The mid-December 2001 E.U. summit in Laeken, Belgium, will probably be remembered most for its “prosciutto war,” which began when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refused to approve the new food agency to be located in Helsinki, Finland, since he was convinced that the Italian city of Parma was best suited to house the E.U. office. According to the major Finnish daily, Helsingin Sanomat, Berlusconi raised his voice, shouting his dissent, arguing that the Finns did not even know what prosciutto (ham) was.
Sharp statements such as this could backfire; in fact, the Finns do know what prosciutto is, so much so that they even have a particular word to indicate a special seasonal ham: Joulukinkku (literally “ham,” Kinkku, “for Christmas,” Joulu). Berlusconi insisted that such an agency should not be located “in a country which is probably very proud of its marinated reindeer or Baltic fish with polenta, but certainly can’t compete with Parma, the symbol of good cuisine.”
While nobody can dispute the richness and variety of the cooking traditions of Parma, the fact remains that a reindeer-based dish is common in Finland, though you would hardly find reindeer with polenta (corn pudding), since corn is not grown at such high latitudes and, therefore, is alien (though not unknown) to Finnish culture. In fact, the Finns could teach the Italians a thing or two about cuisine. For example, the Savo region in central Finland offers a fairly simple but rather tasty dish called kalakukko (from kala, “fish,” and kukko, “cock”), which is a loaf of preferably homemade dark bread, filled with small fish and some bacon, and baked. When it is done, the bread is sliced and eaten, topped with butter. Or, if you want to enjoy a unique and delicious drink, find a machine called a mehu-Majia (from mehu, “juice,” and Majia, a woman’s name), which is a large double-boiler containing several kilos of fruit or berries that are liquefied by the steam from the boiling water below, producing a highly concentrated juice that can be diluted in water for a tasty soft drink.
Finnish lessons could extend to other areas. Whereas Italy has worked diligently for many years to marginalize Latin, Cicero’s language is increasingly popular in Finland, where you can even find a radio broadcast in Latin. Until recently, if you wanted to study medicine, Latin was a compulsory subject. Moreover, according to a Reuters report (December 4, 2001), Finnish students scored the highest in an OECD study that measured the performance of 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science. Though Catholics are but a small minority and no Latin Mass is officially celebrated, the Finnish branch of Una Voce (dedicated to the worldwide promotion of the old Roman Catholic rite in Latin) is one of the fastest growing in the world. (Finnish Una Voce president Anneli Hokkanen was recently interviewed at length in the Helsingin Sanomat.)
And last, but not least, in late June, Ansa reported from Paris that the Berlin-based Transparency International, an anti-corruption organization, gave Finland a top rating on its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (9.9 points out of 10), while Italy, though she had made some progress, was still 29th out of 91 nations surveyed, with a rating of 5.5.
Berlusconi’s reaction might have been less emotional and better received had he questioned the very idea of Finns checking Italian food (and vice versa) or challenged the notion of one single authority over all E.U. food, in the same way that he has resisted the E.U. single arrest-warrant drive. On this score, Berlusconi is by no means alone. I was in Brussels during the Laeken Summit to cover “The Future of Europe—Democracy in Danger,” a counter conference in the E.U. Parliament organized by the SOS Democracy group and chaired by Danish MEP Jens Peter Bonde of the group Europe of Democracies and Diversities. There, MEPs of the most varied persuasions, representatives of E.U.-critical NGOs, and the leaders of other organizations from around Europe voiced their intention to oppose the proposed arrest warrant. As a result, a group of MEPs, including leftist Daniel Cohn-Bendit, collected enough signatures from among their colleagues to postpone the vote on the warrants. “Because this is a vital matter to all Europeans,” they contended, “we need to prepare the case properly in the committee and not just rush things through.”
Of course, Cohn-Bendit may have a personal interest in opposing an E.U.-wide arrest warrant, since it may apply retroactively. As readers of Chronicles know (see “Italy’s Child-Abuse Lobby,” Vital Signs, September 2002), Cohn-Bendit has been the focus of heavy scrutiny since releasing a book about the “erotic nature of his contacts with children at an alternative kindergarten in Frankfurt.” Prosciutto and pedophilia make strange bedfellows—anywhere but in the European Union.
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