The origins of modern Finnish xenophobia and racism

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

Modern Finnish racism has two sources: nationalism imbedded deep in our history coupled with low self-esteem. Compared with the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s, matters have got better though there is still a lot of room for improvement.

One of the cornerstones of Finnish nationalism is the myth that we are alone and therefore we must be self-reliant to the extreme. The truth, however, is that we could not have become an independent nation nor have made it through two terrible wars with the former Soviet Union without outside help and support.

Thanks to our resolve in the Winter War (1939-40), the conflict took a critical turn in favor of Finland after England and France were threatening to send troops to fight against the Red Army. If this had happened, it would have changed the course of World War 2.

Despite the hatred that some Finns have of Russians, it was Czar Aleksander II that gave language rights to Finnish-langauge Finns. As a Grand Duchy of Russia, Finland also got its own currency. These rights, which were gained in a single decade, were more than what the Finnish-langauge Finns got when they were under Swedish rule during 1249-1809.

Despite ardent nationalism and diehard suspicion of the Russians, leaders of Finland’s independence intelligently understood that it would be a wise choice to maintain the country officially bilingual. The final adoption of the flag was done in the spirit of the Nordic region as well, even though Akseli Gallen-Kallela proposed one that had a red background and the Finnish lion.

This was the official flag that waved over Finland from January to May 1918. It  was designed by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Source: Wikipedia

While our independence and national unity were based on our hatred of the Russians and to a lesser degree of the Swedes, Finland’s fear of outsiders took a new turn in the 1930s. During the Great Depression, Finland enacted the Restricting Act of 1939 (law 219/1939) that kept foreigners and outside investment to a minimum. Moreover, responsiblity for immigrant affairs during that decade was handed to the secret police, which saw foreigners as a threat to national security.

The interesting question to ask is how come nationalism continues to shape the view that some Finns have of the outside world? Why do politicians still scare Finns and maintain the myth that we will be invaded?

The answer is simple: It is profitable.

It reaps rewards because it offers instant short-term benefits if you want to smother dissent rapidly, encourage self-censorship of the media and public, as well as support public enterprises and institutions at the cost of competition. Worst of all, it creates an antagonistic situation between immigrants and the rest of the population. How can one integrate smoothly in such a hostile atmosphere?

The Finland of the future, which we are building today, will have more freedom of thought, less self-censorship of the media and public, greater competition, acceptance that we are a culturally diverse and start to see the outside world (especially Russia) in a less defensive fashion.

Politicians, institutions like the Finnish Border Guard and other public leaders who continue to inject fear of the outside world, choose to live in the past because it is profitable.

It is high time they modernize their view of the world and embrace the challenges of the new century in a novel way. Why?

Because it is more profitable for Finland in the long-term.

    • Enrique

      Hi JusticeDemon, you are right. That is why I changed the headline and intro.

  1. Kulkuri

    Question, was the lion always facing that way?? Somewhere I saw something about one of the things in the peace treaty of either the Winter Way or the Continuation War was turning the lion around so it would not face Russia.

    • Enrique

      Hi Kulkuri, and thank you for dropping by. You pose an interesting question but I don’t know the answer. Could anyone answer Kulkuri’s question? One thing that always impacted me was how the lion could walk on a sword. That must have hurt! But I guess it is the sword of the defeated, maybe.

    • Enrique

      Hi Kulkuri, if you check out fauna on maps, and ask flag experts (vexologists), you will note that the great majority of these animals are facing left. There are very few exceptions. See the horses on Venezuela’s and Mongolia’s flag, for example. Ther are some like Morocco’s coat of arms and others (Malawi, Malta, Malaysia, Netherlands, Nigeria and othes) where there are two animals pointing at both directions. The Paraguayan coat of arms has a lion looking right. As you can see, the overwhelming majority point left. Interesting, no?

  2. Hannu

    “Question, was the lion always facing that way?? Somewhere I saw something about one of the things in the peace treaty of either the Winter Way or the Continuation War was turning the lion around so it would not face Russia.”

    Bollocks, in flags lions and other animals are “always” faced left. You wouldnt want carry flag with animals ass first would you?

  3. Viktoria & Karina

    Hi,everybody!You call Finns racists,xenophobic,etc. and this is everyday scary reality. Just yesterday we became a witnesses of a hate crime in the Malmi’s hospital(Helsinki).First the man asked aggressively an Asian girl “For how long you have been a Finn?”,but my partner stopped him,inviting this girl to sit closer to us.He went to register his visit,and promised to come back to us.Luckily for this girl,the doctor called her inside.When the man returned to a waiting room,she already left.Then he saw a Muslim woman,sitting alone,and pointing the door,told her to get out from here.My partner run to call security guards,the man hit a Muslim woman in her face.The guards came,but they didn’t want to call a police,and one of them told me,that he has not seen anything;I said,that I’m an US citizen,and me and my partner are both from the former Soviet Union,and also were attacked in the same area-the Malmi Prisma supermarket in February.We reported this to Malmi’s police Department,but nobody took any action against this Finn,who physically assaulted us and verbally abused,calling us “Russian lesbos” and promising “to pursue us and cut our necks,as his father did in Karelia”.My partner lives in Finland for more then 10 years,and with her Russian-Finnish roots she suffered enough discrimination-first under communist regime in USSR,and later for her Russian and lesbian background,in Finland.I moved to Finland in November,2009 from New York(I’ve been a resident of US since 1991),and it’s really stranger for me to see,what is going on here-the police doesn’t want to take any action to prevent and stop the hate crimes,they avoid to register them,because the statistics like this can damage Finland’s reputation.The guards don’t want to move their asses to catch a criminals-once one brave guy near Malmi’s Prisma doors urinated in front of us,calling us lesbians and demonstrating us,”what we lack”,in his opinion.The guard came,but this guy run faster then him,and escaped into the crowd.Even if a criminal is taken,the police release him around the next corner,and we stay scared,unprotected,and totally humiliated.I asked in Police Department,what should we do,how they can protect our lives and safety,and an answer was “if you see anything suspicious,call 112″.So,you can be multiply discriminated,beaten by a Finnish origin,as this happened to Somali woman, and my partner Karina,and got your neck chocked as mine(that what we’ve experienced in Prizma),just because you look different,speak Russian or else,or for being a gay;or you can be even killed,as Sasha Suvorov in Lahti.My partner moved from Lahti to Helsinki,because her Finnish neighbors wrote her and her Russian an ex girlfriend letters:”Go away from here you,Russian lesbians!”.And when she worked in a nursing home,taking care of an elderly people,Finns traumatized and insulted her so,that she became sick and continuously took a medicine,and had to leave her work.Even if you are naturalized Finn,or half blood Finn,you are not Finn enough for Finns!! Unfortunately,we cannot move from Malmi,because nobody wants to rent us an apartment,and we tried everything,including Finland forum and goverment apartments,where we were told,that they have 13.000 homeless Finns,and they have nothing for us.So,now we scared to death,because we’ve been involved in two serious cases of hate crime,and a police is very slow and we feel helpless.We trying to avoid to walk alone,or we borrow a car from a friend,or preferably stay home,and my partner is losing her clients at her business,because she canceled all appointments all early mornings and late nights(she is a beautician)..But if we’ll move from Malmi,where is guarantee of safety for us,if horrible acts of hatred happens everywhere in Finland?.

    • Enrique

      Hi Viktoria & Karina, thank you for sharing your experiences in Malmi with us and welcome to our blog. The matter that worried me a lot about what you wrote was how laxed the security guard and your total loss of faith in the police with respect to what you mentioned. I am certain that you can do more to get “justice.” You could call the Ombudsman for Minority Affairs and explain what happened, or seek legal help from some lawyer. Zuzeeko publihsed in his bloo, http://www.zuzeeko.com, an interesting article on where to seek legal help in Finland. Maybe the blog can give you useful information.
      No matter in what shape or form discrimination presents itself, we must do everything possible to challenge it with all of the legal weapons we have available to us in society. We don’t do this for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren so they may live in a society where skin color, background and/or religion are not an issue.
      I hope that some bloggers can give you their points of views and what should be done.

  4. JusticeDemon

    Ah – that’s annoying. The link was supposed to reach the right JULHA directory page, but it only finds the query form.

    You will have to put Hiltunen Rainer in the search field.

  5. Tiwaz

    Enrique, why I never see you in your blogs dig out the shit of multiculturalism?

    Oh yes, because for you trying to pretend that switching to multiculturalism is idealism and thus it is profitable to try to pretend that Finns out of evilness want to remain Finns and keep Finland Finnish!

    You fail to answer to criticism which has PROVEN repeatedly that multicultural societies are some of the sickest, most horrible ones in the world.

    How about explaining to us how you would fix the glaring issues of division caused by multiculturalism and how you could make unified and strong society with it.

    You whine that Finns want to live according to our cultural norms in our native land.

    Then come telling how we have to accept how foreigners want to live according to their cultural norms in our native land.

    We Finns apparently are second class citizens to you Enrique, people who do not have right to judge others based on our own culture but everyone has right to judge us Finns based on their culture.

    Sick. Fucking sick.

    • Enrique

      –You fail to answer to criticism which has PROVEN repeatedly that multicultural societies are some of the sickest, most horrible ones in the world.

      Much of the “shit” you speak of comes from hatred between people. Some immigrants and Finns are both guilty of this. When you say that multicultural societies are some of the sickest, what empirical information do you have to back that? Moreover, multicultural societies (made of up many cultures) are the most powerful countries on Earth. Why? Because new blood and new ideas replace old ones. It is a sort of dynamic process that goes on and on.

      Why is it that you take criticism so personally? If we criticize certain aspects of society I am certain that there are many among us who enjoy living in Finland. Criticism does not mean that you hate something. It means that you want to improve it.

  6. xyz

    Tiwaz, just look at this research and then you will understand that there are not many possibilities to integrate into Finnish society:
    http://www.ylioppilaslehti.fi/2008/04/18/more-finnish-language-courses/

    Sorry, but to integrate foreigners into the society is not only the task of the foreigners who come to your country.

    And if other countries are able to give Finns work then why do you think Finns are not able to do the same? You think you are something special because of your culture? You think Finnish culture is the only culture on this planet which does not work with foreign cultures. If this would be the case, why are there so many Finns living and working abroad? This culture thing is just a stupid excuse.

  7. xyz

    I was wondering how easy it is to drop out of the Finnish System as a Finn? (high alcohol consumption, lonelyness and suicide rate). Maybe that’s also an indicator why immigration does not work that well in Finland?

  8. Viktoria & Karina

    Hi,guys!I’m talking again about simply to feel safe and protected in daily life-no Ombudsman or lawyer can help,if you can become a target in any place,at any time!In USA cops arrive in seconds,people are always helpful,and all crimes are punished!I witnessed 6 incidents in 6 month (!!!)and all this people were different ages-starting from teenager,who was sticking a lighted cigarette into Karina’s face on the Helsinki’s Rail station escalator,and finishing with elderly man in Chinese restaurant also in Helsinki,where we’ve invited our lesbian friends from Tallinn for Palm Sunday dinner.We’ve had to leave,because he made his speech,how disgusting we are,and have we been in the church and so on,and waitress had to stop him,because he was very aggressive.Maybe in five generations Finnish mentality will change,but we live now,and I don’t want my partner or me suffer or injured by some person,who thinks that he’s better because of his nationality or he’s straight.The policeman in Malmi’s Police Department answered about our fears,that “there are many dangerous places in Helsinki,and they cannot provide protection,because they don’t have enough sources”. On the next day,when we witnessed Somali woman abuse,I confessed to my partner,that I’m really scare to go outside,to be in public places,and she told me,that she feels the same during all this years..

  9. JusticeDemon

    Sounding off in an Internet blog cannot help either.

    I recommended Rainer Hiltunen as someone to consult because of his unique background and present official position, but if you are unwilling to take active steps to improve things for the benefit of others who come later, then it would be better not to contact Rainer, as he has plenty to do already.

    • Enrique

      Hi JusticeDemon, “sounding off in an Internet blog” and “not willing to take active steps to improve things for the benefit of others who come later?” I am sorry you feel this way.

  10. JusticeDemon

    The comment wasn’t addressed to you, Ricky.

    I am heartily sick of people who take your time explaining their problems in detail, but then won’t lift a finger to tackle the situation because there’s no immediate personal benefit to be gained. This is simply time wasting. The response at 8.14 is already enough to convince me that this couple must pay a specialist a lot of money for help. No volunteer activist should touch their case.

    • Enrique

      Hi JusticeDemon, I kind of guessed that. If there is a person who has done a lot for immigrants in Finland, that person is you. But yes, all of us have to put in our fair share to improve our sitaution. We don’t really do this for ourselves but for our children and grandchildren.

  11. instantkaamos

    In the light of your thoughtful post about the roots of xenophobia in Finland, I wondered what you thought about the recent Fingerpori cartoons in Hesari which trivialise the Nazi Holocaust. From what my Finnish friends tell me, this is more a case of ignorance than anything else. But then, to extend your thesis, who is it who profits from this ignorance?

    • Enrique

      Hi instantkaamos, and welcome to Migrant Tales. I like your blog and the debate it fuels. I have always been amazed by how some Finns, even your friends who should know better, think it is still funny to make racial jokes. Some even take pride in labelling themselves as racists. Ignorance? If you look at how Finland sees the outside world, it is for some a pretty scary place. Taking into account that Finland was far-flung, small and that it did not get enough attention like Germany after the war, explains in part why some history books in the 1970s (and probably even later?) still saw Finland from a 1930s eugenics point of view. Check out, for example, the incredulous claim that Finns mostly comprised of the the Nordic and East Baltic “races.” In other words, it shows a great hole in our education that is reflected in how we interpret the outside world and historical events. You have to remember that Finland was a co-belligerent (the official term) of Nazi Germany during World War 2 (Continuation War). Himmler and Hitler visited Finland. Has there been a serious debate in Finland about this? Not. Consequence? Lack of understanding and acknowledgement of the Nazi regime and its outlandish crimes among some circles in Finland. An extreme example: We can not acknowledge what the Nazis did because we hate the Russians. Fingerpori could be a good case in point.

  12. EP

    >>>You have to remember that Finland was a co-belligerent (the official term) of Nazi Germany during World War 2 (Continuation War). Himmler and Hitler visited Finland. Has there been a serious debate in Finland about this? Not. Consequence? Lack of understanding and acknowledgement of the Nazi regime and its outlandish crimes among some circles in Finland. An extreme example: We can not acknowledge what the Nazis did because we hate the Russians.<<<

    What are you talking about? Who does not understand and acknowledge what nazis did? I don´t know a single person who doesn´t. How could it even be possible? Where are those "circles"?

    And what is there to debate about WWII in Finland that hasn´t been debated 100 times already? It is not like Finland had a lot of choice. And Hitler and Himmler were not invited, they just came.

    I saw that Fingerpori, and first I didn´t understand it. It took a while. The next day the cartoonist apologized his "too black humour". The strip was actually about Greens and "free chicken",

    • Enrique

      –What are you talking about? Who does not understand and acknowledge what nazis did? I don´t know a single person who doesn´t. How could it even be possible? Where are those “circles”?

      Take for example Mikkelin Klubi, where Mannerheim used to dine. There is a picture on the wall with Mannerheim and Heinrich Himmler. No other person in modern history was responsible for sending so many people to their graves systematically than Himmler. How is it possible that the pictures still hangs on the wall?

  13. EP

    Here is part of his apology:

    “Kyvyttömyys nähdä mitään hauskaa on mielestäni terve ja ymmärrettävä reaktio. Tarkoitukseni oli repiä mustaa huumoria tilanteesta, jossa natsi-Saksa yrittää surkuhupaisasti olla modernilla tavalla eettinen. Tarkoitus ei ollut vähätellä aiheen karmeutta, vaan päinvastoin pelata hirvittävyyden ja arkisen leppoisuuden ristiriidalla.”

  14. instantkaamos

    I fear that EP rather misses the point here. Firstly the second holocaust cartoon appeared on 22nd May, after the apology. Last time I looked it was still up on Hesari’s site.

    Secondly, the fact that the cartoon “was actually about Greens and free chicken” makes matters even worse. Can you explain why you have to insult and ridicule the victims of genocide to make a point about poultry?

    I have written myself about the fingerpori cartoons here: http://tinyurl.com/HS-on-genocide

  15. Tiwaz

    Enrique:

    -“Some immigrants and Finns are both guilty of this. When you say that multicultural societies are some of the sickest, what empirical information do you have to back that? Moreover, multicultural societies (made of up many cultures) are the most powerful countries on Earth. Why? Because new blood and new ideas replace old ones. It is a sort of dynamic process that goes on and on.”

    Most powerful and on steady decline. They came to power through unity of people, and are now falling because of disunity.

    USA is in decline, UK is leading it by decades.
    New blood refuses to adjust to old blood, it demands appeasement. And imbeciles offer them appeasement, tearing up the veins in process turning force of progress into bleeding wound.

    -“Why is it that you take criticism so personally? If we criticize certain aspects of society I am certain that there are many among us who enjoy living in Finland. Criticism does not mean that you hate something. It means that you want to improve it.”

    There is constructive criticism, but you offer none. You just whine that Finns do not appease foreigners enough. You just demand that we bend over to appease immigrants.

    I enjoy living in Finland, I want my children to enjoy living in Finland. And that means I must fight against multicultural rot with every ounce of my being to prevent my children from being afraid to go out at evening for fear of violent immigrant gangs and ghettoism.

    Or alternatively living in walled off communities.

    BOTH are things found well in most multicultural areas USA which you like to look up to.

    -“Take for example Mikkelin Klubi, where Mannerheim used to dine. There is a picture on the wall with Mannerheim and Heinrich Himmler. No other person in modern history was responsible for sending so many people to their graves systematically than Himmler. How is it possible that the pictures still hangs on the wall?”

    Because it has picture of Mannerheim. Nobody gives a crap about Himmler, but Mannerheim is considered great man in Finland.

    Apparently it eludes you that Finns had much more important issues during WW2 than Germany. We had Father Sunshine wanting to send us to happy trip to Siberia.

    Just read up on history of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and maybe, just maybe, some incling of understanding might enter your head.

    xyz:
    -“Tiwaz, just look at this research and then you will understand that there are not many possibilities to integrate into Finnish society:
    http://www.ylioppilaslehti.fi/2008/04/18/more-finnish-language-courses/

    Get into your head that only one who can integrate anyone is person who is going to integrate.

    -“Sorry, but to integrate foreigners into the society is not only the task of the foreigners who come to your country.”

    Yes it is. Because we cannot lower standards so you can achieve them, not if we want to stay competitive in global stage.

    So YOU have to rise to meet the challenge.

    -“And if other countries are able to give Finns work then why do you think Finns are not able to do the same?”

    Because Finns are well educated and tend to speak languages. Do you think some worst Finnish scum found from nearby bar could find employment abroad any easier than useless immigrant in Finland?

    Finns have requirements for workforce. For low skill ones that is fluent Finnish. You can’t be cashier without speaking the same language as majority customers. And indeed, when you speak it you being foreigner is not an obstacle. I have had multiple cashiers serve me in shops.

    Each and every one in fluent Finnish.

    -“You think you are something special because of your culture? You think Finnish culture is the only culture on this planet which does not work with foreign cultures.”

    If you bothered to read my messages you would understand that I do not expect any cultures to not work with others. Greater the differences, bigger the problem.

    Some countries just pretend that those problems do not exist and suffer for it.

    -“If this would be the case, why are there so many Finns living and working abroad? This culture thing is just a stupid excuse.”

    Because Finns who move out tend to be intelligent, apparently unlike most immigrants coming to Finland.

    We understand that when we leave Finland, we leave Finland. Abroad is not same as Finland, and then we adjust to surroundings. Unlike you, we do not expect abroad to become Finland to appease us.

    • Enrique

      –Most powerful and on steady decline. They came to power through unity of people, and are now falling because of disunity.

      We have discussed this a zillion times. Look at it this way: How is it possible to societies like the United States, which receive a steady stream of immigrants constantly, do not implode? How do they absorb so many newcomers? Why do other ones shortcircuit if they get a small stream of immigrants/refugees?

  16. Tiwaz

    -“We have discussed this a zillion times. Look at it this way: How is it possible to societies like the United States, which receive a steady stream of immigrants constantly, do not implode? How do they absorb so many newcomers? Why do other ones shortcircuit if they get a small stream of immigrants/refugees?”

    For following reasons:
    1) USA is not mature culture. It is still very malleable as it is young.
    It’s strength is in it’s malleability, but weakness in inability to present strong unifying force. Because of this USA is home of flagwaving patriotism, lack of strong cultural unity forces people to seek more easily represented symbols of unity. (which due to their easiness are also “weak” symbols unlike shared cultural tradition)
    2) USA has traditionally expected immigrants to adjust to it’s way of life, not other way around.
    3) USA with huge size has had room for divided populations. IE, Chinatown, Little Havana and so forth. They have managed to create their own semi-states inside some areas to create their own homogenous society.

    However, USA is in decline AND approaching the implosion as traditional values are discarded and number of people is reaching point where cultural conflicts are not watered down with distance.

    Different groups are forced together but lack the “Ameerikan kulture”. Results are seen in LA riots where blacks and koreans went head to head in heap of violence.

    USA is nothing like old, established cultures and societies of Europe. Using it as an example is same as taking speedboat, comparing it to superfreighter and asking why the freighter cannot go 200km/h.

  17. newsextra1962

    Crititicism of the Muslim faith in England is responded by threat’s of death, are you saying we should tolerate a group/faith/ideology in our country that wishes to harm us or have no part of our culture and history but wants to have the benefit of our democracy to use against us?

    If that is your view with regards to multiculturalism then I’m safe in my opinion’s, I’m glad many parts of Europe are starting to take heed of the very serious threat mass immigration will have on their own countries…

  18. Rods

    @Tiwaz

    “Because Finns who move out tend to be intelligent, apparently unlike most immigrants coming to Finland.

    We understand that when we leave Finland, we leave Finland. Abroad is not same as Finland, and then we adjust to surroundings. Unlike you, we do not expect abroad to become Finland to appease us.”

    I’m sure that most immigrants know that where they’re going would be different from their place of origin but why is it that even professionals who are competent , intelligent etc. are being disrespected? Finns who go to other countries do not get this kind of treatment ( imagine if they do) . I think it is good that you put yourself in other people’s shoes and walk a mile in it. Finns need not like the immigrants, they can avoid emotional attachment etc. but embarrassing, physically/verbally abusing i think is out of line already.

    • Enrique

      Hi Rods and welcome to Migrant Tales. I agree: –Finns need not like the immigrants, they can avoid emotional attachment etc. but embarrassing, physically/verbally abusing i think is out of line already.

      This is the whole point. Nobody has to love each other. Mutual acceptance and respect? This is key.

      One of the problems with the ongoing debate in Finland is that people like Tiwaz, close relatives of the True Finns’ Nuiva gang, see immigration as a threat and have totally distorted views about what it is and its potential.