Over the weekend in Vienna, I had the pleasure of dining with a very interesting gentleman (I’ll call him “Chris”) who is a subscriber and new inductee into the Atlas 400 club that I’ve mentioned before.
Chris travels extensively, like me, and we discussed how many countries are quickly becoming police states. In Europe, I would candidly put Finland towards the top of that unfortunate list. My entry into Europe from Thailand last week was marked with yet another atrocious experience at Helsinki airport.
For the third time in as many trips to Finland, as soon as I set foot off the plane I was ‘greeted’ on the jetbridge by squad of armed government agents decked out in paramilitary gear and urban assault rifles.
Their collective arrogance and overinflated sense of self-importance became quickly apparent as they gleefully combed through a random selection of passengers and their personal items.
The next round of faux-security was the passport/immigration checkpoint. In most countries, this is a routine procedure that takes little more than 30-seconds. The Finnish authorities averaged over 2-minutes per person… I counted.
It was more of an interview than an immigration checkpoint– questions like “where is your mother from,” and “how much did you earn last year?” I wondered if they were going to ask my favorite color as well.
I jest, but the immigration officer’s demeanor and intensity suggested that he was quite literally making up his mind on the spot whether or not he would let people into his country.
Following immigration was another security screening– metal detector, x-ray, etc. In this case, though, each passenger received a wanding and full physical pat-down… I’m not talking about the usual cursory touch either– this was a full-on, ‘you have the right to remain silent’ pat-down usually reserved for violent felons.
As you could imagine, the Finnish security officials made every effort to intimidate passengers throughout the process… and it works. Most people end up developing an innate fear of their government, and in many ways, I think developing a culture of fear may be the government’s ultimate aim with these sorts of programs.
If an individual has a real reason to be fearful of his government, it’s time to relocate. On a downward slide, these issues don’t tend to get better with time, they get worse. It certainly begs the question, though, what is the right thing to do?
For people who understand the system, government security officials’ Stasi scare tactics are simply empty gestures enacted by little boys playing soldier. They actually believe they are doing God’s work, and that their jobs aren’t as worthless and pathetic as the rest of us realize.
Furthermore, they have a chip on their shoulder. Deep down I believe that most of these thugs got beaten up by the playground bully every day when they were kids… now armed with a government-issued firearm and a bad case of self-righteousness, they’re taking their revenge on the world.
Consequently, they routinely push the limits of their legal authority, preying on fearful citizens who are ignorant of the law and their own rights. Most of all, they’d love nothing more than an excuse to abuse an intellectual dissenter.
In my case, when I deal with these goons I go through an intense personal debate. My instinct is to fight, argue, and question authority, but generally this only attracts unwanted attention and additional scrutiny.
My goal is to fly under the radar, not end up on some revolutionary watch list… so generally I comply with the procedures and take action later– in this case, I doubt I will ever fly through Finland ever again.
(If I happened to be detained for secondary screening, though, this is where the gloves come off…)
The polar opposite of the ‘compliance strategy’ would be this guy, who has become a bit famous for his opposition to Homeland Security checkpoints in the United States. “Am I being detained? Am I free to leave?”
His very visible loathing and disrespect for the DHS’s pretend authority is admirable, though in all fairness I’d like to see him pull that off at an airport.
I’m really curious what you think– what is the right thing to do? Comply, and get it over with quickly? Or dissent in the face of authority, challenging them at their own game?