Irina Krohn
Irina Krohn

Political Development

Party Affiliation

Profession/ Current priorities

Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments




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[ European Commission, DG V ]

© Jan 2001

European Database: Women in Decision-Making

Irina Krohn

Political Development

1. What made you decide to go into politics?
I studied law. I was interested in social and political questions already as a young girl. The 1980s with this yuppie period with pure greediness, made me feel, "Why should I waste my life to that kind of life style?" Then I decided to go into the field of arts.
However, along with the economic recession of early 1990s, when Mr. Iiro Viinanen was a Minister of Finance, I had this personal political awakening. I took all those talks about how a 'welfare society' is a burden very personally. I felt that women, artists, and mothers, we are all a kind of marginal people, which they were ready to put aside... As if a society would be a big hot air balloon which begins to sink, and the extra weight ought to be thrown away... I felt it quite personally that I would be one of the victims. I don't know if it was my psychological mentality, but I thought that I should go into politics and fight against this! My own understanding of society, what society is about, was far from the neo-liberal view (which in Finland started to get more supporters in the early 1990s).
I began my political career in the Helsinki City Council in 1993. It was easy for me to be elected, since I had a lot of publicity by my regular public appearances on the TV-show during a music program called Levyraati. I wrote columns for magazines etc. I got a lot of free publicity, which I could quickly channel to my political career. I really felt personally depressed of how things were in society and politics (in the early 1990s). What a long way we have actually travelled from that point to the present with Tarja Halonen as the President of the Republic!

2. Does political involvement or policy making have a tradition in your family? Did you have any role models?
I have participated in a Finnish 'solidarity committee' supporting the Polish Solidarity movement. When I was six-years old, I wrote to the President of United States, Mr. Nixon, a letter in which I said: 'Stop the War!' My parents were very 'non-partisan' in a sense that neither of them wanted to participate in party politics. My father who is a university professor said a long time ago that he would not accept any badges of honour because cleaning women could not get them...
However, my family has been very active in social questions (Irinas' mother, Leena Krohn, is the executive director of the Central Organisation of the Women's Association in Finland). We then lived a period of strong influence of political parties with, for example, so called party-political appointments to public offices in Finland, which my family did not much like... So, in this sense, I don't have any single politician in my family... such as a member or municipal councillor something... or at least I do not remember any such person in my family.

3. Have you been engaged in political grassroots activities before your involvement in party politics - e.g. in a citizens' rights, parents or other initiative? If so, in which function, in which institution and when did your political carrier begin?
I have been involved in many kinds of grassroots level activities. I already mentioned the activities related to the Polish Solidarity movement. Then I participated in the Anti-EC (EU) movement (resisting Finland's membership in the EU, JK) by collecting signatures ... As a young girl I was a member of the Green Cross (association against using test animals). So, all that began in the 1970s, when I was a schoolgirl in Helsinki. Anna Heinämaa and I were the 'mice nurses' at our school and we were very interested in nature preservation. But then in 1975 my family moved to the city of Tampere where I was a member of some 'nature club'. Before I had spent a year in Africa.. After having moved back , I got involved in all these activities related to the Anti-Nuclear Power movement and the Polish Solidarity movement. It has been my choice to join this kind of 'marginal' groups.... It is, however, grassroots movements from which I went into politics."

4. What were important experiences you made on grassroots level?
I have also worked in many independent theatre groups, which are in a way also 'grassroots' activities. In these groups, people have trusted me, and this has been one of the most important experiences. It is important to be appreciated.
A second important experience would be that I learned to question what was written or shown in pre-dominating mass media. I found that there is always another angle, another point of view which can be as essential as the one that is presented in the mass media. For example, I remember that in the news of Helsingin Sanomat (one of the biggest newspaper in Finland), the number of people demonstrating they mentioned was always 30% less than there actually were. The lesson was that it is better to believe what I see with my own eyes than to trust the so- called 'general opinion'. When I was studying at the high school of theatre, I was a 'rebellion leader'... During that time, I noticed that the media is so powerful when it decides to create a certain image or picture of something - that it is really difficult to break that image if you are 'small and weak'.
Thirdly, the Finnish 'Solidarity Committee', supporting the Polish Solidarity movement founded in the early 1980s was an important experience. At that time, it was big news in the media that the Security Police of Finland had taken note of all the names signed in the official application for registration of the 'Solidarity Committee'. They had taken a copy of that list of founding members. Much later it was obvious that the Polish Solidarity movement represented the social and political organisation which was to become the leading power and finally legitimate power which brought about democratic changes in Poland. The lesson learned was: you can be right, even if the majority is against you. That a minority can be right is really important. This helps you to stand up for your opinion against the horrible pressure one is facing in politics if representing a minority. It is so much more convenient to be on the majority's side than to be a slightly difficult person.

5. Where there disruptions in your political career path and why?
Yes, there was an interruption during the period 1987-1991 when I was studying at the High School of Theatre. But when studying there I was completely happy. Naturally, also theatre is, at least partially, about society, but I was not involved in any political activities at that time... After that it was the TV appearances of Iiro Viinanen (as a symbol of a new kind of politics in Finland with strong criticism against the Welfare State, for example), which woke me up politically. I wanted to create resistance to that policy...
I did not actually have interruptions during my political career because of my children (born in 1993 and 1997), if one does not count short maternity leaves. When my daughter, Frida, was born, I was already a member of the Parliament at that time, and had six month's maternity leave. When my first one, Rudolf, was born (1993), I was in the Helsinki City Council, but I had summer holidays at the time of his birth... and was away only four months or something like that. This is typical of Finnish women - that children are no excuse to interrupt political work..."

6. How and why did your objectives change during your political career?
My objectives have formed an exciting synthesis. As a schoolgirl I wanted to stop the ecological catastrophe by - for example- not having children of my own. All through the 1970s I lived under a threat that the ecological catastrophe would come. In the 1980s, I went into the field of arts. I am not a 'green' in that sense... I do not even like 'green aesthetics'... I do not like 'ethno' things. I am much fonder of 'classic' things - meaning I am fonder of cut glasses than of earth ware pots.
Now that I am in politics, my objectives are strongly those of a humanist with ecological consciousness. Actually, cultural policy - I am a member of the Education Committee of the Parliament - has also been quite important for me. Many people said that I had an important role, for example, that legislation on nursery schools was enacted. I am in the Parliamentary Group of the Green League which is in a way 'saving the world', but in that group, I have a role of my own which is based on my own values and education.
I was, for example, collecting signatures of other MP's for an initiative that is pushing for making marriages between homosexual couples legal. These objectives indicate that while being an artist my political space is somewhat broader than that of my colleagues in the Eduskunta - I mean MP's from other parties. I am allowed to express quite original views without being blamed for political games. However, on the other hand, it is quite improbable that I would become prime minister. So, this also narrows my space or possibilities. When I recently went to visit Taleban guerrillas, my colleagues, other Finnish MP's, were afraid that I would laugh too loud, or that I would be shot, because I have such a strong laugh.

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Party Affiliation

1. What was your motivation to join a political party?
Which offices did you hold in your party at the beginning; how long after your joining the party was that?

I am not a member of the party (the Green League), even if I am a leader of the Green Women (the women's organisation within the Green League). I prefer to be a chairperson of an association rather than being a member of an organisation. I do not feel uncomfortable not being a party member in the Parliamentarian Group of the Green League. The Greens do not have 'group discipline'... I don't feel comfortable with 'open mandates' (given to the party)... There is no such problem among the Greens; it is more about my own mentality...
In Finland, we have no closed lists, but open lists with preferential voting. It is possible to be elected into Parliament, though you are not a member of a party. We have even two independent members in the Parliamentarian Group of the Green League; the other is (Ms.) Rauha Mertjärvi. So I do not have any positions in the Green League, but still I am the chairperson of the Green Women. It is quite interesting. The women's organisation, the Green Women, was actually established because otherwise the party could not have received the subsidies provided to promote women's organisations within political parties (enacted in 1970s).
There are a lot of members in the Green Women's organisation who are not members of the party because Greens have this history of being a social movement. For this reason, many Greens want to act for 'green policies', without being members of the party. For some reason, party politics has also had quite a negative image, which is related to the Finnish political history of 1970s. Many people think that a party is more democratic and controlled by masses, when there is a broad independent movement behind it. Personally, I think that they are nice to me as long as there is this... (broad, independent movement). If we all were party members, some kind of (negative) 'consistency' in the party might emerge. I am a suspicious person.

2. Does your party have an equal opportunities regulation?
Yes, there have been such rules right from the beginning. At the moment it is men who benefit from the gender quotas of the party rules. Out of the voters of the Green League at least 30% to 40% are men... this figure has increased all the time in Helsinki, too. Voters tend to choose well-educated younger females. In our Parliament Group, there are 9 women and 2 men. The Greens seem to want educated women humanists - we have three teachers and two artists (Irina Krohn and Anni Sinnemäki) in our parliamentary group.
On the other hand, gender quotas favour men in the decision-making positions of the party. It is quite interesting that some Green men received the last election results with bitter feelings, after so many women were elected. I just thought if they would have like to have only nine Greens to be elected with half of them being men. So, in a way, in Finland it is a choice of voters that the Greens have so many female legislators... Those who vote for the Green League seem to trust female candidates (even though 50% of the candidates of the Green League were men), so we women should not be blamed for that...
I have a theory that those who vote for Greens look for certain types of men and women. The men are also well educated, but are older, middle-aged men with beards and such, kind of 'Väinö men' (Väinämöinen is a male hero of the Finnish national epic, 'Kalevala'). On the other hand, we have young and attractive female MP's in the Greens group (JK's remark: they are like 'Aino', a young heroine in the Kalevala who commits suicide by drowning herself to avoid being married to an old man, Väinämöinen).

3. Did you have mentors within your party?
In my opinion, I don't have any mentors. Now, my sister Minerva is a chair of the council group in the Helsinki City Council as well as a member of the city executive board. I was her mentor, but she is a good companion from whom - because she is a member of the 'inner circles' of the city council - I can ask for information in matters concerning municipal politics.
Inside the party, I have good friends like Ms. Sate Hassid and Ms. Taiga Borax. Actually I have good relations with almost everybody in the parliament group of the Green League... However, I have my own strong publicity: I am still writing columns in periodicals. I do not need support from the party to be elected; I have direct contacts to voters. I got a lot of media publicity, for example, when the group of MP's came back from Afghanistan. Two people, I and the leader of the group, Ms. Riitta Prusti, were invited to tell about that on TV's morning program (Aamu-TV). I am a Finnish Champion in debating...I think that reporters want on TV people who are garrulous, quick-witted and funny, to give life to the show; that is why they used to ask me...
I think this is wonderful, since I feel that I really am independent. There was a time when I was boycotted by Helsingin Sanomat (one of the biggest newspapers in Finland)... There are also other media in Finland so that is does not matter if one newspaper presents you as pertinent, not-so-proper politician.

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Profession/ Current priorities

1. How does your profession correspond with your political work? In what kind of jobs did you work?
My most important 'job' at the moment is my family. My family is actually my personal motivation to work here in the Eduskunta (the Parliament of Finland) since the 'job' is near my house, and I have regular monthly incomes. And it is easier for me... if compared with my work as a theatre director. When I was a theatre director I had extremely long working days and a lower salary. My work as a mother would have been more difficult. So, I am really happy with my present job as a parliamentarian, I have got enough money and I have time for children... This is my way to be a 'housewife'...
It was much easier for me to go into local politics than to decide whether I would like to try in parliamentary elections. In that time, I enjoyed my work at the theatre and had a promising professional career. I received a considerable grant for artists immediately after I had graduated from the High School of Theatre. I had done some works already during my studies. For example, I won the first price in a competition for the best plays for the blind and for radio drama.
Well, even if I had a great time doing art, I had a feeling then, in the early 1990s, that if in future somebody may ask me, "Where were you when all these bad things happened?" I thought that I could not tell my children that 'mother was directing one of Tsehov's plays. I had a very strong feeling that at certain moments in history - think about Czechoslovakia and Havel - even humanists are needed to fight in a 'real' society.
I was really distressed in the early 1990s, during the time of Mr. Iiro Viinanen as a Minister of Finance... I pondered what would I personally get from going into the Parliament? Why should I 'go to the army' or to the 'hills of Golan' for four years, since I had a really good time at theatre. Then I just thought OK, I will get a monthly salary, and I can have another child, these kind of things...

2. Are you linking both your professional and your political career?
Next autumn I am going to do a play - to be an actress. I have already been a director in Aurinkoteatteri (Sun Theater). Now, I'll get a major role in a play that is written for me and about me. It is called 'Anne Krank's Diaries'. This is really a big thing for me. I have not done anything in the theatre for six years. I have only written columns and one publishing company has promised to publish my book. However, I have really missed theatre... Here in the Parliament and in politics, generally, you have to be so different - if you try to be yourself, they think you are strange or unclear. This (the Parliament) is a place where you can use only one side of your brain... I have noticed that I get easily depressed here. Now I have a feeling that as a human being I have to do something else, too. I have to do arts; otherwise I will fade away as a human being... The play I was talking about - Anne Krank's Diaries - will also be a quite 'bodily' play. It is just about those things - your body etc. -, which you cannot talk about here in the Eduskunta. Furthermore, I think that my independence as a parliamentarian is related to the fact that I have a real profession.
I also give a lot of speeches in various places. I am asked to give lectures on subjects such as 'Women and Politics' or 'The Position of the Finnish Children' etc. These are topics and occasions on which I am not asked to come and give a speech as a Green politician, but as a citizen who follows her times. But the fact that I am a Member of Parliament helps me, gives me more information and so on, and makes me a better speaker.
Most of those who ask me to come and give a speech are more interested in the 'writing Irina' than 'Irina, the politician'... I have a lot of these occasions - at least two times per a week... This is how I keep the direct contacts to supporters... But because I have this, I systematically refuse all kinds of 'no-account entertainment' to which parliamentarians are invited. I only go for business lunches, never business dinners. I have said that I have small children, and that I would not come even if the Dalai Lama would sit next to me.

3. In which areas do you see your special competencies?
Education... I am an author, theatre director and dramatist... what else?

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Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments

1. Which are your political priorities? Which are your main fields of actions?
I am afraid of a society in which people think that somebody is better than the other - in a normative way, have 'better norms and values' than someone else, the debate which came up during the last Presidential elections, for example. My understanding of 'normality' is much wider - like I was telling you about my work for the rights of homosexuals... I am married and have two children, but what I would never say is that I would have chosen better than somebody else. I am not afraid about difference or diversity. I think that there are different kinds of solutions for the same problems and that they should be allowed. I personally identify myself as being different - even if in 'real life' I am a proper person and a loyal wife. I am really a boring person, but deep in my heart I feel like being different. People who argue that they are representing the right, the Official Opinion, really frighten me.
Education, cultural work... I will look after primary education in the arts so that it would be established in other fields than in music... objectives relating to traditional welfare society... And then gender equality - we are going to introduce a proposal which requires that gender quotas should be implied also in the boards of the state-owned companies... and women's standpoints at many levels, in general... I have never had so much interest in the European Union compared with the global view. That is why I have been in Africa, and in Afghanistan. I am very interested in poor countries, especially women's position in these countries. Not EU - I would rather go to Kabul than to Brussels. I do not actually want to have a profile as a member of the Grand Committee of Parliament (the 'EU issues Committee') - it does not inspire me in any way. Africa is a forgotten continent; I am more interested in the poor world outside Europe.

2. Which objectives would you like to achieve through your political work?
I think it is shocking that all this so called 'influencing' is so mechanical - you try to squeeze a half of the sentence, a couple of words, into some document... There are two kinds of influencing, firstly, that you speak and write widely, for example, about responsibility for Africa. I have actually been one of the writers of the Government programme. The Greens had a responsibility for the part of the programme concerning regional policy and culture. This was a typical example of 'influencing' in a way of just to put there a couple of slightly dull sentences. In a way, I have been surprised about how things are done here in the Parliament, how dull language is used, how everything is so 'exact and small'. One has to say everything really concretely and exactly - one has to learn the language of administrative officials. It was difficult for me to learn that also good things ought to be expressed in an apathetic way.

3. Do equal opportunity strategies - in your opinion - have an impact in your country to promote women in decision-making? (quota, EO legislation, etc... please name the strategy)
Did you benefit from these strategies?

I have benefited, absolutely I have benefited from the long history and tradition of women politicians in Finland, particularly since I am in the field of education and culture in which there has been a long chain of women politicians. I never got into the situation where I would have to been the first wise woman, who should be able to open men's eyes. I don't consider myself to be such a lady, but I had situations when I would have to prove that I am good, only because men have never met a prominent woman. I think that is an important achievement since it is really hard to do things only for showing something. It is true, I have benefited a lot.
Then I have also benefited from the subsidies for women's political organisations. There are gender quotas and financial support so that we have a possibility to have our own activities. But to be exact, I have not personally benefited from quotas - on the contrary (in the Green League, it is actually men who have benefited from gender quotas).

4. How do you judge these strategies?
I have benefited from the fact that there are progressive women's magazines in Finland which are better than, for example, Suomen Kuvalehti (Finnish periodical, debating on social and political questions). The Finnish women's magazines find it self-evident that one of women's roles is influencing society.

5. Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in "conventional" policy-making? What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics?
One clear indication of discrimination is at the level of political journalism. Mainly male political journalists writing on political issues only want to meet and interview male politicians. They think that a dull, introvert and hart-to- understand person is an authority. I have noticed that all journalists that contact me are mostly women. Only after Iltasanomat (the Finnish tabloid) hired a female political journalist, a journalist specialising on parliamentary politics, have I been interviewed and cited in this tabloid, before that - never. This is different from the theatre.
I have been interviewed for newspapers and periodicals as a theatre personality, as a celebrity of TV-shows, and as a politician. In my opinion, the male political journalists form the most musty and clannish world inside journalism and they have a certain common attitude from which they look at the world. But this does not matter, since we have so many female journalists and excellent women's magazines and periodicals. But they are also envious, the men, saying that you, women, can go and introduce your babies and while doing that, you can talk about the legislation on public childcare, for example.
I have noticed that male political journalists are sitting there in the back tables of the Parliament restaurant talking and laughing... But I have other channels too. If I would have to lean on the publicity offered by these male journalists, I would not have a political life. It is said that politics is like a theatre. It is not a theatre; it is a game. In my opinion, male political journalists and (mostly male) sport journalists have a similar worldview. The parliamentary debate concerning Esko Aho's application to get time-off from the parliamentary work was in the news week after week, and at the same time, most important issues like the legislation on peacekeeping operations were not given much attention. Political journalists are more interested in the games, which politicians have between each other. When somebody is appointed as a minister, he is interviewed, while the former minister disappears from publicity. In political journalism, it is not so important what someone says but who says that and from which position. I think that this kind of political journalism is the backward part of our society...

6. What is that keeps women from committing themselves to politics? What are the major obstacles?
Well, of course it is working life and women's insecure position in working life- atypical jobs, short-time contracts, weak employment security. Who dares to go into politics? For example, if a woman wants to go into parliamentary politics, it is really difficult without experience in local politics and if you are in local politics, in the local council (in which position you do not get any salary), it takes a lot of time and you have to have a job from which you can get time-off which depends on the flexibility of your employer. In conclusion, women's position in the labour market is too weak for that kind of time spending. You have to choose - either - or!

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