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Thursday's papers: School starts, budget reveal, spying on refugees, and mug pandemonium

Thursday's papers in Finland talk about the first day of school in most areas, next year's budget, people paid to spy on refugees, and cartoon coffee cup mania.

Muumimukeja kaapissa.
Moomin mugs are an obsession for some Finns. Image: Mari Jäntti / Yle

The Joensuu-based newspaper Karjalainen starts out Thursday's paper review with a reminder that most schools in Finland are starting their next academic year on Thursday, 9 August. Children will be returning to their desks in Finnish-speaking schools in Helsinki and Vantaa and all schools in Espoo, Tampere, Oulu, Jyväskylä, Lappeenranta, Seinäjoki, Kajaani and Joensuu, for example. Several campaigns are underway to make motorists more mindful of the children, many of whom walk or bike to school.

Ministry unveils budget proposal

The Oulu-based Kaleva paper that says that the Finance Ministry will release its budget proposal for the coming year this morning at 10 am.

Finance Minister Petteri Orpo held a press conference yesterday where he revealed a bit of the content. The paper says there were no big surprises. Despite recent robust growth in the economy, the 2019 budget proposal still contains a 1.7-billion-euro deficit, pushing Finland's public debt to 109 billion euros. Even so, Orpo is confident that the ratio of public debt to GDP will fall to under 60 percent soon.

As far as taxes go, the minister says earnings-related income tax breaks are in the cards, along with increases in tobacco and certain energy taxes. He only mentioned two areas in which funding will be increased: Border Guard at the airport will get a boost to deal with the influx of external border traffic, and the influenza vaccine programme will be developed and expanded to include more children.

Tourists may not be what they seem

Major newspaper Helsingin Sanomat features a story on a new phenomenon in Finland: Spies who track the activities of Finland's refugees.

In what the paper calls a historic ruling in terms of Finland's association with the case, a Tibetan man was convicted in June in Stockholm for gathering information on Tibetan people living in the Nordic countries for the Chinese authorities. The prosecutor said the man visited Finland many times between 2013 and 2015, but the specifics of his activities here have been kept confidential.

Sweden has earlier tried similar cases involving spying on Chinese, Iranian and Rwandan refugees. Germany convicted a Chinese man for undercover work in which he recorded the addresses, family ties and activities of Uyghur refugees there in 2011. The Uyghur are an Asian ethnic minority of Turkish descent.

Spying on refugees is not a crime in Finland, but the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) and several other civil groups are pushing for such legislation to be passed. In 1995, Supo deported a diplomat accused of spying on refugees.

"We receive word about cases like this regularly in Finland, too. Unfortunately, it looks like it is something that is here to stay," Supo's director Antti Pelttari tells HS.

HS approached members of the Finnish Falun Gong and Uyghur communities, both of which are widely persecuted in China, to ask if they have ever felt that someone is keeping track of their movements in Finland. No one had any conclusive evidence to prove that they were being spied on, but many had suspicions and fears.

For example, Finland's Uyghur community held a demonstration in Helsinki's Senate Square on July 7. About 50 protesters turned out to call attention to Uyghur oppression in China, but most covered their faces for fear that relatives back in their home province of Xinjiang would be punished for their activism.

An Asian man appeared at the protest and took many pictures and apparently some video. When a HS reporter approached him, he said in English that he was a Japanese tourist. He turned to take a photo of the Helsinki Cathedral, but then continued his extensive documentation of the protest.

New Moomin mug sold out in an instant

And the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reports on a truly Finnish phenomenon: Madness for the latest special edition Moomin mug.

Finnish dinnerware company Arabia hit on a gold mine years ago when it started releasing ceramic mugs with illustrations from the famous series of Finnish children's books by Tove Jansson. Many Finns have acquired a complete collection of more than 60 mugs, with three to five different designs put on the market annually.

A new special edition 'Moomin's Day' mug was released on Thursday starting at midnight, and already by 9 am, it was out of stock in online stores. Customers complained about the Arabia website crashing for over an hour after the mug went on sale, making the process even more difficult. IS says prices for the mug on online auction sites were running as high as 2,250 euros this morning.

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