Cold war winds still chill Finland's ongoing debate on racism and social exclusion

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

The anger and surprise that Gerry Brownlee has stirred up in this country sheds light why debating an issue like discriminaiton is so diffeicult to accept by some Finns. The  New Zealand minister sharply criticised Finland last week in an address in parliament. Is our anger due to our low self-esteem or to the cold war, when censorship and self-censorship were pretty much the rule?

The first story that I published about Finnish-Soviet relations was for Spain’s leading newsmagazine, Cambio16, in the mid-1980s. The story was about how Bibles were smuggled to the former Soviet Uinon from Finland.

It didn’t take long for a Finnish foreign ministry official to express her dislike for what I wrote. Another embassy official in Madrid, whom I knew, was very straightforward: “If you continue writing those kind of stories you will be blacklisted by the foreign ministry,” she said.

During the end of the 1980s, the foreign ministry spent hundreds of thousands of Finnishmarks inviting foreign journalists to Finland. This was done through Finnfacts. I never knew what Finnfacts’ real role was back then except that its employees toured, wined and dined many of the foreign journalists that came to  Finland.

How much objectivity can you expect from a newspaper if the foreign ministry pays the reporters his plane ticket, lodging and stay in Finland? When I worked for BridgeNews in 1998-2001, we weren’t allowed to accept any gift that was worth over $25.

Some names that come to mind from that period are Matti Kohva, head of Finnfacts, Ralf Friberg, Lasse Lehtinen and Pekka Karhuvaara of the foreign ministry. It sounds incredible but back in those days these officials watched over what foreign journalists wrote like white on rice. They made sure that they followed the official foreign policy line, which did not recognize cold war terms such as Finlandization.

One lunch date I had at the Savoy Restaurant in Helsinki, Friberg asked me to my surprsie that I should get in touch with him if I wrote about Finnish-Soviet relations. At the time I worked for the London Financial Times. Considering that Friberg could make such a suggestion, showed how far the foreign ministry would go to get its point across.

Not only did the foreign ministry watch closely what was written in the foreign media, but they exerted the same influence over the local media. If you do not agree, read the editorials when Soviet forces overran Czechoslovakia in 1968. All the evidence is sitting under our noses.

It goes without saying that the foreign ministry and Finnfacts decalred war on me for exposing what Friberg suggested. They did every thing possible to blackwash me.

Fortunately, I found work abroad in Argentina, Colombia, Spain and Italy as a foreign correspondent and burueau chief. My journalistic career reached new heights thanks to the opportunity I got to work for the big newspaper leagues outside of Finland.

My point is the following: The same mistrust that existed in official circles of foreign correspondents and their utter rejection of anyone who dared question Finnish-Soviet relations at the time is happening today when debating racism and social exclusion. In other words, who are you to tell us we’re wrong?

If you agree it explains a lot of things. For one it reveals why there are so few immigrants and Finns with international backgrounds taking part in the ongoing debate.

Certainly, like during the cold war, you can write and debate these issues today as long as you don’t stray too far from the official or general view of things.

  1. D4R

    I think mr brownly only said what is true, There is much alcoholism and murders in Finland not to mention high unemployment rate, inequality, racism and so on. I agree with mr brownlee, Finns shoudnt be so sensitive about the issue, what they need to do is look in the mirror and see they faults and errors, get rid of the superiority complex that, they’re the center of the world.

  2. Seppo

    “I think we need to understand a few things about Finland. It’s unbelievable isn’t it, that you’d … make a speech saying, ‘I want New Zealand to be like Finland,’ which has worse unemployment than us, can hardly feed the people who live there, has a terrible homicide rate, hardly educates their people and has no respect for women.”

    D4R, are you seriously saying that this is true?

    Unemployment and homicide rate might be slightly higher than in New Zealand but both are lower than in Wester countries on average. It is actually even surprising how low the unemployment rate is considering the recent economic crisis and euro-troubles. When it comes to education, Finland is one of the best countries in the world, according to PISA the best. Women got the right to vote first in Europe, we have had a female president and prime minister and otherwise women have for a long time been visible and active in public life.

    You claiming that this is true says a lot about you.

    I only agree with the fact that Finns shouldn’t be so sensitive about foreigners criticising them. I for one have a good self-esteem and I have no trouble admitting that even though this is a fantastic country to live in, there are things to improve. (check the good ironic column by Virpi Salmi: http://www.hs.fi/kotimaa/%C3%84l%C3%A4+hauku+Suomea+ulkomaalainen/a1305558596908)

    There should of course be a difference between constructive criticism and bashing for no reason without even knowing what you’re talking about (like Brownlee).

    But why do Finns react like that? Enrique says: “Is our anger due to our low self-esteem or to the cold war?” D4R says: “get rid of the superiority complex”.

    Completely opposite analysis of the same phenomenon. I would say that Finns have had and still to some extent have a low national self-esteem and that’s why we’ve had trouble facing any criticism. This is getting better though: Finns have started to understand that they’ve build a great society and don’t have to be ashamed of it. Then, for some people, this increased self esteem has gone too far and they’ve started thinking that Finland can do everything on its own, that we don’t even need those foreigners for anything.

    As for Brownlee, I think and I hope most Finns took it like myself – a stupid and inaccurate but harmless joke.

    • Migrant Tales

      –I would say that Finns have had and still to some extent have a low national self-esteem and that’s why we’ve had trouble facing any criticism.

      This may be the case. But if we look on the bright side of things, matters are getting better as you said. Being able to debate openly (without feeling hurt) about our history and present situation will make us stronger, not weaker. We debate these matters because Finland is our home.

      When we don’t prefer to speak openly about our cold war or Urho Kekkonen presidential era we do two things: (1) feed our low self-esteem by not rallying enough courage to question some things that went on; (2) leave the debate to more dangerous groups like the PS that want to “debate” matters in an autocratic fashion.

      Some of what Brownlee said is not only inaccurate but a “harmless joke” that enters one ear and exists the other. I’ve heard it so many times in so many countries: What will they saw about us now?

  3. D4R

    Dear Seppo, what do you have to say about the Finns who come here and constantly attack my Somali people and label them of something they are not huh? why arent you condemning them? im glad that some Finns taste their own medicine of how does it feel to throw dirt at their face. You’re mad about my comment, so am i, about the comments your fellow Finnish brethren do about us.

  4. Mark

    Brownlee is a political twit – i.e. banging the drum for his party and thinking that he could take a cheap shot at the opposing party by bashing on Finland.

    But really, his comments were quite pathetic, and probably should be taken with a big slice of hyperbole. I wouldn’t say they feed into any kind of stereotype about Finland, either. Sounds like he picked up on a couple of things in Nationmaster or the CIA Factbook. What on earth was he talking about with the ‘education’ thing? 😀

    Seppo

    Women got the right to vote first in Europe, we have had a female president and prime minister and otherwise women have for a long time been visible and active in public life.

    This getting the right to vote thing is wheeled out a little too often to be convincing in today’s day and age. It’s over 100 years since that milestone, and the question really should be where are we nowadays. Even a female president and prime minister is not that unusual these days in terms of equality, and reflects general strides throughout the western world in the public sector – but what about the private sector, as this is also a very important benchmark for the progress towards gender equality?

    Women work in those sectors that generally are generally valued less than other sectors, while they are proportionally more likely to be in part-time work or short-term contracts. Sometimes part-time work reflects their greater childcare burdens, but then you have to ask why should women shoulder that responsibility almost entirely? Likewise, the insecurity of short-term contracts has a significant affect on work-based well-being, again meaning that women are carrying a larger burden in terms of employment insecurity.

    The pay gap between men and women in Finland is 20%, which is above the OECD average. Again, this is down to the public/private sector split, with many women finding flexible employment mostly in the public sector, but this also comes with lower salaries.

    Less than one in ten company CEOs in Finland are women, and less than a quarter of board members are women.

    However, if you start comparing Finland with other countries, we can of course sit on our laurels until the cows come home on gender equality! But that really doesn’t say much, or perhaps it does!

  5. Mark

    D4R

    I’m glad that some Finns taste their own medicine of how does it feel to throw dirt at their face.

    I had you down as being above that kind of slanging match. Been learning a bit from eyeopener 😉 One resident ‘attack poodle’ is probably enough, though. Seppo hasn’t been throwing the dirt at Somalis from what I remember. He’s a sensible enough guy, one of the few skeptics on the blog that tries to debate in a civilised way. Give him some slack, mate.

  6. D4R

    MarkI: had you down as being above that kind of slanging match. Been learning a bit from eyeopener One resident ‘attack poodle’ is probably enough, though. Seppo hasn’t been throwing the dirt at Somalis from what I remember. He’s a sensible enough guy, one of the few skeptics on the blog that tries to debate in a civilised way. Give him some slack, mate.

    You’re right i got over board abit, my bad Seppo it wsnt meant to you and all Finns, i was merely directing at those who come hear and slack on us, it just gets me mad but im cool now.

  7. justicedemon

    Subject to obvious statistical disclaimers in such comparisons, Finland has the highest intentional homicide rate in EU15 and the third highest in EU25 (after Estonia and Latvia). New Zealand isn’t far behind, though.

    Obviously we must all respect Gerry Brownlee’s freedom of speech and give plenty of publicity to his views on Finland and the Finns. After all, these views are every bit as accurate, cogent and well researched as the views of many of our epähikke contributors here on foreigners and their countries of origin.

    There are only about 1,000 Finnish immigrants living in Thailand, making them roughly 0.0015 per cent of the total population. This tiny immigrant community commits nearly 20 per cent of child rapes that come to the attention of the police. It follows that a Finnish immigrant is more than ten thousand times more likely to rape a child than the average Thai in Thailand. Why is this statistical fact not more widely discussed? If electronic tagging of all Finnish immigrants in Thailand saves even one child from rape, then this is a small price to pay.

    Hasn’t Sauli Niinistö spent some time in Thailand?

  8. Mark

    D4R

    You’re right i got over board abit, my bad Seppo it wsnt meant to you and all Finns, i was merely directing at those who come hear and slack on us, it just gets me mad but im cool now.

    If I was getting some of the shit that’s being thrown at you, I would be spitting at the mouth at times too. 🙂

  9. Mark

    JD

    Obviously we must all respect Gerry Brownlee’s freedom of speech and give plenty of publicity to his views on Finland and the Finns. After all, these views are every bit as accurate, cogent and well researched as the views of many of our epähikke contributors here on foreigners and their countries of origin.

    Now that’s a line of argument I like!!!! 😀

  10. Seppo

    D4R

    “You’re mad about my comment, so am i about the comments your fellow Finnish brethren do about us.”

    I understand you. But do not think even for a second that I would consider those people spreading racist stereotypes my “fellow Finnish brethren”. I have about as much in common with them as you have.

    Besides, and now I’m not talking about myself, making such comments like you did earlier in this post will not get you more sympathy, quite the opposite.

    Mark

    “This getting the right to vote thing is wheeled out a little too often to be convincing in today’s day and age. It’s over 100 years since that milestone, and the question really should be where are we nowadays.”

    You’re right about this and everything else. Finland got a good start in terms of gender equality but we still have a long way to go. I just wanted in a quick manner to prove wrong the statement that we “have no respect for women”.

  11. Native Finnish Woman

    I think Finland has for a long time had the fortune of having very hard-working, level-headed and capable women. In general, I mean. My layman’s assessment is that that doesn’t easily happen in societies where women are put in “golden cages”, i.e. not really allowed to take part and responsibility in building a better existence for themselves and their families. But in Finland they have been able to, in important ways. So in that sense at least Finnish culture has had respect for women and women have had remarkable respect for themsleves. I hope we post-agricultural women don’t put our ancestors to shame.

    • Migrant Tales

      Native Finnish Woman, the more rights our society gives women the more rights and greater acceptance will befall on other groups. The more rights you take away the less rights others will have. I am happy that women are still fighting for greater rights in Finland.

  12. Klay_Immigrant

    It’s a shame that even the things Finland does well in, people including Finns themselves are still willing to put it down on for that very aspect and give an impression that it is no better than some random third world country.

    According to the ‘Global Gender Gap Report’ published by the World Economic Forum, Finland ranks in 2011 as the 3rd best country for gender equality. In 2009 it was 2nd best and since first publication in 2006 Finland has never been worse than 4th. Obviously Females aren’t completely level with men yet but find me a country where that happens as it doesn’t exist.

    D4R with your attitude towards Finland it’s no wonder that you are struggling. I mean to claim what Gerry Brownlee has said about Finland to be true shows how far from reality your paranoia has taken you. I bet you wouldn’t even say those things about your homeland Somalia where people are literally starving to death with famine, a large proportion of people have no access to education at any level, and the notion of a women having a job is completely alien. Shame on you and you expect sympathy from Finns. Don’t make me laugh. Then you wonder why Finns give your people a reputation, they save you from your war stricken paradise and this is the gratitude you show. You got a lot to learn.

    There’s a saying you might have heard ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you’.

    • Migrant Tales

      –There’s a saying you might have heard ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you’.

      Migrant Tales has the following saying: Do bite the hand that oppresses you.

  13. Native Finnish Woman

    Earlier I said “I hope we post-agricultural women don’t put our ancestors to shame.” Haha, oh my, English fail. I meant that I hope we post-agricultural women don’t shame our ancestors :).

  14. Mark

    In 2009 it was 2nd best and since first publication in 2006 Finland has never been worse than 4th. Obviously Females aren’t completely level with men yet but find me a country where that happens as it doesn’t exist.

    The thought the idea of equality was not to be the best of a bad bunch, but to achieve equality.

    Many of the things that I mentioned can and should be changed. Some of them involve men making more commitment to family life and also society providing a proper incentive and opportunity for that. That doesn’t yet exist. Family leaves are weighted heavily to suit the higher wage earner staying at work, which we know is invariably the man. While such a wage disparity exists, then there will be little progress on the parental leave issue.

    In terms of private sector entrepreneurship, we know that companies led by women tend to be that little bit more successful, perhaps because women managers have to prove themselves so much more, perhaps because they are better communicators in general.

    Then there is the issue of domestic violence. This is another one that brings out waves of denial, but it’s a simple fact that 40% of women in Finland have experienced violence or the threat of violence from a man. That’s a disgusting statistic, and while it remains anywhere near that level, then the successes of ‘equality’ in Finland are something of a hollow triumph.

    Another issue, for example, is older women being abused, mostly by their male partners, even in old age. Recent research led by Finland showed that there is a huge silence about this issue, even though it is relatively common, with 28% of women saying they were abused in the previous 12 months. Women are silent about it, men are silent about it. Society is silent about it.

    So, when we start heralding the successes of Finland, if we are honest about it, and not simply blowing our own trumpet, we would seriously be asking, what else can we do?

  15. Mark

    Klay

    Then you wonder why Finns give your people a reputation, they save you from your war stricken paradise and this is the gratitude you show. You got a lot to learn.

    I think it is you who has a lot to learn Klay. Maybe if you were shown this comment in 20 or 30 years, you might see it differently.

    Expecting ‘gratitude’ from immigrants is childish in the extreme. Especially expecting gratitude when this group of people are constantly portrayed, as this blog testifies too, as rapists and violent criminals, whingers and whiners, lazy, good-for-nothing welfare shoppers. Gratitude? ….

    You don’t want immigrants to be welfare shoppers or charity cases, and yet you constantly demand that they take EXACTLY this position, grateful for Finland’s charity in giving them a home.

    Maybe you will start to treat all people with dignity and respect. Who knows what you will discover. Maybe you’ll come in contact with the Somali Diaspora here in Finland and elsewhere that are working hard with those still there to build societal institutions that will take Somali forward, out of conflict, and into a new era of stability, security, where health and education become the norm.

    But hey, you just listen to the headlines talking about people starving to death and extremists and don’t worry your pretty little head thinking about anything else that could possible challenge your superior attitude.

  16. Allan

    Ah, the honorable colleague in Kiwiland didn’t “criticize” Finland. Just like any other foreigner , he authoritatively spoke about things he knew nothing about. So what weight should we give this “criticism” ? Just like any other brainfarts, ridicule it. Enbuskes try was a lame attempt though. Finns could do better. Though, the pissing contest – the Kiwis replied to Enbuskevwith their pisstake on the Finns, will get “info blasts” in both counries which is in the end a good thing.

    What comes to Enriques exploits in Kekkoslovakia, we did in fact have to walk the tightrope and had a law in place threatening with prison anybody “jeopardising relations with a friendly nation”… And everyone ( the Finns) knew what “the” “friendly nation” was. Unlike Enrique who rode on two horses, not all Finns were able or willing to leave their native land, “realpolitik” was not to annoy the “friendly nation”.

    I wonder why Enrique opposes the PS so much, in the 80’s only hommaforum would have published his bible-smuggling articles.

  17. Allan

    Mark, I think you are mixing “immigrants” with ” refugees”.

    Refugees get quite a lot from the society, an the ” thanks” we get is crime an demands. Doesn’t exactly make an endearing immigrant.

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