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What we can learn from Finland

  • Published at 12:02 am October 20th, 2016
What we can learn from Finland

If you are a globe-trotter, which place would be a heaven in terms of safety? According to the World Economic Forum’s latest travel and tourism competitiveness report, it’s Finland.

Finland, more than twice the size of Bangladesh in terms of area and having a population of only around 5.5 million, is the birthplace of Nokia -- which once enjoyed pre-eminence in the global mobile phone market.

This Nordic country, bordered by Russia, Sweden, and Norway, has also held high positions in other rankings. Its education system is one of the best in the world, corruption is almost non-existent (the second least corrupt country according to the Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index 2015) and it is the fifth happiest country according to the World Happiness Report 2016, released by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Calling it quits after working as a journalist in Bangladesh for more than three years, I moved to Finland in August this year to begin my Master’s Program at the University of Oulu, located in the northern part of the picturesque country. Before moving here, I read on the internet about all the blissful things this country has, and now I’m actually living in the safest place on Earth.

How does it feel to live in such a place? Well, you won’t understand it until you are in Finland. Truth be told, it cannot be felt by reading about it, it must be experienced in reality.

I heaved a sigh of relief after moving here. For more than two decades, I lived in a country where corruption is rampant, political turbulence is perennial, traffic congestion drives people insane on the road, and environmental pollution is extremely high.

For someone from Bangladesh, where homicides and other crimes constantly are the headlines, Finland provides a profound feeling of safety and comfort

But now, an overwhelming sense of safety engulfs me when I go outside, regardless if it is day or night. I have returned home, nearly four km from the university at midnight without being worried at all about whether I will be a victim of street crimes.

It’s a worry that constantly gripped me, even during the daytime, when I was in my motherland. Now the feeling of being safe on the streets, regardless of what time it is, is gradually becoming stronger every day.

Oulu is one of the most bike-friendly cities in Finland, boasting mile after mile of cycle paths in every direction. These separate cycle paths, which are off-limits to cars, have effectively prevented the possibility of bike accidents. At night, I have walked and also biked on paths running through forests without the feeling of a grave premonition.

In Finland, I do not feel the fear that someone would come out of the blue and mug me at gunpoint or by using other weapons.

Darkness does not induce fright in me while I walk or bike on Finnish roads; it feels more like a different period of the day without sunlight.

WEF rankings of the safest countries took into account the costliness of common crime and violence as well as terrorism, and the extent to which police services can be relied upon to provide protection from crime. This also helps explain why Finland topped the list.

Finns do not only trust their police a lot, but they have unwavering faith in the department. A survey, carried out among 1,007 respondents this year, found that 96% of the population trusts the police; with 51% trusting the men and women in uniforms very much and 45% trusting the police department quite a lot. Whereas, the European average is much lower, standing at 71%.    

Moreover, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there were only 89 homicides per 100,00 people in Finland in 2014, while the number was 4,514 in Bangladesh in the same year, and in Russia, a neighbour of Finland, the number was as high as 13,681.

Juha Kääriäinen, a researcher at the University of Helsinki’s Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy, told Finland’s national public broadcaster, Yle: “Finns live in an equal society which seeks to prevent crime, and there are few conflicts. Many Finnish police officers go to retirement without ever using their firearms during the service. Moreover, Finland’s residents hardly need to go to the police.”      

My conclusion is that Finland is cold, and low temperature becomes the most undesirable thing outside the house, but it is perfectly safe. For someone from Bangladesh, where homicides and other crimes constantly are the headlines, Finland provides a profound feeling of safety and comfort. Presumably, anyone who puts on a jacket and goes out late at night to places as secluded as he can imagine, will always feel safe.

Mahmudul Islam is a former journalist at the Dhaka Tribune and currently is an engineering student at the University of Oulu, Finland.