In many respects, Europe looks like a region that is running scared with a notable part of its population seeking to support populist, anti-immigration and even neo-Nazi parties that offer no credible solutions to issues like rising unemployment, poverty and estrangement from our political institutions.
If students from a small town in Eastern Finland did a poster advertising Finland, what push and pull factors would they highlight for migrants?
In Finland, some politicians are learning slowly but surely that it’s a very bad idea to flirt with these right-wing populist parties like the Perussuomalaiset (PS) that are anti-EU, anti-immigration, homophobic and especially anti-Islam.
In many respects, those right-wing populist political forces they flirted with not only paved the way for a new political landscape in Finland after 2011, but marked their eventual political demise. A case in point is former Social Democrat party chairman Jutta Urpilainen, who flirted with the PS in 2010 with her infamous maassa maan tavalla statement, or in Rome do as the Romans do.
Taking into account the avalanche of bigotry at the time especially after 2008 thanks to the PS and many of its politicians like Jussi Halla-aho, James Hirvisaari and others, Urpilainen’s quote was seen as offensive to migrants living in this country. Instead of promoting Social Democratic values like social equality and inclusion, Urpilainen’s statement singled out and victimized non-ethnic Finns.
Another politician the PS should thank for helping them become one of Finland’s four largest parties is National Coalition Party Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, who said before the 2011 parliamentary elections that “debating immigrant issues in this country doesn’t mean you’re racist.”
If politicians like Katainen or Urpilainen think it was fair game to victimize migrants, is it then ok to be a bigot, sexist or homophobic in Finland? Shouldn’t human rights, Nordic welfare state values like social equality, non-discrimination be defended by politicians? Why do they give with their silence and lack of leadership the green light to others to bully migrants and minorities?
A part of the answer to the latter question lies in the fact that migrants and minorities are vulnerable and easy targets with little power in their respective countries. Anti-immigration politicians get their inspiration from apathetic migrants and the mood swings of society that they help create.
The same mistake that the Social Democrats and National Coalition Party committed in 2010 is happening in other parts of Europe like in the United Kingdom. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has become more anti-immigration and anti-EU in order to appease UKIP. He has helped the anti-EU, anti-immigration, homophobic and especially anti-Islam party to grow into a formidable political force that is now threatening his party in the Euro elections.
This video clip UKIP’s Farage when effectively cross-examined by James O’Brien on LBC. Finnish journalists could learn a lot from this interview.
What have we learned from the UKIP and PS cases? One important lesson is not to suck up to the arguments of populist parties that aim to polarize society. Instead of parroting their intolerance, politicians should take part in an open debate with them and expose them for what they are: a sham.
Politicians should answer simple questions like why are racism and prejudice hazardous to society?
One of the examples they could give is the stereotype that women don’t excel in math. How do you think a woman feels as a minority in an advanced math class with other males? Consider the pressure and stress she has to face daily to prove that she’s just as good, if not even better at math, than her male classmates. Think of the power and potential that would be released from that woman if she weren’t a target of prejudice.
Rubén Blades is a famous salsa singer from Panama, who said in one of his songs, Siembra (harvest), that Latin Americans everywhere shouldn’t allow their conscience to die and be careful with the seed they plant because the fruits they’ll harvest depend on that seed.
In the song, Blades states that the seed that needs to be planted are those of affection and humility. They are the ones that will give hope to future generations.
But with the rise of right-wing populist, anti-immigration and even far-right parties in Europe today, what kind of seed are we planting and what will be its fruits?