One of the matters that surprised me a lot when I visited my grandparents in Finland when I lived in Southern California was how he related to black people. The way my grandfather saw black people over forty years ago was so negative and shocking to me that I still remember his reaction.
It must have been in 1968 because my sister and I showed him a picture of starving black children in Biafra, an eastern state of Nigeria that declared independence and plunged the country into a bloody civil war. His reaction was so strong that we made fun of his reaction and taped a picture of a starving black child by his bed, which he immediately took away.
I don’t remember exactly the picture that I showed my grandfather of starving Biafran children, but it was something like the picture above. Source: Modern Ghana.
The way my grandfather related to blacks in the 1960s reveals a lot about how some Finns continue to see diversity as a threat that must be contained at all costs by denying it oxygen and living space.
You don’t have to be a star journalist to understand that the Finnish Intelligence Security Service (SUPO), the Finnish Immigration Service and the police service spread fear about asylum seekers and our ever-growing culturally diverse society.
In European history, we have seen many tragic and outlandish examples of how diversity has been dealt with in a belligerent manner. We all remember, among many other terrible examples, the term ethnic cleansing in the Balkan War and how Jews, Roma, and other so-called enemies of the Nazi Germany were sent to death camps.
Even if I have fond memories of my grandfather, he was a product of his time and of a Finland that began to build its own national identity by erasing its former identity and roots.
My grandfather’s great grandfather, Jacob Weikan (1785-1848), was the first Jew ever to be given a residence permit in Finland when it was a part of Sweden. Some well -known former and present Jews in Finland who are Jacob Weikan’s relatives include Max Jakobson and Tapani Wirkkala.
While I am an atheist who supports religious freedom, I consider the systematic policy of erasing one’s past roots to create a new national identity as sinister and flawed.
Too little criticism has been given to the so-called finnification of surnames in 1906-07 and in the 1930s. In 1935-36, for example, over 200,000 people changed their surnames into Finnish ones.
When my grandparent was a young man in the 1910s and 1920s, it was easy to become a Finn. All you needed to be was white, speak fluent Finnish and renounce your foreign roots by adopting a Finnish surname.
That social construct of being “a homogenous” country inculcated in white Finns is encouraged even today. As a result, we have serious issues with understanding cultural diversity and how we see the outside world, in too many cases as a threat.
A good example of the above is the rise of the Perussuomalaiset (PS)* party and the draconian measures and warnings by the Finnish Immigration Service, SUPO and the police service.
SUPO said this week that it suspects Russia is buying up land in Finland for military personnel in case that country invades Finland, according to YLE News.
Here’s a question: Why is Russia suspected of buying up land in Finland if they don’t have to buy it or even ask permission to use such premises in case that it invades this country?
Is the fear-mongering reaching such proportions in Finland that it is shifting from Muslim asylum seekers to Russians? The question we should ask is which ethnic and national group will be targetted next?
Fear and mistrust of the outside world by some Finns and our institutions is a reflection of our history and the fact that we put in more effort from being alike than diversifying our country culturally and ethnically.
We are paying a high price for our short-sightedness in the way of xenophobia and Islamophobia, to name a few social illnesses.
Yes, populism and nationalism have not made us stronger but a country where we even fear today our own shadow.
* The Finnish name for the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The English names of the party adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We, therefore, prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings. The direct translation of “Perussuomalaiset” is “basic” or “fundamental Finn.”