FINLAND: A NEAT AND TIDY COUNTRY

The Finnish standard of living is now one of the highest in Europe. Infant mortality is the lowest in the world. Neatness and efficiency abound.

When you arrive from Moscow at 9:20 in the morning at this Finnish border town of Vainikkala on the Red Arrow express train, you are apt to experience culture shock. It hits me every time.Vainikkala, a microcosm of Finland. Right off, you are greeted by Finnish prosperity, order, neatness, craftsmanship. Here are houses and offices with sauna baths. Here and there, basements with luxury swimming pools.

Finland, as small a country as it is, is still a leader in many industrial categories including construction of powerful ice-breaker ships, passenger liners, paper manufacturing equipment, furniture and, yes, saunas. One recent government report says Finland's standard of living - based on gross national product per capita - is among the top six in Western Europe, after Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark.

The Finns are hard-working, intelligent, disciplined and honest. They are lucky to have had strong, honest leadership.

Here in Vainikkala, somebody has carefully tended the flowers and shrubbery on the railway platform. The workers who laid the bricks for the long, neat station building that houses a cafeteria, currency exchange and ticket office, clearly took pride in their job.

All is fresh, clean, operational. The washrooms are clean. The walks are clean. There is no rubble or litter about. Things are as they should be. You have no complaints, only compliments. You marvel at Finnish efficiency, something you missed back across the border.

Regrettably, in the U.S.S.R. a fair percentage of things don't work or work improperly. This includes doors and locks and gutters and the like. But, to be fair, not a few Russians recognize the gap. So there is talk right now in the Soviet press of creating a "new mentality" among citizens. It is a hard nut to crack.

A case in point: inside the U.S.S.R., a certain shabbiness and disorder is commonplace. Invariably, you meet workers including talented and cultured people who apparently don't think it important to pick up garbage right under their feet, or remove a stray cobblestone from the sidewalk. But how do you impose a "new mentality" on a people that encourages them to exert individual responsibility when the entire socialistic system is geared to subjugating individuality?

Finland, in my view, represents much of what is best and efficient and right about the free enterprise system. For example, here in Vainikkala you can buy train tickets, change your money and even get sales tax refunds at the very same window. At the end of the cafeteria line you can choose from an assortment of newspapers and magazines. Back in the U.S.S.R.,these functions would not be organized in a similar efficient fashion. There would be one

window for purchasing train tickets, another to exchange money, a third to get sales tax refunds. And the cafeteria would be in another building with no magazines in sight.

Outside the Vainikkala border station, I counted 55 automobiles. Of this total, 26 were made in Japan, one was a Ford, and the rest Volvos, Saabs, a Citroen and a few Soviet-made Ladas. Clearly, the United States is low man on the totem pole when it comes to selling cars in Finland.

You can, if you want, drive all the way to Helsinki from Moscow. The distance is about 650 miles and some drivers do it in 15 hours. From Vainikkala to Helsinki, the roads are good and well-maintained. Finnair and Aeroflot fly the Moscow-Helsinki route in slightly over an hour. Or you can ride the Red Arrow Express between the two capitals in 14 hours.

Passenger trains are alive and well in Finland. The Finnish state railway offers eight sleeper services from Helsinki to various parts of the country, including one route up to the Arctic Circle. On certain long-distance runs, special children's carriages are available free of charge with no reservations required.

The Finns know how to live. If you travel first class by special express train, you can have a hot, scrumptious breakfast served to you at your seat. Of course, you can make all your telephone calls from the train.

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