Astrid Thors

Obsessing about the Other in Finland: mandatory study of Swedish may turn you into a killer, welcoming refugees spells the end of Finnish nation

Being preoccupied with the Other appears as a multifaceted process in Finland, and it stretches to encompass attitudes against Swedish-speaking Finns and mandatory Swedish-language education in Finnish schools, to fears of national dilution with the apparent increase of asylum seekers and other refugees in the country, a consequence of the clandestine activities of the same Swedish-speakers. However, what they have in common is the danger they posit to the Finnish masculinity, or better said to the typology of Finnish conservative heteropatriachal masculinity heralded by the Finnish radical right populists- the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna).

A first example is the incident which was mainly discussed on the Finnish Broadcast company’s Swedish language web-pages (här). It is an opinion piece published by Kirkkonummen Sanomat (KS) authored by Voitto Mäkipää (in Finnish, tässä, p. 15). Kirkkonummen Sanomat is, as the name suggests, the local newspaper in Kirkkonummi/ Kyrkslätt, a commune some 30 km away from the Finnish capital. Mäkipää is a local non-affiliated commune councilor on educational matters, who works closely with PS. In his article, Mäkipää argued against the teaching of mandatory Swedish in Finnish schools, the so-called pakkoruotsi/tvångssvenska.  What is surprising, however, is the way Mäkipää claimed in his piece that based on his personal experience of being forced to study a “completely useless” language like pakkoruotsi he has come to understand the frustration of young men that eventually shoot innocent people around them. In this light, he recommended researching which language had to study those who engaged in violent shootings in Finland in the recent past. He then continued unabated that pakkoruotsi is “a relic of the past” and that the Swedish-speaking Finns are the fifth column, which clandestinely undermines the Finnish nation from within.

From a gender-informed perspective, Mäkipää‘s take on the issue of violence in Finnish society obscures completely the widespread gun ownership across the country and focus on stereotypical images of Swedish masculinity (and by means of the common language, transferred over to the Swedish-speaking Finns), as emasculated and weak in comparison to the Finnish heteropatriarchal masculinity in its conservative translation as heralded by the radical right populism of PS. In other words being exposed to Swedish inflicts irreversible damage to Finnish heteropatriachal masculinity and reveals its extreme vulnerability, since violence is the only means to release the frustration of forced-learning and symbolically erase the signs of the less-than-masculine (read Swedish-language exposed). Apparently this is how real Finnish men are crafted: complete resistance to Swedish and everything the Swedish language represents in Finland, and if this is not possible then the only manly solution is indiscriminate violence against innocent bystanders.

In a parallel development that echoes the references to the fifth column of Swedish-speaking Finns, PS has lashed out at the  Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors (SFP/ Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ Svenska folkpartiet) and demanded her resignation. PS accused her for the allegedly too liberal take on Finnish migration policy, which apparently has resulted in a surge in the numbers of asylum seekers in Finland (tässä, här, here). PS reacted to the 6000 or so family reunification applications received by the ministry, which are considered to be the direct effect of the overly lax immigration policy in the past years. What PS did not mention was the extremely high rejection rate of such applications, but in turn focused on the generous financial support offered by the Finnish state to those very few who are granted asylum and allowed to bring their families to Finland. It is not the first time when PS criticized Minister Thors for her work. At times of economic hardship, their accusations may sound very comforting to the disenchanted jobless and economically struggling Finns across the country. The PS implicit critique is that such an attitude risks to undermine the Finnish national being, since the newcomers, mainly from Somalia and Iraq represent an extreme embodiment of the Other, both religiously (i.e. non-Christian) and racially (non-European). The large non-Finnish families would thus change the population dynamic in the country, and undermine the hegemonic position of the Finnish man by exposing him to competition from the Other men.

One may wonder if learning Swedish, even when it is a mandatory discipline, leads to such frustration that justifies violent manifestations against innocent people around (like in the tragic school shootings in Jokela and Kauhajoki; or in the shooting spree in Espoo/ Esbo)? Is Finnish conservative heteropatriarchal masculinity really threatened by Swedish language abilities? Even more worryingly, is the Swedish-speaking Minister of Migration preparing quietly for an invasion of the country of True Finns (the name of the party after all) by cohorts of asylum seekers and their families from Somalia and Iraq? Is this yet another case of thinly veiled anti-Muslim sentiments against the incoming asylum seekers, or a real concern with an explosive immigration in Finland?

After all, in 2008 there were 467 favorable decisions for family reunification , and some 2 170 people were received by Finnish municipalities; one can imagine their impact on the overall Finnish population of 5 326 314 (the numbers are taken from the Finnish statistical public authority, for different language versions: tässä, här, here).

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, February 7th, 2010 Miscellaneous No Comments

Populists of All Faces Beware: The Evil Other Strikes Again!

It is true, the Evil Other (with capitalized letters for reasons to be detailed bellow) strikes again. If one controversial person got onto the city council on a ticket from the True Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) (PS) mainly exploiting the fears of the local Finns of a possible ‘immigrant invasion’, more recently the Mayor of Helsinki/ Helsingfors Jussi Pajunen expressed his worries about an ever increasing population with an immigrant background in the capital.

Helsingin Sanomat’s article on the matter reveals the mayor’s calculations: from a soon to break the 10% threshold, to a worrying (!?) 24% around 2025. Another interesting point in the article is that the unemployment rate among the people of a migrant background is 2.5 higher than among the Finns. The ‘natural’ conclusion is drawn quickly, the asylum seekers (said by Statistics Finland to be at 1703 for 2007, including ‘refugees by quota, asylum-seekers having received a favorable decision and persons admitted under the family reunification scheme’ for the whole country) are too numerous, and thus Mayor Pajunen recommends a return to the previous gate-keeping.

How really evil is this Evil Other? I will not launch in cross country comparison (if someone will look at the numbers reported by the Swedish Migrationsverket, one may easily understand why). However two questions come forward. One regards the presumed danger that may pose a 10% population of a different background than Finnish. The other is how accurate are Mayor Pajunen’s numbers?

First, this can be a very contentious issue when discussed from the perspective of a mono-cultural landscape. The temptation of purity (the sort of purity that at any other time in history has hardly existed) was/is mainly ventilated by the True Finns Party (PS), since populism appears to be very close to their political soul. (Un)Surprisingly, such populist ideas are taken for granted by other political actors as well. What surprises me though is that it comes from someone from the National Coalition Party/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet (Kok) that was thought to exhibit a liberal agenda. It seems that fear of diversity and  lack of initiative towards a more inclusive city are part of a Finnish liberal agenda. Is the present economic crisis used as some sort of excuse for a job-market of a solely ‘sinivalkoinen’ workforce? Can this realistically be achieved? And at what price? Are we all that evil?

Taking the second question, that of statistical accuracy, according the Minister of Migration and European Affaris Mrs Astrid Thors, quoted in an article in Hufvudstadsbladet, the number of asylum applications will not overpass 5,000 this year, and 2007 witnessed an exceptionally low number of applications. So there is not too much substance to portraying the Finnish capital of 2025 so ‘diverse’ that one in four inhabitants will be foreign. Moreover, I have the inconfortable feeling that Mayor Pajunen is mixing the statistics: I doubt that all those ‘almost’ 10% Others of the total population living under his administration are refugees. They may have a foreign background, yes, but not necessarily unemployed asylum seekers and refugees. So assimilating Others=asylum seekers=unemployed looks very much like a shorthand for something of an outright anti-immigration stance. In this light, is Mayor Pajunen riding on the populist horse? And if he does not, then I wonder what are his comments supposed to mean?

Tags: , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008 Miscellaneous No Comments