Immigration debate in Finland and Europe: Turning the lights off

by , under All categories, Enrique

The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted
to learn from the crow.
William Blake (1757-1827)

I remember a long time ago reading an editorial by the Buenos Aires Herald on how the military coup of 1976 was able to shut off lights in Argentina and keep the country in an information blackout. It argued that since outdated infrastructure such as telephones and telecommunications were in a wretched state, it was easy for the junta leaders to literally turn off the lights and spoon feed information to its citizens anyway it wished.

Even though cell phones and IT infrastructure are today the best in the world, some of us in western countries such as Finland continue to live in our self-imposed information bubble about people from other cultures. We hate this group because they do this and we don’t like that group because they have different customs than ours.

What is paradoxical about these “champions of our western way of life” is that they would, if given the opportunity, be the first to impose the very autocratic measures that they claim to be fighting against. They would not waste any time in limiting civil liberties such as religious freedom and even freedom of speech by over-exaggerating and overkilling their cases.

The kind of world they wish to impose on Europe is the one that had caused so much bloodshed in the past century.

Europe, as well as other parts of the world, know first-hand what racial and ethnic strife can bring. Hopefully some understand better in other parts of the world that wise tales about other ethnic groups to suit myopic “racial theories” can only lead to disaster.

Thanks to the Internet and the free flow of information, however, their attempts to shut off the information lights of Europe will be an impossible task.

  1. Tiwaz

    So now you are taking away our right not to like barbaric practices of foreign cultures?

    Does your arrogance know no limits?
    Why oh why should we tolerate foreign cultures as equal to ours in our native land? Why should we appease foreigners by adjusting to their cultural norms instead of demanding them to adjust to ours in our native land?

    Your words are essentially racist and anti-Finnic in nature here. Complaining how Finns want to live as Finns in their native land.

    Would you go to Italy and complain that they want to remain Italians? Or is your racism limited to Finns alone?

  2. hannu

    So youre telling youre bad because you want to limit freedom of speech?
    And also please tell me why we should accept their ways?

  3. Antero Pietila

    As a Finnish citizen who worked most of his life for an American newspaper and is the author of a new history of residential bigotry in the United States, let me pitch in.
    What we are witnessing in many countries of the world is a backlash. A backlash against what? That varieds. In many Islamic countries, it’s a fundamentalist backlash against modernism and alien influences. In places like Finland (much of Western Europe and the United States), it is a backlash triggered by hard times, the loss of perceived unitary national identity and norms, etc.
    My book, “Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City,” provides some historical context for this. It documents Baltimore, a city that in 1910 became the first place in the U.S. to require that each residential block be segregated by race. Many other cities followed Baltimore’s example.
    After the U.S. Supreme Court in 1917 prohibited that legal approach, the chief instrument for enforcing segregation became private agreements, known as restrictive covenants. Homeownes simply signed such covenants, that were part of property deeds and excluded anyone other residents did not like — African Americans, Jews, you name it.
    Such covenants became so widespread that when the Supreme Court in 1948 considered their legality, three of the nine justices had to recuse because they themselves lived in neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., and Virginia, which prohibited blacks, Jews, Armenians and Syrians. With a bare quorum, the Supreme Court ruled that while such private agreements were legal, they could not be enforced by courts.
    All this bigotry evolved over decades and was prompted by several sets of backlash. Some of that backlash was caused by unforgiving former Confederates’ unwilligness to accept the defeat in the Civil War. But another cause was eugenics, a pseudo-scientific philosophy that was the rage on college campuses between the 1910s and 1930s and which contributed to the development of National Socialism in Germany and apartheid in South Africa.
    Those who want to know more about this may read my book which is available through and its subsidiaries throughout the world.
    The important thing is this. The coalescence of the various strains of bigotry resulted in widespread anti-foreigner attitudes in the United States. That culminated after the riotous “Red Summer” of 1919 in new laws that curtailed immigration of people eugenicists deemed to be inferior — Catholics from Eastern and Southern Europe and Jews. A quota system that lated until the 1960s was established. It favored Northern Europeans at the expense of the “inferior” people, who also included blacks and Asians.
    Back to the 1920s. The halt of immigration deprived U.S. industries of cheap labor. Those industries needed manpower. As a result, blacks from the South began streaming to Northern cities, creating a totally new set of problems.
    We may be going through something akin to this. Like Europe, America is undergoing a revolutionary change in its makeup. Sometime after 2040, whites will no longer be the majority, a thought that the Founding Fathers would have rejected as absurd.
    In today’s U.S. the irrational hate of Barack Obama among millions of conservative Americans is a symptom of blacklash. What is different, though, is that unlike in the 1910-1930 period, racism is still a fringe phenomenon — for the lack of a unifying framework which eugenics provided.
    Could such a framework emerge? Of course it could. Stay tuned.

  4. Tony Garcia


    Very interesting post alright. Let me ask you a question.

    Is the hatred towards Obama from conservatives (like myself) driven by his race or because he’s, probably, the most left-wing president ever?

    How about Thomas Sowell or Alan Keys, both black conservatives and both strongly oppose Obama’s policies, are they also racists because his is half white?

  5. Tony Garcia

    “Thanks to the Internet and the free flow of information, however, their attempts to shut off the information lights of Europe will be an impossible task.”

    Enrique, I hope you are right. You know better than anyone that I’m for everyone (I really mean everyone) to speak whatever they one.

    However Tuija Brax and her “taskforce” are already trying to solve this “problem”.

  6. Antero Pietila

    Tony. Quickly, because I have things to do. Here is a recent poll of Republicans on Obama for whatever it may be worth (which ain’t much) :
    I am not a psychoanalyst; therefore I have no idea what drives irrationalism. But your question shows that you did not understand the points I was trying to make. I thought that your political self-identification was interesting, though.
    Since we are forecast to get 20 inches of snow, I’ll return to this topic over the weekend.

  7. hannu

    -“What is paradoxical about these “champions of our western way of life” is that they would, if given the opportunity, be the first to impose the very autocratic measures that they claim to be fighting against.”

    Muslims and leftist do that and they arent “champions of our western way of life”, how you explain that?

  8. Antero Pietila

    First, this thread is too important to be hijacked to discuss what’s going on in the U.S.; the increasing political alienation here which is seen in the scapegoating of Obama is only a symptom of phenomena that can be seen around the world. Because I worked three years in South Africa for the Baltimore Sun as a correspondent and five in the Soviet Union, I have seen this before. In the latter, many people truly believed that the blotch on Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s forehead was the mark of Satan that the bible speaks of.
    I want to return to the original intent of this thread but introduce a new element (so far as I know) in the discussion concerning the immigration debate in Finland. In this case the bigotry is not directed a people of color (newcomers as well as the Roma). Instead, the targets are people from the former Soviet Union. Finland suddenly has a very substantial Russian speaking minority, who has mostly mercantile and quality-of-life reasons for being in the country. They are not Muslims, of course, but raise many of the same dilemmas as Muslim do in Western Europe.
    This is different from the past when the so-called Russian minority dated back to tsarist times, was highly assimilated, except for their Orthodox religion, which is recognized as one of the two official religions (Lutheran being the majority). Members of that old minority were often targeted and accused of, wrongly, of being unpatriotic. Many changed their Russian family names to fennocized names which in many cases are easy to spot.
    Some of the “new” Russians have entered the country claiming Finnish heritage, and Finland has generously accommodated them. Among them are a number of children and grandchildren of Finns who were recruited from North America to Soviet Karelia in the 1930s. I had such a lady as a tour guide on a bus trip to Karelia five years ago.
    She was living in Helsinki with her Russian speaking husband, was still a Russian citizen but was about to get a Finnish citizenship.
    The bulk of the “new” Russians, though, consist of newly rich Russians who are buying land and apartments in Finland and have acquired residency and/or citizenship in case things to sour in Russia, as they may. These are not the oligarchs or super-rich who go to France and the UK, but all kinds of wheeler-dealers of the second and third rank. Rightly or wrongly, they are blamed for many social ills (true, most prostitutes are Russian speakers); a sharp recent increase in home invasions and burglaries, etc.
    I am not sure about actual numbers (which should be easy enough to obtain) but remember figures from 40,000 to 70,000. Sociologists have observed a high degree of alienation among this group in general and among their teenagers in particular. They have their own stores — with Russian signs — and a radio station of their own.
    Most Finns are pretty courteous about all kinds of minorities when they are sober. But get a Finn a drink and he often becomes quarrelsome and wants to fight. (How’s this for stereotyping!) During Soviet times, all you needed was to get a bunch of Finnish communists drunk and their love toward the Soviet Union evaporated. The same now. There is an age-old Finnish saying: “Ryssä on ryssä vaikka voissa paistaisi” (A Rusky is a Rusky even if fried in butter).
    This, in my view, is explosive stuff and may complicate Finland’s future, which will be difficult in any event because of the country’s proximity to a major power that is again beginning to flex its muscles.

  9. Tony Garcia

    Thanks Antero for the link. Interesting numbers however I’ll disagree with Mr. Moulitsas interpretation of it.

    I just wonder what kind of numbers and adjectives we would find if we ask the same to liberals in general, and Democrats in particularly, about Bush and Cheney. I do remember the words “idiot”, “liar” and “murder” being used quite constantly, with I have no problem with. My problem starts when liberals start o use Obama’s skin colour to shield his administration from criticism.

    About the 63% who believes he’s a Socialist, let’s make it 63% plus 1.

    I don’t understand your comment on my political identification. I’m believe far more in conservative ideas than liberal ideas, with I believe, puts me on the right side of the aisle.

    Finally I didn’t mean to hijack the thread or shift it from its maim subject, you used, quite extensively, examples from US, from with one of it I had some objections, so I decided to clarify this. I think clarity is far more important than agreement.

  10. hannu

    “Many changed their Russian family names to fennocized names which in many cases are easy to spot.”

    Like tens of thousands did in great change in early 1900s, my family name by mother changed from Berg and from father im not sure but fathers name is new from that era.

  11. Antero Pietila

    Same here, same bigotry. My maternal grandfather came from a Swedish speaking home and, in order to show his patriotism, felt forced to change his perfectly wonderful family name, Törnwall, to an artificial (I felt) Törmävaara.
    After he dropped a Swedish language newspaper and took Helsingin Sanomat, he was accused of being a pinko!
    Bigotry has been with us always and will so remain. Only its expressions change.
    Gotta go.

  12. hannu

    You forget that finns were de facto forced to pick up swedish names if they wanted to be something, that just fixed things.
    Of course swedes arent so happy about what happend but thats good for them.

  13. Tony Garcia

    Thanks Hannu for the link. It shows brilliantly, with real world facts instead utopian academic concepts, the danger we all face when we tolerate the intolerance. The danger the “not impose our values upon them” policy.

    I have never got a convincing explanation why some groups within our society should be let loose and be above our laws.

    • Enrique

      –I have never got a convincing explanation why some groups within our society should be let loose and be above our laws.

      Tony, this is a new one on me. Who lives above the law in our society?

  14. Tony Garcia

    Let me just ask an open question here. Beforehand let me say that for the multicultural appeasement lobby this question is obviously racist, so no bother with that, but maybe other people may find it relevant.

    What if in this school we find another group, a hard core Christians who would not attend a meeting if Muslins are invited. Would the school arrange another meeting excluding muslins? Or would they be named and shamed?

    Due the fact that banning crucifixes promote human rights but banning minarets violate it, I think I know the answer.

  15. Antero Pietila

    The snow forecast now has gone up to 28 inches by tomorrow in the Washington, D.C., region . I find it hard to believe but, hey, what do I know.
    Back to the topic. Here are some thoughts I jotted down for someone who asked about bigotry in Finland:
    The starting point has to be Finland’s isolated geographical position. It matters little today, but it did in the past. Thus, Finland really saw the first non-white foreigners in numbers during the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. I have an illustrated book about those games that includes a photo caption that wonders whether Finland will ever see people from Thailand again! (Finnair these days flies to Bangkok, and bachelor farmers import brides from there).
    I am married to an African American. In the 1980s when we lived in Moscow and visited Finland regularly she was often a topic of curiosity. Curiosity, yes; seldom hostility, unless it involved Finns who were drunk. But admittedly we did not experience everyday life.
    Gypsies, or Roma people as they are called these days, are a totally different matter. Finns have discriminated against them and hated them for as long as I remember. They looked swarthier, dressed according to their traditions, lived a migratory life, used to involved in the thieving and fencing of horses and stabbings after things went sour; the list goes on. Some of these prejudices may have a justification; many others don’t. Often their own behavior perpetuated bigotry. When I was doing my basic training in the army, we had a Roma soldier who promptly went AWOL. He sent a postcard from Sweden. “Guess my uniform didn’t fit,” it said.
    I don’t know enough about today’s Finland to draw any broader conclusions but here are some impressions. Like here, hard economic times increase all kinds of bigotry and envy. For about two decades, Finland has been welcoming refugees from various corners of the world — boat people from Vietnam, Somalis, thousands of them. So particularly among the skinhead-influenced youths there is a lot of talk about “mutakuonot” (mudmouths) and “rättipäät” (ragheads).
    When I last visited Finland five years ago (we will be going again this September), the biggest change I observed was the noticeable increase of people of color from various countries. For example, it seemed as if the whole nightshift on Helsinki transit system consisted of African drivers. Which, of course, is a misnomer. In reality they were Finns, likely married to white Finns. Several didn’t even speak Finnish.
    I also saw a Chinese woman walking with an old Finnish woman. She spoke Finnish without an accent and I realized, rightly or wrongly, that she probably was a daughter-in-law doing everyday shopping.
    All generalizations are dangerous. Despite everything I said about Roma, the fact is that in the 1960s, Tampere Aamulehti, the most conservative paper in Finland, selected Raino Vehmas, Ph.D., as its editor in chief.
    Dead now, he looked visibly Roma and was, as everyone surely knew, the love child of a Finnish woman and a Roma man. He had lots of critics but his ethnic background never became part of any of that debate, as far as I remember. I knew him well at the university where he was a professor before his editorship.
    I think this was quite remarkable in the 1960s Finland, a highly moralistic and moralizing country.

    • Enrique

      Hi Antero and welcome to Migrant Tales! Congratulations on your book! Thank you for your very insightful comments. When you speak about the recession fueling bigotry in the past, some Finns see it as a carte blanch to discriminate. Thus, since we have less work, it is ok to be against immigrants and show it.
      Back in the 1960s, the Roma in Finland were ALL kept under suspicion. I remember my Finns telling me that ALL Roma, note ALL, were crooks and mistrustful. What you said about Finland being isolated from the rest of Europe is also true. It forced the foreign population to fall about 6,000 in the 1960s. One important matter to remember is that not only were immigrants a rare sight in this country but foreign investment was kept to a minimum due to the Restricting Act of 1939, which placed strong curbs on foreigners investing in this country. So, as you can see, Finns attitude has a lot to do with their education and history.
      The good news today is that Finland is a part of the EU and thereby well integrated economically and politically with Western Europe.
      Some readers may have some questions about the term “bigotry.” Could you explain how Baltimore came to terms with this problem?

  16. Antero Pietila

    I made a very bad mistake in the above. In talking about the African-descended Helsinki transit bus drivers I said they did not speak Finnish. I surely did not mean to. They all spoke perfect Finnish. It was English that they did not speak.

  17. Tony Garcia

    Isn’t against the law call for a meeting and excuse a group from it based on gender? Or it’s against the law only if the excluded group is a minority?

  18. Tony Garcia

    Sorry, maybe you’re right.

    We are not talking about equality but “real” equality, that’s why I can’t stop a Muslim from coming to my swimming class but he/she can stop me from coming to theirs.

    Silly Tony…

  19. Antero Pietila

    Bigotry is intolerance toward those of different races, ethnicities, creeds or religious affiliations. today began shipping my history of Baltimore, “Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City.” I write about Baltimore, some 40 miles from Washington, D.C., because it is the city I know best, because bigotry can be documented here to an amazing degree and because Baltimore was a national trendsetter in bigotry in the United States.
    In 1910, Baltimore became the first city to require that each residential block be segregated by race. After the Supreme Court invalidated that approach seven years later, many neighborhoods prohibited any group they did not like through private agreements known as restrictive covenants. At first such covenants were directed at African Americans but soon also at Jews, sometimes Italians, etc.
    Baltimore also was the first city to engage in “Negro removal,” the condemnation of a whole neighborhood — in this particular case a mixed-race area near City Hall and the Courthouse.
    In 1937, the federal government prepared real estate risk maps for 239 cities, including Baltimore. Those maps denoted the best areas, where loans and mortgages would be safe. After those areas, colored green, came the second rank: blue, also desirable for lending. By contrast caution was urged for areas colored yellow and discouraged in areas colored red. That’s how the term redlining was born.
    By definition, houses in blue areas were of recent construction, the neighborhood barred “inharmonious elements” — chiefly blacks and Jews — and the residents were of Northern European ethnicities and Protestants by religion. (All this is in federal guidelines).
    Residents of blue areas were non-Protestant European-descended people living in modern houses. Those areas were also required to have restrictive covenants.
    Yellow areas were inhabited by assimilated immigrants of various white ethnic backgrounds living in housing stock that was older. Those neighborhoods may not have had covenants but they lacked the “harmony” of a single ethnic and religious background. The Federal Housing Administration predicted their fate was to become the lowest category, red.
    The housing stock of red areas was old, their residents unassimilated recent immigrants. No restrictive covenants. Guidelines said those areas wer “dangerous” because of the presence or “infiltration” of “inferior” people like Italians, Jews and blacks.
    The whole real estate trade in the United States was guided by these principles which were repeated in appraisal handbooks until the 1960s. Most lending was based on such redlining, as were insurance policies, etc.
    The result of all this on the one hand was a high degree of ghettoization. Not only did ghettos form for blacks but even today, decades after that practice was outlawed, most of Baltimore’s Jews live in a distinct geographical area. On the other hand, the lack of conventional lending guaranteed the areas’ deterioration. This explains the slums that define center cities in many parts of the United States.
    This kind of segregation is slowly breaking down, slowly. When we moved to a Jewish area in 2000, it was news among my coworkers and our social friends. They wondered why we did it. (We could not be more pleased, but we are still abnormal in our housing choice.)
    The self-segregation that exists among many population groups today is partially due to this history but also to “self-withdrawal,” as the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal called the phenomenon. Writing in 1944, he explained “self-withdrawal” as a group defensive mechanism.
    I don’t know whether this answers the question; it probably only raises new questions. Whatever those may be, I will be happy to elaborate.
    As to my book, it will be officially released in the U.S. later this month but is already being shipped to those who preordered it. It is also available through and Undoubtedly it will also be available in some bookstores in Finland at some later date.

    • Enrique

      Thank you Antero for the link. What you said about redlining maps was totally new to me.

  20. Tiwaz

    Antero, how much time and effort you have actually bothered to put into studying Roma and their way of life?

    First of all, you fail to notice that Roma are treated same way practically everywhere where they live. Their reputation across Europe, specifically eastern parts, is virtually identical.

    Is this possible if there was not at least some fire to feed the smoke?

    Another thing you again forget about Roma is that they are offered same opportunities as everyone else in Finland, hell they are granted PREFERENTIAL treatment. They can go to school, they are given money to make those flashy dresses for ladies (which is actually very recent invention)…

    Problem is that they refuse to adjust as group to changed times.

    You present Roma as example of Finnish bigotry. How about I pointing to you Swedish speakers, Sami, Tatar and Jews as groups who do not suffer such fate?

    Swedes have their linguistic rights guaranteed. Hell, their position in mainland is stronger than position of native Finnish speaking Finn if her were to try to move to Ahvenanmaa! How about speaking against THAT racism?

    Sami? Their culture is preserved, their language taught at schools. They are rather well off. And they have adjusted to society around them. Their tribal culture has adjusted to fit into Finnish framework.

    Tatars? Native muslims of Finland. Impossible to tell apart from rest of population. They can speak and act just like everyone else. They are perfectly adjusted to Finnish society and are treated as such. But they are still muslims and have culturally distinct traditions, which they have adjusted to fit Finnish cultural framework. And nobody speaks against them.

    Jews are just repetition of Tatars in terms of adjusting to society around them. They have had rough time in the past, but back then it was more norm than exception. And during WW2 Jews in Finland were out there with rest fighting for country which granted them citizenship when it became independent.

    You and Enrique speak of intolerance of Finns, when we have clear evidence of opposite. Finns are very tolerant people, we accept everyone who shows they want to fit in and be part of this community.

    Only thing is, we expect those to be part of community to speak language of community and live by norms and rules of community. Because else we no longer HAVE community. And it does not even force them to lose their identity completely! Swedes, Jews, Tatars and Sami all still regain their cultural identity despite having made it fit into Finnish framework!

    It is the intolerance and racism presented by some minority groups which makes them shunned and disliked! THEY are causing problems to themselves by refusing to accept that to be part of community you have to play by the rules of that community.

  21. Antero Pietila

    Since I am quite unfamiliar with the European situation, I would welcome any books, articles on discrimination in Finland or other countries that anyone may be able to suggest.
    There is a lot I don’t know. I’ve been working on my book and the web of questions that raised for the past decade, more and less. While I can claim some expertise on the U.S. situation, I can claim none on the European.
    I have a book somewhere on Europe’s Muslim dilemma that I ordered several months ago. It is unread and I could not even find it over the weekend.
    In fact, I am not even sure whether dwelling on these matters is the best use of my time. But the subject interests me and I would welcome any suggestions.

  22. Paappa

    “Since I am quite unfamiliar with the European situation, I would welcome any books, articles on discrimination in Finland or other countries that anyone may be able to suggest.”

    Antero, you could start with “Discrimination in Finland 2008” report by “Ihmisoikeusliitto”, Finnish League for Human Rights. It is donwnloadable from this address:
    They have also other publications available:

    There has been much discussion about the roma. I would like to share some experiences I have about them.

    Some years ago I had a chance to train occasionally with a martial arts group in northwest finland. I was given the opportunity to lead a class, since as a visiting trainee I had some skills that they felt could be usefull to them. While teaching I told how I had seen some roma youth “training” in public in their own way, in a way that was against the law. Likewise I have had, in my youth some nasty experiences with some of them. Only after I had told of these experiences I realised that some of the trainers in this class were roma..oops.

    Then on of them, a black belt, said that “never mind, if it is true it can and should be told”. One of the most laid-back and nice people I have known.

    The point is, it is the individual that counts.

    Myself I am deeply conserned with the current discussion about immigrants. It seems that the “immigration critics” have hijacked the net with their argumentation. There are lots of middle-class, middle of the road people like myself, who endorse open discussion of this subject but at the same time detest the openly racist views that are prevalent in much of the discussion these days. Personally I have tried to speak my mind on some Finnish websites, but it is difficult to defend my views against the resulting onslaught of the “critics”, who have no manners and are hell-bent on trying to “win” the argument.

    • Enrique

      –Personally I have tried to speak my mind on some Finnish websites, but it is difficult to defend my views against the resulting onslaught of the “critics”, who have no manners and are hell-bent on trying to “win” the argument.

      Hi Paappa, welcome to Migrant Tales and thank you for sharing you points of views and gthe links with us. Migrant Tales is an open forum that debates immigration issues from their point of view. I disagree that the “critics” have hijacked the net. The only thing they have hijacked is incomprehension and trying to get Finland to shoot itself in the leg.