Maan tapa (Finland)

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Maan tapa 🇫🇮
Finland map.png
Location: Finland
Definition: Lit. 'custom law', a parallel system of justice for members of the elites, based on personal connections and political influence
Keywords: Finland  Scandinavia Europe EU Custom law Justice Influence Political party Elite Personal connections Favour Media Public opinion
Author: Simo Mannila
Affiliation: Department of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki and University of Turku, Finland
Website: Profile page at Researchgate

By Simo Mannila, Department of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki and University of Turku, Finland

The Finnish term maan tapa refers to a parallel legal system, the Finnish Wikipedia (2017[1]) explains that when no primary, or written, legislation is available, a secondary law of maan tapa is applied. The term can be translated as a custom law. To become a custom law, an established practice needs to be considered binding, accepted by all parties, and not be prohibited explicitly by legislation. The Finnish Parliament (2017[2]) also refers to maan tapa as custom law, but states that situations where maan tapa would constitute a source of law are very rare. In juridical literature the term dates back to the eighteenth century. It is included in the Swedish 1734 legal code, historically an important source of Finnish law (Finnish Wikipedia 2017[1]; Finnish Parliament 2009[3]).

In the Finnish vernacular, maan tapa describes a widely accepted but legally or morally questionable practice (Finnish Wikipedia 2017[1]). Thus, a strictly legal term has developed into a popular expression used by media and the general public. It came to denote the interactions within networks of dear brothers – elite connections – and forms of informal influence bordering on corruption. There have been important lawsuits, where defendants had pleaded to maan tapa but their plea was found to be in conflict with the legislation and turned down. Examples of such cases have included reprehensible links between politicians, civil servants and business e.g. failures to observe a conflict of interest in decision-making, financial scheming and lack of transparency in policy-making. In public discourse the term has become used ironically to refer to any malpractice and its original sense became rather obsolete (e.g. Mahlamäki 2017[4]).

Legally reprehensible links of maan tapa in Finland often have existed or exist in hyvä veli networks. These follow on the ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ basis. This term originates in the correspondence of old Swedish-speaking civil service, where letters typically started with ‘Dear brother’ (‘Hyvä veli’). But here, too, the connotations of the term changed in the course of history from neutral to critical and ironic ones when used in press and everyday language.

Korhonen's book on maan tapa. Source: Author. © Simo Mannila.

The change in the use of the term reflects a changing reality. The Finnish law enforcement today seems alert in identifying problematic cases of maan tapa and bringing them to court. Academic research into maan tapa is still lacking, but since its meaning is linked to informal influence and corruption, research into corruption or administrative malpractice in Finland is relevant for its understanding (e.g. Salminen 2010[5]; Salminen and Mäntysalo 2013[6]; Peurala and Muttilainen 2015[7]; hyvä veli). According to the Transparency International corruption perception index (CPI 2016[8]) Finland is a country with the lowest levels of corruption in the world, but there are concerns that corruption in Finland has a structural character (Salminen and Viinamäki 2017[9]). Therefore, to address its nature, the future research on maan tapa should include studies of relevant historical lawsuits and their normative and public argumentation, studies on the use of the term in the media, and the development of indicators such as legal lawsuits statistics or relevance of maan tapa in various contexts.

Maan tapa is the subject of Jarmo Korhonen’s book on funding of Finnish political parties (2015[10], cf. Joutsen and Keränen 2009[11]). In Finland, as well as other European countries, there is a wealth of organisations attached to political parties. Some organisations attempt to influence them, also via financial scheming. Political funding often comes also from the business sector, sometimes via intermediaries, and is aimed at specific politicians, rather than political parties. Between 2000 and 2010, electoral funding was the subject of cases of litigation in which businessmen, typically men, were accused of bribing political parties and were condemned by district courts, yet subsequently acquitted in higher courts, either partly or completely. Korhonen, the secretary of the Centre Party between 2006 and 2010, was himself involved in lawsuits related to irregularities in financing the elections. In the book spanning 776 pages, he argues that all Finnish political parties have to some extent used financial scheming. Korhonen states that ‘maan tapa describe[d] Finnish society in the 2000s’, and adds that ‘it is important for the reader to understand that the media was a part of maan tapa’ (Korhonen 2015: 7[10]). The media was implicated by selectively covering political lawsuits. While the back cover prominently linked maan tapa with corruption in Finland, Korhonen’s book did not receive any major attention and did not spur any legal action despite its detailed contents.

An interesting reference to maan tapa is a 2012 album Maan tapa[12] by Finnish rapper Paleface and his band. In the album, the term has lost both its original sense and its more common ironic meaning. It offers a broad, aggressively critical analysis of the contemporary Finnish society. The title of the album suggests that the term is widely used and its meaning is constantly changing, depending on the time period, the users and the context.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Finnish Wikipedia. 2017. ‘Maan tapa’,
  2. Finnish Parliament. 2017. Yleisistä oikeuslähteistä ja oikeudellisesta informaatiosta, ja-oikeudellisesta- informaatiosta.aspx
  3. Finnish Parliament. 2009. Lakikirjanäyttely, 1734 laki,
  4. Mahlamäki M. 2017. ‘Selvitysmies Olli Mäenpää: Ylessä on ongelmia vain Atte Jääskeläisen toimituksessa – On päässyt muodostumaan maan tavaksi että Yleen voi vaikuttaa’, Etelä-Saimaa, 15 May, 4bcc-8cee- b61ea8216238
  5. Salminen, A. (ed.) 2010. Ethical governance: A citizen perspective. Vaasa: Vaasan yliopiston, 476-328- 8.pdf
  6. Salminen A. and Mäntysalo V. 2013. Epäeettisestä tuomittavaan: korruptio ja hyvä veli –verkostot Suomessa. Vaasa: Vaasan yliopiston,
  7. Peurala J. and Muttilainen V. 2015. ‘Korruption riskikohteet 2010-luvun Suomessa’, Poliisiammattikorkeakoulun raportteja 115, Tampere: Poliisiammattikorkeakoulu
  8. Transparency International. 2016. Corruption Perception Index 2016,
  9. Salminen A. and Viinamäki O.-P. 2017. Piilokorruptio Suomessa: Mitä kansalaiset kertovat? Vaasa: Vaasan yliopiston, 476-740- 8.pdf
  10. 10.0 10.1 Korhonen, J. 2015. Maan tapa. Helsinki: Tammi
  11. Joutsen, M. and Keränen, J. 2009. Corruption and prevention of corruption in Finland. Helsinki: Ministry of Justice
  12. Paleface and Julkinen Sana. 2012. ‘Maan tapa’,