudden people are kind of very comfortable with the fact that we have a prime minister that steps you know, up and says that now these measures going to be for this and even though there is some criticism, I mean, it has gone on for a long time, then people again try but still in a way it has given structure and comfort, and maybe that is something that can explain the fact that the nation state did not vanish.

Mary Hilson:

We've been here before and you can you can make historical parallels too easily sometimes. But of course, the late 19th century was also an era of increasing mobility, especially in the economic sense. And the rise of new transnational forms of capitalism, movement of capital and movement of people, movement of goods all over the world. And that all came to an end as well. And the crisis was first, the First World War and the the instability that followed that. And, again, a reassertion of the national container.

All:

The importance of the welfare state, the Nordic education system, child rearing practices in the Nordic countries, narratives that lie on the axis of Europe, to redefine what Nordic is, societies that cooperate, conceptualizing the Nordic model, Finland has been quite heterogeneous, always, gender equality and gender in general is one of the major political buzzwords in our own time, reading about your own home country through the eyes of others.

Nicola Witcombe:

So we've looked at some of the things that you found interesting or maybe agreed and disagreed with. But what are some crucial aspects that have not been covered in the podcast series?

Peter Stadius:

One very core issue that is Nordic cooperation, Nordic cooperation, Nordic Council, or the Council

Mary Hilson:

I think what I would be interested in is a non of Ministers, how do the government cooperate between them? Because the called Nordic Council is actually a parliamentarian cooperative body without any legislative power, but also Nordic cooperation in the sense that how do the governments cooperate with each other? because that's the kind of high hard politics where things happened. And also bilaterally things are happening in some ways. Usually one example that gets mentioned this is the defense cooperation between Sweden and Finland, for example. So I think Nordic cooperation is an adult now it talks specifically about political cooperation. human approach to thinking about Norden and environmental humanities, nature cultures, you know that those questions are becoming more and more important in in many areas of the humanities, the importance of material questions, the questions about non human actors, non human agents in the shaping of the Nordic Region, I think would be really interesting.

Peter Stadius:

Maybe it is not so much about his research and education. Because if we want to stand in the same line thing, saying that we need to preserve the Nordic welfare state, it's, it's fairly clear that that that we do need to invest in Nordic societies in education

Nicola Witcombe:

Janne Holmen, in his podcast on education and society talked about schooling in particularly Sweden and Finland. But I think, Peter, what you're talking about here is university level or tertiary level education?

Peter Stadius:

Maybe this is too much my personal perspective. But in Finland, for example, or parties do usually in elections speak warmly about this. And then when they are elected, their actions do not support these words. That is a particular aspect of our coalition government culture.

Nicola Witcombe:

Yeah, it's a good point, Peter, that you're probably are biased to certain extent as you're a research director at the Center for Nordic studies at Helsinki University. But on the other hand, you're in a position where you can give an insight to people outside the Nordic Region about what the research landscape is like here.

Peter Stadius:

My own faculty the last past five years, they have cut 25% of the basic funding, and in 2015, quite new liberally inclined Finnish government cut specifically 30 million euros from the University of Helsinki. And at the same time they were talking about we will not cut on education. There is I mean, the main budgets that they are not being cut down that much. But there is a shift away from basic funding towards more more project based and more like political steering. So we're moving away from this kind of arm's length principle, what refers to research towards a more like directed calls Where the government and the ministries can can kind of have a stronger agency and in what kind of research is be being conducted? In a way it takes away the main principle of, of research.

Nicola Witcombe:

Yeah, it's interesting that you should mention the increase in the politicization of researchers. There's been a raging debate in Denmark for the last few weeks, since there was a political agreement that, you know, implying University leadership should ensure the validity of research. And certain politicians have pointed at a sort of questioning finger at you like, if you like at certain areas of research that they considered could be politics disguised as research. You mentioned what could be called the Neo liberal turn there. And Neo liberalism has been mentioned several times in this podcast and the podcasts in general. And I guess it's a common interpretation that during the Cold War, the Nordics was seen as a compromise between capitalism and communism, but then in the 1990s, a more liberal economic policies came in, in the Nordics to with increased privatization and so on. Could you say a little bit more about why this is important

Peter Stadius:

1989 1990s. That is when the debate starts of whether the word Nordic welfare state model has passed. And that's also the start of historical research interest on the Nordic welfare state. The outcome is a better understanding on the roots of the Nordic welfare state that goes beyond the 1930s social democratic profile can project in Sweden, and Denmark, etc. And also a critical take on some of the darker sides most notably that therefore, sterilizations that it's always lifted up. But now the question is that, Have we reached the end of a neoliberal era? Because at least we have seen the first major research project, one led by Andersson at Uppsala University, Are we seeing a similar kind of development that we are going to debate now the Nordic neoliberal era of from the early 90s, or whenever we choose to, to, to have a starting point up until more or less present day. If we look at the Nordic welfare state, it's quite obvious that like the nation state, the rumors of its death are a little bit exaggerated.

Mary Hilson:

You raise something interesting there, which is how such concepts become. It's only when things disappear as historic they become historical phenomena. And that, that the idea that neoliberalism is somehow challenged means that it's then a subject for historians to study. And I think it's also interesting that the eyewitnesses of speculation on my part, but it's perhaps no accident that that project is in Sweden, because Sweden was the Nordic country that went the furthest, as I understand it down the route of neoliberalism, you could say, in many ways.

Nicola Witcombe:

So the last person I interviewed was a researcher and research director at Sdertrn University's Institute for contemporary history, called Mark Lund. And he's both got a question for you, Mary. And for you, Peter. So the first question I'd like to put to you, Peter, which is your research has often dealt with North South contacts, both between individual countries such as Spain and Finland, but also the regions, Northern Europe, Southern Europe. How, in your experience, can researchers best tackle the problems of different scales, regions versus states?

Peter Stadius:

We have the internal maximum micro regionalism or that can be transnational regionalism. But how do we do the research? Of course, there are many, many, many ways. I mean, myself, I'm interested in how are these constructed discursively these regions? And what interests are being exposed? How are they instrumentalized as something politically useful, and in order for that it needs to create a narrative that is appealing a narrative that can be used both upwards among top politicians, but also an A grassroot level, and we know quite a lot about how to how the Nordic identity in this respect has been constructive, what different kinds of narratives there are, when they have been successful when they have been less successful. Present day research has a fairly objective idea about the strength slash weakness of this Nordic identity. Also, what is interest thing is how these narratives when they are constructed, what are the outside cultural counter concepts that are part of constructing this, but what catches my interest is also how this north south and the values loaded into that how they change and one changes in the French enlightenment philosophers, for example, kind of upgrade them all as the direction of reason and development and somehow superior to the Catholic South superstition and and so on, and so on. And also on national levels, this might work in different ways, like in France, or in Germany and Italy and Spain are typical examples. Then we have another model that that UK or Finland or Sweden, Norway that South is closer to this European Center. So therefore, kind of the most developed parties in in the south while the North represents wilderness, and used or unused natural resources. But now I've been doing this for 20 years, and I noticed some small changes. And there seems to be, for example, in the post industrial Europe, in some continental countries shift is going on, notably in Germany and France, where the North is becoming a develop development region, while South is kind of booming. In Germany, you have have Bavaria, for example, it's kind of the strong economic motor of Germany, while while the former Yonkers areas in the north of Germany is really, really a combination of large scale farming, which is not rentable, and perhaps also East German legacies, and adding adding up that that are really doing poorly, if we look internally. And in France, ther 's the same kind of tendency t at surprised me. I mean, they h ve aviation to lose and so n. South is kind of becoming m re and more a leader of developm nt and and the old industrial si es in the north are kind of los ng grou

Nicola Witcombe:

Thanks. And that picks up on quite a few of the things that we've been talking about throughout the podcast. And Mary, Carl asks you this. Internationally, there's a strong trend towards global history of various regions. the Nordics are somewhat late into this development. But now a lot of research is emerging. What do you think, are the most important issues for prospective Nordic contemporary global history to tackle and where are the greatest risks?

Mary Hilson:

Thanks, Carl, the kind of background to that is this is something Carl and I have been discussing as well. And I would say yes, I totally agree that there's this trend and that there is a lot of research very interesting and important research on on Nordic global history. The challenge and the important issue is I think is it's not making it yet again, about the Nordics. And thinking that if a global history is about also thinking about inequalities, asymmetries, north south relations, it shouldn't just be then the focus comes back yet again, onto the wealthy north. It's also got to be a history that's broader than that and more diverse. And I suppose one of the challenges of that is how that we engage as historians in the Nordic Region, with our colleagues in other parts of the world to try to write these histories.

Nicola Witcombe:

Well, Peter, Mary, thanks very much. It's been a really interesting discussion. And I hope you've enjoyed listening to the previous podcasts.

Peter Stadius:

Thank you.

Mary Hilson:

Thank you.

Nicola Witcombe:

You've been listening to a nordics.in o podcast. Thanks go to all o the participants of this podcas series and Mary and Peter for today's podcast. Thanks also go o our research hub, Reimagining orden in Evolving World and our unders NordForsk. If you'd like o find out more, please visit ordics.info.

How useful is it to look at things from a Nordic perspective?
The early cooperative movement: Was it typically Nordic?
The Nordics as a 'middle way'
Both the political right and left embrace welfare
Is the welfare state inherently nationalist and at odds with diversity?
A case study on Finnish colonialism
Colonialism and recognising diversity - challenges to Nordic exceptionalism and Nordism
Regionalism vs nationalism
Other important issues: Nordic cooperation, post-human perspectives, research and education
Have we reached the end of the neoliberal era in the Nordics?