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Tuesday's papers: Finns Party leadership, remote learning, defeat for Finland's Eagle-Owls

Morning newspapers look at the prospects for the populist Finns Party after its leader says he's stepping down.

Huuhkajien maalivahti Lukas Hradecký.
Finland's goalkeeper Lukas Hradecký. Image: Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP / Getty Images

On Monday, the leader of the opposition Finns Party, MP Jussi Halla-aho, announced that he doesn't plan to run for the post again at the party's annual meeting in August – in effect handing in his resignation from his party's top post.

Political scientist Petri Koikkalainen of the University of Lapland told the farmers' union paper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus that the announcement was a surprise. He would have expected Halla-aho to remain in his party's chair at least until the next parliamentary elections.

"During his chairmanship, Halla-aho has been the undisputed leader of the party, who has had no challengers. It has been widely speculated that he was aiming at making his party the country's largest and even the status of the largest party for his party and even seeking the post of prime minister," Koikkalainen told the paper.

Although there have been differences of opinion within the Finns Party on some issues, according to this researcher, the party has not seen any block divisions that would have indicated that someone was challenging Halla-aho for the chairmanship. The most significant question now is whether the Finns Party will be able to choose leadership with which they will be able to move forward towards the next parliamentary elections.

Koikkalainen was not willing at this point to speculate on who will be the next chair of the party. Some conclusion can, though be drawn from previous party elections.

"Those who have traditionally had the best chance have been the party vice-chair and the chair of the parliamentary group," he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Emilia Palonen, a University of Helsinki political scientist specialising in populism, told the daily Helsingin Sanomat that Halla-aho's move is strategically sensible. There are still two years to go before the next parliamentary elections, and the party now has enough time to profile itself to look like its new leader.

"It was a good bet," Palonen said.

Palonen considers it a smart move especially if one thinks about what has often been a problem for populist parties - they are very strongly committed to one leader, which makes change very difficult.

"Now the Finns Party should be something more than their leader, if it is to succeed nationwide in the next election. This was perhaps the conclusion that Halla-aho came to," Palonen told Helsingin Sanomat.

"Plus, it’s always good to leave at the top," she pointed out.

Dissatisfied with distance learning

The Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet carries a review of a survey by the City of Helsinki examining the well-being of school students in the capital during distance learning.

In March-April this year, the upper classes in primary school switched from contact teaching to distance learning for a month as a measure to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The survey, aimed at grades 7-10, aimed to map how distance learning was experienced during the spring, with 1,480 students responding to the survey.

Half of those seventh- to tenth-graders said they felt that the pandemic had impeded their schooling and that they did not learn as well during the period of distance education. Even so, fewer experienced distance learning as a major challenge, compared to distance learning last year.

Only one-fifth said they would be in favour of continuing distance learning in the future. On the other hand, a hybrid method combining contact and remote lessons gained wide backing, as did the continued use of digital applications in the classroom.

Not surprisingly, distance learning had psychological and emotional downsides.

In the spring of 2019, 16 percent of students reported they had felt depressed or desperate "almost every day or several days in the last two weeks". In the spring of 2021, the share was up to 32 percent.

Also, in the spring of 2019, 12 percent of the students felt constantly or quite often alone. In the spring of 2021, that figure was 18 percent.

As for the effectiveness of distance learning, 77 percent of Helsinki high school students who responded felt that they learned less from distance education than from contact lessons.

Defeat in the heat

All of Tuesday morning's papers report on the Finnish football team's 2-0 defeat to Belgium on Monday evening, which is likely to spell the end of the Eagle-Owls' tournament.

Finland's defence, and especially goalkeeper Lukáš Hrádecký, kept the world's number one seeds scoreless for over 70 minutes of a tense but thrilling game, until Belgium eventually opened the scoring in the cruelest of manners. Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen's header bounced back off the crossbar but deflected into the net via the despairing glove of Hrádecký.

The Belgians doubled their advantage on 81 minutes when Romelu Lukaku received the ball inside the Finnish box before turning and shooting past Hrádecký in an instant.

In a post-game interview with Yle, reported by Ilta-Sanomat, Finnish centre-back Paulus Arajuuri said, "Belgium is a world class team. They were really good. I think we played our best and gave our all. You can't do more than that."

The defeat leaves Finland in third place in Group B on three points and with a goal difference of -2, which is a gallant performance for the nation's first appearance at a men's finals tournament but is unlikely to be enough to secure a place in the knockout stages.

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