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The True Finns parliament member Teuvo Hakkarainen has told the evening tabloid newspaper Ilta-Sanomat that he would like to see all minorities moved to the Åland islands, the autonomous unilingual Swedish-speaking province between mainland Finland and Sweden.
In a telephone conversation with the newspaper, he noted that the Swedish People’s Party often criticise the True Finns for not showing consideration to minority groups. He said he’s like to see homosexuals and Somalis moved to Åland so that we could see “how such a model society could be developed. There Somalis could cry from their minarets and we can follow the developments from here”.
It will be interesting to see how his remarks are received by the party leadership. True Finns’ party chairman Timo Soini recently declared that his party “hates nobody” and has previously had to distance himself from the more obviously extreme comments from his party members. Can he really allow a person who believes in forced resettlement and the creation of ghettos to represent his party in Parliament? Another test of the truth in Soini’s repeated claims that his party is against discrimination and intolerance.
With the forthcoming parliamentary election on 17 April, the increasingly numbers of populistic attacks on the Swedish language, Swedish-speakers, and immigrants, a number of music artists have been brought together by Folktinget (the Swedish Assembly of Finland) in a song for tolerance and openness. Famous names including Geir Rönning, Krista Siegfrieds, André Linman, Elin Blom, Paradise Oskar (who will represent Finland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest) are amongst those who have contributed to the song entitled Vår tid – vårt land.
The song will be released on 11 April and Folktinget hopes that it will be spread widely also via social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
An opinion survey ordered by the Swedish-speaking think tank ‘Magma’ has concluded that Swedish-speaking Finns are significantly more positive in their attitudes towards immigration than the Finnish-speaking population.
In January 2009, around 40% of Finnish-speakers questioned in an opinion poll answered that they had the same or partly the same opinion on the statement “an increase in the number of foreigners brings with it useful international influences”. When Magma’s survey asked Swedish-speakers the same question in September this year, 75% of respondents gave this answer.
It is interesting to speculate why Swedish-speakers are, on average, more positive towards immigrant groups. One theory is that Swedish-speakers, as a minority group, find it easier to empathise with other people who find themselves in a similar minority situation. After all, many Swedish-speakers have to make compromises when it comes to their language and habits in order to live their life in an increasingly Finnish-language dominated environment. This experience may cause Swedish-speakers to be more sympathetic towards the demands that ‘trying to fit in’ brings for immigrants. Some people also argue that the average Swedish-speaker is, on average, more international in his or her outlook than the the average Finnish-speaker. Swedish-speakers have often nurtured contacts with the outside world, especially the other Nordic countries, with a greater vivacity. Another argument is that there is a greater degree of community involvement amongst Swedish-speakers who have a more developed “association culture”. This may foster a greater degree of what is known in Swedish as medmänsklighet, roughly “solidarity with your fellow man” or “brotherliness”, amongst those living in Svenskfinland. Of course, all such theories come with their controversies, the stark difference in attitudes is, whatever the reason for them, highly interesting.
The controversial radio presenter Kirsi Virtanen’s programme of 29 July has been reported to the Mass Media regulator.
In her programme of 29 July which was broadcast on the Finnish language channel Ylen Radio 1, Virtanen took up the theme of immigrants and immigration. The programme has caused a lot of debate and discussion in Swedish-speaking media in Finland as in the programme Virtanen stated that people from “foreign countries” are living in Eastern Helsinki, such as Somalians, Russians, Estonians, Turks – and Swedes.
She went on to state that it was ridiculous to criticise immigrants as having bad skills in Finnish so long as there are native Finns who don’t speak Finnish and don’t even want to teach their children Finnish. She said it was “hurtful” that there were Finns who didn’t learn Finnish and stated that Swedish-speaking parents who placed their children in Swedish-language day care should be “ashamed”.
Of course, Virtanen’s logic is aside from discriminative, factually inept. Finland has two national languages, Finnish and Swedish. Swedish is as much a language of Finland as the Finnish language, so it is quite right and proper that there are Finns to be found that speak Swedish and not Finnish, just as the opposite is also found (albeit in far greater numbers). It would be strange to think that two Swedish-speaking parents would choose to speak a language other than their native tongue to their children, even if they are both proficient in Finnish. And if their Finnish is not completely correct, it could be plain dangerous for the child’s future communication skills if they sought to teach it a language they themselves don’t master.
It would also do Virtanen no harm to note that the proportion of Swedish-speaking Finns who are proficient in Finnish is far, far higher than the proportion of Finnish-speaking Finns who are proficient in Swedish. She might also note that almost without exception, every Swedish-speaking Finn visiting an entirely Finnish-speaking place would seek service in Finnish (i.e. speak it in a shop etc), whereas Finnish-speaking Finns almost always speak Finnish wherever they are, even in places where Swedish is the absolute majority (or only) language.
Of course, I am sure Virtanen would say that those Finnish-speaking Finns who have, during the last decades, moved en masse to previously entirely Swedish-speaking areas should be ashamed for imposing their language on the local, native population? No, perhaps not. As, it seems to only be Swedish-speakers in Finland that are allowed to be disciminated against in the media without any action ever being taken. What absolutely is shameful is that this was broadcast on Yle and thus funded by the general public, Swedish-speaking Finns included.
Astrid Thors has announced that she will stand as a Swedish People’s Party (Sfp) candidate in her hometown, Helsinki, in October’s municipal election. Thors has never before been a candidate at municipal level. She has, however, previously been a civil servant at municipal level and worked for the Association of Municipalities. She has also served in the European Parliament.
According to a press release released by Sfp, Thors, who currently represents Helsinki as a member of parliament, says it’s “natural to also engage in municipal level politics”.
Thors is the Europe and Migration Minister in Finland’s government and has been involved in driving through more immigrant friendly policies. The Swedish People’s Party has one of the most positive attitudes towards immigration of Finland’s political parties. According to Sfp’s press release, Thors said that “As minister with responsibility for integration policies, I know that it is the municipalities that are decisive if integration policy is to succeed”.
Thors also believes that it’s vital that Helsinki is developed so that all of its citizens have sufficient recreation areas and access to sports facilities suitable for all ages. She also believes that elderly care must be improved and that it must be possible that service is available in one’s native language, “that includes elderly people with other mother tongues than Swedish and Finnish”.
Minister Thors was born and grew up in Haga and has lived in both Vallgård (Vallila) and Ulrikasborg (Ullanlinna). She currently lives in Tölö.
I recently discovered an interesting blog called ‘Migrant Tales‘. The author of which is clearly concerned with immigration matters and writes a lot on Finland’s migration politics. Often, in debates on how immigrants should be integrated into Finnish society, one hears the argument “When in Rome, do as the Romans”; in other words, that integration should mean that migrants to Finland so quickly as possibly forget their own background and take on entirely a Finnish lifestyle – essentially abandoning or replacing their own cultural values and taking on ours completely. This argument comes up in comments to Migrant Tales and in many other online and offline debates on immigration and integration policy.
This “When in Rome, do as the Romans attitude” got me thinking today when I heard a story on Yle Radio Västnyland (I’m on holiday at the moment in my wife’s home area near Ekenäs) this morning about the increase in people moving from the capital region to the rural municipality of Ingå. The report was about this high level of Finnish-speakers moving into Ingå causing the municipality’s sole Finnish-language school becoming overcrowded and featured a Kokoomus (National Coalition party) Finnish-speaking member of the Ingå council suggesting that Ingå ought to urgently look to constructing a new, second Finnish-language school in the municipaltiy as many Finnish-speaking families were “making do” with putting their children in Swedish-language Ingå schools to save them from travelling longer distances to the municipality’s one Finnish school.
Now, I wonder what the “When in Rome, do as the Romans” attitude holders would make of this. Surely if Rome were Ingå, and one was to do as the local ‘Romans’, one should be adopting the Swedish-language rather than insisting on Finnish language services. Today’s Ingå is a bilingual municipality with Swedish as the majority language (according to the municipal website, around 57% of the 5 458 residents speak Swedish – 40% have Finnish as their mother tongue.) If one went back to 1950, before any widescale immigration to the municipality had got underway, you would have found that 89,5% of Ingå’s residents spoke Swedish as their mother tongue (according to Folktinget’s statistics). Before the wars of the 40s, you would have found that the municipality was unilingually Swedish-speaking. So, presumably if you held the “When in Rome” attitude, you would be condemning those unthoughtful Finnish-speaking immigrants of today and the latter half of the 20th century for not integrating and insisting on the superceding of their own culture on to the Finland-Swedish. You would be accusing them of failing to act as one should in Rome.
Incidentally, this argument could be applied to many, many more districts – including municipalities that no Finnish speaker would think of as a traditionally Swedish-speaking area today; for instance, the capital region’s Esbo (Espoo) which is today’s second largest city in Finland with around 235 000 residents (mainly due to immigrants from the rest of the country moving to the capital region) was 43% Swedish-speaking still in 1950. Today it is 8,9%. Before the wars and in the first half of the 20th century it was still a very rural, sparsely populated unilingual Swedish municipality. Is this another example where the “When in Rome” attitude holders would see a failure?
Now, I’m not arguing for the application of the “When in Rome, do as the Romans” (i.e. integrate completely or stay away) attitude in official policy. Hopefully my thoughts here help expose such thinking as unrealistic at the very least. I would love to hear from some “When in Rome, do as the Romans” attitude holders as to whether their beliefs also cover their own Finnish-speaking compatriots when they have chosen to move to Swedish-speaking areas and often cause them to dramatically change in cultural and linguistic character.
Finland has a way to go yet until we can truly make a claim to being a multi-cultural society. Compared to the vast majority of western European countries, we have had fair less immigration. A contrast that is notable should you travel to our western neighbour Sweden, where more than one in ten persons where born outside of Sweden.
However, the government is now trying to encourage immigration. Just as in other European countries, this is made all the more necessary to fill jobs that Finnish people do not wish to perform. Finnish migration law and services are gradually being improved and reformed largely due to the efforts and leadership of Astrid Thors (sfp), Finland’s minister of migration.
One of the areas of our country that has shown the greatest success and most welcoming attitude towards immigrants is, interestingly, coastal Österbotten. Particularly the rural monolingual Swedish speaking municipality of Närpes has been recognised as the model to follow for integration. Immigrants have been welcomed into the community in a much more genuine and unanimous way than in many other areas of the country. Some have theorised that Swedish-speaking areas have been more accepting of immigrants because Swedish-speakers understand how it is to be in the position of a minority and are thus more accepting. The Swedish Peoples Party SFP is also very favourable in its views on immigration. There was even a line “Too few immigrants” in the last parliamentary election campaign song.
Now the main Swedish language newspapers in Österbotten (Vasabladet, Österbottens Tidning and Syd-Österbotten) have started publishing a regular update of translated news articles of interest to immigrants under the name GIIÖB. The languages are English, Serbian-Croat, Vietnamese and Russian.
Picture of Astrid Thors: Statsrådet, The Finnish government – Lehtikuva Oy/Ab. Second picture: Map of municipalities of Swedish-speaking Österbotten. The area on the western coast from Kristinestad in the south to Karleby (Kokkola) in the north.
Companies’ fear of language problems and extra inconvenience is the largest obstacle for the employment of foreign students and qualification-holders, not skin colour. That’s what they believe at the Finnish-language polytechnic in Kokkola/Karleby, according to the city’s Swedish-language daily Österbottningen (ÖB). The polytechnic has almost 300 foreign students of 29 different nationalities. There are 7 programmes taught in English within the technology, business economy and healthcare areas.
According to a survey, only 28% of foreign students get a practical vocational training place in Finland. Yet this is an obligatory part of the course for all who study for a degree at a polytechnic.
Foreign students can better prepare themselves by writing their CV according to the Finnish layout style. According to Hannele Teir, who is a department manager at Kokkola’s Finnish polytechnic, language is also a problem – but perhaps more for the companies than the students. All of his students have to study Finnish as an obligatory subject, however companies are often fearful of employing a practical trainee who they may be forced to speak English with when dealing with difficult matters that are hard for the trainee to understand in Finnish. The skin colour question can also not be totally ruled out. This seems to differ in the two major towns in northern Österbotten. In Teir’s experience there is a difference in attitude in Jakobstad, where they are used to dealing with refugees and foreigners, than that in Kokkola (Karleby).
Those companies in the Karleby (Kokkola) region that have taken foreign students as trainees have had good experiences, according to the Karleby Region Development Company KOSEK. KOSEK notes that there are also international companies which use English as their working language situated in the region.