Selling xenophobia and racism in Finnish tabloids in the 1990s

by , under Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

The early 1990s were a gruesome time for Finland for a number of reasons. Apart from suffering one of its worst-ever recessions in a century, the ugly face of racism become ever-public. Fortunately at the time, immigrants accounted for less than 1% of the total population so there weren’t too many around to blame except for Russians, Estonians, Roma, blacks and Somalis in the tabloids. 

Migrant Tales got a hold of some Ilta-Sanomat tabloid ad posters from the 1990s from the Migration Institute of Turku.

A rapid glance of them shows how isolated Finland felt from the world and how that world was supposedly caving in on Finland. Russians were depicted as prostitutes and mafiosi types, while blacks, especially Somalis were seen by Ilta-Sanomat as people who had “swindled” their way to  Finland or were spreading HIV.

Another ad poster below warns readers: “Somalis to remain in Finland.”

Or what about this one from August 13, 1992: “Somalis’ phone bill totals hundreds of thousands [of marks].”

Another odd ad asks readers: “Why do Russians irritate Finns?”

Finnish State Railways (VR) was even cited: “VR will hinder refugees from coming to Finland.”

If one wants to dive into the dark side of Finland’s issues with xenophobia and racism, check out what was written on these tabloid ads in the 1990s.

The fact that neither Ilta-Sanomat and Iltalehti would think twice today about publishing such racist stuff shows that we are making some progress but we still have a long way to go.

The day when xenophobia is acknowledged as a real social problem in Finland by a wide spectrum of society we will discover another painful truth: It will take generations to cure.

  1. BlandaUpp

    What I find extremely disturbing and shameful is how Roma people have been treated across Europe for generations. After the Holocaust, only Jews gained sympathy but Roma went back to being treated like second class citizens all over Europe.

  2. D4R

    This explains all why so many finns were runing from us and didn’t want anything to do with us back tthen. In the 90’s when we came to Finlans i many times wanted to befriend with Finns, but Finns were acting strange, they were scared of us, were giving strange stare, even to day they give us, some were being aggressive screamingoffensive names, at the worst times you get someone jumping on you, it was crazy times. I once became best friend with one Finns boy, we were like a brothers, so close even closer than my own brothers. So oneday we were just hanging out, as we were playing outside, then came one of his Finns friend, His Finns friend told him while i was hearing and stading beside, How can you be with this kind of person. My best friend whom i thought was relly my best friend, told me that he’s no longer friend with me and he left witht he other dude, i was like 12 years old back then, And it hurt, it hurt so much that i still get it flash backs.

  3. Riiko

    Hah. Mr. Tessieri. Are you for real? Those headlines were as normal as if would be on Mogadishu times headline “Why does these Finns come to us” if the situation was vice versa. Allthough the problem seems to be only when this kind of language is used on western countries.

    • Migrant Tales

      Hi Riiko, the issue is not if Finns came to Somalia but Somalis that came to Finland and got the treatment they did in the tabloids. You see everything you write can be read in the future. Some of these tabloid ads look pretty racist; how do you think Hirvisaari’s or Halla-aho’s writings will look in 10 or 20 years from now. They look pretty bad now but wait one or two decades.

      Yes, and welcome to Migrant Tales.

  4. Sasu Xinkang Ölander

    Tietyllä ironisella tavalla se että rasismi ja muukalaisviha sanotaan ääneen helpottaa tietämään mitä on tekeillä. Nyt poliittisen korrektiuden ja värisokean rasismin aikana meidän pitää lukea kaikki rivien välistä, jos emme laske paria äärasistista ja ääri muukalaisvihaista.

    • Migrant Tales

      Hyvin sanottu, Sasu. Tämä on juuri oikea analyysi: meidän on luettava kaikki rivien välissä. Mitä ihminen oikeasti halua sanoo kun hän leimaa koko ryhmiä rikolliseksi? Mitä hän sanoo kun hän vastusta naisia käyttämään hijab-huiveja? Tarkoittaako hän, että on huolestunut rikollisuudesta ja naisten huono asemasta tai että hän vastusta erilaisia ihmisiä ja ryhmiä yhteiskunnassamme?

  5. Andy

    is it a coincidence that Seppo is there?

    He said once that even a Russian understands when you talk loud enough. 🙂

  6. Riiko

    Mr. Tessieri. The point that I am making is that there is nothing racist on those headlines. Questions are wery sencible. If prior to when Somalis came en masse to Finland we were told that they came only “for a short time” and this not happen it is wery reasonable to ask like in Headline. And if many Finns were irritated by Russians why could this not be stated and asked?

    • Migrant Tales

      OK, Riiko, fine. We can make such offensive statements about other groups. Taking into account the general atmosphere in Finland at the time, which was clouded by one of the worst recessions in a century, making such xenophobic statements hit immigrants especially hard. In my book many of these tabloid ads are racist and offensive. They denigrate other groups with the fuel of arrogance.

  7. Riiko

    Mr. Tessieri. How it is so? They make a reazonable question. People were told that Somalis came only for a short time and then this not materialize. So now these tabloids state the obvious fact. It is not racism. And if Russians did indeed irritate most of Finns why should this question not be asked at the time? Why you act like 5 years old child? In what world do you live in? People start to ask questions when things don’t go as they were promised.

    • Migrant Tales

      Riiko, the questions that Ilta-Sanomat asks do not fuel racism and suspicion, but show that the reporters lacked social grace. Those tabloid ads were published when Finland was suffering one of its worst recessions in history. So the atmosphere for immigrants was pretty thick at that time.

  8. D4R

    Riiko:Mr. Tessieri. The point that I am making is that there is nothing racist on those headlines. Questions are wery sencible. If prior to when Somalis came en masse to Finland we were told that they came only “for a short time” and this not happen it is wery reasonable to ask like in Headline. And if many Finns were irritated by Russians why could this not be stated and asked?

    You don’t get the point. the reason why Migrant is presenting these headlines to us, is the racism back then it was kind of vivid, but now it’s more like hidden, hard to notice that’s why many think thre isn’t racist at all. It’s natural for you not to see any racism in the headlines, because you happen not to be the target, if i was a white finn i wouldnt notice any racism for one i’m not the target. We thank that Migrant Tales has presented us these headlines so that everyone can see how ignorant stage Finland was at the time being.

    • Migrant Tales

      –You don’t get the point. the reason why Migrant is presenting these headlines to us, is the racism back then it was kind of vivid, but now it’s more like hidden, hard to notice that’s why many think thre isn’t racist at all.

      Good point, D4R. People who don’t grasp what racism is will never see it as racism.