BLAST FROM THE PAST 1984 (Part I): Strange days, the experience of foreign students in Finland

by , under All categories, Enrique

Twenty-six years ago in 1984 Strange days, the experience of foreign students in Finland, was published by Gaudeamus. The book was the second published by foreigners in Finland over the arbitrary treatment they received by the then Alien’s Office, the police and by the country in general.  The first one was in the 1970s by a Nigerian called Katso, katso nekru. See part two as well.

Here are some timely excerpts from Strange Days that could still apply to immigrants in Finland:

If anything, the tales contained in this book could be described as those of a disappointed lover who still has some hope left. The editors (Gregory Moore and Adrián Soto, p. 7)

There are foreigners who have survived many years in Finland by maintaining ignorance, by remaining content with the “peace” which comes through not being able to participate in political life, the peace which comes when one has only a minimum of rights. I realized that I had, for a time, been one of these people. Steve Huxley, p. 9

Those of us who plan to make our homes in Finland after finishing our studies discover that there is no work for us in our chosen field. Many foreign students have given up their studies because they know that their university degree in Finland will only be a paper which they can hang on their wall. Because jobs are so scarce in Finland for degree holders, the standard hiring practice you’ll be faced with is first Finns and then, maybe, you. Enrique Tessieri, p. 15

I have used this philosophical statment of (Elizabeth) Browning (A great mind, A great courage, A great energy. And a great persistent patience) because this is what it entails to live and survive as a foreigner in Finland. Obi Marizu, p. 18

As a foreigner residing in Finland it is more than likely that you will have dealings with the police from time to time. That is because the official body for carrying out most government policies related to foreigners is the Aliens Affairs Office (today Finnish Immigration Service) in the Police Bureau of the Interior Ministry. The main function of the Aliens’ Office is surveillance. It was set up during the last war to keep track of all foreigners in the country and counteract possible espionage activity. Ahti Tolvanen, p. 25

I have a question mark concerning the following: Of course there are positive sides to sleeping under bridges. Judging from the amount of frozen drunkards collected by the police every winter, you won’t get lonely there. And as for staying with friendly people– you’ll usually have to pay your rent with sex, especially if you are a male foreign student. After she’s handed you on to her seventh girlfriend, you might start dreaming about getting your own place to stay. Alexander Sannemann, p. 37

This is, of course, a democratic society. But Finnish democracy is structured in such a way that all ideas and decisions come from above, very little is ever taken from the ground level. Adrián Soto, p. 44

…it is the attitude Finnish men have about foreigners. This will cause you many problems. You may be assaulted by a drunkard when walking with a Finnish girl, you may be told you have only come to steal our girls, or at least you and the girl will be objects of intense, hostile staring. This goes to the extent that foreigners married to Finnish girls tend to find the Finnish public more racist than do unmarried foreigners. Maaria Seppänen, p. 49

Even though Finland's immigrant population has grown by ten times since 1984, when Strange Days was published, the ongoing one-sided debate on immigrants and immigrantion to Finland makes this drawing by Rabbah Boussuira still valid.

  1. OnTheRoadToSuccess

    Wow!It is shocking to see how the experiences of foreign students in Finland, 26 years ago, translate into today’s experiences.

    You bet – if STRANGE DAYS is to be re-written today, the experiences will be very much the same. I’m afraid, the only signficant change lies in the number of foreign students and the names of the official bodies dealing with immigration.

    Enrique – how do I grab a copy of STRANGE DAYS? It would be interesting to come up with a follow-up publication, highlighting the stagnation of a society – 26 years later…

    • Enrique

      Hi Zuzeeko, great to hear from you again. Even though twenty-six years have gone by, the two biggest improvements that have come are (1) new laws that give immigrants rights and (2) many more immigrants living in Finland. Unforunately the first edition is sold out. I could try photocopying it and send it to you. It isn’t that long. Even though some claim that there was little to no discussion before on racism in Finland because there “were so few minorities,” there were gems like Strange days that spoke out. Looking back, I am very proud I could be a part of this project. It is highly probable that the only gem was Strange days back then and a short-lived publication (January 1981-January 1982) called the Foreign Student, which spoke out against the autocratic Aliens’ Office and the lack of any laws that protected immigrants in Finland. As you know, Finland’s got its first Aliens’ Act in 1983 – about 66 years after independence!

    • Enrique

      Hi naiveforever, and welcome to Migrant Tales. Great to see you here as well! We look forward to reading more of your thoughts.