How the Finnish government, institutions and President Sauli Niinistö pander to anti-immigration sentiment and groups

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Just the way Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s government can give a tacit pat on the back to far-right groups like Suomi Ensin (Finland First), the police give the green light to extremist  vigilante groups, or President Sauli Niinistö give the thumbs up to the Finnish version of the Okie from Muskogee, all of them if they wanted could land a big blow to such racist groups by stating that they are unacceptable and out of touch with our Nordic values. 

Too much complacency and mixed signals from government officials and the president of Finland only feed the ogre and the trolls.

The recent French presidential election was a positive example of how to challenge racism spread by far-right politicians.

Read the full story here.

Emmanuel Macron did not hide his views of Marine Le Pen. He accused her in a national debate of “feeding off” French people’s unhappiness and called her a “parasite” by manipulating voters’ anger usually against minorities and Muslims.

We’ve seen it over and over again. If you are too complacent and try to compete with far-right anti-immigration parties by stealing their rhetoric  you are going to lose. Why would a voter vote for a copy if he or she can get the real thing?

Thus the only way to challenge the onslaught of populist anti-cultural diversity rhetoric polluting Europe these days is by facing it and challenging it head on with little diplomacy, if necessary.

Finland is less of a sad example today of how traditional parties like the Social Democrats tried to use the populist rhetoric of the Perussuomalaiset (PS)* before the April 2011 election. Add to the latter a national media that couldn’t tell the difference between racism and its own Nordic Western values and the historic victory of the PS was sealed.

It has taken us in Finland over five years of PS rhetoric and populist arguments since 2011 to understand that the party is nothing but a smokescreen for our own prejudices and racism.

Even so, President Sauli Niinistö, who is no friend of our ever-growing culturally diverse community with his recent worrying stand on  dual citizenship, among others, continues to give support to those very factors that made the rise of an anti-immigration and especially anti-Islam party possible in this country.

President Niinistö was quoted as saying over the weekend that “uncontrolled” migration must be stopped. “[Only] then we can raise quota refugee volumes and get them directly those that are in the worst situation directly from refugee camps,” he said.

Using the adjective “uncontrolled” to describe a certain type of immigration is highly political and is the language used by conservatives like Prime Minister Theresa May, who scapegoats immigrants for the UK’s problems, and anti-immigration groups like the PS of Finland.

What Niinistö is suggesting is not only simplistic but shows his disdain for asylum seekers fleeing wars and conflicts that we in the EU took part in directly or indirectly.

If we go to those refugee camps that Niinistö suggests in countries in the Middle East, we are talking about millions of refugees in Jordan (2.7 million refugees), Turkey (2.5 million), Lebanon (1.5 million) and Iran (1 million).

How many refugees came to Finland in 2015 and 2016? Under 40,000? That’s only 0.74% of our total population and less than 10% of the Karelian refugees that were relocated after Helsinki signed an armistice with Moscow in September 1944.

When politicians like Niinistö and others whine about the number of asylum seekers and offer us ineffective solution to the problem we should ask why they say such things.

The answer to that question is pretty clear in my opinion: We don’t want an effective answer to the problem because, like structural racism, we’re comfortable with the way things are.

Don’t forget that Niinistö is eyeing reelection for president in 2018 which explains why he’s flirting with the most anti-immigration and nationalistic sectors of Finland.

Even if the head of state doesn’t understand that our country has changed since we are becoming ever-culturally and ethnically diverse, it is unfortunate coming from him but it won’t dishearten or stop us from believing in a more just and inclusive country.

Rokhaya Diallo of France eloquently and bravely stated what is at the heart of racism in her country. Her quotes below expose what takes place in many EU countries such as Finland. Just substitute below the words French and France for Finns and Finland.

We need to reframe the way we think of us as French people. It’s not a white Christian country any more … the narrative should be changed.

There is a part of the population that does not feel French because they are mistreated and not respected.

Instead of offering to just fight racism, bigotry and discrimination with kid gloves and drop-in-the-bucket solutions, we should require our leaders much more than what we are seeing and hearing today.


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