Having lived in Finland on and off for 30 years, I have come to some explanations why some Finns feel so strongly about immigration.
I could give you the usual explanations: Finland has had few immigrants, the climate, difficult language, the culture, lack of jobs etc…
These are the most common explanations that make us go around in circles and stop those most critical Finns on immigration to see the other side of the issue.
One of the reasons, which is rarely looked at more deeply, is Finland’s suspicion of Russians. While there are a lot of reasons that justify such a stance, it keeps our view on things very limited. It confines us in a small town were some of us only have the ability to see 50km or 100km from where we live.
Some of us still do not believe the Continuation War (1941-44) ended close to 64 years ago and our “special relationship” with the former Soviet Union finished in the early 1990s.
Let me get to the point:
1) The reason why the number of foreigners dwindled after the Second World War was because of our relationship with the USSR. We did not have a refugee policy because asylum-seekers from the Soviet Union were supposed to be returned to Russian authorities with no respect for their human rights.
2) Finland was in constant threat, and extremely concerned, by the influence and threat the Soviet Union posed. Finland could not become a haven – like Germany – for anti-Soviet propaganda. Accepting refugees from the USSR would have put Finland’s independence in jeopardy.
3) If we look at our stance towards outsiders, I believe it stems a lot from our difficult relationship with the Soviet Union. Some despise Russians so much that we do not even want to buy ceded territories like Karelia because that would imply taking in a large Russian-speaking minority.
4) A good example of this fear and suspicion is that we have scores of contingency plans for thousands, maybe tens of thousands of Russians overrunning Finland. There are many examples of poorer countries living next to richer ones where such fears are not an issue.See Mexico versus the United States, Bolivia versus Argentina, Indonesia versus Australia…
5) Could it be that we are still building a national identity after 1917 that has as its mentors the threats of the last century? Are the police and civil servants responsible for handling immigrant affairs still living in the in the cold war era? Where they junior civil servants back then and now are in senior positions?
Conclusion: We need a totally new way of seeing Finnish culture, where one of its main pillars will be a more open society to outsiders. It will be a culture that does not see the world through myopic eyes but through very open ones. A society were racism has very little space to breed and grow. A country where everyone can grow and live in dignity.