By Enrique Tessieri
The rise of far-right thinking and nationalism in Finland seen through the Perussuomalaiset (PS) party is nothing new in the face of Finland’s long cold war isolation. Finnish-Soviet relations were not the only one that were under close scrutiny by the state, but how we interpreted our history and ourselves as a nation. That is now changing thanks to the reemergence of our ever-growing diversity as a nation.
The rise of the PS could be seen as a counterforce to that diversity and openness we are seeing in Finland today after living under the shadow of the former Soviet Union for over four decades.
Any serious student of Finnish society can tell you that we have always been a culturally diverse society: we were under Swedish and Russian rule for about 700 years and Finland produced 1.2 million immigrants between 1880-1999.
Here is an interesting analysis (in Finnish) of cultural diversity in Monday’s Helsingin Sanomat and the myth that we are somehow a homogenous nation. An important matter to keep in mind is that the anti-immigration far right in the PS have noidea what multiculturalism is and only see it as a policy that permits Muslims and Africans from moving to Finland.
In 1920, for example, we had 3.5 times more foreigners living in the country than in 1970, when there were about 7,000. The biggest group of foreign nationals that lived in Finland at the time were Finns who had become naturalized Swedes.
Finland was geopolitically near-isolated as well from Western Europe. Due to our special relationship with Moscow, we could never join the EU never mind the Council of Europe because it was too outspoken on human rights violations in the USSR.
In all respects the cold war era changed the mindset of Finland radically. By almost killing our diversity we ushered in a very exclusive, nationalistic and even racist way of seeing ourselves. We started to look and think so much alike that we actually believed we lived in a perfect society reinforced by our myths, stereotypes and lack of critique.
Since diversity almost became extinct in these parts in the cold war, people who came to Finland had funny names. In the 1980s, for example, foreigners were called aliens not immigrants. Refugees from the Soviet Union were never called that. They were known as people who “skipped the country (loikkari).”
It shouldn’t come to any surprise that living in a country that has done so much to destroy its diversity willingly or unwillingly never had the basic tools to seriously debate what happened during the cold war after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Because this did not happen in earnest, it is now taking place through the rise of parties like the PS, who are attempting to awaken — or keep asleep — cold war Finland with the full arsenal of anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric.
Unfortunately for the PS and fortunately for Finland, diversity is here to stay.
Accepting and encouraging it will be the best guarantee of developing a healthy and strong Finland in the future.