Interview with Esa Ylikoski – Secretary, The Union of Freethinkers of Finland

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Esa Ylikoski is the Secretary of The Union of Freethinkers of Finland.

Here we talk about her life, work, and views.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you, e.g., geography, culture, language, religion or lack thereof, education, and family structure and dynamics?

Esa Ylikoski: I was born early 1950’s in Pori, west coast of Finland. My mother was a member of Evangelical Lutheran Church, but not religious, and my father, carpenter, was an atheist. We did not take part in church services. However, I participate in religious teaching in school.

Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?

Ylikoski: After high school and army service I started to study in Turku university history, sociology, education and communication. After BA and pedagogical qualification, I worked as a teacher in secondary school. Later, after MA, I worked in high school and adult education college. In the 2000s, I worked in Humak University of Applied Sciences as a senior lecturer and manager of research, development and innovation. Updating training has been part of work life.

All the time, started high school time, I have taken part in voluntary activities of many social and political organizations. It means numerous seminars, courses and discussions. And self-studies. Between study years I worked also as a professional organizational secretary in two periods. During the pedagogical era, I have been voluntary work activist also, for example, in community broadcasting and citizens radio station.

Jacobsen: As the Secretary of The Union of Freethinkers of Finland, you have a unique view of the daily operation of the union. What are the internal operations of the union? How is the professional rapport amongst staff and the board? What tasks and responsibilities come with the position?

Ylikoski: Unfortunately, we have not professional, salaried secretary t this time. General Secretary and Chairman are volunteering tasks. In any way, we do much and have much to do.

First, we are human right, interest and advocacy organization. 
Second, we promote secular culture and ceremonies for naming of babies, funerals and wedding. 
Third, we promote in our communication for science based world view, critical and rational thinking and humanist ethic and life stance. 

We have some working groups in our organization. The role of Secretary is coordinate and also prepare and carry out decisions of the board. We try to lobby and have impact and influence on the political level. And our local – or county wide – associations try to have influence in local levels.

Jacobsen: For who do not know, the educational system in Finland is admirable and high-performing. How does this benefit the secular and freethinker culture & community?

Ylikoski: Yes, it is important, that preschools, schools, high schools, vocational schools and also universities of applied sciences and universities of sciences are free of charge. Also, teachers are in high quality and motivation, and salaries are neither low and high. However, religion has too big of a role at schools as a subject and by traditional manners connected to the Church.

Jacobsen: What are the demographics of The Union of Freethinkers of Finland?

Ylikoski: We have 20 local/areal/county associations, and they have about 1400 personal members. Biggest of them is in the capital area.

Jacobsen: What are some social and communal activities of The Union of Freethinkers of Finland?

Ylikoski: First, we are human right, interest and advocacy organization. We work for equality and freedom of religion and thought in political level and basic level. We work against unfair privileges of the state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland. The situation in school is not ok, because the preference of religion teaching and confessional church services and morning assembly during school days. We promote life stance ethics as a subject.

Second, we promote secular culture and ceremonies for the naming of babies, funerals and wedding. We have together with some other secular organizations a Service center “Pro-Seremoniat” serving speakers and music for different civil ceremonies. Additional, many local associations of The Union of Freethinkers all over Finland have speakers and other services. And 10 local associations have also a graveyard of their own.

Third, we promote in our communication for science-based world view, critical and rational thinking and humanist ethic and life stance. We have the magazine “Vapaa Ajattelija”, the main internet page and some others, Facebook site and groups and e-mail lists etc.

We are a member of Humanists International and the European Humanist Federation. We have also special co-operation with Nordic member organizations of them.

Jacobsen: Any recommended authors, speakers, or organizations doing similar work to The Union of Freethinkers of Finland?

Ylikoski: We work together with Humanist Union of Finland, Prometheus Camp Association (https://www.protu.fi/english) and Pro-Seremoniat.

Jacobsen: What have been important developments in 2019 for The Union of Freethinkers of Finland?

Ylikoski: We continue political lobbying work, although the government programme of new government 2019 don’t promise much as to our agenda. We continue promoting the Service to Leave Church membership (https://www.eroakirkosta.fi), which has been used by about 700 000 persons for leave State Church membership. Church membership rate is now 69,7 %.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved through the donation of time, the addition of membership, links to professional and personal networks, giving monetarily, exposure in interviews or writing articles, and so on?

Ylikoski: Membership fee is only 25 EUR/year. It’s possible to join us by internet site of the Union (http://vapaa-ajattelijat.fi/liity-jaseneksi/). Donations are welcome and can give by Bank account: FI14 5542 2320 3638 64, BIC OKOYFIHH. We have also special web-page Freedom of Religion (unfortunately only in Finnish https://uskonnonvapaus.fi/), but we are interested to make it also in English.

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?

Ylikoski: It’s nice, fruitful and important to work for secularism, human rights and democracy connected internationally. I am sorry that my English is too poor to express it all.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Esa.

Ylikoski: Thank you, Scott, and I hope all the best for readers. 

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Photo by Taneli Lahtinen on Unsplash

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