Wikileaks said in a statement that whistleblower Edward Snowden had asked for political asylum in twenty-one countries, one of which included Finland. Understanding Finland’s history and its historic suspicion of foreigners, granting a high-profile asylum seeker like Snowden asylum in Finland would not only help to put to rest for good our poor record but have an overall positive impact.
Ever wonder why there are so few foreigners living in Finland? The answer is simple: Finland did everything possible to discourage immigrants and foreign investment to the country.
Finland had in force its first Aliens’ Act in 1983, or 65 years after independence. Before that, the Aliens’ Office was a police state where you didn’t have the right to appeal a decision.
Without any law that regulated immigration affairs in Finland, the Restricting Act of 1939 (law 219/1939) made sure that foreign companies and foreigners as well would be discouraged from coming to the country.
The Restricting Act of 1939 prohibited foreigners from owning real estate and acquiring a majority stake in Finnish companies – limiting this to 20% normally and 40% under special permission. The Act stipulated that foreigners could not own shares in sectors such as forestry, securities trading, transportation, mining, real estate and shipping.
Even if Finland was the first European country to give women the right to vote in 1906, it was not until 1984 when their children were granted automatic citizenship rights. Only the children of Finnish fathers were granted Finnish citizenship.
While it sounds strange, Finland adapted well and profited from its geopolitical isolation during the Cold War because it helped reinforce racist myths about Finnish ethnicity despite the fact that over 1.2 million people had emigrated from this country between 1860 and 1999.
The authorities like Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) kept a close watch on immigrants. Some of the matters that were written on my Supo-Interpol file that was accessed illegally by a person was that I was interested in human rights and organized a demonstration in 1981.
This sad legacy, which has improved from the dark days of the cold war, when Finland returned asylum seekers to the former Soviet Union with total disregard for their safety and human rights, is what still casts a shadow over our anti-immigration sentiment. The senior officials in the ministry of interior and in the Finnish Immigration Service grew up during the Cold War.
If Finns were brought up to see people who are different from them as enemies and reinforced with the help of its laws, it shouldn’t surprise us that an anti-immigration party like the Perussuomalaiset (PS) became the third larges in parliament in April 2011.
Snowden would do wonders to bolster Finland’s standing as a country that firmly stands for human rights and respects asylum seekers. It would help show how our negative attitudes and fears about immigrants and refugees are outdated.