Is Finland a safe country for non-whites?

by , under All categories, Enrique

Scores of stories have been published recently in the Finnish media on how non-white Finns and people with immigrant backgrounds have been harassed and attacked in broad daylight. Even though it is a positive sign that the media has pointed out this worrying trend there is still a lot of work to be done on this front.

It should not come to any surprise that these attacks have something to do with the rise of the Perussuomalaiset in the April 17 election.

I once asked the bloggers who visit Migrant Tales what should be done if one is harassed and attacked in public. Here is one case that happened recently:

An African was on the bus in Jyväskylä and a young man shoved and then hit him on the back. Nobody on the bus reacted. The African walked away shaken from the incident.

After numerous calls to the police, a policeman finally told the African what he should do if he were attacked in public the next time by a stranger.

”I have been on the force for 35 years and my advice is to walk away,” the policeman said. ”It’s not worth (reporting the crime)  because we’ll never catch the person. My advice? Just walk away.”

Certainly the walking away part is fine because the victim should do everything possible to get out of harm’s way. We weren’t, however, convinced about not reporting the incident.

Not satisfied with the policeman’s advice, we called the Ombudsman for Minorities. A woman who spoke to us did not have a ready answer. She did, as promised, call back and said we should report the incident. ”It should be reported to the police because they may catch the suspect one day,” she said.

The African decided to call the Jyväskylä police and report the incident.

He recommends you do the same.*

*Update (June 26, 2011): After encouraging the African to get in touch with the police to report the harassment incident, the person decided not to apparently due to fear of the police. We had to call the police a number of times to speak to an offiicial in Pieksämäki who told us that it was better not to report the case because nothing could be done to catch the culprit.

This case shows very clearly why some hate crimes in Finland go unreported.

  1. Enrique

    Even if it sounds incredible in Finland today, these types of racist attacks take place because society and the authorities have not taken them seriously enough. If the Perussuomalaiset claim to be a party for social justice, one right that everyone has in Finland is to feel safe when he/she is in public.

    Silence is another way of stoking the flames of racism.

  2. Klay_Immigrant

    Enrique aren’t you taking it a bit too far with the headline of this article? Talk about being sensational and wanting to cause a storm. Would you have the heading ‘Is Finland a safe country for white females?’ everytime an immigrant or a person of immigrant background has been convicted of rape which is becoming more a common occurrence? If not then why should it apply here? Add to the fact I think even you would have to agree that rape is more of a serious crime then a shove on the back.

    I’m travelling to Finland in 3 weeks time and as a non-white person if I followed your advice I would feel obliged to purchase a handgun to carry with me at all times in Finland in order to feel safe.

    • Enrique

      Klay, the question is: Is Finland a safe country for non-whites? Welcome to Finland. I suggest that you go to a night club on Saturday night with your Finnish girlfriend. Take a stroll in the center of town and tell us about it. If nothing happens to you that is a good matter.

      In these cases as have been reported in Finland the public should be outraged. You too should be.

  3. Klay_Immigrant

    I will do and have done many times before in previous occasions in Finland and never had a problem with people being friendly to us. Maybe it’s because I’m not looking for trouble unlike some others.

    • Enrique

      Good for you, Klay. I wonder why some get in harm’s way and other don’t? Being at the wrong place at the wrong time? The PS have rubbed off a lot of negative things in Finland. One of these is that it has emboldened racists. Not a good thing for society.

  4. Martin-Éric

    It’s not even a question of skin color. Since the elections, I’ve been (incorrectly) called Russian by some bystanders on public transit or on the street, presumably because, to them, anyone whose skin is not as pale as the snow but who is nonetheless white is obviously Russian. I choose to ignore them; it usually works. In the rare few cases when someone is looking for a fight, I just walk away; it works too. In any case, I simply presume them to be ignorant juntti not worthy of my time.

    • Enrique

      Hi Martin-Érik, it’s pretty incredible. Have you noticed this happening now or has this been an ongoing thing?

  5. Martin-Éric

    It hadn’t happened in years, but it started happening again recently.

    The worst case of syssittely I’ve had was in the late-90’s, back when I was still living in Lappeenranta, and the leader of four drunk youths who were walking in the opposite direction coming towards me hit me pretty hard in the should while mumbling “Vitun ryssä!” and continue walking past me. Two days later, as I took a train to Helsinki, I noticed the same four guys sitting in the opposite row, all wearing military garb and not recognizing me. I was extremely tempted to ask the train conductor to get the police on board at the next stop to arrest them, but again chose to simply presume them to be juntti and ignore them.

    • Enrique

      I know how you feel, Matin-Érik. Too bad about what happened.

  6. Mikko

    Is Espoo centre safe for white people then? Is Helsinki central park safe for women? You would be surprised if you walk there by yourself during the Friday-Saturday night.

    It is already known fact the attacks are directed to bus drivers, not just immigrant bus drivers. It doesn’t seem to matter if the driver is a Finn, immigrant, young or old. So, why it is some how worse if the victim happen to be an immigrant?

  7. Allan

    What is “stoking racism”?

    Is Helsinki Kamppi safe for white people?
    http://omakaupunki.hs.fi/paakaupunkiseutu/uutiset/poliisi_etsii_miesta_potkinutta_jengia/?ref=tf_iOKboksi_p4

    Is your own home safe for white women in Lahti?
    http://www.iltalehti.fi/uutiset/2011051013687079_uu.shtml

    One right that everyone has in Finland is to feel safe both in public and private.
    http://www.iltalehti.fi/uutiset/2011050913682122_uu.shtml
    See now whats the problem, no “racism” involved.

    • Enrique

      Allan, stoking racism is like stoking a fire, you keep it alive by feeding the fire.

    • Enrique

      –See now whats the problem, no “racism” involved.

      Allan, we can agree that some Finns are respectful and considerate of others. I wrote recently that the PS will outrage Finns to the point (especially on racism) that it will bring good qualities in us. This is already seen in the countless of articles that are appearing exposing this menace.

      We have such a well ordered society that for someone to attack (hate crime) or insult someone on the street like kids is simply unacceptable. Can we agree on this?

  8. Hannu

    “We have such a well ordered society that for someone to attack (hate crime) or insult someone on the street like kids is simply unacceptable. Can we agree on this?”

    Does this apply only your “hate crimes” or every crime and whats difference?

    • Enrique

      It can apply to everything but especially to hate crimes.

    • Enrique

      Here is the definition straight from the horse’s mouth: Viharikoksilla tarkoitetaan tekoja, joiden motiivina ovat ennakkoluulot tai vihamielisyys uhrin edustamaa ryhmää kohtaan.

  9. Joel

    I’ve visited Finland about about 5 or 6 times. The first 4 were for business, the next 2, to visit my Finnish gf. Im Mexican-American and definitely look Latino. As a single guy, partying and conducting business, I never once had an issue in Finland, the people have been pretty friendly and rocking cool. I rode the buses, trams and partied like a rockstar till 5am. Probably checked out 15 plus bars/clubs in HKI.

    So far on these other two trips, I’ve spent a cumulative total of a month in Finland visiting my gf and no issues. Sure we definitely look very different as she is a tall, blond/blue eyed Finn, but still about the only “issue” we encountered is me being aggressively hit on by a drunk cougar at a bar.

    I am heading back this summer and planning to spend a month with her, likely many more drunk people than in the Winter, so we will see.

    Trust me, after living several years in the US South, I am used to racism due to ignorance and stupidity. I don’t like to fight, 99% of the time, I walk away especially if it is directed only against me. Now if they disrespect my woman, the Finns are going to see the “Pancho Villa” come out of this scrappy American guy.

    • Enrique

      Hola Joel, welcome to Migrant Tales. We’re happy that you have had a great time in Finland and will enjoy your summer here.

      Going to another thing, if possible, could you tell us how seriously the police takes racism where you are from. Do you report such crimes to the police? What happens if some white guy gets in a fight with you and and the police figure it is a hate crime. What then?

  10. JusticeDemon

    Jonas G

    That case was reported in the online Finnish language news media here.

    Does anyone have a link to the original article published on 10 May in Keskisuomalainen?

  11. Martin-Éric

    That case is not entirely different from when HBL recently removed my perfectly civilized and on-topic comment from an article on their site because, in their opinion, their rule that someone should post using a Nordic language was not observed when I wrote my comment in Finnish. [1] As one can see from the reactions in other comments, an interesting debate over what constitutes a Nordic language ensued.

    [1] http://www.hbl.fi/text/inrikes/2010/12/21/w56571.php

  12. Jonas

    I think it is perfectly reasonable that a Swedish-speaking publication expects comments to be in a language that all of its readers understand. Does Le Monde publish articles in German within its pages? Does The Times of London print articles in Spanish? Probably not. Additionally, there are few Swedish-speaking publications in Finland, very few Swedish-language media websites. There are lots in Finnish for Finnish-speakers to comment upon. When HBL and others did permit Finnish-language comments, discussions tended to be flooded by an aggressive small group of strongly anti-Swedish persons, the sort of type that frequent the ‘RKP’ section on Suomi24’s discussion groups.

    I don’t think that Hufvudstadsbladet not allowing comments in languages not comprehensible to the entire readership is comparable to the situation Kalevi Olin was involved in.

  13. Martin-Éric

    Jonas, please bear in mind that Finnish is this country’s other official language. Besides, it’s not like we’re expecting HBL’s readership to reply to Serbo-Croatian comments, are we? Another point is, if they define Nordic as “some Scandinavian langage” they would also need to expect comments in Icelandic and, as it is, chances are that the average Ostrobotnian’s understanding of Icelandic is much smaller than their understanding of Finnish.

  14. Jonas

    Indeed, and please also bear in mind that Swedish is also an official language. I think it’s not bold to assume that Husis is aimed at people who can read the Swedish language. Such people will also understand written Norwegian and Danish. They will not necessarily be able to understand Finnish. My grandparents subscribed to Husis for the whole of their lives. They did not speak Finnish. I don’t think its unreasonable for us to have Swedish-language news media that actually are just that, in the Swedish-language: on the air, in print, and online. Otherwise you can just as well say that we can get rid of Swedish-language services entirely as “all Finns can speak Finnish anyway.” The whole point of official languages is to allow people, in theory at least, to be able to live their lives in the official language of their choice.

    I do agree though that they should perhaps word their regulations more clearly.

  15. Martin-Éric

    I can read the Swedish language just fine, but I don’t speak it remotely well enough to make coherent sentences. This doesn’t disqualify me for commenting on the issue of pakoruotsi, in either language, nor does it make appropriate commenting on the issue below an article that will be read by the target group that is the most concerned by the future of Swedish-language service in this country. Besides, think of it this way: it’s not any more right for Swedish speakers to hush a Finnish speaker, than the other way around. Swedish speakers have been complaining about the later for ages, so they should do well and avoid delivering the former.

  16. Allan

    M-E – the Swedish-speakers have officially hushed Finnish-speakers for ages, and are even doing it now. Kids were banned from using a Swedish schools gym for sahly because they spoke Finnish. Now do you see anything like that happening from the Finns? Really??

  17. Jonas

    It’s not about hushing anyone! It’s a newspaper in the Swedish language. It’s aimed at the Swedish language readership. Imagine if the comments section of Québec’s main French-language newspaper was overwhelmed by comments in English many of its articles. Would that not be rather disturbing for its French-speaking audience? Particularly so for those that perhaps do not have a high reading knowledge of English. Would that be fair for the people who turn to that newspaper to find news and discussion in French when they suddenly can’t follow the debate?

    As it happens, I can’t really write German very well anymore. And thus, should I visit German-language newspapers (which is not something I do very often admittedly!), I would simply not comment even if I had an opinion on the article. Just as I would not comment in Swedish on Helsingin Sanomat’s website. Do you think Hesari would allow comments not written in Finnish? I should hope not.

    I would note also that pakkoruotsi is of course a pejorative term.

    Allan, believe me, try and live your life as a Swedish-speaker and you will find out what is like to be greeted by language intolerance. Have you ever seen anyone being “told off” by a fellow customer in supermarket checkout queue for speaking Finnish? Has anyone tried to start a fight in the hot dog queue with you because you spoke Finnish? I doubt it.

  18. Martin-Éric

    Interestingly enough, most québécois I know have taken the stance of peaceful cohabitation and mutual understanding. Whenever someone doesn’t speak the other language, everyone else changes to accommodate. I’ve also seen cases where people are simply uneasy about speaking the other language, but understand it well enough to follow a conversation, in which case everyone speaks the language they are the most comfortable expressing themselves in; as long as everone understands each other, everything is fine.

    Finns have often been chastitized for their intolerance towards the Swedish language. At the very least, I would expect bättre folk to have more smarts than that and NOT return the DISfavor.

  19. Jonas

    Martin-Éric, why do you use the language of the True Finns and their ilk? Bättre folk?? Seriously?!

    Most Swedish-speaking Finns do exactly the same, change to Finnish even if the group consists of 9 Swedish-speakers and 1 Finnish-speaker. But this is not about communication in an open environment such as in a tram, or in the street (as with the politician in the article), or a restaurant etc. You’re talking about a discussion forum of a Swedish-language newspaper. It’s hardly unreasonable to expect people to discuss things in Swedish there. I don’t understand how your analogy with people facing abuse for using a language in public fits with a newspaper discussion forum. Clearly almost everywhere (maybe Luxemburg accepted), newspapers are in one language. Are you seriously suggesting we shouldn’t be allowed to have a few places where we can discuss news in our own mother tongue? By my reckoning we only have two websites reporting national and international news in Swedish in Finland: HBL.fi and Svenska Yle. The handful of other media outlets (Borgåbladet, Västra Nyland, Vasabladet etc) focus on local happenings. If you want to comment on news in Finnish, you can surely get by with those sites available in Finnish, of which there are many.

  20. Martin-Éric

    You are all very welcome to suggest better venues to reach a maximum amount of Finlandssvenskare on issues that concern them, without first having to devote a few years to learn their language, especially when the issue being discussed precisely is the lack of labour trainings to learn Swedish as an immigrant and how increasing the availability of such courses would go a LONG way towards ensuring the availability of Swedish-language services in both the public and private sectors.

  21. JusticeDemon

    Martin-Éric

    Why don’t you offer Husis an interview piece on this topic? This is one of the most approachable news media in Finland. I’d be very surprised if they declined such an offer.

  22. Jonas

    Martin-Éric, I am afraid that I doubt that the comment section of Hufvudstadsbladet’s homepage has the mission to make it easy for you personally to reach its readership.

    Now what you mention in your latest entry is a completely different issue and one that is very relevant. You should follow JusticeDemon’s advice I think. They have written articles before on it so I am sure they would be interested to hear from you on the topic. I think you are absolutely right in your assertion regarding vocational training.

  23. Allan

    BTW -I do agree that if you write in HBL you write in its language.

    And Jonas actually I have had that treatment speaking Finnish as a kid so dont get all high and mighty there.

  24. Joel

    As a visitor I have no right to comment in detail about the interesting discussion that played out above, but I did enjoy reading the well thought out and written posts.

    Enrique, thank you for the welcome. I have read your blog a fair amount, as inevitably, the question has come up from my gf, if I would ever move to Finland. I really dig the Finnish culture and it helps me to get to know her better to learn more about it. About your question, yes definitely have been in physical altercations before due to racist activity. 99% of the time, people shout something ignorant, you simply walk away, forget about it. The times it has gotten physical, no report to the police, it would be point less. Our hate crime definition, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_crime#United_States vs yours http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_crime#Finland

    Here is the deal. The human being is an habitual person, we are uneasy with the unknown. Therefore, there will always be an element within any society that primarily due to the lack of knowledge of a given “unknown” be it color, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc will be uneasy with it.

    Hell I’ll be honest, I was uneasy with gay’s until I moved to the US West Coast. Then I became friends with my gay upstairs neighbor. Over time we became great friends and I realized we weren’t that much different. We both liked partying, I just only liked beautiful women and he only liked hairy men.

    Whatever floats your boat.

    Btw Enrique, you should consider using http://disqus.com/ for this site, it will enhance the social interactions, etc.

    • Enrique

      Hey Joel, thanks for the disqus link. I will take a better look at it. I grew up in Southern California. A good lesson to be learned from your thread is to allow bygones by bygones. This also applies to minorities as well. I don’t know if you are into low-riders, but I taught a class with tenth-graders and we looked at some youtube videos of this type of car. There are today a few in Finland.

  25. Hannu

    “Have you ever seen anyone being “told off” by a fellow customer in supermarket checkout queue for speaking Finnish? Has anyone tried to start a fight in the hot dog queue with you because you spoke Finnish? I doubt it.”

    Yes and yes, that old hag didnt take it kindly when i told her that if she wants to be in sweden there is only that little water and she is allowed to move tho >:)

  26. Hannu

    Here is the definition straight from the horse’s mouth: Viharikoksilla tarkoitetaan tekoja, joiden motiivina ovat ennakkoluulot tai vihamielisyys uhrin edustamaa ryhmää kohtaan.

    So i have been victim of hate crime multiple times.

  27. xyz

    I was actually wondering – since there are some people who have issues with Muslims and other minorities – what they think about those who were fighing against the Soviet Invasion voluntarily for Finland (even so they had no Finnish citizenship) in the 40s?

  28. Allan

    I suggested it already. Don’t move in without a job just counting on establishing a pizzeria.

    What the government should do, well do they ever listen to people?

  29. Martin-Éric

    Coming here with a job in hand doesn’t really fix anything. As soon as that first residence permit ends, someone quickly finds out that this country lacks the will and the resources to renew residence permits in a timely matter. Also, changing jobs is next to impossible, even with the best of qualifications; there’s only a few globally-minded companies who can be bothered with returning calls, much even less get around inviting someone for an interview. Most small companies are too locally-minded to even get started with remotely considering foreign talent. Thus, most foreign professionals’ experience of Finland hits a brick wall after their first job ends and they are soon forced to leave the country.

  30. Allan

    What if somebody moves to Finland because he/she has a Finnish spouse?

    I thought that was the case here. Does love get you a job? It is the same if an EU citizen moves with or without a Finnish spouse.

    Apart from the obvious benefit moving with a spouse that non-EUs unlike in M-E’s example you do not need to worry about the employer providing the permit, rather than just concentrating on finding a job.

    What would you tell a person? “sure, sell everything, move here, sit a year or two on your ass and in Finnish classes and then start a pizzeria”? Or – “Get a residence permit if you need one, apply for jobs, when you have a job lined up or you are comfortable with your realistic chances, then move?”

  31. Allan

    The question was moving to Finland. If you have to leave a job and a lifestyle behind you, there is a danger you will end up quite embittered whining in a blog about your choice.

    • Enrique

      Alan, don’t people get involved in a bog in pesee NOT to become embittered?

  32. Allan

    xyz – as much “has to” as the spouse ” has to” move to Finland. Its a choice to make best based on practical matters.

  33. Martin-Éric

    Actually, the couple doesn’t get to make the choice; the Immigration does. In fact, some question on the separate spousal annex specifically aim to determine whether it would be remotely possible for the couple to live together somewhere else and NOT to immigrate to Finland.

  34. Joel

    Allan, you are correct. The answer is in economic growth within industries. The US unemployment rate is 9%, but here in Silicon Valley, its just about 0%, if you can even spell the word technology you have a job.

    We’ve done a great job of nurturing startups for several reasons: 1) failing at a startup isn’t a bad thing, its positive, its a learning experience 2) a community of risk takers, both investors, employees and founders 3) great weather, sure we have a lot of fog 4) quirky, free thinkers. This Sunday there will be a “race” called bay to breakers, over 100,000 will be there. Some running seriously, some dressed as superman, some fully naked except for shoes, some top less, some heavily drunk, some smoking “something”. No one is selling anything, everyone is getting along.

    I see similar attributes within the Finns. One of the first few times I was HKI for business and my colleague was explaining to me the importance of the sauna, etc, then he described how sometimes in the winter after you’ve had a few drinks how some people go and roll in the snow naked. I thought to myself, hell yes, the Finns are rocking cool. One cool thing about the Finnish culture is you guys have a serious work dedication, strong work ethics, yet know how to let loose, relax and have fun.

    So still yet to be seen if I will ever move to Finland, one step at a time. Apparently we are going sailing with her parents for a weekend, whew, that might be interesting. But if I do ever come id probably kick off another technology startup, something in the mobile space and or invest in Finnish startups.

  35. Allan

    Yes Joel, just remember in Finland, “failure” is not on the word list. You get a black mark against your name and lord forbid you make a personal liability, theres no personal banktrupcy as in the US, it might take 10 years an the tax office and debtors will pass the debts onto your children lest they disown you. Well, thats a bit exaggerated, but do go on an ” entrepeneur course” to understand not only the legal stuff but also the ins and outs of government subsidies and taxation, as otherwise you might get plucked like a spring chicken. As for startups theres government incentives available and especially if you provide employment in some of the areas loosing jobs the local government might be acommodating.

  36. Mary Mekko

    Funny that that shoved African male got the same advice we “white girls” (European immigrants’ daughters) received from teachers, when we got black male harassment on the public buses, day in and day out, during the 1970’s. Walk away, just ignore it, if you react they’ll get more excited, it’s dangerous to incite them (what? by complaining?), forget the police, there’s no real crime involved, it’s just kids being kids, and so on. What did I and my “white” sisters do? We switched from riding the black-dominated morning commute bus, which ran past a public high school on the way to our girls’ Catholic school, to riding our own bikes across town. I never dealt with those nasty and horrid black male racists again, but I still to this day avoid all black males on the street, as do most “white” women in big American cities. There’s a reason for the fear! I am sorry to hear that one black African male experienced what we “white girls” got every day on buses in California, but hey, buck up! What doesn’t kill ya, makes you stronger! Just ignore it! Don’t incite those Finns, they might have guns! Do you want to wind up dead in an alley? What do you mean, the police? What a joke!

Leave a Reply