Is Heikki the drunk Finnish or Swedish?

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Some Swedish Finns are up in arms about a children’s book published in Sweden that pictures a wino called Heikki, according to YLE in English.  The character in the book, who is lying in a bush next to a plastic bag full of beer, was too much for Swedish Finn Sirpa Lamminpää, who filed a complaint to the Discrimination Ombudsman.  

YLE in English reports that the Discrimination Ombudsman will not take the case since “perceived prejudice” in printed books is falls under the jurisdiction of Swedish Chancellor of Justice.

Illustrator Gunna Grähs defends the character by stating that Heikki is a Swede.

“Perhaps she [Lamminpää]  is simply upset about the character being an alcoholic,” Grähs was quoted as saying. “Only one thing links him to Finland, and that is his name. In my opinion Heikki’s is a case of social class, not nationality.”

Grähs has a good point. Sweden is culturally diverse and a person with a name like Heikki can be a Swede.

Even so, the commotion about Heikki shows that Sweden is still a far ways off from being a post-racial society.

Risto Laakkonen, who is outspoken on migrant rights in Finland, said that any type of stereotyping is wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated.

Näyttökuva 2014-7-3 kello 11.42.19
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Laakkonen was active in a campaign in the 1970s to change the way that the Swedish media pictured Finns. Whenever a crime was reported by the media the first national group that came to mind as the culprits were Finns.

“With [then] Ambassador Max Jakobson we got in touch with all the editor-in-chiefs and managing editors of all the newspapers and television channels and told them that this type of stereotyping isn’t good since you’re labeling people who are working in this country,” he said. “The portrayal of Finns as the culprits ended pretty rapidly.”

Laakkonen said that in Finland it was impossible for the media to be racist towards migrants since there were so few back in the 1970s. He said that Finland’s media caught up to the Swedes in the 1990s.

“Things were actually much worse than today before when you had openly [fascist] groups [like the IKL 1932-44] that talked about Finns as a tribe and influenced this type of thinking to be taught at schools,” he said. “The Perussuomalaiset* are small fry when compared to the past.”

Laakkonen said that human rights and tolerance are like a tree that must be watered.

“The tree will die if you don’t water it,” he said. “All you need is 10% of the population to be awake and active [for human rights] for things to change.”


* The Finnish name for the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The names adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We therefore prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings. 

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