Finland is still far from regaining its former political composure after
the April 2011 elections, which saw the right-wing populist Finns Party
win a historic election victory by becoming the country’s third-largest
political force in parliament after the National Coalition Party and the Social
Democrats. Compared to the elections before 2011, the number of Finns Party
MPs rose from five in 2007 to an astonishing 39.
Read the full column here.
Many political observers have wondered how an anti-EU, anti-immigration
and especially anti-Islam party can become a major political force in Finland
in only four years. My guess is the following: Our lack of cultural diversity.
Finland’s foreign population totals today about 4% of the population. It is
still too small to make a dent on national politics.
Certainly, there are other factors at play that helped the Finns Party to
win the last parliamentary elections. There’s the euro crisis and the deep
recession, which have helped far-right and right-wing populist parties to
see unprecedented growth in today’s Europe. Even so, if Finland had larger
ethnic and religious minorities, the result of the 2011 election would have
Our large Finnish-American and Finnish-Canadian expatriate communities
abroad are good examples how diversity has not only enriched Finnish culture
but made it stronger.
One of the big debates going on in Finland is how our ever-growing
immigrant population will change our country demographically and culturally.
While we don’t have a precise answer to such questions because the future
rarely reveals itself to us, the only matter we can say with some certainty is
that our population will change in the next two decades.
Finland’s age structure will see the biggest change, when the number of
over-64-year-olds will soar by 941,000 to 1.639 million people, according
to Statistics Finland. Likewise, our labor force will shrink by an estimated
600,000 people in about 25 years. Pekka Myskylä of Statistics Finland sees
our foreign population growing to 16% of the total population by 2057.
Due to these demographic realities, I see the rise of any anti-immigration
party like the Finns Party as a direct threat. How can we encourage people
to move to this part of Europe let alone ask them to integrate into our society
if we are intolerant of newcomers.
We must remember that no society is perfect, not even those that claim to
be “near-homogenous,” like Finland once was. Since no society is perfect,
never mind one that is culturally diverse, countries like Canada and Australia
offer us good models on how we can reap synergies and growth from cultural
Despite the many challenges we face, I’m confident that Finland will succeed
at meeting its demographic challenges in this century thanks to our Nordic
values, which are based on acceptance, respect and equal opportunities.
Section 6 of the Finnish Constitution states: “Everyone is equal before the
law. No one shall, without an acceptable reason, be treated differently from
other persons based on sex, age, origin, language, religion, conviction,
opinion, health, disability, or other reason that concerns his or her person.”
If a Martian were to land in Finland today, he, she or it would immediately
enjoy Nordic social equality and acceptance.
Going back to the Finnish municipal elections of October, one disappointing
factor was that anti-immigration candidates on the Finns Party ticket attracted
a generous amount of votes. MP Jussi Halla-aho of Helsinki got 6,026, while
Olli Immonen of Oulu attracted 1,270.
If I have a concern about where Finland is heading today, it is how some
are trying to profit politically by fueling suspicion of the outside world, against
immigrants and visible minorities. Fortunately, these type of groups are still
a minority in Finland even if they are very active and vocal one.
Finland’s social and economic life savior in this century is not keeping
Finland “white” but promoting cultural diversity together with our noble
Nordic democratic welfare state values. If we fail in the task, our society
risks becoming ever-polarized. The same Civil Rights Movement we saw
in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s will emerge in Finland and
It is a paradox, but the very matters that I respected and admired most
about Finland when I lived in the United States, were the very things that
marginalized and excluded me from this society for so long
* I was a regular columnist at New World Finn during 2001-2015.