Recent discussions by the Finnish government have raised concerns among human rights groups about the possibility of copying Denmark to carry out random spot checks on people in certain neighborhoods.
If such a measure were ever implemented, it could lead to France’s controversial Article 24 which restricts videoing the police with the intention of “threatening [their] physical or psychological integrity.”
Even if such changes in the law in Finland now seem far-fetched in a country where the police have a good reputation, it is essential to examine what is happening in other European countries where far-right governments have gained power. Some of these include Switzerland, where the Swiss People’s Party is the biggest party, the ruling Brothers of Italy and Lega Nord of Italy, Fidesz of Hungary, the United Right of Poland, Sweden Democrats, and the Perussuomalaiset (PS)* of Finland.
Also, in non-EU countries like Serbia (United Serbia) and North Macedonia (VMRO-DPMNE), there are far-right parties that target migrants and refugees.
Considering that the EU is a region that abides by the European Convention of Human Rights, it is concerning that such parties above target ethnic groups and minorities and want to weaken the civil rights of such people.
At the core of these ideologies lie xenophobia and ethnic superiority. The far-right presents itself as the savior and protector of the native population, framing every outsider—immigrant, Roma, or anyone deemed different—as an ongoing threat and suspect.
Ethnic Profiling and Suspicion
A common tactic employed by far-right governments is ethnic profiling and the disproportionate targeting of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups by law enforcement agencies. This type of profiling often masquerades as “legitimate” when the police suspect someone of drug possession or gang affiliation.
“Legalized” ethnic profiling is used to justify the increased scrutiny and surveillance of certain communities and ethnic groups even if crime does not have a specific skin color or ethnicity. But when law enforcement focuses its attention on one particular ethnic group, they are more likely to uncover crime, not because of inherent criminality but due to increased scrutiny. It can lead to a vicious cycle, where arrests and convictions are used to justify further restrictions and targeting, perpetuating the belief that these communities are inherently dangerous.
Minister of Interior Mari Rantanen
In an interview with Joona Aaltonen of Helsingin Sanomat, Minister of Interior Mari Rantanen acknowledged concerns about the country’s “growing” youth and gang crime problem. She cited a statement by Jonne Rinne, the chairman of the Association of Police Organizations, who estimated that 95% of street gang members in Finland are of foreign origin on the basis of their names and ethnic backgrounds. Rinne did not care to elaborate if these youths were born in Finland, were Finnish citizens or had a Finnish parent.
Before Rantanen was minister, she would send Islamophobic messages to then Prime Minister Sanna Marin. “Marin’s government wishes Finns a Merry Christmas,” she wrote. Source: X (formerly Twitter).
Rantanen said that there is a link between immigration and increased youth and gang crime.
“It would be strange to say that immigration has nothing to do with this [problem] when so many people [in gangs] have an immigrant background.”
Rantanen also proposed random body checks as in Denmark as one way to address youth crime. In Denmark, the police have the authority to carry out spot checks on people and cars in areas with high crime rates.
The minister suggested that similar measures should also be considered in Finland.
The Role of Political Labeling
It’s worth noting that the term “youth gangs” is controversial, and it gained prominence during the last parliamentary election in Finland when the PS used it to attract voters and justify its racist campaign. The strategy closely resembled the campaign tactics used in Sweden by the Sweden Democrats and the right-wing Moderate Party.
It is also crucial to note that ethnic profiling can serve as a precursor to more restrictive measures, such as Article 24 of France, which makes it an offense to share images that identify police officers by face or name while working or detaining suspects. The measure received a lot of criticism from human rights groups because it stifles freedom of expression and undermines police transparency.
The link between ethnic profiling and Article 24 lies in the erosion of civil liberties. When certain groups are systematically targeted, it becomes easier to justify measures that restrict civil rights and freedoms.
As everyone knows, the ministry of the interior Is responsible for drafting legislation on migration. It also guides and develops the administration of immigration policy, and is responsible for the performance of the Finnish Immigration Service.
The ministry of justice is responsible for drafting the key legislation maintaining legal order and for ensuring the proper functioning of the judicial system. It is also responsible for the integration of immigrants and for integration legislation.
Both of the above ministries are headed by Rantanen and Leena Meri of the PS, respectively. Before the election, the ministers had posted racist posts and conspiracy theories about migrants.
Even if Finland’s law enforcement agencies have earned the respect and trust both domestically and internationally, we have to remain vigilant against any potential misuse of power. One way of achieving this is by studying other countries with populist governments and how and if they safeguard civil rights, protect minorities of ethnic profiling, and reinforce the rule of law.
As Finland contemplates policies that could inadvertently lead to ethnic profiling, it is essential to know the consequences of such policies on racialized people.
Recognizing the balancing act of the potential civil conflict and the commitment to safeguarding civil liberties is essential to maintaining Finland’s democratic institutions and international image. Ethnic profiling often precedes measures like France’s Article 24. Understanding such dangers is vital so that we will avoid them in the future.