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Finland's Eurovision Finalists Sing About Discrimination Against the Intellectually Disabled — From Experience

Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät playing at Helsinki Punk Fest Vol 3. 14/1/2011. Photo by Flickr user Tomi Tirkkonen. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät playing at Helsinki Punk Fest Vol 3. 14/1/2011. Photo by Flickr user Tomi Tirkkonen. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This article and radio report by Rae Ellen Bichell for The World originally appeared on PRI.org on March 3, 2015, and is republished as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Gladiators in leather loincloths, a techno-opera singer dressed like Marie Antoinette en route to a nightclub, blond men in turbans dancing to Bhangra music. These were just some of the acts competing on Saturday to represent Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest.

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“It’s a little like Miss Universe only instead of sending a girl, every country sends a song,” says John O’Connor, who has written a few books about the contest, now in its 60th year.

Some 180 million viewers tune in each year to watch the parade of flamboyance that is Eurovision. Last year’s winner was Conchita Wurst, a diva from Austria with a full beard.

Among a field of oddballs in last weekend’s Finland finals, one group managed to stand out: Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, or “PKN” for short. They’re punk rockers.

While their competitors adjusted togas and fluffed weaves into place, the four middle-aged men in PKN just sat backstage. One fiddled with his jacket while making a hissing sound. 

“We’re mentally handicapped,” says Sami Helle, the band's bass player. The members of PKN all have intellectual disabilities, including Down syndrome and Williams syndrome.

Kari Aalto sings and writes lyrics, which are often inspired by frustrations with daily life. Toni Välitalo has trouble talking, but he feels at ease behind the drums. And Pertti Kurikka, a guitarist who started the band, has a knack for riffs. 

The group got their start six years ago in a music workshop for adults with learning disabilities. Since then, they’ve been raging about everything from political discrimination to getting their toenails clipped, a weekly group home activity that Aalto utterly despises.

“I don't like … click click click,” Aalto says, making the sound of a toenail clipper.

Their song titles include “I Hate The World,“ “Speech Impediment” and Policymakers Betray Us.”

The group has toured Europe, and even stopped at South by Southwest in Austin last year to promote an award-winning 2012 documentary about them, “The Punk Syndrome.” Another film is in the works.

“We’re like everybody else,” says Helle. “We just do the music, what we love, and then we just do the job.”

PKN took the stage Saturday in between a pop number populated by smiley dancers and a Spartacus-themed rock song punctuated by columns of fire. When their turn came to perform “Aina Mun Pitää” (I Always Have To), there were no flashy outfits or backup dancers. 

“Well, we have fog, so that’s something,” said Helle, who wore his signature leather jacket with the name of his favorite band, Whitesnake, written across the back in black marker. The others wore leather jackets decked out with patches and metal spikes. The lead singer yelled out a minute-and-a-half tirade about having to do everyday chores like cleaning, and things he wants to do but can’t, like eating candy. They barely moved their feet.

The crazy thing is, the group won. The competition's national jury, which included a panel of musicians, taxi drivers and children, favored a boy band with a catchy tune about relationships. But call-in voters, whose collective opinion counts for 90% of the score, tipped the scales.

Some observers picked them as the favorite going into the competition, but their win caught others off-guard.

“I was just horrified,” John O'Connor says. “I thought this is possibly the worst song I have every heard in Eurovision, bar none.”

But, like a lot of the fans who called in to vote for PKN, O’Connor’s opinion changed when he heard more about their story.

“It was only later on, when I was reading all the headlines, that suddenly it all made sense. I could see why this song would have resonated with the audience,” he says, “And I could see why it won.”

PKN’s win isn’t so surprising when you look at Finland’s Eurovision track record, he adds.

“Finland has always sort of gone out on this limb,” says O’Connor. “They were the first country ever to do reggae in the contest, which they did in 1981, and it was by this white, blonde, Rod Stewart look-alike. And it was absolutely dreadful.”

The next year, the country got zero points for a song about nuclear fallout.

In a half century of competing in Eurovision, Finland achieved their one and only victory with Lordi, a hard rock and heavy metal band dressed as armored monsters. “They’ve always done this sort of dark stuff,” notes O’Connor.

Some critics say PKN won with “pity points”. But Jon Ola Sand, executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, says the group is as legitimate as any of the other performers. They’re honest punk rockers, “not trying to seduce anyone with a fancy melody or sort of fancy dance routine,” he says. “It’s really a hardcore punk song. And, of course, with their background and their situation, it’s something completely different.”

The band accepted their victory on Saturday with tears in their eyes and gold confetti stuck to their black leather jackets. Helle’s voice cracked as he and Aalto belted out “We are the champions.”

Helle says the group won't change a thing for their performance at the Eurovision semifinals in May in Vienna, except that “there could be more smoke.” 

  • Enas Perastik

    I wrote my opinion here more over i also make a logic analysis why some people play with your brains.

    www. youtube. com/watch?v=DRbFndT7Qro

    I will paste here the analysis and you figure out who is messing with your brains.

    I say to the people not to vote
    for it because it does not Help the people who have Down Syndrome and it does
    not help the people in Finland
    as well. All it does is to serve evil
    purposes. No one is stopping them doing
    their band and play their music professional but when we speak about eurovision
    we speak about a TV Broadcast that is european and shows to the europeans parts
    of the civilization of each European country thus the artists and the musicians
    of its country gather and compete as to represent their country to that
    contest.

    Observation (A)

    when you pick people who have
    Down Syndrome you insult the Healthy Artists of the County. Because you say
    that they are not as worthy as them. You
    also send a wrong message to the people that some one with Down Syndrome is
    equal to some one healthy. This is not true else it would have not been a Down
    Syndrome in other words Clinically proven that this is thus. Because if we
    accept that this is true then we should accept that in Sports and in Olympics
    we can have healthy people to compete against people with down syndrome or even
    disabilities(Specialities) which will make them to never be able to win thus
    unfair for them.

    Observation (B)

    Eurovision is not just Listening
    it has Visual Artistic competition as well thus called a SHOW. Artistic means ART not a Medical Clinical
    Observation. What Finland does (the
    ZIONISTS -GLOBALISTS) they try to manipulate the public opinion by giving them
    an Image of some people with Down Syndrome thus a Clinical Observation and not
    Something Artistic and they want to
    present this to the rest mortals as something Artistic but the truth is that
    they want to trigger the emotional part and misdirect the human brain to
    deicide not with what is right but with the feelings of the image.

    Observation (C) (Methodological Proof)

    To prove (A) and (B) i had to participate in to a dialogue
    with some one in the public thus i used my wife as one candidate and i was
    surprised by the result. My wife actually showed to me very high levels of
    intelligence. So I ask her. Did you see
    what the people in Finland
    will present for eurovision song? She
    said yes. And what did you think i ask. She aswer i think it is a very nice
    thing that people with disabilities try to compete with others with equal
    terms. I will remind you that my wife is
    from Brazil
    and she went to a Brazilian School.(P1) Yes
    i say but those people are not like the others they cant do things that the
    healthy people do. And she answers to me
    thats why it is interesting because it shows that in Finland people are equal
    no matter if they have down syndrome or not
    or disabilities. Who told you
    those things i ask? This is what they teach us to school she answers. So back to our Observation we see that in a
    Country like Brazil
    that has huge population they teach that the people with down syndrome are
    equal with all the others which is something wrong. They can be equal to the state and to its
    laws but they are not equal as Entities
    thus they cant do the same things because the person that has the Syndrome Down
    will always have a disadvantage over a healthy person. Thus this is why it needs the help of the
    state to cover that gap. So we do not
    know why in Brazil they
    speak such maybe because Brazil
    does not want to economically cover that Gap or does not want to address the
    problem. (Political Issues)

    Observation (D)

    Finland
    and the Zioninsts abuse the people with disabilities and or people with down
    syndrome in other to achieve their goals while they do not care for the those
    people in reality its all part of their evil plan to attack.

    This act that Finland did (ZIONISTS) is a direct
    Insult by the Zionists to the Greatest Civilization the world has ever seen the
    GREEK. Because Europe has come from the Greek and
    thus they want to insult it as well. In
    other words they insult the Greek Civilization as they always do and they test
    your ability to have self-consciousness to be able to see and detect that. As to me who am one of those Great people I consider
    it idd as an Insult. Because Music, Art has to do with beautiful feelings and
    to show the Greatness of our Civilization and evolution plus to trigger our
    imagination and creativity.

    By doing so and picking such a BAND with People who have
    Down Syndrome (using Finland)
    the Zionists Insult the people and make fun of them behind their back because
    it is as they tell them “LOOK YOUR EVOLUTION. WE TORTURE YOU AND YOU DO
    NOT EVEN NOTICE THAT. WE WILL EVEN WIN THAT CONTEST AND WE WILL OWN YOU ONCE
    AGAIN BECAUSE WE CAN MANIPULATE YOU”.
    It is very hard for a mortal to see that because they need to be trained. And the only one who can train them is
    me. Thats why they do that. So as i am
    the only one who can see that so and they can make fun of me and to see that i
    am alone and to make fun of you that you do not have the ability to see what
    they do to your Brains.

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