Ali Giray is a Green Party candidate from Joensuu who is running for parliament. After living 22 years in Finland, he still gets singled out because of his background. His campaign has been a target of near-constant vandalism and harassment. Despite these setbacks, Giray doesn’t plan to throw in the towel.
Even if these types attacks aim to intimidate him and his followers, they are the sad face of Finland that some may not want to see or deny that exists.
The parliamentary elections have taught Giray a lot of things about Finland.
“It has taught me that voices from diverse backgrounds are needed and are important if we want to build a strong and working society,” he said.
Giray said that the media plays an important role in shaping people’s opinions and view about others.
“If we are almost constantly fed negative news about certain groups without any positive news we won’t be able to form an objective picture about those people,” he said. “We must remember that we are all individuals. Every groups has its bad apples.”
Giray said that one of the important matters he teaches migrants in Finland is to be proud of their work and the importance that others appreciate what they are doing.
The Green Party candidate has seen his share of discrimination while living in Finland since the mid-1990s. He said that matters have improved since then.
“When I first came to Finland with my family we lived in Mikkeli during 1995-96 and then moved away from there because of racism,” he said. “Our next home town was Riihimäki (1996-99) and then Imatra. In 2003 I went to university in Kouvola, where I majored and graduated in business administration. I did my conscription in the same city and in 2009 I moved to Joensuu.”
Giray is a self-starter, a doer. Helping other migrants has cleared a career path for him. In the beginning he helped so many foreigners that he had to employ a worker at his pizzeria for 5-6 hours a day so he could help others.
“I ended up establishing a translation service called Tulkkikeskus, where I offer today translating and interpreting services [in over forty languages],” he continued. “I also offer business consultancy to migrant entrepreneurs through another company called Yrittajävalmennus.fi.”
See Ali Giray’s interview (in Finnish) on YLE here.
Even if Giray has lived many years in Finland and knows how to succeed as an entrepreneur in this country, he understands that succeeding is a two-way street between the migrant and society.
“Problems arise if you treat a person as a second-class citizen and let him know that because that hinders integration,” he said. “It’s like being a member of a football team. If you aren’t appreciated you won’t give your 100% to the team.”
Giray said that migrants living in Finland are just like anyone else with the same goals in life. They too are searching for happiness and security, according to him.
The Green candidate said that he’s thankful to his father for teaching him many important lessons about life.
“I’m a successful entrepreneur thanks to him,” he said. “My father taught me to see the good in people irrespective of their ethnic or cultural background.”
Giray said that it’s easier for migrants to adapt in Southern Finland than in Eastern Finland where there are still few migrants.
“The ‘us’ versus ‘them’ division that some parties stress is not good for Finland because it makes it difficult for the migrant to become a full and equal member of society,” he continued. “Probably the first thing some people should learn is to treat people with respect, especially those that are different from you and who will take care of you when you become old.”
Giray said that one important matter that we must keep in mind as our society becomes more culturally diverse is that everyone has the same opportunities.
“Everyone should do his bit in making Finland a better place for future generations,” he concluded.