A matter of perspective and the real issue in the Finnish immigration debate

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

Perspective is one reason why Migrant Tales has grown especially after the April 17 election and become a home for a large and ever-growing number of bloggers. Thank you for your support! We have, in my opinion,  become for some that critical “voice for those whose views and situation are understood poorly and heard faintly by the media, politicians and public.”

No matter what your opinion may be about the ongoing debate on the role of cultural diversity, immigrants and immigration to Finland, perspective and the role of institutional racism are some factors we must take into account when looking at the issue.

A white Finn may have a different view of the impact of racism compared with a visible immigrant or minority.

An interesting editorial by Ismo Söderling in the recent issue of Siirtolaisuus-Migration offers some interesting food for thought on the present debate.  Söderling is the director of the  Migration Institute.

He writes: “Researchers and experts have been familiar with anti-immigration sentiment since the 1990s — the events that took place in Joensuu are probably among its best known manifestations. There is ample research on the topic. But to put a stop to the public name-calling and labeling, we needed an experienced researcher to send a calm, modulated letter to the editor of said newspaper [Helsingin Sanomat].”

“Special researcher Minna Säävälä at Väestöliitto, the Family Federation, noted in her response that “Support for racism seems to be waning.” According to Säävälä, “a change in attitudes cannot be established on the basis of a single statement.”

Söderling drives home a valid point. Can we judge a whole country on a single survey whose sample size numbers 1,000?

In the same way we can measure a certain social ills in Finland like racism, have these polls fueled the rise of  certain parties like the Persussuomalaiset (PS)? Migrant Tales has questioned some recent polls  that ask loaded questions like “do you want more immigrants to move to Finland?”

Which country in the world believes there are too few immigrants? Very few if none today.

Certainly there are a lot of racist views in the PS but we unfortunately find them in other Finnish parties as well.  Some are better at hiding their views on this social ill than others.

When we correctly criticize a party like the PS and some of its most notorious anti-immigration MPs  like Jussi Halla-aho, are we pulling a fast one on the issue and not confronting it? Are we conveniently brushing the widespread problem under the rug?

In order to make out who holds the high ground in the ongoing debate on our ever-growing cultural diversity as a society, we have to return to perspective. Who are the alleged culprits and who are the victims. Are we hearing the victims?

Thus the way to confront racism, populism and the rise of the far right in Finland is not by attacking a single party but the issue on a national level.  What role does institutional racism play in the rise of the PS. How does the silence of other parties maintain and fuel the institutional racism status quo?

I have learned an important lesson after working as a writer and journalist for about 25 years. It’s not the answers that are revealing in an interview but what the person does not say.

What is the silence emanating from of the ongoing debate on immigration in Finland?

Not hearing and acknowledging the victims of racism and exclusion but scapegoating the problem to a single party or to a group within that party.

By no means are we claiming here that two wrongs make a right. However, if we are to challenge the problem of racism and the rise nationalist populism in Finland, which gets its fuel from xenophobia, we have to attack the real culprits: ourselves and especially our institutions.

  1. Finn Nielsen

    The pervading problem in Finland is fear. Sometimes the fear comes in the form of not getting your “share” of mammon. Sometimes it comes in the fear of Finnish born strangers. Sometimes it comes in the fear on non-Finnish born strangers. Sometimes the fear focuses on a person with “white skin”, sometimes on a person with “black skin”.

    Recent years has seen an increase in the conflict between “mammon” and “skin color”. Today the desire for mammon means opening Finland’s door to foreign labor, to “white” and “black” strangers. The whole of Finland needs to take a closer look at its fears.

    A forty year resident of Finland … forever a “white stranger”.

    • Enrique

      Hi Finn, what would you call a politician and party that uses fear for profit and gain? What would you call politicians, who should know better, spread fear and urban myths? I would call that reckless and, using their terms, totally “unpatriotic.” This is how I’d define and relate to these types of parties and politicians. We all know who they are.

    • Finn Nielsen

      Hi Enrique, rather than name calling, I would prefer that Finnish political parties take a hard look at the psychology of fear. What would be most welcome is an adult debate.

    • Enrique

      You hit it right on the nail, Finn. Those parties should make an effort to take part in an adult debate.

  2. eyeopener

    @Finn Nielsen.

    Well said. I agree with you on this matter. I think however that these feelings of fear are universal. You can identify that in many many countries in the world.

    And…..these fears become more stronger as the world gets more complex. The world is flat doesn’t mean easier. That’s the global level acting on the individual plarform.

    The global and local discourse should be held without the “blaming on being different” aspect. We have to realize that for many people “making the difference and blaming” means the “comfort-zone of being us” AGAINST the “being them”.

    The comfort-zone is an illusion. And to my opinion, many people sense this illusion as well. But it is so hard to give up and try to find the other comfort zone.

    A ten years’ resident of Finland…. forever young and a white stranger?? No, I don’t want to feel that way. I am young because of my mind-set, A stranger because I can’t “plug-and-play”. But I feel quite Finnish when it comes to loving the country.

    However and in line with your blog I refuse to be called an immigrant!!