Feeding our amnesia and sidestepping the issues in the immigration and refugee debate

by , under Enrique Tessieri

You can remind me four years from today what I’ll say now: Very little will be resolved concerning the challenges facing our ever-growing culturally diverse society except for witch-hunts and underlining the poisonous message of “us” against “them.”

In the plainest English it means very little will be resolved concerning our ever-growing culturally diverse society because the power that parties like the Perussuomalaiset (PS)* of Finland have today is based on nationalistic fear of the outside world and strengthening “us” against “them.”

What will, then, Center Party Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s government accomplish during its four-year mandate except for greater social inequality that will in turn fuel greater anti-immigration sentiment?

Most likely it’s greatest “accomplishment” will be the further impoverishment of Finland, ever-growing poverty and society’s polarization.

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Who will speak up for this dear little girl at sea? Our amnesia?

Former EU’s high representative for foreign and security policy and former secretary general of NATO, Javier Solana, writes in an opinion piece about our collective amnesia. He states:

In just the first few months of 2015, more than 38,000 people have attempted to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa. Some 1,800 people have died as a result – more than twice the number of such deaths in all of 2013.

Disappointingly, many Europeans have responded to this humanitarian crisis, which closely resembles the one that Europe endured a century ago, by opposing their countries’ acceptance of any more refugees. How quickly we forget our past.

Finland is one country that suffers from amnesia when it comes to responding to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

We are a country that suffered greatly due to World War 2 and from humanitarian crises in 1940 and 1944, when we gave homes to about 420,000 refugees from areas that were seceded to the former Soviet Union after the war.

Just like the political reception that some migrants, especially refugees face today in Finland, those hundreds of thousands of Karelian refugees were received with scorn. Some even blamed them for the war and suffering that Finland endured during 1939-45.

Thanks to our media, which usually shows its lack of teeth when biting into difficult stories, doesn’t usually ask the right questions because they’re not supposed to. But here are some anyway:

  • Anti-immigration and Islamophobic rhetoric impacts negatively our culturally diverse community because it maintains an atmosphere of suspicion against its members;
  • Why would you hire a “rapist” or “criminal” if politicians and policy makers, who should know better, reinforce such prejudices about migrants and minorities?
  • When parties like the PS and SDP claim that Finland should lower high unemployment before it can think about migration, they rarely if ever mention if migrants and minorities that live and pay taxes in Finland are considered a part of that “‘Finnish’ labor;”
  • White Finns like politicians, journalists, teachers and others use code words like “person with foreign or migrant background” to remind you that you are a second-class citizen because first class-citizens are so-called ethnic Finns;
  • Social issues like racism have a dire impact on migrants and minorities. Since Finland is in denial mode about this social illness, pressing issues facing the migrant and minority community are not addressed. Some of these include poverty, health and social exclusion.

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Politicians like PS MP Maria Lohela base their political career on Islamophobia. She is today the speaker of parliament.

“Us” against the “enemy”

The witch-hunts are happening in Finland at this moment and right under our collective noses.

One of the targets is our Finnish Swedish minority, which have been a constant target of the nationalistic PS. Maria Tolppanen, an MP who got reelected thanks to her anti-immigration rhetoric, stated with satisfaction in a blog that the Swedish People’s Party are in the opposition for the first time since the 1970s.

Writes Tolppanen: Those berries weren’t as bitter than the Swedish People’s Party made us thing since they were ready to accept everything that the PS wanted as government policy, including its immigration policy.

Other minorities on the scapegoat radar include Russians. Xenophobia against Russians has always been strong in Finland, especially in Eastern Finland. Real-estate agents that sell land to Russians have received countless death threats, according to tabloid Iltalehti.

One Social Democratic (SDP) MP got reelected in April in Eastern Finland with the help of xenophobia and anti-Russian sentiment.

And let’s not forget the other xenophobic targets that are near-constantly used to stress “us” against “them” that include Muslims, visible migrants and minorities like Africans, Middle Easterners, Jews and others like the Romany minority, which has lived about 500 years in Finland.

Political parties and politicians who base their popularity on anti-immigration rhetoric have caused great harm to Finland. For them migrants and the outside world are seen as a problem not as an opportunity. Why would anyone want to invest or move to a country like Finland that has an openly Euro-skeptic and anti-immigration party and parties that support the latter’s anti-immigration ideology?

The PS aren’t the only problem in Finland. All political parties and society in general have just as much blame.

There is very little consolation to hand out these days but there is one: As our society becomes more culturally diverse and as these people grow up and can vote, they will remember these years and those parties that treated their parents and grandparents with disdain.

In the meantime, I will continue to fight for a more socially just and inclusive Finland.

I hope you will join me in this long struggle.

The Finnish name for 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.