Finland’s tolerance for cultural diversity is being tested to the limit these days

by , under Enrique

Finland’s tolerance to Otherness is being tested to the limit these days. If we look at it from a political perspective, the knee-jerk reaction is clear. Denying that there isn’t a connection between the stellar rise of an anti-EU, anti-immigration and anti-Islam party and our ever-growing cultural diversity is understanding a little or erroneously the issue at hand. 

It would be wishful thinking to believe that the Perussuomalaiset (PS), which won 39 seats in the 2011 election versus 5 in 2007, that there is a return to the past when the political landscape was dominated by three major parties: National Coalition Party, Social Democrats and Center Party.

Returning back to the political good old days without Timo Soini’s PS is just as unrealistic as stopping Finland’s ever-growing cultural diversity. Intolerance and cultural diversity are here to stay and will set the pace of things to come in Finland in the future.

As far as intolerance is concerned and the rise of parties like the PS appear to throw sand in the gears of cultural diversity, the good news is that history and our sheer numbers will have the final say. We will one day have the power to tell our own narrative as Finns.

Professor Jeremy Gould spoke to Otava Opisto Folk High School students and staff on Friday. 

Professor Jeremy Gould of Jyväskylä University gave us the big picture in a recent talk he held near Mikkeli. According to him, there is very little narrative coming from immigrants and visible minorities concerning our ever-growing cultural diversity.

“Nearly everything written about ethnic relations in Finland is by researchers with no personal experience of racism,” said Gould. “Obviously, this limits the depth and relevance of their insights.”

It would be too simplistic to blame only the PS for Finland’s ever-growing intolerance. Such a social ill has been fueled as well by the silence of other political parties, the media and general public.

Not only is silence and lack of leadership a problem, associations that claim to further the rights of immigrants and visible minorities are just as guilty as those who decide to remain silent to the threat of intolerance.

If we accept white Finns, or visible minorities who speak like Uncle Toms, to champion for our rights and to our narrative, we have nobody else to blame but ourselves for our failures.

The big challenge in this century for Finland is deconstructing its twentieth century national identity. In its place there will be a more inclusive Finland where there is a lot of room for everyone to embrace this country as their home.






  1. Ahti Tolvanen

    There are three distinct aspects to the discussion regarding refugees and immigrants in this country which are constantly getting blurred.

    There is a distinct and legitimate discussion which can be had about how many refugees should be taken into the country and how many immigrants. Measures can be put into place to encourge people with certain skill sets to immigrate such as sponsored immigration and even active recruitment abroad.

    Things like this have been done by Finland recently as part of the selection of quota refugees and language training for Ingermanlanders in Russia, for example. There has also been a publicly funded program to encourage return migration.

    Corporations have also actively recruited talent for special positions, Mr. Elop, the CEO of Nokia being just one example. The latter has been quie non-controversial and the general consensus seems to be that corporations can do no harm and they should be allowed to recruit who they want.

    It may be that some day a corporate manager or whiz technician recruited in the expectation of a plumb catch will turn out to be a secret terrorist. Then the national extremist may suddenly discover this group of hundreds now in Finland that they have so far missed.

    When the nationalists critcise immigrants and immigration they are generally speaking about people who need language training, skills training or social assistance when they arrive. When racists abuse foreigners on the street they are usually people in this category or people they preceive to be in this category.

    By far the largest group in this situation, however are Finns themselves who are unemployed, many of whom may have became dependant on social assitance and have no interest in taking a job.

    Why are the nationalists not harassing these people or insisting that they be sent out of the country? After all they are much more of a burden on the good Finnish taxpayer than the smaller group of foreigners the labour market is unable to integrate. The obvious answer is that they are Finns and in the mind of the nationalsits have every right to be here.

    The fact that they miss is that the Finnish taxpayer would be much more hard pressed to maintain these unemployed Finns if they did not also have the support of quite a number of tax-paying immigrants not to speak of all the foreigners who buy goods and services from Finnish companies at home and abroad.

    Then there are all those thousands of Finn who go abroad to work for years on end to gain skills and experience which they then bring back to help Finnish companies compete in the global market place. Why are the Finnish racists not cheering on their compatriots abroad to beat up on these Finns abroad? This would be quite logical as when these Finns go out of the country they become foreigners and, one would think, fair targets for solidarity campaigns. Racists of all countries unite!

    What I started off to say is that there are some categories we need to be aware of when we are debating immigration policy.

    One category of debate is about how many people want to come into the country from abroad and what we should do to support them to come here and integrate. This is a legitimate policy discssion for any civilised country to have.

    The other category related to immigration is how to treat people once they have arrived in the country. A good rule of thumb here would be to treat them the same way we would like to be treated when we go abroad.

    We don’t like to be taunted in the streets, have things thrown at us and be told to go home, especially in a country where there is a welcome sign at the airport- and that’s most countries.
    Finns are a people with a long history of immigration and family ties in Sweden, North America and elsewhere. Mass tourism, particularly to the south in winter is second to no other northern country. Many more Finnish students go abroad than come to Finland.

    It the racists and nationalists wanted to be consistant and taken seriously, they would insist no Finn go abroad. After all that’s where all those repugnant foreigners are,

    When one is abroad one is immersed in a sea of these creatures!

    Even racists don’t insist that no-one leaves the country, at least nowadays. In fact many of them like to go abroad themselves to meet other racists, who are actually foreigners.

    Well, okay. They are willing to go abroad to meet racists as long as they are white. But what about all those places Finns like to got to abroad where its warm in winter. Places where people are often, even mainly, not white?

    If the truth were told, a lot of racists like to go to such places too. So when they are there they just forget about being racists for awhile. They just enjoy the sun and the warm hospitality of all their non-white hosts.

    So racists should stop to think and realise that there is a difference between discussing policies about how many immigrants we let into a country and on what conditions and how we treat and relate to people once they have been let in.

    Then they could enjoy themselves with a clear conscience when holidaying in the sun and enjoying the hospitality of their non-white hosts.

    What is even better, they could participate in debates about immigration back home and hardly ever need to put up with the annoyance of being called a racist.

    They might infrequently have to put up with taunts by a very small number of foreigners who are themselves racists, for whom they would now be innocent victims.

    But that would be another story.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Well put Ahti! Totally agree.

      –By far the largest group in this situation, however are Finns themselves who are unemployed, many of whom may have became dependant on social assitance and have no interest in taking a job.

      They take this prejudice, that all foreigners are living off the fat of the social welfare system, and blow it out of proportion. As you mentioned, the majority of people on welfare are Finns. Most immigrants who live in Finland work and pay taxes.

      As you mentioned, the arguments put by the racists and anti-immigration groups is that ALL immigrants, or ALL people of one immigrant group, are social bums and criminals.

  2. Mark

    Perhaps there should be more focus on ethnographic studies within the Finnish immigrant communities and also among native Finns with strong opinions about immigration.

    There was an interesting documentary on Yle a few weeks back that looked at one housing complex and followed a Finn as he talked to both immigrants and Finns about ‘life on the estate’. Many of the issues were apparent in that small microcosm, the different cultures, the tendency to see immigrants as inferior, the hostility. But also apparent was a willingness to reach out, for people to talk, exchange views, get a better idea of where people have come from and how they really see the world.

    One of the things that struck me years ago when I first started seeing how the narrative was developing in Finland was the lack of any kind of ‘alternative’ narrative, the REAL narrative of immigrants lives. I felt this strongly because in my charity work in the UK working with immigrants, it was the endless personal narratives that really brought it home to our organisation exactly what the challenges were, the language issues, the cultural differences, the cultural similarities, the sacrifices, the trauma of separation, and the burdens of isolation. It was the very human stories that touched us and gave us the most valuable information, both in terms of understanding their situation and being able to respond to it constructively.

    We set up a language teaching program in response to our seminars with immigrants. I taught in that program for two years and speaking face to face with people, I also saw the humanity of people’s personalities, the goodness, the goodwill, and the determination to try to improve their situation and especially that of their children. Many parents feel that their own life is somehow destined to remain somewhat unfulfilled, but that their new circumstances would give safer and better opportunities for their children. As a parent, you cannot deny that very real sentiment to give the best that you can for your children.

    This was the norm. I know that not all immigrants are saints. People are people, at the end of the day. But as always, a few bad apples can give the entire group a bad name. That applies to all circumstances. It’s also true that I saw that immigrants also needed and should be encouraged to make cultural adjustments. Many of our immigrants had inherited unhealthy lifestyle habits, poor diet, poor health care information, poor preventive strategies. This is not unusual, as most Western populations were in the same position not a few decades ago. But there was a need to target these people for health promotion. Indeed, simply making use of services and understanding how they were organised was very important to their wellbeing. Many countries have much less formal public services than we had in the UK. This alone made a big difference in how immigrants understood their ‘treatment’ at the hands of officials. For many, it appeared rude, cold and authoritarian, simply because they were used to being treated almost as if they were ‘family members’ by authorities. In that sense, many services, such as services for women, were probably lacking, and encouraging attitude changes so that women could get better services was one thing we focused on.

    Behind each of these issues are stories, lots and lots of individual stories – involving failures and successes, involving experiences and challenges. I have seen families who arrived in the UK in very difficult circumstances with very little language skills go to a situation where their children have graduated from University and gone into skilled work, where parents are working and contributing to not just the economy, but the wider community. And these people have shown me the kind of warm welcome into their homes and families that is simply priceless.

    Not everyone’s story is a success story. But we all have the potential to live productive and meaningful lives if given the right support, friendship and opportunity.

    If at the very start of those contacts, people would simply shut themselves off from the foreign ‘invaders’, treat them like economic cattle, or worse, stigmatise them as religious extremists or social and welfare parasites, then I dread to think what that does to the people doing the stigmatising and to those that are the victims of it.

  3. Mark


    I read your comment with interest and appreciation. A very good overview and some valuable insights that we should all take to heart. E.g. airports usually have ‘welcoming’ signs, and indeed, this is how we would hope to be treated when abroad, whether permanently or temporarily.