Challenging Finland’s racism problem:Raise your voice, trust yourself, and don’t succumb to fear and self-censorship

by , under Enrique Tessieri

When I moved to Finland over forty years ago, there were only about 10,000 foreigners living in the country. The biggest national group were the Swedes, who were mostly Finns who had become naturalized citizens of that country. One of the questions we asked back then was about the level of racism in Finland. 

The consensus back then was that the level of racism depended on the color of your skin.

Back in the good old structural racism days of the 1980s, laws such as the Restricting Act of 1939 (law 219/1939), which became redundant in 1992, prohibited foreigners from owning real estate and acquiring a majority stake in Finnish companies—limiting this to 20% normally and 40% under special permission. Other “darlings” of that period were that foreigners weren’t allowed to establish newspapers, never mind organize demonstrations and be politically active.

At the time in Finland, there was no habeas corpus, no right to appeal your deportation, and no laws against racism never mind hate crime. Even Soviet citizens were forcibly returned to the former Soviet Union after requesting asylum.

In a country were immigrants were a rare sight but which had seen over 1.2 million of its countrymen and women emigrate between 1860 and 1999, racism and especially discrimination were like the egg-like objects in Alien that, when touched, were ready to attach a monster on the victim’s face.

Finnish social policy experts like Heikki Waris lived in academic denial in the cold war years of the 1960s. He claimed: “Racial homogeneity particularly characterizes the Finnish people who have practically no racial minorities…Consequently, racial prejudice and discrimination are nonexistent.”

Take a look as well at the discrimination of the Saami never mind the hostile exclusion of the Roma from our society.

Like in other countries, Finland suffers from denial. A person who is in denial responds to social ills, like racism and bigotry, with silence, which is a political statement.

Some people in Finland, even educators, believe there is no racism in this country.

But there is tons of evidence that proves the contrary. The media, which reflects who we are and our prejudices as a society, shines a light that should worry us.

Below are a poster and some stories published by the Finnish media below that expose just that.


This story was published in September. Why is the woman wearing the niqab in the picture, which was later removed by YLE. Read the original story here.

This was used at Finnish schools up the 1970s to teach them the alphabet. It reads: An n-word washes her face but it does not whiten.

If we remain silent than we have only ourselves to blame.

Raising your voice is a powerful statement. Don’t squander it with your fear and self-censorship.

Finland’s struggle against racism, bigotry and social exclusion is a long one but we must start today on that journey to replace those structures that relegate us to being second-class citizens of this society.


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