Is New Zealand the new international bully?

New Zealand cabinet minister Gerry Brownlee's recent comments about Finland, including saying they have a "terrible homicide rate" and "no respect for women," have caused quite a stir among Fins. 

Yuriko Nakao/Reuters
South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak (L) shakes hands with New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key as he arrives for a working dinner at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul March 26, 2012. New Zealand Cabinet Minister Gerry Brownlee's recent comments about Finland have sparked surprise.

New Zealand cabinet minister Gerry Brownlee has caused quite a stir in Finland by saying that Finland has
"worse unemployment than us, has less growth than us, can hardly feed the people who live there, has a terrible homicide rate, hardly educates their people and has no respect for women,""

In Swedish language (Finland has a large Swedish speaking minority) Helsinki daily Hufvudstadsbladet this has been refered to as Finland being a country of "outbildade, arbetslösa mördare" (uneducated unemployed murderers).

But what are the truth status of Brownlee's assertions. Let's go through them one by one:

"worse unemployment"
That seems to be true, as New Zealand's official unemployment rate is 6.3% compared to 7.5% for Finland. However, the difference isn't exactly dramatic.

"less growth"
Not true. Growth was 2.9% in Finland last year, compared to 1.2% in New Zealand. While this partly reflects a cyclical recovery in Finland from the much more severe slump in 2009, growth during the latest 8 year period (2004 to 2011) was slightly higher in Finland, 1.8% versus 1.7%. And if you take New Zealand's higher population growth into account, Finland's record look even better with per capita growth of 1.3% versus 0.7%.

"can hardly feed the people who live there"
Clearly untrue if taken literaly as there are no food shortages in Finland. If meant to imply that Finland is poor then it is also clearly untrue. GDP per capita in Finland was €36,000 in 2011 while New Zealand had a GDP per capita of NZ$46,000 which at the current euro/new zealand dollar exchange rate of NZ$1.63/€ is equivalent of €29,000, or roughly 20% lower than in Finland.

"has a terrible homicide rate"
According to the latest estimates, the intentional homicide rate was 2.0 per 100,000 people in Finland compared to 1.76 in New Zealand. Finland's homicide rate is thus somewhat higher than in New Zealand, but hardly as dramatic as the term "terrible" implies.

"hardly educates their people"
According to the latest international comparison of school results, PISA, the mean score in science, mathematics and reading was 551, 540 and 536 in Finland compared to 532. 519 and 522 for New Zealand. If Finland hardly educates its people, then New Zealand doesn't do it at all in other words.

"has no respect for women,"
Just what aspect of Finland's society is misogynic is unclear as women in Finland has equal rights and as things like "honor murders" and female genital mutilation are extremely rare (in fact completely non-existent outside of certain immigrant groups). Women are also well represented in power positions in Finland as the President until just recently, Tarja Halonen, is a woman, as is the current Finance minister Jutta Urpilainen (pictured below) and nearly half of the other cabinet ministers.

Brownlee's assertioms about Finland are in other words all completely untrue except for the ones about unemployment and homicides, but even in those cases he exaggerates the difference.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.