Eva Biaudet: Finland’s ever-culturally and ethnically diverse society in the new century (Part I)

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Migrant Tales insightThe interview with Swedish Peoples Party (SPP) MP Eva Biaudet is a two-part series. Biaudet was ombudswoman for minorities during 2010-15 and has been active in local and national politics since 1989. She is one of the most outspoken persons in Finland for minority rights.  

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Swedish Peoples Party (SPP) MP Eva Biaudet has made a name for herself defending those that don’t have a voice in society and those who are most vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation. If there is a person that can give a picture of where Finland is or should be heading in this century as our country becomes ever-culturally and ethnically diverse, that person is Biaudet. 

After an intense one-hour interview where every question demanded more time and attention, I asked Biaudet what she considered a favorable and negative scenario of how Finland should evolve as a culturally diverse society in this century.

“As our society becomes more culturally diverse, I see our ties with the Nordic region and Europe strengthening [positive scenario],” she said. “A negative scenario would mean a distancing from the Nordic countries [and its ideals] and identifying more with Eastern Europe and nationalistic ideals with a dominating fear of Russia, which I’m not underestimating.”

“In other words it would mean more EU-skepticism and ending development aid altogether,” she continued. “If we ever got to such a point it would signal the end to our Nordic ideals and values of social equality, gender equality and weaken the ethical foundations of society.”

Biaudet mentioned media researcher and columnist Anu Koivunen, who viewed neo-conservative values as the greatest threat to women and minority rights.

“We have to do everything possible to ensure that everyone can live with dignity in the future and that no one is socially excluded from society,” she said.

 

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Eva Biaudet. Photo by Enrique Tessieri.

“We have to do everything possible to ensure that everyone can live with dignity in the future and that no one is socially excluded from society,” she said.

The rise of racism 

One of the political trends in the Nordic region in recent years has been the rise of a nationalist and anti-immigration parties that promote directly and indirectly victimization and social exclusion of some groups like Muslims.

Apart from the rise of the Perussuomalaiset (PS)* party in Finland, the Islamophobic Danish People’s Party and Sweden Democrats have become the second- and third-biggest parties in their countries, respectively. The Progress Party of Norway is in government for the first time since it was founded in 1973.

In Finland, the PS rose in the 2011 parliamentary elections to become the third-biggest party with 39 MPs compared with only 5 MPs previously.

An important question we could ask is why have populist parties that have an anti-immigration and EU-skeptic agenda have grown to become a noticeable political force in the Nordic region.

Biaudet dosen’t offer a direct answer to the question but believes that one factor that has fueled the growth of these types of parties has been the lack of leadership to challenge them.

“The biggest political parties [in Finland like the Social Democrats, Center Party and the National Coalition Party] are paying a high price today for not doing enough to speak out against intolerance in this country,” she said. “If we want matters to change and to challenge racism and discrimination it’s clear that we have to take a clear stand against it.”

Biaudet doesn’t offer a direct answer to the question but believes that one factor that has fueled the growth of such parties has been the lack of political leadership to challenge them.

The SPP MP said that when she worked as ombudswoman for minorities she sometimes felt like “a sort of scapegoat” for politicians since journalists called her often asking for a statement relating to racism and discrimination.

“I turned a lot of interviews down with journalists and told them to get in touch directly with other politicians,” she said, “because its them who should be first to speak out against racism and discrimination.”

Finland and Denmark

One of the questions I asked Biaudet was if she thought Finland could turn into a Denmark, or a country where xenophobia and scapegoating of minorities such as Muslims have become a national pastime thanks to the rise of the Danish People’s Party.

“I believe that such a scenario is highly probable [in Finland],” she continued. “When you cede space to social inequality that creates space for fear-mongering and scapegoating.”

Biaudet hoped that despite tough economic times unemployment wouldn’t rise more from about 10% now since that would make life harder for everyone and especially for migrants and minorities in this country.

But despite the dire economic situation, whether good or bad, she said people should never forget to defend their rights.

“You cannot take for granted human rights, fundamental civil rights and democracy,” she continued. “You have to [be vigilant and] strengthen them.”

A minority

Being a minority in Finland and a woman has given Biaudet firsthand experience about the challenges some migrants and minorities face in this country.

“Some believe that we [Swedish speakers] are acceptable here as long as we don’t get too much power,” she continued. “But foreigners in this country don’t even have such a right [to exist] since they are perceived as something inferior.”

Biaudet compared the view that some Finns have of foreigners to the relation prostitutes have with their clients. “Migrants are seen as inferior in claiming their fundamental rights,” she added. “Foreigners cannot complain but have to be eternally thankful.”

“Even if silence and lack of leadership are reasons why xenophobia and Islamophobia have gained a foothold in Finland, another problem is the is lack of accountability, according to her. Good recent examples of this is PS MP Olli Immonen posing with neo-Nazis in pictures or the new speaker of parliament, PS MP Maria Lohela, who is not held accountable for her Islamophobic writings.

Biaudet said that when there is distrust of certain groups and they are labelled and victimized it’s difficult to find effective solutions to challenge their problems.

“The worse matters go for you, the greater the chance of becoming socially excluded from society,” she continued. “When we label whole groups as rapists and criminals we take our focus away from the root of the problem.”

While there are many successful migrants in Finland, there are also those that live in poverty and face challenges like becoming equal members of society. Biaudet said agreed that the most expensive solution for tax-payers is to exclude groups from society.

According to her, unemployment is a crucial area where the government has to invest more efforts in order to address the social exclusion of migrants and minorities. Refugees that are given asylum in Finland should be helped to get work as soon as possible, according to her.

“The government should take concrete steps to find ways to lower unemployment [among migrants and minorities that is two- to three times higher than the national average],” she said. “This government only acknowledges challenges facing white Finns but not those faced by women and migrants. This is an odd posture in my opinion.”

Read Part II here

The Finnish name of the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The English-language names adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We therefore prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings.