Our response to racism, bigotry and hate speech in Finland should be first and foremost a reaction

by , under Enrique Tessieri

We’ve been overwhelmed as of late by Valtteri Saarinen’s story about how is harassed in a racist manner at school for such a long time that he doesn’t care to react any longer. There was as well Perussuomalaiset (PS) party chairperson for Tampere, Terhi Kiemunki, who wrote on Facebook that it was unfortunate that she didn’t have any condoms to give Muslim children trick-or-treating. 

Shame on the teachers at Valtteri’s school! How could they not notice what’s been going on right under their noses?

While it is a positive matter that the boy’s story got noticed by President Sauli Niinistö, is it disingenuous of him to state that he “was shocked” by it?

Näyttökuva 2016-3-22 kello 7.03.04
Valtteri Saarinen told us something we know about racism but which we deny as a society. See the interview here.

Racism has been present in Finnish society for a long time. It’s denial, and how we play down this social ill, enables it to grow and see another day. I disagree with President Niinistö. We should “be shocked” by our denial of racism in this country.

In light of the mixed statements he has given in the past about racism, I disagree with what President Niinistö’s said. We should “be shocked” by our denial of racism in this country.

We should stop just stating that “we are against racism” and go further to challenge this social illness.

The fact that children and people with “foreign” parents in Finland are still labelled by the police service and authorities as “people with foreign background” reveals a wider issue in our society like the power relationship between white Finns, who defend their entitlement, and visible minorities who are relegated to second-class members of society by such labels.

One matter that Kiemunki’s comment and the reaction to it shows is our ambivalence to racism and hate speech. Even if there have been calls to sack her, why would a party like the PS sack a racist if it’s racism that has helped them to grow and given them power?

There are many sad examples in Finland of how racism, bigotry, and hate speech have become “normal.” We must, however, challenge that poisonous narrative with inclusion, equal opportunity social equality, education, respect for cultural diversity, and leadership.

The European Network Against Racism (ENAR), a Brussels-based NGO, made the following recommendations for Finland in a shadow report on Afrophobia in Europe:

  • Establish an equality body responsible for dealing with discrimination cases within employment.
  • Greater promotion of cultural diversity at schools is needed to better reflect better the diversity of Finland in the 21st
  • A plan needs to be developed and implemented to increase the ethnic diversity of the workforce in the public sector in particular within the non-discrimination Ombudsman’s office and the police service.
  • Finnish Law should integrate a direct provision for hate crimes to ensure that hate crimes are adequately recognized and punished as such.
  • Government agencies and NGOs must improve their monitoring of discrimination in all areas and especially in employment.

Read full ENAR report on Afrophobia in Europe ShadowReport here.