By Enrique Tessieri
Some people claim that ever-growing poverty and social inequality in Finland were the reasons why the Perussuomalaiset (PS) scored such a big election victory last year. We read in the media about lengthening bread lines and how it has become more difficult for some people to make ends meet. Even so, does this justify growing xenophobia and racism in our society?
Some cast their only vote last year in the belief that our most pressing problems in this country would be solved by supporting an anti-immigration candidate.
Voting for such a person, however, is like calling a pyromaniac to turn off a raging fire. You need qualified firemen to deal with such a situation in the same way that Finland today needs leaders and politicians who have political experience and a strong background in economics, globalization and sociology.
Poverty is unacceptable in any society. In some parts of the world it means living on $1 a day, or even less. It means making hard decisions like choosing not to eat today in order to feed my children.
I remember a documentary I saw in university a long time ago about a poor family in the U.S. Appalachia Mountains. “In the same way that some rich folks may be proud of being rich,” the young father said standing next to his wife, “I’m also proud of being poor.”
The couple didn’t have enough money to buy milk so they fed their baby gravy from a bottle.
I am certain that when Finnish politicians and policymakers speak of poverty they don’t mean living on $1 a day or having to feed your baby gravy (läskisoosi).
Poverty means different things in affluent countries like Finland and in the developing world. Poverty teaches some of us two important lessons: our vulnerability in society and that nothing is permanent. If there is some wisdom we can learn from it, probably it is treating people with respect even during good times, because we never know when we’ll need their help.
The rise of racism and right-wing populism in Finland and Europe are proof that these lessons are not even being acknowledged by some. Moreover, the arrogance of some politicians is like adding salt to the open wound of Finland’s polarized society.
The more we boast our racism and suspicion of minorities in public and in private, the more our society will continue to slip into a more profound type of poverty. We will not throw extra weight overboard to slow our downward spiral, but instead stand by our most inalienable values like social equality for all.
Xenophobia and racism are the real poverty facing Finland today.