An interesting discussion with some PS members about Finnish identity

by , under Enrique

I had an interesting discussion on Saturday with a Perussuomalaiset (PS) candidate for Mikkeli city council. The woman, who claimed that her mother is Russian, stressed that the PS strives to look after everyone’s interests in Finland, including that of immigrants. 

Good news.

Even if such views are hard to find in the PS, they do exist. Migrant Tales wrote in November about Jukka Kotimäki, a PS secretary of Siilimäki near Kuopio, who said that he doesn’t want racists in the party.

Others that have voiced objections to the PS’ hardline racists is MP Pirkko Mattila.

These faint voices within the PS are a positive sign and should be applauded. Even so, they are steamrolled by the party’s inflexible Counterjihadists, populist radical right members and shameless racists.

The discussion I had with another member of the local PS party on Saturday revealed the central issue concerning the problematic view the party has of immigrants and visible minorities.

”You speak Finnish well,” the PS member said.

“But I am Finnish.”

After telling him my family history in two seconds, he stated that I’m ”half” Finnish.

”I’m not half of anything,” I responded. ”I’m Finnish.”

I continued: “There are many types of Finns these days:  Muslims, blacks, browns, Catholics.”

The discussion came to an abrupt halt.

Why do some Finns still believe that one has to be white to be Finnish? It’s incredible that a country that saw 1.2 million people emigrate between 1860 and 1999 and whose population is becoming more culturally diverse still claims that one must be white and speak the langauge perfectly to be accepted as a “full” Finn.

Is this what is taught at our schools? Is it what a model Nordic welfare society teaches and reinforces: You don’t fit the ethnic bill if you aren’t white enough?

The good news is that our view of ourselves as a group will change radically during this century.

 

 

  1. eyeopener

    You describe wonderfully how “closed minds” picture their world and demonstrate the perception of “reality”.

    Ethnics is a broad concept, however for many people it means “people like us”. A better or wider definition doesn’t exist for these persons including your PS member. Narrow-mindness is too good a compliment for these people

    It is funny when I think about it: “how many shades of white exist”. And what shade of white makes a Finn a Finn?

    Some doctoral thesis??

  2. honrigue

    Genetically speaking, ethnic Finns are very unique in Europe. Check for example the 1000 genomes project for reference. Of course, Finland is a country made up of many ethnicities. For example, along with the ethnic Finns, also Saami have inhabited these lands for thousands of years. Later, also other groups, like the Finnish romani and Fenno-Swedes, have arrived here. Now there’s another migration wave going, and I suppose collectively the newcomers and their progeny could be called uussuomalaiset. Nonetheless, first and foremost, “Finn” refers to an ethnic Finn, a person who descends from people that have inhabited this corner of the world for thousands of years. In this sense, you’re not a Finn Enrique. It’s your nationality, but not your ethnicity.

  3. JusticeDemon

    ”You speak Finnish well,” the PS member said.

    WOW! A genuine Snoopy moment!

    ”You are sober enough to tell,” I replied.

    ”You shaved this morning,” I replied.

    ”Your tie matches your shirt,” I replied.

    ”Your beer gut doesn’t hang over your belt,” I replied.

  4. JM

    “Why do some Finns still believe that one has to be white to be Finnish?”

    Because that’s what it historically meant to be Finnish-spoken as a broad generalization. I doubt we will see a “mosaic” of sorts emerge in Finland for people of immigrant background (like in the UK were people are classified as “White British,” “Black British” etc). I see more of a “melting pot” scenario were people will just be considered “Finns” or “non-Finns” this is not my opinion but more an observation based on situations unfolding in certain European countries with a much higher immigrant/origin population than Finland like Sweden or Germany or the Netherlands. If you are born abroad you tend not to be excepted as “a local” and this situation isn’t unique to Finland but it found anywhere you go in the world. Having lived in British Columbia and later moving to Ontario, I wasn’t considered an “Ontarian” by local Ontarians I was called “The British Columbian.” As a another generalization if you are born in a location, speak the language fluently and have at least one parent who had been born in the same location you will have a much easier time being accepted as a “local” by the locals there.

    On a related note, it is interesting that because of historic and demographic contexts it’s much easier to be accepted by a certain label in one country than another. For example, you don’t even have to go any further than a simple unscholarly place like wikipedia to see they define a Canadian as “the people who are identified with the country of Canada” while a Finn is “a native or inhabitant of Finland but is also used to refer to the ethnic group historically associated with Finland or Fennoscandia, and they are only used in that sense here.”

    As you can see, it becomes much easier for an immigrant or someone of immigrant origin to be accepted as a Canadian versus a Finn. This comes as no surprise when you look at the histories of each respective country and see that over 90% of Canadians are descended from people who have immigrated to the country in the last 400 years (from literally around the entire world) while over 90% of Finns (around 95% to be exact) are descended from three distinct cultrally peoples who have inhabited the area of Finland for thousands of years (the Finns, Sami and Finland Swedes).

    Of course, immigrants have arrived to the continent of Europe over centuries and have been assimilated, the only exceptions to the rule I can think of are the Tatars, Jews and Romani people. But if you look at a country like Hungary, historically you had an immigrant group of Turkic origins called the Kabars who settled in Hungary and later the Jassics, an Iranian people who settled in Hungary during the 13th century, over the centuries both of these two immigrant groups integrated into the mainstream culture and you won’t find many people in Hungary today identifying themselves distinctly as “Kabar” or “Jassic” rather than Hungarian. Over time this is what we will see happen to the large immigrant descended populations that have arrived in Europe over the last century (the only possible exceptions being the UK and France), there won’t be a “takeover” of European countries by immigrants as many right wing groups claim (they particularly like to refer to Muslims in this manner) simply because the current immigration wave to Europe will naturally slow over time just like it slowed to say, South America during the latter half of the 20th century vs. the first half or the late 19th century.

    I remember reading somewhere not too long ago that a first generation or an immigrant may be able to speak their adoptive language fluently but they will always identify with the language of their place of origin more comfortably. Second generation is bilingual and third generation has integrated into the mainstream culture so much that they may not even speak the language of their grandparents, though this is not universal I found it to hold true in many cases.

  5. Mark

    JM

    Imagine how your argument would look without these national labels for different peoples?

    Of course, humans have arrived to the continent of Europe over centuries and have been assimilated, the only exceptions to the rule I can think of are humans, humans and more humans. But if you look at a country like the Country, historically you had an immigrant group of human origins called the Humans who settled in the Country and later the Humans, a Human people who settled in the Country during the 13th century, over the centuries both of these two human groups integrated into the mainstream human culture and you won’t find many people in the Country today identifying themselves distinctly as “Human” or “Human” rather than human.

    Don’t you think such an exercise makes a mockery of national identities and their arbitrary way of separating and dividing people?

    And don’t give me that about languages and all that nonsense – a language is a language is a language. The differences invariably come down to different sounds, different colours, different shapes of cloth, and different local foodstuffs.

    Oh, and that most unique of things, ‘different histories’, which is another way of saying, the story of how a nation happened upon its particular preferences for a particular sound, colour, and shape.

    It’s pathetic to be honest. Time the human race grew up!

  6. Mark

    JM

    I was really struck by your detailed reply, JM, and your obvious desire to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s when it comes to the various clubs that people invent for themselves and for which membership becomes exclusive, not merely in a legal sense, but in a cultural sense, and in the sense especially of ‘acceptance’.

    It’s total hogwash really. Trying to argue that human beings are intrinsically different on the basis of national characteristics is a bit like arguing that Tuesday and Wednesday are intrinsically different kinds of ‘day’. Yes, they have different names, but the names are arbitrary and invented.

    Likewise, for all that Finns feel an affinity with Finland, I’m pretty darn certain that the birds and trees in Finland do not know they are ‘Finnish’. Neither is it important for them to know. Let this be a lesson, as we are but one species among many.

    Linking to genetics is just a convenient way to try to give this ‘nationalist’ crap slightly more credence: it scours the endless spectrum of genetic diversity in the hope that eventually that diversity somehow disappears and ‘homogeneity’ spontaneously emerges in the shape of a single gene that somehow relates a ‘small’ group of people. The truth is, when a unique gene is held up as tying a national group of people together, the reality is that millions of other genes in those people show tremendous diversity. In other words, nationalities and national groupings are not the equivalent of ‘genetic clones’, though this is often implied. Polymorphism in genetics is the norm. Diversity is the norm.

    It’s a bit like finding that all prayers end in Amen, and so they are somehow related and ‘the same’, when in fact, all the other content of ‘prayers’ can be extremely diverse. You cannot take less than 0,000001 of a genotype that is the same and then claim that there is ‘homogeneity’ in that gene pool. Yet this is exactly what seems to happen when nationalism meets genetics.

    But hey, I’m waiting for you to convince me that Tuesday is intrinsically different to Wednesday and that Finns are intrinsically different to Afghans.

  7. JM

    “It’s total hogwash really. Trying to argue that human beings are intrinsically different on the basis of national characteristics is a bit like arguing that Tuesday and Wednesday are intrinsically different kinds of ‘day’. Yes, they have different names, but the names are arbitrary and invented.”

    I don’t know if I agree with this specific example, that is comparing humans to an arbitrary calendar system but I do agree with your point.

    “Linking to genetics is just a convenient way to try to give this ‘nationalist’ crap slightly more credence”

    The irony of this statement is that you can actually use genetics against nationalism. For instance, Northwestern Russians, that is Russians from the Pskov, Vologda, Novgorod and Arkhangelsk regions are actually genetically in essentially the same family as the Baltic Peoples (Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians), despite the fact that they belong to three different linguistic and cultural identities (Finno-Ugric, Baltic and Slavic) yet the average Russian will think of themselves as a “Slav” and claim more affinity to a Serb or a Bulgarian because they are “fellow Slavs” than they will to for example an Estonian even though they have much more in common genetically with an Estonian than they do with a Serb or Bulgarian.

    Likewise genetic studies show that Russians, Belarusians, Poles and Ukrainians are all basically the same people, in other words the genetic variation between them is so small that it is in effect, irrelevant. Yes there has been historical animosity (continuing to this day) between some or all of the peoples I’d mentioned because some people choose to focus on what makes them different rather than what makes them the same.

    Much of my earlier ramblings (you’ll notice I sometimes enjoy making the occasional long-winded ramble on here without really much of a thesis) wasn’t really my opinion, it was more observation than anything else. If you want my opinion it’s basically this:

    I think it’s much more beneficial for Finns, regardless of immigrant background to view themselves as “Finns” and as ethnic Finns to except these Finns as “Finns” rather than as some arbitrary Americanesque labels (like “White Finnish” or “Black Finnish” or “Russian Finnish” or whatever) simply because it promotes unity. When the population starts identifying themselves White Finns or Black Finns or Muslim Finns or anything else it just promotes discord, better to just be a “Finn.”

    • Mark

      JM

      I don’t know if I agree with this specific example, that is comparing humans to an arbitrary calendar system

      Not sure you’ve got the right end of the stick, here mate! I’m not comparing ‘humans’ to the calendar system, but the very notion of ‘national identities’. Someone once said that all you need to have a nation is a flag, an anthem and a military uniform! Perceptive, don’t you think? 🙂

      The irony of this statement is that you can actually use genetics against nationalism.

      I think you mean ‘the irony of this argument’. Your point about genetic families crossing cultural and language boundaries is well made though. Yet even ‘genetic’ families must not be viewed as somehow even more ‘essential’ families, as the similarities often relate to very small portions of the human genome.

      Likewise genetic studies show that Russians, Belarusians, Poles and Ukrainians are all basically the same people.

      You really should try to get past this. We are all essentially ‘the same people’, with an enormous amount of diversity within and between groups, and yet a surprising, or not so surprising, amount of things in common. The key is celebrating the different flavours while recognising the common foundation of all peoples and even values. This isn’t blinding oneself to cultural conflict, but rather anticipating the very things that generally create that conflict, the sense that the ‘other’ is somehow intrinsically different, and ‘not of our family’. That’s the beginning of the end, right there.

      it was more observation than anything else.

      Fair enough. Likewise, my response wasn’t a criticism directed specifically at you, though I do think that perhaps with your warm grasp of all these national differentiations, you might be tempted into thinking that they actually constitute anything more than the historical descriptions that they are, something essential.

      When the population starts identifying themselves White Finns or Black Finns or Muslim Finns or anything else it just promotes discord, better to just be a “Finn.”

      I think this is a good point. It seems to pass an awful lot of observers or commentators on immigration by that the essential benefit of tolerance and respect is social cohesion and better security.

      Cleaving large groups of people on the basis of arbitrary national or ethnic characteristics has been one of mankind’s greatest and most oft-repeated fuck ups! I’m reminded of the classic tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, which embodies the very essence of this fuck up in a way even a child can grasp. And yet here we are once again in Europe talking about the rise of militant nationalism.

  8. eyeopener

    Hi JM.

    What’s the problem with being divers? Unity is boring. Literature is full of examples that unity ´means actually “death” or at least “renegation”.

    Isn’t it a wonderful excercise to stress you mind to find out why people are different instead of enjoying “sloppiness of mind” but comfort of “I know ir all”??

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