What’s at stake for persons of foreign origin in Sunday’s Finnish municipal elections?

by , under Ahti Tolvanen

The Foreign Scholars Forum, a forum for foreign scholars of all disciplines living and working in Finland, convened a Zoom panel discussion June 5th to which members of all the main political parties and groups were invited.  The keynote topics for the event were immigration and climate change.

Next to the debate, a fascinating and thought-provoking documentary on climate change was aired, giving the participants a deeper view of the issue. How do different views on dealing with the environmental crisis contribute to it directly and indirectly, and why is it important to change course.

Strange Season directed by Ahti Tolvanen was aired during the panel discussion.

Attending were municipal candidates Matti Mäkelä of the Vasemmistoliitto (Left Alliance), Espoo, and Enrique Tessieri, Social Democrats, Mikkeli.

Also present were three Helsinki councilors running for re-election: Ted Apter, Kokoomus (National Coalition Party), Simon Granroth, Swedish Party (RKP), and Mika Ebling of the Christian Democratic Party. 

Anu Harkki, Helsinki Greens, was unable to attend but consented to an interview beforehand.

The Perussuomalaiset (The Finns Party) failed to show up, and the Center Party’s candidate also never materialized.

Regarding the question of immigrants providing a solution to labor shortages in many parts of the country, Ebling said he felt this situation had been worsened by liberal abortion laws, which meant 600 000 births had been aborted, greatly impacting the country’s demographics.

He was also skeptical about the need for the extensive measures which were being taken to address climate change and felt the Earth had extensive adaptive capacity.

Both Granroth and Apter took exception to the second point and said an extensive scientific consensus confirmed the reality of the climate crises. Mäkelä was particularly emphatic about the seriousness of the climate issue.

He added that the deportation of asylum seekers to the violent circumstances of Afghanistan was morally wrong. Mäkelä mentioned his own volunteer work providing accommodation to an asylum seeker from that country and said he was only one of many Finns involved in this.

Anu Harkki stated in her interview that the climate crisis was such a pervasive global event that Finland could not hope to close its borders from environmental refugees.  She stressed the need for effective settlement programs to allow newcomers to integrate. She took exception with housing for newcomers in green spaces in Helsinki, although some Greens favored it.

Enrique Tessieri said his involvement inspired him to rebrand Mikkeli as an international city and the extensive public support received. He also felt the Perussuomalaiset failed to attend the panel was another example of their hostile attitude toward immigrants and cultural diversity.

“Today, xenophobia is just like global-warming denial,” he said. “it’s like sticking one’s head in the sand. The ever-growing cultural diversity of our society and the dangers of global warming must not only be accepted but challenged effectively.”

Apter said he was an advocate on the city council of a program that would help new immigrants to learn the essentials about Finnish society in their own language. He supported the idea that immigrants integrate best through forming their own cultural-linguistic communities. He had shown his own commitment to this by translating his own webpage into 12 languages.

Granroth said he liked the proposal that English be made the third official language of the City of Helsinki.  As a first step this he said he was a supporter of the policy that all existing services of the city should be made available in the English language.

To end the evening’s program Ahti Tolvanen, secretary of No Hate Finland introduced a video reading of a play called “Strange Season” with many actors from the expat community as well as guests from the UK and Canada. Produced as a fundraiser for Helsinki’s Finn-Brit Players this drama, set at the Madrid climate conference, was one example of the cultural contribution immigrants brought to Finland

The hour-long romantic drama is available for watch parties and may be requested from the undersigned.

Ahti Tolvanen

[email protected]