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Thursday's papers: Russian tourists, digital IDs, firewood a hot item

According to press reports, the Finnish foreign minister now says it's possible the EU will completely ban tourist visas for Russians.

Autoja Nuijamaan raja-asemalla Suomeen päin tulossa
Vehicles being checked at the Nuijamaa border crossing point. (file photo) Image: Kare Lehtonen / Yle
Yle News

Commenting on a possible total ban on tourist visas for Russian nationals, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) told the Helsinki daily Helsingin Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun), "We are ready for stricter measures".

Haavisto considers it possible that the European Union will impose a ban, but added that any decision would probably require that the EU countries introduce a class of visa issued for humanitarian reasons at the same time.

"If the EU decides on a complete ban on tourist visas — which I consider quite possible — the EU countries and also Finland should have another type of visa in their back pocket for, as examples, journalists critical of the regime, citizen activists or opposition representatives. The Baltic countries, among others, have adopted such a practice," Haavisto said in an interview with HS.

Haavisto pointed out that a visa ban would require a common EU approach.

"We have done what can be done legally in this situation. It suits us very well if the EU makes visas the subject of sanctions, in which case the entire EU would implement them and they would have a clear legal basis," he continued.

"We are now waiting for EU guidelines. We are ready for tougher measures," he stated.

Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have already decided to close their borders to Russian tourists.

Although Finland's present visa policy is strict by general European standards, it is the most permissive of EU countries bordering Russia, but very few tourist visas are being issued to Russians.

Ilta-Sanomat reports (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that Russian tourists have come up with a new way to ensure that Finnish customs do not confiscate euros they are carrying in cash when they return to Russia under sanctions imposed due to the war in Ukraine.

It quotes the St. Petersburg-based Fontanka news site, which reports that Russians have started burying euro banknotes on the Finnish side of the eastern border. The idea is to hide the cash and retrieve it on a future visit to Finland.

The site listed other tricks being used by some Russian tourists, such as exchanging all their unused euros into US dollars or British pounds, or to buying gift cards that can be used to make online purchases.

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Official digital ID moving ahead

Life without banking credentials has gradually become very, very difficult in Finland.

As the Tampere-based Aamulehti (siirryt toiseen palveluun) points out, bank-linked identification is not just generally needed for online shopping, but also to access personal tax and health data, dealing with social services, or officialdom in general.

There are alternatives, such as an official identity card with a microchip, but they are harder to use and have not become common. Digital identification using current official ID cards requires a card reader on a computer and does not work with a smartphone.

In Finland, bank IDs have become the cornerstone of the information society. At the same time, types of mobile verification via smartphones offered by telecom operators have become more common.

Aamulehti asks if it is healthy that the "keys to the digital society" are almost entirely the responsibility of private companies.

With this in mind, the paper notes that a new digital ID card project will be considered by the parliament next week. The goal is to offer an official alternative alongside the commonly-used bank codes.

In practice, if implemented, it would be a smartphone application, allowing users to log in to the services with a few clicks.

According to Minister of Local Government Sirpa Paatero (SDP), the application should be available in September of next year.

Initially, the application would work for public services, but the government hopes that private companies will quickly adopt it. Bank IDs and mobile verification are not about to be banned, but rather will be supplemented by an official alternative.

Firewood demand

The farmers' union paper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus (siirryt toiseen palveluun) reports that demand for firewood is currently so high that many suppliers are no longer accepting new orders.

Arto Veijonen, who runs a small firewood supply company in Jyväskylä told the paper that in recent months he has sourced more wood than ever before as demand is record-high. His busy season usually starts in early late September or early October, but this year sales began peaking at the end of August.

It is now difficult for retailers to get wood for sale without long-term relationships.

One firewood dealer told Maaseudun Tulevaisuus demand has also shot up in the capital region because many new homes have fireplaces, but few people there have access to wood of their own.

Higher electricity and district heating prices are also pushing up the price of firewood. Retailers say that rising transport costs, in particular, have increased pressure on prices.

The majority of operators in the firewood sales business are small entrepreneurs who do it to pick up extra income. For this reason, there is no official data on prices or sales volumes in the industry, according to Maaseudun Tulevaisuus.

Seasonal danger on the roads

IlItalehti reminds readers (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that it is starting to be the most dangerous time of the year to be behind the wheel, at least when it comes to driving on dark back roads.

Hunting season for Eurasian elk (alces alces alces, a close cousin of the North American moose) has started and these massive animal are on the move.

As the paper notes, encountering an elk on the road always comes as a surprise, despite the fact that thousands of traffic signs warning of elk have been installed along the national road network.

"A surprising number of people seem to think that it is some kind of advertising campaign to remind them of the existence of elk," writes IlItalehti, before pointing out that the locations of these warnings are based on decades of observations. These are the places where these beasts most commonly cross the roads.

A fair number of collisions involving elk occur annually. In recent years, there have been around a couple of thousand collisions annually. However, there is a large variation in the number. Twenty years ago there were about 3,000 such crashes per year, while in 2017 the number was only a little over 1,800, all of which caused damage to the vehicles involved, and also injuries from mild to serious.

In the 10-year period between 2010 and 2019, a total of 25 people died in road accidents involving elk.

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