Fueling “harmful stereotypes, discrimination and xenophobia” in Finland and elsewhere

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By Enrique Tessieri

The recently published report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) rightfully warns about how misinformation about migration fuels “harmful  stereotypes, discrimination and xenophobia.” A New York Times article writes that such perceptions are so distorted that citizens believe that there are three times more immigrants living in some countries than is the case. 

I am certain that Finland would be a case in point when speaking about how the spread of misinformation about immigrants has found a warm political home in this country.

The perception that there are more immigrants than is actually the case is an interesting observation.  This is a bit like the following no-brainer questions we have seen in some polls in Finland:  Do you want more immigrants to move to Finland?

I highly doubt that there are many countries in the world where the locals state that there are too few immigrants and therefore we’d want more to move to the country.

Most of us have not only seen the rise of anti-immigration parties like the Perussuomalaiset (PS) in Finland, have witnessed, as the IOM report claims, how “misinformation and misperception can trigger a vicious cycle which influences government policy, and in turn, perpetuates negative attitudes in mass media and the community at large.”

The shadow of the PS falls heavily on the present government. The appointment of Päivi Räsänen of the Christian Democratic Party as interior minister in charge of immigration is a classic example how Finland has become complacent of the PS.

Any sensible observer can conclude that such a weak stand against the threat of rising xenophobia in Finland will have dire long-term consequences on our society.  It will create that vicious cycle where our own prejudice and stereotypes will eat away at our noble values.

What to do? Take part in the presidential and municipal elections this year. Join a party and demand politicians to take a tougher stand on racism. Don’t vote for parties and politicians who are constantly trying to score brownie points with racism.

Become socially active.

A good example of how the Finnish media has lost some of its teeth is a recent row between President Tarja Halonen and PS MP Juho Eerola. The MP got wide coverage in the Finnish tabloids for threatening to give Halonen a piece of his mind at the presidential Independence Day ball for claiming that people who are racists ended up voting for the PS.

Eerola appeared on talk show Maria! and got a lot of publicity and sympathy. In my opinion, Eerola’s appearance on Maria! would be in the United States something like inviting former Klu Klax Clan head David Duke to express his racist views on a popular talk show like Conan O’Brian.

There is still time to challenge those forces that are hoping to take Finland back to an eerie reincarnation of the 1930s in the 2010s.