Immigrants, expats and Finns marched on October 19, 1982 to demand their rights. The march started from Helsinki University’s Porthania building to Parliament. One of the comments that caught my attention on that chilly Tuesday, was that Helsingin Sanomat made a big exception about writing about the march since it did not publish as a rule stories about foreigners living in Finland.
I understood that affirmation to mean that Finland’s largest daily wasn’t interested in Finland’s tiny immigrant community, which numbered back then about 12,000.
Apart from marching for the passage of the country’s first-ever aliens act, which came into force the following year sixty-five years after Finland gained independence, immigrants wanted the right to appeal deportations and be protected by habeas corpus.
Immigrants, which were officially called “aliens” back then by the authorities, couldn’t own land, publish newspapers never mind organize marches like the one we did in 1982. Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat ran a story the previous day claiming that those foreigners that took part in the march ran the danger of being thrown in jail.
None of us were thrown in jail but such rumors must have scared away a lot of foreigners from taking part in that historic march.
The silence of dailies like Helsingin Sanomat about the plight of Soviet refugees in Finland and the tiny immigrant community, sheds light on how the national media writes about immigrants and refugees today. If much of the media didn’t get it back then, why would they today?
In 1989, the honorary consul of Mali called a friend who worked at the Finnish secret police, Supo. The person was suspicious and wanted to know who I was. The Supo agent called back and told what was written in my Interpol file. One of the matters that Supo had written was that I organized the march and was interested in human rights.
Helsingin Sanomat wrote about Finland’s then largest-ever march in which foreigners took part in 1982. Finland’s first march by foreigners was organized by East Pakistanis (Bangladesh) in the 1970s.