Finnish identity on one’s own terms

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

One of the matters that has turned me off about Finland for a long time is that I haven’t been allowed to embrace my Finnishness on my terms.  By my terms I mean defining what Finnish identity means personally to me.

If people who define Finnish identity in narrow terms had their way, many Multicultural Finns, expats, immigrants and minorities could possibly suffer a similar fate as the Romany minority in this country. Constant exclusion and prejudice would follow them around like a dark shadow. Even if that shadow excludes them from society, it protects them from some of its hostility.

Some Finns who define Finnish culture and identity on their narrow-minded terms and aggressively impose it on everyone else, are always ready to give a quick reason why a person is not a Finn. You are too dark they may claim, or you look too “foreign,” you act strange and speak different from us.

The fact that some give more reasons to exclude others than include them in our society says a lot about us as a nation.

For a person like me, a Finn with a multicultural background,these excuses must be challenged and banished.

I have a lot of questions to ask those who claim to be “pure” Finns.  For one, they could explain where is the Garden of Eden in this country since Finns are a “pure” ethnicity that never mixed with anyone. They could tell us as well how our culture was not influenced by over 700 years of Swedish and Russian rule. What about those 1.2 million Finns that emigrated from this land between 1860 and 1999? How did you erase them from our history?

Is a great part of your denial of who you are only a tool to build a social-ethnic construct of yourself? Is this the reason why the spiteful message of PS MPs like Jussi Halla-aho appeals to so many of us? Was that one of the reasons why 19.1% voted for the PS in April?

In many respects I am fortunate that I grew up abroad instead of in Finland despite my Finnish background. If I’d grown up in this country in the 1960s and 1970s, I would have never been able to develop a strong sense of myself and my otherness.

Would living in such a Finland been worth it?

Fortunately matters have changed for the better in this country.  Slowly but surely we are learning to see our culture as rich and diverse.  In that new diverse Finland that some want to destroy at all costs today, we can all be Finns on our own terms. Immigrants are included in this group.

Building such an inclusive society in this century is certainly worth living and fighting for!

  1. Timo Ojanen

    Agreed. Just as I dare to think my new country is a bit better, not worse, by having me reside there, I feel Finland is probably a bit better, not worse through Enrique living there.

  2. Mark

    Enrique

    – “I haven’t been allowed to embrace my Finnishness on my terms.”

    While I understand your sentiments, there is a problem with the rationale you set up here and which applies throughout your article. Who is stopping you from embracing it on your terms? I mean, by definition, that is a personal thing, and so there shouldn’t be anyone standing between you and yourself. You are free to define ‘on your own terms’, even if you are imprisoned and in isolation. How you think of yourself is a fundamental freedom, though not always recognised by the individual.

    – “Some Finns who define Finnish culture and identity on their narrow-minded terms and aggressively impose it on everyone else…”

    Again, how are they ‘imposing it on everyone else’? While i know people who do define Finnish culture in a narrow sense, I haven’t met any yet that have been able to impose that on anyone else, much less me. I simply reject their notion of Finnishness, though recognising that is it HIS or HER notion, and, like you, they want to have their Finnishness on their terms.

    You make good points, all the same.

    • Enrique

      Hi Mark, in very general terms if Finnish society were more inclusive there would probably be less discrimination. Since Finnish identity is defined in narrow terms by some it means that there will also be those that will be excluded as a result. By inclusion I mean a sense, a real truthful sense, that people can if they wish embrace Finnishness on their terms and be accepted. Since I lived in the US I saw this more than in Finland. I knew Mexicans who spoke little English but considered themselves USAmericans.

      In sum, that important feeling of inclusion and pathways to incorporation create magic in our society.

  3. Seppo

    Yes we need to reformulate what it means to be Finnish. There are many different ways to be Finnish, probably as many as there are Finns. Finnishness is a personal feeling and how different individuals have arrived to that feeling should not matter.

    But if we say that everybody can define Finnish identity in their own terms then I guess we have to allow the narrow definitions as well. For that is what Finnishness still means for many people, whether we like it or not. And not all of those people are against immigrants or minorities, they are just grown up with a very traditional view on Finnishness.

    In the end I hope we will get rid of all definitions of Finnishness that include such excluding categories as birth place, skin color, mother tongue, religion etc. Finnishness is a feeling, no more, no less.

  4. Mark

    Hi Enrique

    – “in very general terms if Finnish society were more inclusive there would probably be less discrimination.”

    True enough. But there is no actual entity called ‘Finnish society’, so I find it problematic to argue the notion of national identity at this level.

    – “Since Finnish identity is defined in narrow terms by some it means that there will also be those that will be excluded as a result.”

    Excluded in what sense? Excluded from that individual’s social circle? I can live with that. Plenty of Finns who are happy not to exclude me from their social circle. Plenty of Finns who might exclude me because they don’t like my values or my taste in music. No problem with that. People have lots of silly excuses for not liking each other – just add it to the list. Am I really ‘excluded’ by individual xenophobia? Probably not. In fact, some people who are strongly xenophobic seem to show an awful lot of curiosity about me as a foreigner none the less. Contradiction? Sure is.

    It’s the institutionalised racism that affects employment or treatment by state officials that worries me much more than individuals who are narrow-minded in their concept of national identity. That’s the stuff that affects your livelihood. In that sense, ‘institutional racism’ is practiced by individuals with individual opinions, and those are the ones to be targeted, by the organisation identifying its ‘inclusive’ or non-racist values, and instilling them into the employees and sanctioning those that contravene those values.

    – “In sum, that important feeling of inclusion and pathways to incorporation create magic in our society.”

    But you are including only those that like multiculturalism, which is itself excluding. We have to separate what is tolerable in the way of individual opinions, and what is tolerable in the way of basic rights, like the right to work, to live where you want, to speak the language you want and to dress the way you want. If you are materially penalised for those things, then your rights are not being respected. If someone doesn’t like you because of those things, it’s really no big deal, because we base our likes and dislikes of people on just that matters of taste and style. In fact, we often vote on those preferences alone. To imagine a world where everyone’s taste is ‘multicultural’ is to live in an imagined reality and one that smacks of its own kind of cultural prescriptivism.

    In sum, people don’t HAVEto like me just because I’m a foreigner, and even, they can dislike me JUST because I’m foreigner, as long as they don’t abuse my rights, cos that is crossing the line.

  5. A Finnish Redneck

    I grew up in the middle of the vast, beautiful woods, hills and lakes, and everyone I knew, saw and spoke to was a white, “pure” Finn. I was taught about the Finnish wars, the sisu, the heroes, the ones who suffered for our well-being, I was made to sing the national anthem under the flag, I went to church, sang the same verses my Finnish ancestor sung, I was taught that “to be born in Finland is like winning the lottery”.

    Then I moved to a bigger town and saw the decadence, the crime, the different people from other countries violating the “harmony” I used to grow up in. I studied things and thought of things and I realized that the harmony, the perfectness, the “winning the lottery” had been nothing but talk.

    Seeing the change, seeing the harmony and brotherhood be broken must feel bad for people who have lived all their lives in that illusion. They get angry – but they don’t get angry at the people who taught them this illusion of perfectness – but they get angry at those who “violate” it (sometimes just by having a different habitus).

    I don’t know what the children are taught in schools these days but the way I was educated it was very naive, very nationalist. Of course we have to be taught to respect the system but somehow the way Finnish history and culture was taught was very exclusive. It belongs to us and us alone. No one else would know the suffering, the braveness, the agony. Excluding others makes us Finns. That’s why we need to be admired by others, why we need to be the best at everything – it’s _us_. The sense of uniqueness as a nation is very strong.

    I’m not saying that this is the ultimate truth but to me the feelings of deep love for this country derive from the education and the constant admiration of Finland by adults – the greatest country in the world with the best and most hardworking and most honest people on the planet. I can honestly say that as a child I never heard of a country with a better system than ours.

    Maybe we should have been taught that Finland is just a country and Finns are just a people and there would be more inclusion in the attitudes. Anyone can make this country a better place to live – not just pure Finns. The most important thing is to have a good country to live in.

    I wish that people who have to suffer because of our burning love for the illusion of perfectness remember that a black man was a rarity even in Helsinki only 40-30 years ago. Change is hard for us Finns – because it all seemed so perfect before. It was the wars and the propaganda and the isolation that made us this way. That’s all over now but the feelings are still very real.

    I also wish that the people who view us as stupid rednecks would respect our ways of doing things. I don’t mean that racism or violence has to be tolerated – I mean that our simplicity and modesty should be considered a virtue. Not only the other cultures but also the Finnish culture needs to be respected. It’s a good way to live a life trusting in God, the Home and the Fatherland. Others can try it out just as well. It’s not that Finnish culture should always be pushed back only because it’s a passive one.

    This has not been an educated writing. But at least I’m being honest about my feelings and I believe that many “pure” Finns feel the same way as I do. We are not willing to give up on the illusion of the best country in the world and we want the “outsiders” to come and work with us to make it a even better place. We don’t want people to come here and just mess it all up, show disrespect and piss on everything we feel deeply about. That they can do in their own countries. Doesn’t this make any sense or explain our rudeness to anyone? Is there not this kind of love for the Fatherland anywhere else?

    • Enrique

      Hi A Finnish Redneck and thank you for sharing your hand-on-heart thoughts with us. Welcome to Migrant Tales. From what you wrote, I guess we can conclude that it is basically a question of perception or misperception of others that is at the root of the problem. I don’t know what it says about the PS when they are taught what words are offensive to other ethnic groups and which are appropriate to use. I guess it all falls down to ignorance.

      I believe that since humans aim to adapt anywhere they go that process may be hindered by mutual ignorance. If we knew better and opened our minds maybe a lot of misunderstanding would disappear.

  6. Mark

    Redneck

    Great post! Straight from the heart, but thoughtful and reflective too. Very enlightening and even warming.

    – “Then I moved to a bigger town and saw the decadence, the crime, the different people from other countries violating the “harmony” I used to grow up in.”

    I think if you had stayed in the countryside, you would have seen it there too. I mean, appaling crimes happen in rural areas too, as does nepotism, parish pond politics and even neighbourly jealousies. That’s not to undermine the values you were taught in childhood, but just to show that it’s a similar experience wherever you ‘grow up’.

    – “Finnish history and culture taught was very exclusive. It belongs to us and us alone.”

    National identities typical reflect the exclusiveness of personal histories. My history is mine, and mine alone – no-one else can understand. In effect, a national history is that of an ‘idealised Finn’, and as such, it too is exclusive to that ‘person’. What people then do is identify with the idealised Finn and so also share in that exclusiveness.

    – “Maybe we should have been taught that Finland is just a country and Finns are just a people and there would be more inclusion in the attitudes.”

    Other countries do exactly the same. Brits are very inward looking, as are Americans. It’s really a matter of proximity. Even an origin in a distant land becomes obscured over time because the effect of proximity is to ‘fill’ your view and so dominate your senses and experiences and feeling of identity. Language is also perhaps the single biggest factor uniting a people, though English famously a common language divides Americans and Brits.

    – “I also wish that the people who view us as stupid rednecks would respect our ways of doing things. I don’t mean that racism or violence has to be tolerated – I mean that our simplicity and modesty should be considered a virtue.”

    One of the first things I came across when I moved to Finland was the frequent suggestion – you are in Finland now, so it’s Finnish for you’. And Finnish meant all things Finnish, not just the language. While you are a visitor, some Finns are happy to ‘accomodate you’, the minute you move here, it seems for some that it is absolutely the reverse. 🙂 I think it’s more a case that Finns are comfortable with all things Finnish and don’t particularly like being embarrassed talking a foreign language and trying to grasp this new ‘wordliness’, whatever that is. I’ve seen this in old men who have travelled the world as seamen, but still they’ve kept that sense that in Finland, it is Finnish stuff that rules. That’s okay, but it just isn’t realistic – in the sense of ‘getting to know someone who is from somewhere else’. Because to do that, you have to be open to something different.

    – “This has not been an educated writing.”

    I disagree. I felt quite educated by it. Thanks.

  7. khr

    I do not think being a Finn is some binary on/off thing. My personal view of Finnishness includes those points listed by Seppo among other things. Very few people would match all marks of Finnishness, but I don’t see it as a problem. Being in a different place in the Finnishness continuum is not a fault or a virtue, but just one way to see the person.

    Categorizing is not a bad thing in itself, but a normal way we make sense of the world. The key issue is not in seeing similarities and differences, but accepting them in a person.

    • Enrique

      Hi Carlos and welcome to Migrant Tales. Great to see you with us. We hope to hear about your views.

  8. Seppo

    “Categorizing is not a bad thing in itself, but a normal way we make sense of the world.”

    Yes but categorizing individuals into groups like Finns, Swedes, Americans is not a neutral act. You can not tell a person that he is or is not a Finns just by certain qualities like you perhaps could with, I don’t know, butterflies placing them in different groups of butterflies. Finnishness is an abstract identity which people from very different backgrounds might or might not embrace.

    This kind of categorization becames easily a violent act of inclusion and exclusion. That’s why it’s up to the individual himself to define which national group he belongs to, if any.

  9. Seppo

    Mark

    I think what Enrique meant was exclusion of a broader scale, like not being allowed to be a true part of the society, not being seen as a member of the community. It might as well be that you don’t care about this. That for you it is enough being accepted into certain circles of individuals. That if you are not seen as belonging here, as a member of the Finnish society, you don’t mind. But I think most of us would.

    Even though you seem to think otherwise, the institutionalized racism you mentioned is definitely also connected to the idea of Finnishness and who is and who is not part of it. It is about accepting difference and diversity and thinking it is not something foreign but something that belongs here.

    Btw, what do you mean by “there is no actual entity called ‘Finnish society’”?

  10. Asian (Realy I am Chinese so I know my own reality)

    Enrique is really optimist about race and ethnicity issue.
    I don’t say that it is bad thing but reality can be little differen depending your race.

  11. Antonio

    Finnish Redneck wrote: “I grew up in the middle of the vast, beautiful woods, hills and lakes, and everyone I knew, saw and spoke to was a white, “pure” Finn. I was taught about the Finnish wars, the sisu, the heroes, the ones who suffered for our well-being, I was made to sing the national anthem under the flag, I went to church, sang the same verses my Finnish ancestor sung, I was taught that “to be born in Finland is like winning the lottery””

    I grew up in a small town in the south west of Europe. If you draw a straight line on the map from where you grew up to where I grew up, you will find that this is the farthest place in europe from the place you are from – I can say that with a 30 Km certainty. Yet the village ideal is almost the same. I used to spend most of my summer holidays in a small village surrounded by forests and beautiful nature. People were simple there and had simple lives. There wasn’t even a single police officer stationed in the village. Ethnicity was very homogeneous there too.

    Futher down you wrote: “Then I moved to a bigger town and saw the decadence, the crime, the different people from other countries violating the “harmony” I used to grow up in. I studied things and thought of things and I realized that the harmony, the perfectness, the “winning the lottery” had been nothing but talk.”

    Times changed, crime rose and many, many foreigners moved in. It wasn’t people from different countries who violated the harmony. The harmony has been corrupted by the changes, and the corruption has been perpetrated by everybody, mostly by local people.
    Some times when I think about the way things used to be I find myself over idealising the village. It didn’t use to be that great. There were mean people in those small villages too . If you didn’t take up the village values you’d find yourself screwed very quickly. I snap out of my idealisations quite easily.

    I hope that your vision on decadence is not caused by the presence of foreigners any more. That can very well be a false perception, I don’t even think that there were enough foreigners there to break the “harmony” you mention.
    Two things may explain such perception: one is the over-idealisation of how things used to be and the other is the changes in society itself. I think that the presence of foreigners has had little or no impact on how those changes occurred and still occur.

    There are many ways to control a disregulated and truly detrimental (not perceived) influx of foreigners other than the approach that clearly comes through in the PS rhetoric and saddly so many finns subscribe. As if the country was anywhere close to needing a revolution. Finland is a tidy orderly country and is very very far from needing such radical changes and the implications such changes would bring. Their approach would put the finns further away from solving the true problems WE are all facing. I think that the problems we all face should be solved together. Giving up and dropping the ball in face of adversity won’t help. Turning to isolation is no solution for the future.

    I lived quite a few years in an island ruled by a populist leader and I can tell you that populist speech looks very much alike in the middle of the Atlantic or in the middle of Finland. You can copy and paste parts of different speeches and you’d hardly notice any difference. Blaming problems on the outside, dislike and hostility towards outsiders, the way they criticise negative press and try to control the media, etc… Give this people free reign and they might start to call military juntas to sort out “problems” that you might find yourself being part of.

    I am trying to do some work that involves the cooperation of other people. I like discussing with them the challenges we are facing. It is easy to fall into absurdity when you are armed only with a single perspective. We are two portuguese, a swede, a polish and an english. Among all the bull crap we say, sometimes interesting things come up. Things that would be hard to come up with in isolation. It would be very sad if I saw these people as invaders or a threat to my lifestyle when they are in fact part of a lifestyle that I like. It would be sad if I saw these people as walking clichés representing the (mis)conceptions I have about their cultures. Actually I do not understand all the fuss about multiculturalism. In the people I know their individual personality traits outweigh by far their cultural origins. It would be sad if I would let my views boil down to the fact that the people I interact with are from a different (actually not that different) origin.

  12. Mark

    Seppo

    – “I think what Enrique meant was exclusion of a broader scale, like not being allowed to be a true part of the society, not being seen as a member of the community.”

    I understand the sentiment, this feeling that the exclusion is somehow pervasive – but let’s not be sheep here. It is just a sentiment. So we know that some people in Finland don’t want foreigners here. So what? What actual difference does it make to the actual quality of life, and more importantly, what difference does it make to our own sense of ‘identity’? I mean, yes, it doesn’t feel nice to know someone doesn’t like you because you come from somewhere else, but who is really going to lose sleep over it, unless you were physically attacked or something equally concrete? I mean, there are a great many more Finns that welcome and interact with foreigners that it would be disproportionate to focus on the very few who show hostility and present them as being somehow ‘Finnish society’. That is unfair to the majority, at the very least.

    And who says ‘you are not alllowed’ to be part of society. I’ve never heard those words. It’s very easy to put words into the mouth of this so-called ‘racist Finn’. It doesn’t help the causee to get sucked into debhey are happy to be part of.

    – “It might as well be that you don’t care about this. That for you it is enough being accepted into certain circles of individuals.That if you are not seen as belonging here, as a member of the Finnish society, you don’t mind. But I think most of us would.”

    Seen by who? I mean, for every Finn that might never see me as a Finn, there are probably a dozen or more who is happy for me to be here. I mean, does it take just one Finn noisely complaining about foreigners to make me feel that I’m unwelcome? I cannot do that. I’d be forgetting all the warm welcomes I’ve had in the 9 years since I came to Finland. I care about people’s well-being, but I also think there is a battle to be fought against ‘anti-immigrationists’ on a political and sociological level, but I don’t think that is a battle against the general Finnish public, to be honest. It’s not a battle against Finns, it’s a battle against a very small number of Finns. And I don’t throw in the 19% that voted PS necessarily into that bag. People voted PS for very many different reasons, many of them nothing to do with foreigners, and even if they don’t want Finland overrun with foreigners, I don’t see myself as having to battle them. I battle those that try to turn that sentiment into a so-called coherant political manifesto.

    – “Even though you seem to think otherwise, the institutionalized racism you mentioned is definitely also connected to the idea of Finnishness and who is and who is not part of it. It is about accepting difference and diversity and thinking it is not something foreign but something that belongs here”

    No I don’t think it’s unnconnected, but you can do nothing much about people’s opinions, but you must do something if it translates into behaviour or actions that disenfranchises or compromises the rights of immigrants.

    – “Btw, what do you mean by “there is no actual entity called ‘Finnish society’”?”

    There is no entity called Finnish society. It is made up of several collectives of individuals, in a dynamic, often temporary and fluctuating manner. At no point is there ever a single Finn who represents all the opinions, traditions and attitudes of all Finns. The more you push to this imaginary Finn, the more you have to be inclusive – A Finn that is both progressive and conservative, outward looking and inward looking etc. It is about accepting diversity, like you say, but that diversity is exactly about individuals who are often diametrically opposed in opinions or attitudes. The more we try to talk about a generalised Finn, the more useless and empty the label becomes. For every Finn that identifies with the stereotype, there will be those who do not. Are they somehow not Finns? What I’m saying is that we can celebrate things that are Finnish, but I think it’s a mistake to identify those things with something called ‘Finnishness’. In that sense, we are trying to turn Finland into some kind of entity, and give it a character, a personality, and that is ultimately divisive, because it prescribes behaviour. The whole approach along those lines is deeply problematic.

  13. Seppo

    “So we know that some people in Finland don’t want foreigners here. So what? What actual difference does it make to the actual quality of life”

    For me, since I am not an immigrant myself, not much. I think we are looking at this issue from a bit different points of views. You from a more concrete and me from a more abstract point of view. For you quality of life seems to mean mostly jobs, money, nice flat, interesting hobbies etc. I am more willing to include more abstract categories of feeling you belong here, feeling this is your home, feeling that you are fully accepted as equal by the people and the society surrounding you. I am sure achieving the afore mentioned feelings are made much more difficult by the people who openly express unacceptance and even hostility towards foreigners.

    In the end it is a lot about who is a foreigner and who not. Maybe you are fine with a “foreigner-identity”, with a feeling that even though you mostly have what you need you are still in certain terms an outsider in this society. This can be much more problematic and often very destructive when it comes to people who are actually born and raised here put still get this foreigner or immigrant stamp put on them just because they have a darker skin color or a different religion than the majority. This is what I’m talking about when I call for a broader and more inclusive concept of Finnishness.

    “And who says ‘you are not alllowed’ to be part of society. I’ve never heard those words.”

    Well I guess it is rarely expressed that clearly. And people excluding immigrants from the society are not always doing it consciously or on purpose. But there is a sharp distinction between an insider and an outsider which usually follows the distinction Finn vs. not Finn. Unless the concept of being a Finn changes so that people from different backgrounds are accepted into it, certain groups are doomed to be outsiders. And that cannot be good. Here I am not talking about certain individuals like you but the future of this country in general.

    “you can do nothing much about people’s opinions”

    Of course you can. The tradional, narrow idea of what it means to be a Finn is basically an opinion which has been born throughout the years through discussions, sometimes including straigh forward propaganda. Through discussions we can also change this idea of Finnishness into a more inclusive and diverse one. I might be an optimist or idealist but I think that’s what’s needed. Actually I think we have to believe that it is possible to change people’s opinions. Otherwise, like I said, certain groups will be doomed to being outsiders for good.

  14. Mark

    Seppo

    – “This can be much more problematic and often very destructive when it comes to people who are actually born and raised here put still get this foreigner or immigrant stamp put on them just because they have a darker skin color or a different religion than the majority. This is what I’m talking about when I call for a broader and more inclusive concept of Finnishness.”

    I grew up in Wales with a Welsh father and an English mother, in an English-speaking household in a part of Wales that was mostly welsh-speaking. I do know what it’s like to be identified as a foreigner even if you were actually born there and have even half-native ancestory. At least, I knew it from the point of view of being at school and being a target for some idiots. Even now I find it hard to truly consider myself Welsh, not that it means a great deal to me. Likewise, I cannot ever really think of Finland as home, even if there was no hostility at all to foreigners.

    I’m not sure if I’m being more concrete than abstract. I can see this from an abstract point of view. Rather I’m thinking about what to target in a campaign to change people’s minds. And I think that when we talk abstract, things tend to get exaggerated. It comes back to my point of just where do you fit the hostility of a few against the civilised behaviour of the many in Finland? And how much do I as a foreigner take it to heart? While I don’t think it justifies a ‘head in the sand’ approach to immigration and racism, absolutely not, I also think there needs to be a little toughness in deciding what is really a target. A generally negative opinion about foreigners probably betrays mostly ignorance, and often amounts to very little more than a negative-affirming nationalist identity – a sort ‘us Finns against the world’ mentality that for some can give a stronger sense of identity, but which really amounts to a lot of hot air at the end of the day. While that can align itself to a general feeling of protest at the remoteness of politicians and so give PS a nearly 20% share of the vote, I don’t necessarily think it translates into a need to somehow target the majority of those voters for their racism.

    On the other hand, I do see a need to tackle racism and what it is. In the process of doing that, it’s become clear to me that we also have to explain what racism isn’t. Focusing on concrete stuff at least gets people’s minds onto the idea that there are very real victims, instead of just the ‘taking offence because someone doesn’t like you’, for which calls for more legislation to protect foreigners sounds stupid and like nanny State. The need for tougher regulation is to protect the basic rights and livelihoods of foreigners. If foreigners have better opportunitites to work, they have better opportuntities to integrate, and that maybe is the single biggest factor that will work against a kind of generalised negativety towards foreign immigrants who are perceived to be ‘just on the take’.

    – “Through discussions we can also change this idea of Finnishness into a more inclusive and diverse one.”

    I admire your optimism, but I don’t share it. I think it’s actually extremely difficult to change people’s opinions, and generally, the evidence of psychology is that people tend to harden their opinions through debate, not alter them drastically. And in many cases, a drastic change is what would be required. I’m not even convinced you get the fence sitters by debating, because I think some people just like to be ‘smart enough’ to see both sides without having to get their hands dirty by actually commiting to trying to argue one way or the other. There is something to be said about actually giving your ideas and allowing them to be open to the scrutiny of others. It forces you to clarify your own thinking to yourself. But also, it’s unlikely to see much ‘changing of opinions’. More like ‘refining’ them or the arguments to support them. I can honestly say I have only very very rarely seen someone in a public forum admit they had got a subject wrong and they were going to rethink the whole thing. Why do we bother to argue? 🙂 I don’t know, really. It’s hard to give up the idea that we can actually make a difference or change something. I think it is important to stand up for rights, otherwise, we just end up giving them away. Once you point out the abuse of basic rights, I think many fence sitters do sit up and take notice, but whether that just feeds their basic skepticism to all sides, or whether it actually makes real advocates for human rights is another matter. Probably the former.

    – “But there is a sharp distinction between an insider and an outsider which usually follows the distinction Finn vs. not Finn.”

    I do agree, Seppo. But, you can be a Finn and be inside and outside many things within Finnish culture. National identity is only one of very many dimensions to social status, that include gender, age, origins, interests, education, politics, accent, physical appearance, history, learning, cultural development, length of time in a job/place etc. Many of these things cross over each other – but the basically excluding/exclusive nature of groups is something that won’t go away any time soon. It is better I think to focus on those things that really can and do need to change rather than targetting broad categories of ‘behaviour’.

  15. Seppo

    Mark

    I get your point.

    “where do you fit the hostility of a few against the civilised behaviour of the many in Finland?”

    I’m mostly not talking about extreme hostility but some general excluding views on Finnishness and who belongs here which are very common also among people who would in a day to day interaction with immigrants treat them just fine.

    “Even now I find it hard to truly consider myself Welsh, not that it means a great deal to me. Likewise, I cannot ever really think of Finland as home, even if there was no hostility at all to foreigners.”

    Exactly. And I think you should, you should be able to consider yourself Welsh and you should be able to think of Finland as home. I guess you can live with it, but like I said, for many many people these things mean a lot. This is the point where many people born and raised in Finland realize that they might never be able to be the same, be accepted the same way, have access to same things – just because their father was a Nigerian, for example.

    And this is my main point. We should change our thinking so that even people with Nigerian fathers can be accepted as Finns and can truly think of Finland as their home.

    “I think it’s actually extremely difficult to change people’s opinions”

    Yes of course it is but I have a good example here. The gay people. In only a few decades they have become from almost completely unaccepted and hidden minority into a almost completely accepted and very visible one. We have a candidate in the coming presidential elections who is openly gay! And the thing is that it is not considered something weird or strange. When people talk about him they talk about his political views, not his gayness. When YLE 2 had their ‘Homoilta’ last year and some traditional views of unacceptance were expressed it created a huge discussion where one by one all major figures from politicians to artists to newspaper reporters all strongly defended the gay people and their rights.

    In the future we can have the same with immigrants. They will be accepted as equals with all the same rights and if somebody tries to go back to the unacceptance it will not be tolerated. This requires a change of opinions among a huge amount of people but I think the example of gay people shows that it really is possible. I’m not saying that the gay are totally fine since there is still some harassment but on a broader, societal level they are fully accepted.

    “National identity is only one of very many dimensions to social status, that include gender, age, origins, interests, education, politics, accent, physical appearance, history, learning, cultural development, length of time in a job/place etc.”

    This is true. But the basic distinction in some very important social encounters goes along Finn – not Finn, in my opinion clearly more than with the other things. There is also one major difference. You cannot change your gender, age, origins, education etc just like that. But, like I have argued, we could change what it means to be a Finn (and not Finn). If we want to, we can make Finnishness a much more inclusive category where as it now often serves as a excluding one. We can reformulate the Finnish national identity so that it can be better embraced by people with different backgrounds.

  16. Mark

    Seppo

    Yes, it would be nice if national identities had the same level of acceptance as gay identities. Some of it has to do with the ‘new world order’ and the perieved hidden threat of terrorism. It has coloured the waters and made the life of Muslim immigrants in particular harder.

    I appreciate that things I tolerate are more difficult for others to tolerate. It is good that Finns like yourself are arguing for more tolerance and acceptance of diversity. No question.

    On the point of Finnishness – I think that is where our paths diverge strongly. I’m not really a fan of any kind of ‘-ishness’ when it comes to identities. I’m not sure there is such a thing, even, as Finnishness. It’s like the ‘spooks’ of old Greek philosophy, the ‘greenness of grass’, or the ‘benificence of the Sun’. These ‘essentialisms’ have been discarded in recent centuries as being projections onto reality. I view national identities in a similar fashion. Now that is not to say there aren’t things that broadly speaking we can label ‘Finnish’. It just means that you cannot extend from those ‘Finnish objects/behaviours’ and arrive at something called Finnishness. Quite simply, it’s divisive. If someone doesn’t have that behaviour, are they somehow ‘not a Finn?’

    In a way, I think we will arrive at the destination that you also want, where being a Finn is possible regardless of your religion or ethnic origin, if we first hold up this idea of ‘Finnishness’ and accept it’s a figment of our imagination. We can identify things that are Finnish, which may also be Swedish or even universal, and we can of course celebrate those things, and in doing so, we are not excluding anyone. But when we start to say that only people who identify with this ‘Finnish things’ are Finnish, then we have fallen into a kind of essentialism.

  17. Seppo

    Mark

    I do see national identities as social constructs if that is what you meant. They are not necessarily based on anything concrete but exist as abstract ideas in people’s minds. This, however, does not mean that they are not real or important. But it means that they can be changed. When I talk about Finnishness I refer to the national identity, what it involves to identify as a Finn.

    Like I wrote earlier, in the end, for me, Finnishness is a feeling. You are a Finn when you feel you are a Finn. People might arrive to this feeling in very different ways and it might mean and include very different things to different people. It is important that Finnishness is open to be embraced by everyone who wishes to do so. And of course, even though I believe that it is good and important that most people living in this society share a common identity, this Finnishness should not be forced upon those who don’t wish to have it.

  18. Mark

    Seppo

    National identities as social constructs. In a manner of speaking yes. When you are born, you have no such thing as Finnishness, in the sense that many people speak of. Finnish babies cry, pooh, eat and generally get to know the world in pretty much the same way as any baby anywhere. I know many people want to make the case for a ‘genetic Finnishness’, but mostly it’s baloney. It’s more likely you have susceptibility to certain diseases than you have a ‘love of silence’ because you have ‘Finnish’ genes.

    You know, for a nation that supposedly loves silence, you folks talk the same amount as any other nationalities that i’ve come across. When you are socialising, at work, outside work, abroad, at home, I hear you speaking and sharing in pretty much the same way as other nationalities. You think English folk don’t ‘yearn for silence’? Where do you think the ‘silence is Golden’ motto comes from?

    It’s quite normal to be a bit more silent when you are ‘out of water’ as well; if you are country person and you find yourself in the city or vice versa, or if you are in a new work place, or abroad, or among people who you don’t know, etc. You might feel shy and quiet, but that doesn’t mean you are feeling anything different to other human beings. Maybe the difference is that you take that feeling and add it to a box called Finnishness. But I don’t think it means much to say that.

    Another person once wrote that all it takes to create a nation is a flag and an anthem. Cynical, it might be, but there is some truth in it too. Otherwise, why do we have flags? Take away the flags, take away the anthems, and the things that make Finns so obviously different are much less obvious.

    It’s a feeling? I’m not surprised.

    There is a Finnish nation, and mostly its fairly exclusive in the sense that the Finnish language isn’t spoken elsewhere, though Finnish isn’t the only language in Finland, its good to remember. There are things that Finns do that some other nationalities don’t do, or don’t do as much as Finns, though drinking isn’t one of them. Maybe eating sausage is, though Germans love their sausage too, and Swedes, Norwegians and Turks love their sauna as well.

    I mean, all this essentialism, the sheer pervasiveness of it can itself be convincing. I’m sure that when we worshipped the Sun, we all felt this ‘belonging’ to the clan. It still doesn’t make it any the less an act of imagination. And by that, I don’t mean it isn’t important or that it doesn’t have something concrete. The language is the single more obviously concrete manifestation of Finnishness. But then again, Finnish is a language and a language is not something unique to Finns. Why do we want to identify ourselves so uniquely? I don’t know. We all want to be ‘different’, and being Finnish is being different to other nations, but also it unites us with our neighbour. Maybe national identitites stop us fighting among ourselves. That would make some sense. In the same way, understanding and seeing through these imaginary identities is also a big part of growing up as a race. How much better it would be if we discovered an identity that unites us with everyone else, rather than a mere couple of million other people. How much blood and suffering has come from ‘nationhood’ and especially about ideas about superior nationhood? It really makes you wonder if it’s worth it. Good things? Yes, but bad things too have been born by this feeling of national identity.

  19. Mark

    Hmm, sorry to go on and on, but there was something else I was thinking that was related. It reminds me a little of the gender debates about masculinity. Feminism identified masculinity as basically an system of privilege that confered benefits to a select group. Not unlike a national identity. Men reacted in several ways, some directly opposed to feminism. But many men sympathetic to feminism were left to wonder about what to rescue from the ruins of this ‘masculinity’. Those considered more radical tended to think that masculinity had to be ditched, it had to be revealed in all its naked ugliness and simply rejected! It is the only way, they say. Others, sensing perhaps that that kind of radical agenda is just not going to appeal to the majority of men, have called for a reconstruction of masculinity, keeping the good bits and leaving the rest. But it does beg the question, why would we want to preseve any kind of ‘club’ that historically has abused over 50% of the population? The notion was that ‘men’ were different to ‘women’. The notion still won’t die. Even the smallest different these days is often presented as ‘fact’, or as a means still to categorise men and women, though it ignores the fact that the ‘between group differences’ are nowhere near as big as the ‘in-group differences. In other words, men are more different to each other than they are to women, and vice versa.

    The arguments about nationality almost run in parallel.

    Even the genetic argument for national identity is equally flawed, with within-race differences far outstretching ‘between-race differences’. Here is a seminal paper on ‘race’ and genetics, that makes for interesting reading. http://www.realfuture.org/GIST/Readings/Templeton%281998%29.pdf

  20. Mark

    Hmm, something else to add. Identity is one of those things that you are supposed to have. The problem is, the feeling around identity is often a feeling of ‘not having’, of inadequacy. It doesn’t matter what you throw into that pit, it just never seems to be enough.

    I mean, maybe when England have scored five past Germany in the football, I’m happy to be half English. But otherwise, identity has been one of those games that I just haven’t really enjoyed playing, mostly because I think I have lost out most times because I don’t come up to someone else’s expectations, about which I haven’t had a lot of say.

    It began with the Welsh stuff, it extended to my masculinity (I was called a girl continously as a kid), then it extended to my physicality (I was very skinny until my twenties), and then to my beliefs (I was rather mystical in an age that was scientific). The irony is that I can tick most of those boxes these days: I have a beard, I’m not a skinny weakling anymore, and I’ve trained as a biologist – and yet I still don’t feel like I measure up, because the categories just go on and on. I don’t earn enough, I don’t wear stylish enough clothes, I don’t like the right music (I’ve now been labelled that complete anathema to modern women – an 80s guy!), I don’t have a sexy enough car, I don’t like the right home furnishings, and still I keep opening my mouth when I shouldn’t. 🙂

    Now you could easily conclude I still just have a chip from childhood or even that I’m superficial for thinking these things important anyway, but isn’t it just these things that make you ‘belong’ half the time with humans. I didn’t invent the game, but I sure as hell known when I’m not playing it. But I do wonder. I do wonder about these invented games and the way that people justify them. And especially when there are winners and losers. That’s the bit that gets me. That’s the point where I say, hey, this is just a stupid power game. This is the have’s and the have nots, and the have’s making up reasons why he/she doesn’t have to give any of it to the ‘have nots’. And there really is no end to that bullshit!

  21. Seppo

    Thank you Mark, very interesting. I can tell you that I totally agree, especially with what you wrote about national identities. Also nice to hear of your personal experiences.

    “Maybe national identitites stop us fighting among ourselves. That would make some sense. In the same way, understanding and seeing through these imaginary identities is also a big part of growing up as a race. How much better it would be if we discovered an identity that unites us with everyone else, rather than a mere couple of million other people. How much blood and suffering has come from ‘nationhood’ and especially about ideas about superior nationhood? It really makes you wonder if it’s worth it. Good things? Yes, but bad things too have been born by this feeling of national identity.”

    True. National identities, more good or bad? I’m still in the process of finding an answer to that question. Right now, from a predominantly Finnish point of view, I would say historically more good than bad. Even though I have been calling for a new Finnishness (Finn-ness) that would be more diverse and less focused on such things as one certain language, I agree with you that the Finnish language has traditionally been at the heart of Finnish identity. The development of the Finnish language from a lower class spoken language into a lively and well-established language of education, literature, science, politics and all other domains of the modern society is a fantastic success story and it would hardly have been possible without the support of a strong Finnish national identity. Even though I don’t believe in the most radical views, I do think that there would have been a greater language shift towards Swedish and later also perhaps Russian if the Finnish national identity would not have been created. What happened with Irish language is so tragic and sad and there were some elements in the Finnish situation similar to that of the Irish.

    On the other hand, Finnish politician and philosopher Yrjö Kallinen who I admire a lot wrote already ages ago that all group identities that distract us from seeing and realizing the all-encompassing humanity are bad. In a way I would like to believe in that. Referring to your discussion on masculinity, there are just those certain things that I want to keep. One of them is the Finnish language which is extremely important to me. If there is a way to go towards an identity that unites us all without us having to give up certain characteristics like our languages then I guess I would be up for it. At the moment I’m just too afraid that giving up our national identities entirely would in the long run make us all monolingual English-speakers and that is one of my biggest fears ever.

  22. Mark

    – “At the moment I’m just too afraid that giving up our national identities entirely would in the long run make us all monolingual English-speakers and that is one of my biggest fears ever.”

    🙂 Fair enough, though with your English skills you might suffer a lot less than some. I would almost guarantee that national languages will remain. English may become a lingua franca, the preferred second or third language. That’s the pattern today.

    In the gender debate, I’ve always leaned towards the liberal end of things and masculinity as a project of reconstruction. I like national identities, I just don’t want them to be seen as absolutes.

    Likewise, it would be nice if people in general recognized that there is something of the ridiculous about identities, instead of insisting all the time about them. The more you tell yourself ‘this is who I am’, the more unbelievable it becomes. Why? It if it is who you are, why keep reminding yourself? Why is identity something that is so easily forgotten? Of course, when you wear a uniform your whole life, the danger is always that it might peel off accidentally if you are not all the time putting it ‘into place’. You might even be quite convinced that it is in fact your very skin and not a uniform.

    In the postmodern world, people believe they can have the best of everything if only they avoid making one thing the best. And it’s true of identity I would say, because although we live as Finns, we may still e.g. wear clothes made in Bangladesh, drive cars made in the Czech Republic, eat Indian or Chinese food, surf the Internet hosted in Iceland, read literature by Americans and Africans, fill our houses with Swedish designed furniture, watch telly on a South Korean or Dutch televisions, wear shoes made in Italy, take winter holidays in Greece, sing songs written in English, and watch TV programs from Germany, the UK and the US etc. Even those great moments of national pride, a ‘gold medal’ at a championships, has something of the ridiculous about it. Most of the time, we are not the best, but one of those other numerous nations are; but when our talent does trump the field, then we forget the other nation’s triumphs and state ‘Finland is best’ – for a year. 😉

  23. Seppo

    “I would almost guarantee that national languages will remain”

    I want to believe that, too. And in a way I do since most national languages are so well-established and rich and usable that they cannot be run over by bigger languages the same way as in the 19th century. And people are more aware of the risks of letting a language with greater strength and prestige too deep into their lives. At least I am and I’m going to try to spread this awareness further.

    Stable bi- or multilingualism is a rare phenomenon nowadays. Ultimately one of the languages takes over, usually the one with higher prestige. So, as I see it, when Finns speak as good English as they do Finnish, the game has been lost. We should try to balance with knowing English really well but still our own language better. It is not as easy as it might sound like.

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