Saturday, June 26, 2010

Notes from Dr. Bikram Dasgupta memorial lecture on 19 June 2010 by Markus Kroger

It was nice afternoon on June 19, 2010 at T.B.Cunha hall that witnessed passionate presentation and intense discussions on the topic ‘Co-operatives as a key to democracy, social equality and sustainable development: the case of Finland by Finnish scholar Markus Kroger. Organised by Nature Environment Society and Transformations (NEST) as a second in the occasional lecture series in memory of late Dr. Bikram Dasgupta.

Although it was not possible to capture all the points that came for presentation and subsequent discussions here are few of them:

96% of dairy production in Finland is governed by cooperatives. Finland has the population of 5 million people out of which 1.5 million are members of cooperatives with 50,000 employed on salary basis. Meat sector is 100% dominated by cooperatives. Agriculture and Forestry has 45% dominance of cooperatives. There is also large consumer co-operatives that are successfully posing major challenge to even international chains like wall mart.

Cooperatives started 110 years ago and soon its inception both left as well as right attacked them as it posed as new power house. However within 20 years it founded new political party. In 1920s this political party carried on agrarian reforms in Finland and distributed land and forest for landless. Cooperatives led to higher level of competition in the economy as they were able to get the products ready with low cost input and high quality output. For this reason capitalist later also supported the cooperatives as they too valued high quality of products. Paper industry also included the involvement of cooperatives. Historically paper industry has been the backbone of Finland economy.

From 12th to 19th Century Finland was a colony of Sweden and then later was under Russia ruled by its Czar. Finland was used by Czar to showcase its welfare facet as against its repressive military facet that was visible in Poland of that time. Finland benefitted from this footnote in history in a major way.

Finland is composed of different tribes and its economy and politics for a long time was controlled by Swedish minority in Finland.

Russia turned repressive towards the end of 19th century as a response to rising wave of patriotism. Cooperatives were a response to repression as formation was cooperatives was legal. Strong linkages developed between intellectuals and masses in Finland.

Finland witnessed civil war in 1918 when left wing and right wing political parties fought each other on streets. It was a bloody war as both the parties had raised their own armies and they clashed with each other. After the civil Finland witnessed ethnic cleansing; poor were massacred. Tens and thousands of people were put in concentration camp and killed by white army. Threat of Russian invasion continuously hovered over Finland politically and the three major power houses in Finland united to face this challenge: Cooperatives, Trade Unions, and Businesses. Finland witnessed land reforms in 1940s and 1950s wherein everyone in Finland got a new piece of forest land.

In 1990s some cooperatives in Finland went bankrupt as they has invested heavily in casinos indulging in gambling. Recently voting in cooperatives internal elections has decline as the new people are unaware of their history (of cooperatives). Also there are tensions between three traditional sectors like business houses stopped buying milk from cooperatives and instead purchase it from neighboring Sweden as it is cheaper than in Finland.

Lots of research input has gone into setting cooperatives in motion in Finland. In 1930s Nobel Prize was awarded to cooperatives for innovations. They had founded Agricultural Research Institute to facilitate research and innovations. They are faring well even in the face of global markets. 1930s and 1940s can be considered as golden period of co-operatives in Finland. It is the cooperatives that made Finland self-sufficient in food.

Education and Health care is free in Finland. Education has a major contribution from Cooperatives. People of Finland are known for their work in groups. Student movement in Finland is richest in the world owning assets worth millions of Euros. Co-operatives in Finland however do not propagate communist ideology or its affiliation to Russia. They are autonomous entities that founded centrist parties. They do not support communism in any way. The historical event known as ‘Russian Revolution’ that marked the take over of power by Bolshevik party is more of capture of power by force after losing elections from the farmers unions – kulaks by industrial workers. Agricultural unions were destroyed in this process in a systematic manner. Finland had a good army at the time of Russian revolution and could have very easily intervened to defeat the ‘revolution’. However the ruler of the time thought with foresight and considered Russian revenge later would be too costly for Finland and did not initiate armed aggression in 1917.

Currently Finland is attracting many nuclear power plants that are shut down in various parts of Europe. There are protests taking place there and one of the groups visible in protests is Greenpeace. AREVA from France is also setting up nuclear plant in Finland that has run into various types of problems. AREVA is also setting up world’s biggest nuclear power plant in Jaitapur, Maharastra in konkan region threatening ecology and triggering off major protests currently in Maharastra.

Sebastian Rodrigues welcomed and introduced the topic and speaker, while Advocate Jatin Naik proposed vote of thanks. Around 12 people were present for this program. Hall was allowed to use free of cost by its management particularly Naguesh Karmali. NEST appreciate this gesture with gratitude.

Sebastian Rodrigues

No comments: