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Leif Salmén

Leif Henry Salmén
Born January 19, 1952, Helsinki

Studies in the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Social Sciences (Philosophy major) 1971–6, University of Helsinki

Political reporter at FBC TV1’s news desk 1984–1989
Political reporter at TV-Nytt 1978–1984
Reporter at FBC’s Swedish language current affairs programme 1976–1978
Reporter at Suomen Tietotoimisto news agency 1973–1975

Eino Leino Prize 2013
Tollander Prize 2009
Längmanska Cultural Foundation Prize 2006
Kivipää Award 2001
State three-year artist’s grant 1998
State scientific publication award 1985
Finnish-Swedish publishing prize 1984
Society for Swedish Literature in Finland’s Award 1979, 1984, 1987, 1991

Photo: Heini Lehväslaiho
Written by Heta Muurinen (Tero Juutilainen, ed.)
Translated by
Joe McVeigh

The best part of studying – the Main Building’s café

At the University of Helsinki, Leif Salmén found the intellectual environment which he enjoyed.

‘The start of my studies felt good and important. For me it didn’t matter what I studied, all of the humanities subjects were captivating. The university was a wonderful place to be.’

The motivation for him to study did not come from the contents of the courses, but from the perspectives.

‘The world can be explained in many different ways and from different perspectives. The historical-philosophical perspective was important to me.’

The university was only a small part of life for the busy journalist. During his time there, Salmén was working as a freelancer on the radio and later for the Suomen Tietotoimisto news agency.

‘I had a thousand irons in the flames at all times. In addition to work, I was also involved with many organisations, including student ones.’

The political activity in the 1970s, especially among the students, showed the congestion in the university.

‘The university was full of people. There were 500 people in the basic courses. I was in a fortunate position because I was a philosophy major and there were less students in there. It was intimate and comfortable.’

Salmén himself was a Marxist. He soon broke away from the Marxist philosophy, but the in the basis of his political activities he supported the ideas a bit longer. How can Marxism and academic studies in philosophy at the university fit together?

‘Marxism and logical empiricism are not easily merged, but a person considers the world from many different angles depending on the situation. You might think that would have been tough to internalise these conflicting ways of thinking, but the contradiction was rather fruitful. I ended up looking at the world from many different sides. I was able to digest the two ways of solving problems.’

His academic philosophy began in the basic courses on logic. He gradually progressed in logic, but the content was quite technical.

‘The studies were based on a thousand years’ worth of understanding what philosophy is and what it can be. Values were discussed and researched, but the studies and the discussions related to them were however made in a framework programme with a well-established technical nature.’

Salmén’s seminar work was based Karl Popper, who rejected Marxism and believed in democratic liberalism, and whose work is ‘profoundly political’.

The best part about studying for Salmén was, however, the café in the main building. Coffee was cheap and the conversations were good. Teachers were also there. Salmén did not graduate because he experienced the studies he desired before he had to write his Master’s thesis.

‘The university was the springboard. After that I have studies the same things on my own.’

The Main Building café of the University of Helsinki in April 2015. Photo: Mika Federley.​​
The Main Building café of the University of Helsinki in April 2015. Photo: Mika Federley.​​


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