For those of you who had the opportunity to move to Finland in the 1970s or early 1980s, will certainly remember Eila Kännö, the head of the then-Aliens’ Office. Has anyone counted how many times the name of the immigration office has changed since the 1970s? I have lost track.
She was the epitome of keeping Finland “clean” of foreigners. Kari, the late Helsingin Sanomat cartoonist, who was well known for his stance against immigrants in Finland, did a cartoon of Kännö. She was depicted as a doorwoman standing guard in front of hordes or inhuman-looking foreigners attempting to enter the country. Helsingin Sanomat compared her style of rule with Benito Mussolini’s.
But her hard-line stance was her downfall. Kännö had threatened in an evening paper to throw the foreigners, who had staged the biggest demonstration ever in the early 1980s demanding greater rights, into jail because it was illegal for a non-Finn to organize a demonstration. There was a loophole: The Helsinki University Union student body organized the demonstration.
That demonstration was what probably brought Kännö down. The more hostile and reticent the Aliens’ Office became the more of a liability she became. It’s incredible that some Finns and well-known journalists like Pekka Karhuvaara approved of her tough autocratic style.
One of the favorite arguments used by police authorities back then why Finland had to keep outsiders from living in Finland was because they were “potential criminals.” Incredulous, no?
We should never forget this bleak period and more should be written about it. Not for revenge but that such policy mistakes never occur again.