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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.
23.52 100% of votes are counted in the election for Finland’s 200-seat parliament.
Kokoomus, the National Coalition party (moderate conservative) 20,4%, 44 seats
Social Democratic Party 19,1%, 42 seats
True Finns 19,0%, 39 seats
Centre 15,8%, 35 seats
Left Alliance 8,1%, 14 seats
Greens 7,2%, 10 seats
Swedish People’s Party 4,3%, 9 seats
Christian Democrats 4,0%, 6 seats
Other (Åland’s parliament member), 1 seat
Turnout was 70,4%.
- The big news of the night is that the True Finns have performed at the top end of expectations, winning over 19% of votes. A record-breaking 15 percent increase on their performance in the last election. Timo Soini’s populists will certainly be invited to government formation negotiations. Will they even be in government?
- The conservative National Coalition Kokoomus are the largest party in parliament for the first time in history. Party chair Jyrki Katainen is likely to be Finland’s new prime minister.
- The Social Democratic Party has come second. Will it enter government together with Kokoomus?
- The Centre Party have had a terrible election. The party of Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi have lost over seven percent of the electoral share compared to 2007.
- The Swedish People’s Party has had a good night. In an election with a high turnout, something that usually negatively effects SFP, the party has managed to retain all of its mandates. Apart from the True Finns, SFP is the only party not to have lost seats in parliament.
That is the end of this live blog, thank you for reading it. You can find full results in English from the Ministry of Justice’s results service here.
23.49 Counting in Nyland/Uusimaa electoral district is complete, the largest and last district to finalise counting. Timo Soini, chair of True Finns, beats Alexander Stubb (Kokoomus) by around 2000 votes to be the vote king in Nyland (and the entire country). SFP manages to hold onto its three mandates – the sitting SFP parliamentarians have been returned.
23.44 It looks like Astrid Thors will take SFP’s seat in Helsingfors/Helsinki. Interviewed on Yle, she says that the other government parties have acted wrongly in their lack of meeting populist immigration critics head-on. Thors has had to bear the brunt of much populist hatred due to her position as Migration Minister. She reminds us that there are 80% of the country who do not want to have the True Finns politics.
23.23 Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb tops Kokoomus’ candidates in Nyland/Uusimaa, beating his party chairman and leading candidate for Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen.
23.19 Only 100 votes between Astrid Thors and Jörn Donner in the battle for SFP’s mandate in the capital city. Too close to call.
23.03 Is this the sixth or seventh election in a row that the Centre party has gone backwards in support asks Professor Göran Djupsund in Yle’s coverage.
22.59 Can the True Finns really sit in government together with Kokoomus? True Finns made a big issue of EU support to Portugal in their campaign. They were strongly against giving Finnish tax-payers money to another country that “had not taken care of its economy”. Kokoomus’ chairman, current Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen, has advocated Finnish support for the EU crisis package to member states in economic trouble. Can either party really make the U-turn required for them to be able to govern together?
22.55 A cartoon in Vasabladet shows an SFP ladybird (the party’s logo) thanking the True Finns and the Finnishness Association for the help in the election campaign. It seems that the strong anti-Swedish feeling that the True Finns have blown up has motivated Swedish-speakers to vote for SFP.
22.52 SFP’s chairman Stefan Wallin is addressing his party’s election night party. He notes that SFP, together with True Finns, is the only party to not have lost any seats in parliament. This is a good result for SFP. Turnout is higher than normal in the country as a whole, normally bad news for SFP. Swedish-speakers tend to be more active voters, but this advantage has been rubbed out in this poll – but SFP have still manage to hold all their seats.
22.44 Voting is finished in Vasa electoral district. SFP retains 4 seats. Centre big losers in this area. Lars-Erik Gästgivars is SFP’s new member of parliament in Vasa (Håkan Nordman is retiring from parliament).
22.40 The True Finns chairman Timo Soini has arrived to massive cheering at his party’s election party. He says they’ve made political history.
Timo Soini responds to a question on whether he will be in government by answering that he will be taking a sauna with Jyrki Katainen. He hopes to sit in government. Yle points out that this election has been bad for gender equality. The True Finns are a very male-dominated party and are taking around 40 seats.
22.13 Maria Wetterstand, joint leader of Sweden’s Green party, is being interviewed on Yle. She is married to Finnish Green MP Ville Niinistö. She says that she thinks Finland has handled the True Finns very badly. According to Wetterstand, the other parties should acted cowardly. Only the Greens and SFp have spoken clearly against True Finns, the others have adopted much of their immigrant-critical populist rhetoric.
22.08 Swedish People’s Party will almost certainly win four seats in the Vasa electoral district. Ulla-Maj Wideroos of SFP says that it can be so that the True Finns and SFP are the only victors in this election. She notes that the True Finns are very long from SFP’s values and that Timo Soini’s values don’t belong in her idea of what Finland is. If True Finns enter government, will this mean SFP will leave government after decades?
22.07 81% of the votes are now counted. Kokoomus in lead with 20%, True Finns 19,4%, SDP 19%, Centre 15,9%, Left Alliance 8,2%, Greens 7,2%, SFP 4,3%, Christian Democrats 4,1%, Pirate Party 0,5%, Others 1,5%
22.03 A quick flick of the channels from Finnish television to Swedish Television (SVT) for the start of the main evening news bulletin in our western neighbour. The populist True Finns success is the main story. Nearly 20% of the votes to True Finns. This is not a good day for Finland’s international reputation. The Swedish media is finding it hard to understand how the True Finns can do so well in a country with so few immigrants.
21.58 First time turnout has been above 70% since 1995. The True Finns have at least increased interest in the democratic process.
21.48 If the True Finns are this election’s big winners, the Centre party and the Greens must be the big losers. Where have Green voters turned to? Whilst it’s feasible that many Centre voters have turned to the True Finns, it seems unlikely that liberal Green party voters would choose Timo Soini’s party. Indeed, the Greens were the only party to say they would not govern together with the True Finns. Could they voters have turned to the SDP?
21.46 Åland is the first electoral district to complete its counting in full. Not surprising as it is the smallest and interest in voting in the election is low there. The sole member from Åland Elisabeth Nauclér has been reelected.
21.33 Yle’s analyst notes that should Kokoomus, True Finns and SDP (who are all predicted to gain almost the same number of seats in parliament) form a government they’d have a strong majority without needing any smaller parties. Questionable whether smaller parties such as the Greens and SFP would want to dirty their hands with governing alongside Timo Soini’s populists.
21.28 Finnish radio and tv Yle’s prognosis has just been released.
True Finns and Kokoomus tie for first place with 19,8 percent of the vote each! SDP in third with 18,5. Prime minister’s Centre party 16,4 percent and practically certain to be in opposition. Left Alliance 7,9, Greens 7,3, SFP 4,2, Christian Democrats 4,0. A MAJOR upset. In the past, Yle’s prediction have been very accurate. Let’s hope it is not this time. It looks like True Finns will be in government if this is true. A horrendous blow for Finland’s reputation.
21.19 Prime Minister Kiviniemi has just told television that Centre is likely to go into opposition. When asked if it would be her first choice to go into opposition so that the party could lick its wounds, she seemed to agree it would be the best course of action. Could we see a Kokoomus-SDP government?
21.07 Just now, it looks like the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) may win an extra seat – if this occurred SFP would be the only party other than the True Finns to go forward in this election.
21.06 Four large parties of almost the same size. A very unusual situation in politics when one thinks of other countries.
21.05 Caution on the results to date. Many, many advanced votes in the country’s biggest electoral district, Nyland/Uusimaa, are not even counted yet. Likely to be many votes for Kokoomus amongst these. They are strong in Nyland.
21.00 47% of votes counted. There’s only 0,4 % (!) between the four largest parties!
20.55 Situation just now (percent) Kokoomus (conservatives) 19,2, SDP 19,0, True Finns 18,7, Centre 18,5, Left Alliance 8,2, Greens 6,0, Christian Democrats 4,3, Swedish People’s Party 4,2
20.29 Europe and Migration Minister Astrid Thors is currently around 300 votes ahead of fellow SFP candidate Jörn Donner in Helsingfors/Helsinki electoral district. SFP in a terrible position in Vasa electoral district, as things are now, they’d lose 2 seats in Österbotten, but they may be many votes cast today yet to be counted.
20.17 True Finns leader Timo Soini is the current “vote king”, having the highest number of individual votes. The extreme right winger Jussi Hallo-aho is in 5th place, also a True Finn.
20.12 Centre party’s chair, prime minister Mari Kiviniemi has just told YLE’s Swedish-tv channel that if this is the final result, Centre will go into opposition! A slip of the tongue in a second language?
20.10 Finland’s likely next prime minister, Kokoomus leader Jyrki Katainen speaking to TV. You can see first results on the caption.
20.03 The Finnish people have voted, polling stations are closed. Advanced voting results come in. Looks like a disaster for the Centre party with 17,3%, down 5,8%. They usually do will in advanced voting. The True Finns have 18,6% of the vote in advanced voting, third place. As expected, Kokoomus are in the lead with 20.2%, but the SDP are close behind on 19,5%. SFP are behind slightly over 1 per cent on the last election, but Swedish-speakings generally vote on the election day, and those results will come in as they are counted. ALL parties, except the True Finns, are behind on the last election.
19.52 Whilst advanced voting results will come in at 20.00, after poll’s close, we will have to wait until around 21.00 for a firm idea of how the next parliament will look. At that time, the Finnish national broadcaster Yle will release its first election prognosis. This is usually a highly reliable guide to the final result.
19.45 Just fifteen minutes until polling stations close and those first results are announced. Voting is expected to have been high today. The weather was good and people are invigorated by what was an exciting campaign. Hopefully turn out will pass 70% this time. The last two elections have seen shamefully low turnouts: only 67,9% of the electorate voted in 2007. By way of comparison, almost 85% of Swedes voted in their latest parliamentary election in September.
19.01 The polls close in just under one hour. Counting of votes cast in advance has already started and the results of advanced voting will be released immediately after the polls close at 20.00. Some news reports earlier in the day suggested that it might not be possible to count them all in time as there are so many advanced votes to count. Over 30% of the electorate chose to vote in advance this year. Residents of rural municipalities are usually those that cast their vote in advance in greatest numbers, so expect the first results to put the Centre party in the lead. The Centre party, with its roots in the agrarian movement, has its strongholds in the more sparsely populated countryside. Swedish-speaking Finns often leave voting to the day itself, so expect a relatively poor showing for the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) amongst the first returns. The first results should show if the opinion polls are right on the True Finns – will they emerge with more than 15% of the vote?
18.50 Welcome to this live blog of Finland’s 2011 parliamentary election. I obviously can’t provide a comprehensive results service, but I’ll be providing some snippets of what’s happening as the results come in. Naturally, with a focus on Swedish-speaking Finland. All times are Finnish time, we’re three hours ahead of GMT – and one hour ahead of central Europe.
The Justice Ministry’s election results service can be found online here. It will be updated with the latest results as they come in from municipalities and electoral districts across the country.
Kokoomus’ party chairman and finance minister Jyrki Katainen, likely to be Finland’s next Prime Minister if the opinion polls are correct.
Saturday is the final day of campaigning for the political parties and candidates contesting this year’s parliamentary election. Voting will take place tomorrow between 9.00 – 20.00 at polling stations across the country. Although, over 30 percent of the electorate have already voted during the advanced voting period. On election day, voting must be done at the polling station nearest one’s home.
The rise of the True Finns
This campaign has been in many ways the most interesting and exciting for many years. Sadly, largely for unfortunate reasons. It has seen the emergence of the populist nationalist True Finns party of Timo Soini. The party is anti-immigrant and anti-Swedish language. It is against the European Union and the euro, a populist stance to take and an easy vote-winner at a time in which EU financial support is required by several member states in economic crisis. During the course of the last few months, opinion polls have showed that Soini’s gang could take as much as 18-20% of the vote, although they have fallen back slightly in recent days. The True Finns will likely come out of tomorrow’s poll nearly as large as the three big parties, Centre, the national coalition Kokoomus, and the Social Democrats. For a party that won only 4% in the last election in 2007, this must be considered a great success. Sadly, Soini’s True Finns will be the big winners tomorrow. But, I am sceptical as to whether all those voting for the True Finns are actually racists. I suspect many will cast their vote for the True Finns as a mark of mistrust against the established political movements, a protest vote. We have seen party election finance scandals in most of the traditional parties during the last four years. Many who have said they will vote True Finns when asked by opinion pollsters may actually change their mind when faced with the list of candidates at the polling booth. Timo Soini is almost the sole known voice of the party, and he can’t stand in every constituency. Whilst he may even top the poll in the Uusimaa (Nyland) electoral district, voters in other parts of the country will be face with a True Finns candidate list of unknowns. They may just decide to vote for someone they know from another party. Should the True Finns win big, will they enter government? I see it as unlikely. Their beliefs are simply too different from the other likely government parties. Sure, we’ve had coalitions between the conservatives of Kokoomus and Social Democrats before – but they both agreed on fundamental issues such as our European Union membership. The True Finns do not. And, Soini may have a battle on his hands to avoid his party splitting or falling apart during the next parliament. Already there are tensions between the two main blocs within the party; hard-right nationalist members of the racist Suomen Sisu organisation and those members of the former Rural Party. One must also remember that most of the True Finns candidates have little to no political experience. They may find parliament rather boring once they get there.
Turnout in this election is likely to be higher than in the last two due to the less predictable nature of the outcome. The Swedish People’s Party (SFP) has traditionally benefited from a lower turnout, as Swedish-speaking Finns vote in disproportionately higher numbers. This advantage may be rubbed out this time. Although, on the other hand, perhaps even more Swedish-speakers will vote – and vote for SFP rather than other parties – because of the threat of the anti-Swedish True Finns and because of the recently worsened language climate in general.
In the Nyland (Uusimaa) electoral district, SFP should be able to hold onto its three mandates. But, they may well change hands. They party will have difficulty increasing its presence in an electoral district that has seen ever increasing immigration from the Finnish Finland. Kokoomus’ charismatic foreign minister Alexander Stubb may also win a significant number of Swedish-speakers’ votes. He has been campaigning also in Swedish with full page advertisements in Hufvudstadsbladet. The SDP will be hoping that at least Maarit Feldt-Ranta wins reelection, she is likely to do so. This is the country’s largest electoral district, and Timo Soini is on the True Finns’ list. It will be interesting to see whether he manages to top the poll in the district. He faces a strong challenge from the likes of Jyrki Katainen (leader of Kokoomus) and Stubb. Indeed, it will also be interesting to see if the popular Stubb manages to gain more votes than his party chairman.
In Helsingfors (Helsinki), SFP will hold onto its existing seat. It’s unlikely to increase to two mandates. It is possible that Jörn Donner will win more votes than current Europe and Migration Minister Astrid Thors and thus push her out of the next parliament. Donner is likely to appeal also to Finnish-speaking voters in the capital. However, Thors – who has been widely attacked by anti-immigration populists in many parties – may also win support from Finnish-speaking liberals who are appalled at the current populist tone the immigration debate. The SDP’s Jacob Söderman is retiring from parliament and his Swedish-speaking voters will be up for grabs.
In Egentliga Finland (Varsinais-Suomi, Finland Proper), SFP leader Stefan Wallin will almost certainly hold onto his seat.
In Vasa electoral district, SFP will be looking to hold onto its four mandates. It almost certainly shall. However, the popular Vasa politician Håkan Nordman is retiring and he commanded many votes also from Finnish-speakers in his hometown. So, there are lots of votes ‘going spare’ to be won. The Christian Democrats’ Bjarne Kallis is also retiring, and it’s likely that many of his Swedish-speaking voters will abandon the Christian Democrats for another party. SFP may benefit from this. The Swedish-speaking arm of the Social Democrats (FSD) has also campaigned hard in this election. They will be hoping that their chairman, Steven Frostdahl, will win a seat. He may well do. The Social Democrat vote will be helped in the Vasa electoral district by the fact that party chair Jutta Urpilainen is on the candidate list in the region. The Centre party has in recent years tried to establish a Swedish-speaking district, however it has been largely discredited by the erratic actions of its chairman Peter Albäck. Centre is unlikely to pick up more than a handful of votes from Swedish-speaking residents of Österbotten.
SFP is also, for the first time, standing candidates in Lappland and Uleåborg (Oulu). The chairman of the Sami Assembly is standing on the SFP list in Lappland. It will be interesting to see how many votes he manages to gather. It is however extremely unlikely that SFP will win a seat in either district. The party is merely preparing to go national in advance of the new election law coming into force, which is likely to have a 3% minimum threshold for parliamentary representation. As the threshold will be based on the nationwide share of the vote, every vote will be important for smaller parties in the future.
Meanwhile on Åland, the election is likely to be met with weak interest and a low voter turnout. Åland has its own political parties and most decisions are taken locally in this autonomous province. People there will be more interested in elections for Åland’s own parliament later this year. The sitting candidate, Elisabeth Nauclér, who represents the non-socialist parties on Åland, should easily win reelection. She sits together with SFP members in parliament as part of the so-called Swedish Parliamentary Group.
Come back tomorrow from 20.00 Finnish time (17.00 GMT), when I hope to provide a live blog of the results.
A few diverse thoughts on the election campaign as it goes into its final week.
Astrid Thors has a sense of humour
Being the government minister responsible for immigration can’t be an easy job in a time when populists are on the rise. Migration Minister Astrid Thors of the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) has faced a tough time in the media and often hateful threats against her from hardline anti-immigration campaigners. Indeed, due to this she requires a body guard when out in public. But an article in yesterday’s Hufvudstadsbladet shows that Thors has not lost her sense of humour during this often tough four year parliamentary term. On Friday, as she campaigned for votes at SFP’s election hut next to Stockmann in central Helsingfors/Helsinki, she wore a flowery hat, mocking the Finnish language’s nickname of “flower-hatted aunt” referring to persons who are pro-immigration.
Whilst Hufvudstadsbladet‘s reporter was at the scene, one man did walk by Thors and shouted aggressively, “Kick out the niggers from Finland!” Straight after this, one of the few candidates with an immigrant background from the national Coalition party Kokoomus, Fatbardhe Hetemaj, approached Thors from Kokoomus’ neighbouring election hut to admire her hat. At the same time, Kokoomus parliament member for Helsinki Ben Zyskowicz stood with an election brochure and attempted to hand it to an older lady with her grandchildren, to which the elder lady replied in Swedish, “I am not voting for you and I vote in Nyland/Uusimaa electoral district anyway”. To which Zyskowicz replied that she should then vote for Alexander Stubb, Finland’s foreign minister who is standing as a Kokoomus candidate in Nyland. The elderly lady instead determinedly approached Astrid Thors.
Indeed, it can’t be easy to be an immigrant or Swedish-speaking candidate or supporter for Kokoomus. The party contains elements that are extremely hostile to both. The party’s youth wing has voted for scrapping the Swedish-language as a part of the compulsory school curriculum in Finnish schools. Whilst the youth wing’s chairman Wille Rydman, who is a candidate in the parliamentary election in Helsinki, has expressed anti-immigrant views that can be considered on a par with the populist True Finns. He has in the past even expressed support for the views of the hardline racist candidate of the True Finns Jussi Hallo-aho. Swedish-speakers and immigrants considering voting for Kokoomus candidates such as Stubb should be aware who else might benefit from their vote.
As for Astrid Thors, her strongest challenge in this election probably comes from Jörn Donner. The veteran politician, author, film director and journalist is also standing as an SFP candidate in the capital. SFP strategists hope that Donner could attract a large enough number of votes to ensure that party would win two mandates in Helsinki. This however seems unlikely, and if Donner were too win more votes than Thors, he could knock her out of parliament.
True Finns – Sann’finländarna’
Saturday was a flag day in honour of the Finnish language. The Finnish flag flew outside our house as it did from the flag poles of our neighbours, who are predominantly also Swedish-speaking Finns due to the area in which I live. We are one nation with two languages and it is right that we mark this fact. Yet, it made me think, I wonder how many True Finns supporters and candidates fly the Finnish flag on the 6 November each year, a flag day marking the Swedish language and culture in Finland. It made me wonder whether we should really be translating Perussuomalaiset to Sannfinländarna in Swedish. This will make little sense to the English-speaker, so allow me to explain. The Swedish-language, unlike English and for the most part Finnish, makes a distinction between finne and finländare. Both would be translated as ‘Finn’ in English, whereas in Swedish the former refers to a Finnish-speaking Finn and the latter to any Finn regardless of language group. Finlandssvensk refers to a Swedish-speaking Finn. The translation “Sannfinländarna” thus means “[the] True Finns” in the sense of all Finns regardless of language group. Yet, the party is clearly against anyone who is not a Finnish-speaking non-immigrant. It doesn’t like immigrants or Swedish-speakers. It might be more accurate to translate its name as Sannfinnarna in future. Let’s not pretend it is an inclusive party.
Voters disenfranchised in Berlin
One of the perhaps most troubling stories in the last couple of days was reported by Radio Vega’s Aktuellt news bulletin this morning. Yesterday was the last day for Finnish citizens living abroad to cast their vote at Finland’s diplomatic posts. However, this was made impossible for around 30 persons trying to vote at the Finnish embassy in Berlin. The embassy ran out of ballot papers thus effectively disenfranchising those effected unless they happen to be able to travel to Finland to vote here. Aktuellt‘s reporter in Berlin spoke with an official from the Berlin embassy who noted that they had noticed that they were low on ballot papers earlier in the week and had ordered 150 more from the consulates in Hamburg and Stuttgart. However, when the reporter asked why it wasn’t possible to order more from Finland when there are several flights a day between the Finnish and German capitals, the official was dumbstruck and could not supply an answer. Let’s hope that this serious break-down in the mechanics of democracy is an isolated incident.
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.
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.