Migrant Tales insight: In part I Swedish People’s Party (SPP) MP Eva Biaudet gave her views of the challenges and threats facing Finland as it becomes ever-culturally and ethnically diverse. While many will acknowledge such challenges, Biaudet expands in the final part of this two-part series on ways to move forward. What should our society, migrants and minorities do to rise above social ills like racism and make our society more inclusive?
Swedish People’s Party (SPP) MP Eva Biaudet strongly believes that the blueprint to create a just and equal society for everyone in Finland hinges on Nordic and EU values.
I see Sweden as a good example for Finland to follow,” she explained. “They have a different view of immigration and refugees than us. I read in the headline of a Swedish business daily that [instead of speaking of a problem] it read that the country was blessed with so much incoming competence thanks to the Syrians that got asylum.”
Biaudet stated that in Sweden there is a notion that each person, irrespective of his or her background, is valuable to society.
Why does Finland lag behind Sweden in this respect?
The SPP MP blamed Finland’s lack of diversity for the negative attitude some have of immigration and refugees, which they see as a problem and not as an opportunity.
“One factor that makes us Finns different from Swedes is that we have come into less contact with foreigners than they,” she said. “Almost everyone in Sweden knows someone who’s an immigrant or a person with such a background. It’s impossible to tell from a person’s ethnic background if they are a Swede or not.”
Biaudet stated that since a person’s appearance no longer plays a role in determining whether you are a foreigner or not, it means that your former stereotypes have been undermined.
“There is racism, poverty etc. [in Sweden] but it doesn’t hinge so strongly on a person’s ethnic background,” she continued. “Your ethnic background doesn’t say anything about who you are. We have a totally different situation in Finland.”
Homogenous society myth
Biaudet said that there aren’t only myths and stereotypes about migrants in Finland but of Finns as well.
“We might look [ethnically] homogenous but we are a bilingual country and have minorities like the Roma and Saami,” she said. “We are always proud of our traditions like regional foods, which is an odd concept for a Swedish-speaking Finn like me. We stress how diverse we are regionally.”
Biaudet believes the myth that we aren’t a culturally diverse society has been detrimental to Finland.
“It’s interesting to note that we started very late as a country to [pass laws and] encourage policies that recognize for example expat rights to dual citizenship,” she said. “Since we’ve been pretty much isolated from the rest of the world [due to our geography and the Cold War] it makes it difficult for some to understand the refugee situation of Italy, Malta or Spain.”
“It’s, however, impossible for Europe and a country like ours to isolate ourselves from the world,” she added.
Finland is not the only country in the Nordic region that hasn’t seen its share of right-wing populist parties with an anti-immigration agenda. The membership of the Perussuomalaiset (PS)* party for the first time in government raises a key question: How will that party’s anti-immigration and anti-cultural diversity stand be reflected in government policy and will it strengthen public opinion for such policies?
Biaudet stated that some Swedish-speaking Finns were shocked by the 2011 election result, when the PS rose from the minor political leagues to become the third-biggest party in parliament. Some Swedish-speaking Finns asked if they were any longer welcome to live in this country.
“Even if the Swedish-speaking minority has a good situation in Finland, the same hatred that migrants feel is felt by us too,” she said. “Matters may not be as serious as what foreigners endure since we are invisible minorities in this country.“
Biaudet agrees that a shift to right-wing populism and nationalism in Finnish politics has not helped the Swedish-speaking minority.
“The feeling that you feel intimidated to speak your own language [in public] raises a lot of question marks,” she said. “[The situation of the Swedish-speaking minority] has in my opinion definitely gotten worse.”
Biaudet said that as a result of the negative atmosphere in Finland, many young people in the western Finnish region of Ostrobothnia have moved to Sweden. This is a worrying trend, according to her.
A recent story in Migrant Tales asked how can Finland’s new PS employment and justice minister, Jari Lindström, challenge high migrant unemployment and discrimination if he belongs to a party that sees migrants as a threat and problem? Moreover, if Finland’s foreign minister is a EU-skeptic like Timo Soini, what kind of a signal does it send to skilled migrants and foreign investors that want to relocate to this country?
“Lindström hasn’t shown clearly that he’s xenophobic or something in that order,” explained Biaudet. “He doesn’t have a lot experience [for the job] but this means that he has to rely on experts for advice which is a good matter.”
According to Biaudet, there are a number of MPs of the PS who are ideologically against migrants and would not under any circumstances want Finland to accept refugees from the Mediterranean as the European Commission recently suggested.
Some of these are: Olli Immonen, Juho Eerola, Sampo Terho, Simon Elo, Niko Mikko, Maria Lohela, Vesa-Matti Saarakkala and others like MEP Jussi Halla-aho, according to her.
“I don’t consider [Teuvo] Hakkarainen to be ideologically in the same league although he’s said some pretty nasty things in the past [about migrants and minorities],” she continued. “He’s a sort of happy-go-lucky person used by others to promote their anti-immigration agenda.”
Biaudet said that while some new MPs may still not have formed clear views of immigration, they are easily swayed by those with strong opinions on the issue.
Ways to move forward
While an interview with Biaudet reinforces some of the challenges that our ever-culturally diverse society is facing, how can we move forward? It’s clear that there aren’t any easy answers but lie in our Nordic values of social equality and respect.
“We have to be politically active and take part in an association,” she said. “Even if such a leadership role places heavy demands on the person, it is one effective path.”
Biaudet said that all minorities have to look after each other’s interests.
“It’s not right that for example young people with Somali backgrounds in this country claim that they don’t want to learn Swedish,” she continued. “They should be careful when making such statements because defending another minority’s rights means defending yours as well, like being officially a bilingual country.”
“For nationalistic ideas playing different minorities against each other is [a] useful [strategy],” she added.
Biaudet said that irrespective of the child’s background, the importance of social equality and respect for diversity should be stressed further at schools.
“We have to find ways in which minorities can help and support each other and this is what I’ve always said to Swedish-speaking Finns,” she added.
Biaudet stated that a person with a diverse background should cherish it as a treasure since it gives you the tools to see the world differently and facilitates interaction with people who are different from you.
“If you don’t use such an asset you end up squandering your treasure,” she said. “You should use that rich background as a call to help other minorities [attain equal rights in society].”
Biaudet concluded that acquainting oneself to Finnish culture and learning the Finnish and Swedish languages are important steps in a person’s adaption process to his or her new homeland.
* The Finnish name of the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The English-language names adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We therefore prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings.