By Enrique Tessieri
Modern Finnish racism has two sources: nationalism imbedded deep in our history coupled with low self-esteem. Compared with the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s, matters have got better though there is still a lot of room for improvement.
One of the cornerstones of Finnish nationalism is the myth that we are alone and therefore we must be self-reliant to the extreme. The truth, however, is that we could not have become an independent nation nor have made it through two terrible wars with the former Soviet Union without outside help and support.
Thanks to our resolve in the Winter War (1939-40), the conflict took a critical turn in favor of Finland after England and France were threatening to send troops to fight against the Red Army. If this had happened, it would have changed the course of World War 2.
Despite the hatred that some Finns have of Russians, it was Czar Aleksander II that gave language rights to Finnish-langauge Finns. As a Grand Duchy of Russia, Finland also got its own currency. These rights, which were gained in a single decade, were more than what the Finnish-langauge Finns got when they were under Swedish rule during 1249-1809.
Despite ardent nationalism and diehard suspicion of the Russians, leaders of Finland’s independence intelligently understood that it would be a wise choice to maintain the country officially bilingual. The final adoption of the flag was done in the spirit of the Nordic region as well, even though Akseli Gallen-Kallela proposed one that had a red background and the Finnish lion.
While our independence and national unity were based on our hatred of the Russians and to a lesser degree of the Swedes, Finland’s fear of outsiders took a new turn in the 1930s. During the Great Depression, Finland enacted the Restricting Act of 1939 that kept foreigners and outside investment to a minimum. Moreover, responsiblity for immigrant affairs during that decade was handed to the secret police, which saw foreigners as a threat to national security.
The interesting question to ask is how come nationalism continues to shape the view that some Finns have of the outside world? Why do politicians still scare Finns and maintain the myth that we will be invaded?
The answer is simple: It is profitable.
It reaps rewards because it offers instant short-term benefits if you want to smother dissent rapidly, encourage self-censorship of the media and public, as well as support public enterprises and institutions at the cost of competition. Worst of all, it creates an antagonistic situation between immigrants and the rest of the population. How can one integrate smoothly in such a hostile atmosphere?
The Finland of the future, which we are building today, will have more freedom of thought, less self-censorship of the media and public, greater competition, acceptance that we are a culturally diverse and start to see the outside world (especially Russia) in a less defensive fashion.
Politicians, institutions like the Finnish Border Guard and other public leaders who continue to inject fear of the outside world, choose to live in the past because it is profitable.
It is high time they modernize their view of the world and embrace the challenges of the new century in a novel way. Why?
Because it is more profitable for Finland in the long-term.