New World Finn: Open the doors

by , under Enrique

Twenty-five years ago, when I worked briefly for the Buenos Aires Herald as a young reporter, I wrote a column about how Argentina’s past could come to haunt it in the future. The last military regime (1976-83) that ruled the country was one of the most ruthless that Latin America had seen during the last century. Tens of thousands of people disappeared in a civil war that was characterized by habeas corpus writs and the silence of cemeteries.

The same concern I wrote about in that column a long time ago has resurfaced in Europe today.

New World Finn is a quarterly exploring Finnish culture in the New World.
The column, Open the doors, raised the following points: “True, there is in present-day Argentina a consensus against military-run governments. However, even though these last years of democracy have instigated a new political era, there are still precious little questions being asked not only about our past – how different sectors such as politicians, unions, member of the clergy, historians, journalists, the U.S. embassy, among others, colluded in making a mockery of democracy and human rights – but most importantly, where we’re supposed to go from here.”

Could history be repeating itself again in Europe and Finland?

As our economic woes deepen in this part of the world, the louder we’re hearing the diatribes of far right and right-wing populist groups. We saw in Finland last year the rise of the Finns Party, which is anti-EU, anti-immigration and especially anti-Islam. The Finns Party, which only got 5 seats in 2007, won 39 seats in the last election!

The next hurdle for the Finns Party will be the municipal elections of October 28. A recent poll by YLE revealed that the Finns Party would be the biggest winner of the municipal election. If the party gets 15.8% of the votes as the poll suggests, it will be a big leap from 5.4% that the party got in the 2008 municipal elections. The poll sees that the National Coalition Party getting in October 22.7% compared with 23.5% in 2008. That would be followed by the Social Democrats with 18.7% (21.2%), and the Center Party with 16.6% (20.1%).

While all political parties in Finland are officially against all forms of racism and discrimination, it’s not clear what their real views are on the issue. How do they promote cultural diversity and how often do they speak out against racism? You will find in all Finnish parties members who are for or against immigrants and immigration. Even so, no other party has so many openly anti-immigration members like the Finns Party.

The Greens and Swedish People’s Party, and even the Left Wing Alliance with some reservations, appear to be the most open to immigration and cultural diversity, according to some polls.

“Intolerance is taking root throughout Europe and Finland. We witnessed with shock last year its ugliest side, when Anders Behring Breivik went on his murderous rampage killing 77 innocent victims. Europe witnessed this spring intolerance form a young Arab in Southern France who gunned down Jewish schoolchildren.

Contrary to North America, some claim that our view of ourselves as ethnic groups in Europe hinges too much on “race and blood.” The concept dates back to 1935, when a Jewish doctor in Germany was sent to a concentration camp for saving a patient’s life by donating his blood. This same idea, that blood and ethnicity are related, is how some Europeans see themselves ethnically today.

In order not to repeat the mistakes of the past, we have to look at our history. Finland, which was ravaged by internal and external wars during the first twenty-five years of its independence, built a model society based on respect, acceptance and social equality. The fruits of those efforts are everywhere today. In order to build the same type of society in this century, we must take great care not to exclude different ethnic groups.

We could look across the Atlantic as well for good cultural-diversity models. Even if racism is an issue in many parts of the Americas, countries like the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and others understand that racism and discrimination are social ills that must be challenged.

The last paragraph of the Buenos Aires Herald column I wrote stated the following: “There are a lot of pending questions and, as long as Argentina does not accept the difficult challenge of answering them, the door of this country will remain closed, isolation will prevail, and despotism will one day flourish as it always has in the past. It will not come from abroad, however, as many would have us believe, but from our backyard.”

The column appeared in the autumn 2012 issue of New World Finn.