Racism in Finland: She loves me, she loves me not…

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

The region of Pohjois-Karjala in eastern Finland has gained a dubious reputation for being one of Finland’s hotspots of racism. A poll published by Joensuu-based Karjalainen shows that while people from this region are  not against labor immigrants but they don’t want refugees moving there. 

If I interpreted one of the findings of the poll correctly, everything is supposedly fine in Pohjois-Karjala for immigrants as long as they go to work there and pay taxes, right?

Wrong.

If anything, the poll reveals how deep in denial some inhabitants of the region are concerning racism and how it has flourished. Remember the businessmen who did not want people with “pigment problems” to apply? What about those establishments owned by self-employed immigrants that have been attacked in cities like Joensuu? Ever heard of Lieksa?

The poll even suggests blame on immigrants: There was no racism in our town before foreigners came here.

Even if some inhabitants of the region may not want refugees, I wonder if any person would want to move to a city like Lieksa?

Despite the big challenges that Pohjois-Karjala faces, Karjalainen and associations like JoMoni led by Alain Miguet have done a lot of good work on the anti-racism front.

Their jobs are not made easier by parties like the Perussuomalaiset (PS), which have not made a clear break with racism. Instead, some of their MPs even openly promote it.  The PS are now the biggest party in Pohjois-Karjala, according to a poll published on Turn Sanomat.

The more racism lifts its head in Finland, doublespeak explanations claiming that we don’t have a problem with such a social ill will become more prominent.

We will claim that we like certain immigrants but loathe others.

  1. Anton

    What do you expect outside of Keha III?

    And it’s just as bad in the business world even in civilized Finland. Selling a better quality but imported product, cheaper? Forget it. It won’t fly.

    • Enrique

      Hi Anton, great to see you on Migrant Tales. Sometimes it would be great to live inside Kehä III. Pohjois-Karjala is a sad sore spot. We should all be concerned by what is going down there.

  2. Laputis

    So all Finland must be overfilled by immigrants, not just Helsinki, according to some people. So for them it´s sad that people outside Helsinki don´t accept immigrants. Whatever. I am happy that there are still places in Finland which are FINNISH, and it is said by me, an immigrant. I don´t want to see everywhere immigrants, especially non-Europeans, well, and that is said by non-European like me.

    • Enrique

      Hi Laputis, your comment is a good example that immigrants can be more conservative than Finns. It’s nothing strange considering that immigrants compete for resources like jobs as well.

      So you think that a handful of people from another country can bring out the worst in a community is ok?

  3. Jaakko

    justicedemon

    I don’t quite understand what you mean by saying that immigrants are also Finn(ish). Probably depends how to determine what is a “Finn”. This is what I think:

    If the immigrant has a Finnish citizenship, then he is a Finn with an immigrant background.
    If the person is born and raised in Finland, then he is a Finn.
    If the person has some relatives/family in Finland, but doesn’t know the language and has never lived in Finland, he is not a Finn.

  4. Laputis

    Enrique:

    – “It’s nothing strange considering that immigrants compete for resources like jobs as well.”

    I think that you have really different idea about few things than I have. My idea is, that, if land belongs to a certain human group, it is usually inherited from generation to generation. The jobs provided, are for the survival or, in the best case, even for flourishing of the certain community, and taking care of land for further generations. I don´t see here so much competition as cooperation. The immigrant in ideal, is brought to this certain land by intermarriage, or willingness to contribute to this society. I am in Finland due marriage with a Finnish person. I hope, that my and my husband´s work will provide better land and opportunities for our children and grandchildren, just like for surrounding society and land. We work for contribution into Finnish society and land, not for stupid senseless competition. Of course, some competition always exist within society, but in ideal it should be in balance with cooperation as well. I think in long-term categories, I think about what kind of society and land will be perceived by our descendants – children, grandchildren and grandgrandchildren etc. I don´t want that they blame me for bad decisions or bad works. I don´t care about competition, I care about what will come in the future.

  5. Laputis

    Enrique:

    – “So you think that a handful of people from another country can bring out the worst in a community is ok?”

    Sorry, I don´t get your question…? Can you rephrase it differently, please?

    • Enrique

      The question was about Lieksa, where a handful of immigrants numbering around 240, have brought the worst our of the city. The population of the city is 12,800 inhabitants.

  6. Laputis

    Justicedemon:

    – “Immigrants are also Finnish. Sad that you can’t see that, Laputis, as it means you will be an outsider forever. Not because of Finland, but because of something in your own mind.”

    Let´s see, who is really outsider. If I, being immigrant, say that I am “Finnish” it is nothing else than theater and lies. And people dislike liers. I think that many Finns would respect me for my honest opinion that I am not Finnish, than for my dishonest words “I am Finnish”. I am not pretending to be what I am not. I am not ashamed to say that I am immigrant.

  7. Seppo

    “Probably depends how to determine what is a “Finn”.”

    A Finn is a person who considers himself a Finn. That is, one who feels Finnish. Finn-ness is a feeling and different people can come to that in many different ways, from many different backgrounds.

    No-one has the right to define someone else’s identity on his behalf. That does not belong to an open and democratic society.

    • Enrique

      Totally agree with your definition of a Finn: “A Finn is a person who considers himself a Finn.”

      Now go and tell that to some people in this country. I wonder what their reaction would be.

  8. Yossie

    I suppose this is something I have argued against before but

    “A Finn is a person who considers himself a Finn.”

    This is in my opinion wrong. I suppose Enrique is a true believer in “abilty to change” but in my case, I do believe people really cant unlearn and undo their childhood and their upbringing. However I do believe what I would consider “finnish” can be achieved by second generation immigrants (taking they are not growing up in a 99% immigrant ghetto).

    • Enrique

      –This is in my opinion wrong. I suppose Enrique is a true believer in “abilty to change” but in my case, I do believe people really cant unlearn and undo their childhood and their upbringing.

      Maybe you can give us your view of what a Finn is.

  9. Yossie

    Much respect to Laputis. I totally agree with you!

    Really dont understand what Justicedemon is after about being outsider forever. Yes, one might be considered “outsider” as in “Not grown up in here” but that doesnt mean one cant be a “insider” when it comes to friendships with finns, being “insider” at work and doing “finnish things” along while still admitting to be a foreigner.

  10. Jaakko

    – A Finn is a person who considers himself a Finn.

    I can’t agree with this one. If I move to Japan, can I just start to call myself as Japanese? Of course not. Same thing goes other way around: I can’t become “non-Finn” suddenly just because I don’t feel like a Finn.

    – Yes, one might be considered “outsider” as in “Not grown up in here” but that doesnt mean one cant be a “insider” when it comes to friendships with finns, being “insider” at work and doing “finnish things”

    Agree with this one. I have lived in couple different countries and even I was the “outsider”, I didn’t feel any less just because I was an immigrant. I had native friends, worked with them and enjoyed the host culture.

    • Enrique

      Jaakko, so in your book a person is an eternal outsider. What happened to all this good will and hope that people would integrate?

      I disagree anyway, it is the person who decides who he is and where he belongs. Isn’t that a great part of the history of our societies?

  11. Risto

    “Totally agree with your definition of a Finn: “A Finn is a person who considers himself a Finn.”

    Now go and tell that to some people in this country. I wonder what their reaction would be.”

    Interesting thought, one way of looking at it. Me, myself and I like to think of myself as a Belgian who loves Finland and it inhabitants and its customs and manners. In a way I do feel a little bit Finn-ish. But I still consider myself Finn. At the very most a Belgian with Finnish affinities.

    And now for a reality check: go and ask foreigners in Finland whether they consider themselves Finns. I think you might be disappointed at hearing the answers if you start from the idea that most of them “consider themselves to be Finn”. Turkish people for a fact will never (actually their leaders have always urged their fellow-Turks abroad to do so) give up on their Turkishness, its part of a certain state ideology with them. They will always – even after 3 generations and counting – see themselves in the first place as Turks.

  12. Risto

    “Now go and tell that to some people in this country. I wonder what their reaction would be.”

    So, to elaborate on my last comment: I thus wonder what the reaction of immigrants/ foreigners would be when asked what nationality or ethnic membership they attribute themselves. I’m not so sure whether they even would want to be portrayed as Finns…which is not so surprising… since identity is multi-layered and you can never do away with an ethnic background like that. But then again my comment remains the same: isn’t there a possibility that many foreigners/ immigrants are not at all interested in being referred to as Finns? Wouldn’t they be more interested in getting respect from society? And Furthermore: is it such a big point, let people decide for themselves whether they want to be Finns or not…

  13. Seppo

    “If I move to Japan, can I just start to call myself as Japanese?”

    If you feel that because you moved to Japan you became Japanese, then yes. Most probably you would not feel like this and continue to refer to yourself as a Finn.

    If you don’t feel you are a Finn, then you don’t consider yourself a Finn, but something else. That’s how simple it is.

    All I’m saying is that national identities are about subjective feelings. Without knowing someone, you cannot just state that he is / is not a Finn – even though it in many cases seems kind of obvious.

    In countries where ethno-national belonging is registered, people are asked personally what is their nationality. Then they answer according to how they feel.

    Immigrants can and do become Finns even though, as shown by many commentators here, it is not made easy by the surrounding society.

  14. Seppo

    “I thus wonder what the reaction of immigrants/ foreigners would be when asked what nationality or ethnic membership they attribute themselves. I’m not so sure whether they even would want to be portrayed as Finns..”

    I’m not portraying anyone as anything. It’s up to each individual himself to define what group he belongs to, if any.

  15. Jaakko

    Enrique

    People can integrate even they are not “Finns”. I don’t understand what is so bad about being a non-Finn? You still can have the same opportunities than the natives / “insiders” and same kind of life. I just don’t believe that people can decide that “ok, now I’m a Finn/Russian/Japanese/Brazilian etc.”, because they “feel” like it. If you are a Finn with immigrant background, why can’t you be called as such? Being an immigrant is not a negative thing and if you have any real Finnish friends they wouldn’t judge either because of your background. If you get a child in Finland and raise him here, then he is “just” a Finns.

    • Enrique

      Hi Jaakko, I speak as a person who has lived as an “outsider” in this country for as long as I can remember. I speak for those young people who were born here but have lived most of their lives here; I speak for the Romany minorities, Saami, and all the minorities. When I speak of being a “Finn” I am speaking of acceptance and respect.

      In a globalized world where more people move around, we have to get past this “us” and “them” mentality. It slows and hinders a well-functioning society. For some reason, Finland is very “us” and “them” oriented.

      I don’t think being an immigrant or any label you prefer as long as you don’t go spreading hatred and racism in society. People have the right to choose who they are and for society to accept them as they are.

  16. Jaakko

    Enrique, you have a point.I do understand that labelling to people to “us” and “them” might cause problems. Some people might use that as a weapon against “them”, but most of the Finns (not the party) doesn’t have the extremely views of those groups. I do like that I have Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese etc. friends and even they are not “Finns” they are just as important for me than any “native” friends. For me the term “immigrant” just means that the person has in some point of his/her life moved to Finland, that’s all.

  17. Laputis

    – ” I speak for those young people who were born here but have lived most of their lives here; I speak for the Romany minorities, Saami, and all the minorities.”

    Well, I think you just don´t understand the Old World meaning of Finns, Saami, Gypsies and such? They are all ethnicities. Ethnicities in Europe, Asia and Africa are often distinguishable each from other by language, culture, ancestry, religion, history etc. Ethnicities is not same as nationalities (i.e. grouping by country citizenships). And ethnic belonging and identity is often stronger than national one. You can see that really well in Finland and elsewhere in Europe. But also in Asia, and also in Africa people often have foremost ethnic identities, which are only secondary followed by national identities. I feel that you with all that American upbringing just don´t understand these things, which are so natural to many people from the Old World.

    The Gypsies everywhere, in every country in Europe are first, and foremost, Gypsies. They regard themselves as Gypsies, and only then as Finns (maybe more correctly to say – Finlanders), Romanians or Bulgarians, or Spaniards . The Gypsies from all corners of the world recognise each other, they greet each other as “brothers”, despite being from different countries, because Gypsies share many similar cultural, mentality etc. traits, and common ancestry.
    Another textbook example of what “ethnicity” means are Saami. They, just like Gypsies, don´t have own country, they live in 4 different countries. But Saami usually consider themselves first and foremost Saami, closer to another Saami person from another country than to a non-Saami person from same country.
    And Finns are an ethnicity too! If Finland wouldn´t exist, there regardless would exist the Finnish people. You have to understand, that Finnish people have first and foremost, ethnic identity, not national one. Wherever, in whatever country outside Finland a Finnish person would live, he or she still is Finnish, because it is what his or her ethnicity is!

    Ethnicities are largely descended by generations, and it´s not like you can freely choose what your ethnicity is. Your ethnicity is that of your parents. In case if you have mixed ancestry, you can choose the closest one. Or the one where you would fit in well.
    The “ethnic” rules are quite strict, and they are reality, still existing in 21st century. You can argue against them, of course, but you still should keep in mind, that these rules do exist. And remember, there is at least some reason for these rules to exist! There is some reason, why people want to divide society into “ours” and “theirs”, I think it is something very natural to humankind. Maybe it is simply something sitting in our genes? Even in closest human relatives, apes, is pronounced tendency to divide societies into “ours” and “theirs”, and they have even bloody wars over territories. It´s something like inborn instinct. Can you fight against the instincts and nature? Maybe? Is it necessary or is it useless?
    People are not entirely animals, of course, and they can control their instincts to some point. But the thing is – is it always necessary to fight against the instincts, ALWAYS? And, in the end, is the division into “our” or “stranger” so bad? You can see positive things in that, too. For example, the barriers between populations serve as barriers also to different diseases, criminals etc.One reason why people divide society into “our” and “stranger” is perhaps safety reasons? I would suggest to look at these issues from different perspectives, not only from one side.

  18. Laputis

    Enrique:
    – “When I speak of being a “Finn” I am speaking of acceptance and respect.”

    That´s quite weird idea IMO. I think you can get acceptance and respect also in other ways.

  19. Laputis

    – “In a globalized world where more people move around, we have to get past this “us” and “them” mentality. It slows and hinders a well-functioning society.”

    You seem to look only at the bright sides of globalisation and moving around, but there are also shadow sides, like f.e. diseases, criminal activity etc. I don´t think people should really get past of this “us” and “them” mentality, because it increases safety for society (less introduced diseases etc.). Until humankind doesn´t get rid of the shadow shades, it is quite clever to keep tribal mentality.

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