By Enrique Tessieri
I would like to thank those bloggers for reading my previous blog entry in which I wrote about the international background of my Finnish family. I must confess, however, that I thought about writing such a blog entry for months but could not find the right approach to tackle the topic. The answer appeared when I decided to come out.
Coming out of that closet has not been easy because the pressure to remain there has been sometimes immense. So imposing, in fact, that coming out in the previous century could have banished you from that small national group we created in the last century.
In order to be a part of that exclusive white Finnish national identity club, you had to renounce your “Other” and embrace without any questions asked your new identity. You had to be white as well. That new identity was strongly peppered with nationalism and right-wing ideology and values. After the Winter War (1939-40), the losers of Finland’s Civil War of 1918, were included as well.
Considering that we had a marked class society especially in the first half of the last century, there were strong social and economic differences that determined where you stood in that exclusive club.
Since there were few immigrants in Finland in the 1920s, and their numbers declined up to the 1970s to a mere 7,000 souls (many if not most were expat Finns), the molding of our national identity was relatively easy process. But by defining in such narrow terms our identity we automatically excluded the Romany, Saami and other minorities. We even made it virtually impossible for outsiders to be accepted as equal members of society. The latter is one of the big obstacles that hinders acceptance of new immigrant groups in Finland today.
My great aunts Lally (left) and Irma Handwargh seated with Hannu (surname unknown). Written in French on the back side of the picture: the writer says humorously that Lally would like to have a mustache, which was drawn with a pen on Hannu, would make her look very feminine. The picture is dated “Miekkoniemi (located next door to Savonlinna), July 11, 1920.”
My grandfather, whose father was Jewish, is a case in point how Finns embraced their new national identity and erased their past. A captain in the Finnish army and like many of his generation, he too had learned to loathe the Russians. That suspicion he housed permitted him to erase, or bury deep in his subconscious, his background and even hope that Nazi Germany would be victorious against the Red Army.
He probably knew but refused to face that a terrible fate awaited him and other if Adolf Hitler’s forces would have been victorious in World War 2. Like many others in Finland with Jewish backgrounds, my grandfather and his family would have ended up at concentration camps as part of the Final Solution.
Those who claim that Finns are closely related to a tribe flirt with racism. Much of our history and our national identity, a social construct, is based on racism. Certainly we can keep the positive matters about such myths, like our desire to be an independent and free nation, but we must banish those matters that continue to fuel our mistrust and suspicions of others, especially the Russians.
As long as we continue to foster such ideas from our history, it will be difficult if not impossible to accept other groups as equal members of our society.
Unless you believe that the Garden of Eden was in Finland, all it takes is a rapid view of our ancestors to understand that we came from somewhere else before they moved to Finland.
Humans have always built roads because they never believed in isolation. Claiming the contrary is nothing more than an exercise in national self-deceit and the fuel that feeds our racism and xenophobia.