My long journey to Finnish citizenship

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Like many children of Finnish parents, I, too, spent summers in the countryside with my grandparents. During all of these years, I thought, incorrectly, that I was a Finnish citizen or had a right to citizenship. I was wrong.

Until 1984, children of Finnish men had the right to pass on citizenship to their children. Even if women got the right to vote in 1906, it took about 66 years after independence for women to win this right.

This meant, in effect, that I was treated as a foreigner in this country. I had to get residence permits and at one point a work permit for each job I had.

One day, at the Aliens’ Office, I asked one of the employees why I had to apply for a residence permit if I was a Finn because of my mother. The response shocked me to the core.

Being a foreigner in Finland in the 1980s meant a lot of red tape. Residence permits were first granted for six months and a work permit for each job. On top of this, your human rights, which were considered suspect since it spoke out against the former Soviet Union, were violated.

“In our opinion, you are not a Finn,” she snapped.

It was one of the most disappointing days of my life in Finland.

In protest, I decided that I would not apply for Finnish citizenship for about seven years.

My attitude changed in 1988 when I was working for the Buenos Aires Herald in Argentina. I thought that if I’d be kidnapped as a journalist, it would be better off a Finnish citizen than an Argentinean.

Moreover, there were visa restrictions in some European countries like the United Kingdom and France. Every time I visited a European country like Sweden, I was stopped and treated like an alien.

While some parties like the Islamophobic Perussuomalaiset (PS)* want to take Finland back to the cold war years, it was a period where foreigners had no rights. This was ensured by the Restricting Act of 1939 (219/1939), which became redundant in 1992.

The Restricting Act of 1939 prohibited foreigners from owning real estate and acquiring a majority stake in Finnish companies – limiting this to 20% normally and 40% under special permission. The Act stipulated that those foreigners could not own shares in forestry, securities trading, transportation, mining, real estate, and shipping.

The Restricting Act of 1939, which was passed during the Great Depression, became redundant in 1992.

If the Restricting Act wasn’t enough to ensure that you couldn’t publish newspapers, organize demonstrations, be a chairman of a Finnish association or own land, the lack of any law that protected immigrants in this country meant that the authorities didn’t have to respect your human rights and could imprison and deport you and ask questions later.

Finland passed its first immigration law in 1983.

I lived under these legal obstacles that fueled xenophobia and impunity against foreigners because I was one of them.

My blood boils whenever members of the PS state that they want to take Finland back and return to the so-called good old days.

Those good old days were marred by xenophobia, visible institutional racism and outright hostility.