What’s really being discussed in the ongoing debate about immigration in Finland?

by , under Enrique Tessieri

After taking part actively in the ongoing debate about immigration and immigrants, some crucial points always expose themselves in the debate. I personally believe that there is one very important issue that few care to admit: accepting our cultural and ethnic diversity and how some white Finns accept the latter. 

I’m overjoyed that there are more people from different ethnic backgrounds taking part in the ongoing debate. We may or not agree with some of our points of view, but the most important point is that there are other voices out there today.

A good example of those “other” voices is Abdirahim Hussein Mohamed’s initiative to bring the anti-immigration and anti-Islam Perussuomalaiset (PS) to the same table as the Muslim congregation. The visit was widely commented on Facebook as well.

Kuvankaappaus 2014-2-16 kello 12.32.02

Hussein Mohamed said that he organized the event, which was successful according to him, because he was tired of the “us and them” debate.

Professor Jeremy Gould, who spoke to some students and staff members at Otava Folk High School last spring, said that it’s difficult to quantify racism in Finland since there are so few migrants living in the country. “The basic issue that we’re looking at in Finland today is the acceptance of people who are look, or sound different,” he said.

Professor Gould, who teaches Development Studies at Jyväskylä University, asked why we need to defend ‘multiculturalism.’


Professor Jeremy Gould speaking to students at Otava Folk High School in spring.

“Culture is always diverse – people everywhere have different tastes, beliefs, habits, and values, Gould said. “This has been true of Finland for centuries. For me the so-called ‘debate about multiculturalism’ is a code word for racism in our society. Finland is already culturally diverse. The issue is that people of color don’t receive the respect and recognition they deserve as human beings.”

Matters were very different before the 2011 parliamentary elections, when the anti-immigration and especially anti-Islam Perussuomalaiset (PS) won 39 seats from 5 previously. The debate was basically controlled by anti-immigration groups and hate sites like Hommaforum.

Having been a journalist and foreign correspondent for 25 years with a background in anthropology, I was truly surprised by what was being written and debated over immigration and immigrants in Finland. The urban tales that were being published as “solid analysis” were nothing more than points of views that exposed the writer’s prejudices and intolerance.

I once gave a talk in 2010 to students about what the Finnish media was writing at the time about migrants and visible minorities. I grouped the stories in the following manner: Those opinion pieces and stories that made my blood boil and those that didn’t.

Here’s one editorial by Jyväskylä-based Keskisuomalainen written in 2010 that was in the “blood-boiling” category.  It reads:

…the most effective way of helping refugees is to earmark help to their home country (sic!). Accepting refugees in Finland is the last resort.

As one can see, the editorial carries all the arguments of the anti-immigration camp. One of the favorites to this date is the following:

Certain migrant or refugee groups will never adapt to our country and therefore we must do everything possible from allowing them to come here. My intolerant and racist views are justified.

Kuvankaappaus 2014-2-16 kello 13.50.47
Read full editorial (in Finnish) here.

The extremely one-sided debate before the 2011 elections bore a striking resemblance to the arguments used by  xenophobic parties like National Front in the UK during the 1970s and 1980s. Just like in the United Kingdom, the media in Finland was and still is part of the problem because it continues to give racists inflated respectability and importance.

Migrant Tales has written that we think carefully what we write because our grandchildren, great grandchildren and others will read and quote what we say today.

What do you think will be the fate of the writings of anti-immigration politicians like Halla-aho, James Hirvisaari, Olli Immonen and many others anti-immigration writers in the future? If some of their points of views sound ludicrous today, think of how they’ll read in the future.

The more we take part in the ongoing debate and reveal those urban tales, the shorter their lifespan will be.

Despite the fact that the debate on our ever-growing cultural diversity (I believe this is the big issue) has changed, the arguments are the same. There are basically two: Those who want to keep Finland “white” at any cost, and those who accept our cultural diversity.

Those in the former group are naturally against multiculturalism. They attack everything that promotes cultural diversity and try their hardest not to be labelled as racists. Some of the issues they attack are immigration policy and, most importantly, defending equal rights for migrants and visible minorities.

A good example of the keep-Finland-white camp is PS MP Olli Immonen’s written question to parliament in December that Finland should start classifying people according to ethnic background.

Personally, I consider it absurd to be against cultural diversity in Finland since over 1.2 million Finns emigrated from this country between 1860 and 1999 and that we have – and need – more migrants.




  1. JusticeDemon

    The first of those two quotes seems to be a misunderstanding on the part of the translator. I would render it thus:

    It’s important to bear in mind when receiving refugees that the most effective assistance is the kind that can be targeted at the country of origin of a potential refugee. Receiving refugees is only a last resort.

    This does not seem particularly objectionable (especially as the immediate context is of shouldering the international responsibilities of an affluent country) unless we are narrow-minded about the meaning of “assistance”. For example the kind of assistance that might reduce refugee flows from Syria is not the same as the kind that might have prevented the asylum of Edward Snowden in Russia.

    There is also the issue of whether a response of the kind “I gave at the office” is actually true. Politicians issuing such responses must be cross-examined on their concrete record on such questions as international development aid and lobbying for human rights as a condition of trade agreements.

    I could find nothing in the Keskisuomalainen editorial corresponding even remotely to the second quote. The most that the editorial says in this direction (at the end of the second paragraph) is that it is not always easy for refugees to adapt to living in Finland, and that the cultural difference may be so great that adaptation takes two or three generations.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Justice, the argument, that it takes so long to adapt to a country or, conversely, that these people are so different that they’ll never adapt to our country, are standard arguments of anti-immigration groups. The issue is acceptance and willingness to accept newcomers.

    • JusticeDemon


      My point is that the translated quote does not reflect the content of the editorial. It certainly does not say anything corresponding to your “conversely” analysis (which is really an exaggerated corollary and not a “converse” at all).

      Don’t we separate reporting from commentary anymore?