Kolumnister Alexis Kouros Wake up call

Wake up call

Alexis Kouros

They call it the "City of Minarets", but it could just as well be called the city of hatred, blood, rape and sorrow. Even 16 years after the bloody civil war, the air is heavy with contempt, and faces are long with grief. Bullet-ridden buildings on every block are reminders of a harsh time not long left behind. Right here in this city neighbours killed one another, women were raped en mass and civilians put into concentration camps. Snipers shot innocent children without a second thought. This is Sarajevo. This is Europe.

This is one nation. One ethnicity. And, no matter what they claim, one language. Serbs and Croats are Christians, and Bosniacs are Muslims, but honestly they are almost all secular. What makes neighbours, classmates and colleagues turn against each other so mercilessly?

This was nothing new to Europe. Genocide did not begin in Rwanda, and it was not invented by the Nazis. Such events are nothing new to Finland either. This young nation has its own scars. It's not more than two generations ago when this small nation of less than 3 million people at the time painted each other red and white. Then neighbours killed neighbours. Even brothers took different sides.

Hatred does not need a reason - it will find one. Hatred is not necessarily a reaction; it's a state of mind. It's a beast inside us. Now this beast is waking up from years of hibernation. Europe is afraid again. But what makes masses behave in such savage ways?

"In crowds it is stupidity and not mother wit that is accumulated". Since Gustave Le Bon, coined it in 1896, this sentence has served as dogma for many. The crowds may truly be ignorant. Only 55 percent of all Americans know that the sun is a star and a third of Russians think that the sun spins around the Earth. Then again, these are the nations that have pioneered space exploration, put satellites into orbit and sent probes to Mars. There is overwhelming evidence that contradicts Le Bon's theory. Research has shown that although ignorance dilutes wisdom in the crowds, a well-selected group will make better decisions than individuals most of the time. Here is the exception: when decisions are made on an emotional basis, herd behaviour could, and will, go disastrously wrong. Enter lynch mobs.

Fear is a strong motive and a dangerous emotion. Useful when well founded, crippling when groundless. Today, fear has spoken in Finland: Fear of change; fear of a new world and a fresh identity. A part of our society has voted for fleeing back to the safety and nostalgia of the past. The magnitude of this group has taken the rest of the nation and even Europe by surprise.

It would be unfair to leave unmentioned the fact that many of the criticisms raised by Persusuomalaiset are well founded. Finland has not always held her ground in EU negotiations. The government's EU policy has not been transparent and communication with the nation has been whipped airy in the crème of political jargon. However, offering oversimplified and emotional solutions to complicated problems - although pleasant to the electorates' ears - is misleading.


THE Rise of xenophobia in Europe and Finland is often explained by the increase in immigration. Although this may be of some influence, I strongly doubt this explanation. Often the most anti-immigrant and kainotophobic (afraid of change) places are those with the least immigrants and little in the way of change. New York, for example, remained international, multicultural, democrat and antiwar, even after 9/11, while the US "red states" (where people have voted mainly republican and multiculturalism is minimal) used the event as confirmation to embrace xenophobia and intolerance even harder. Shift of attitudes tends to be a much more important factor than external factors such as the movement of people.

Balkan history is, of course, complex, but resurrecting historical conflicts and differences to massacre your neighbours is not a natural course of action. Things could always take a different course with a little push or the lack of it. God is indeed in details. For the 4-year-long bloodshed, rape and concentration camps to start, there was one crucial tipping point: Slobodan Milošević was surrounded by a crowd of 15,000 Serbs and Montenegrins in Kosovo on 24 April 1987.

A man in the crowd shouted: "the police has beaten us".

"Nobody will beat you again," Milošević replied.

Serbian television aired the event later that evening. Ivan Stambolić, President of Serbia later said that after watching the footage that he had witnessed "the end of Yugoslavia".

Finland's "Milošević moment" happened in local politics in February 2009 when Jyrki Katainen, the acting leader of Kokoomus, said publicly that: "immigration should be openly discussed and ‘immigration-critics' should not be automatically denounced racist". A year later SDP's Leader Jutta Urpilainen pronounced her infamous sentence, "maassa maan tavalla", which immediately became the backbone of her party's immigration policy. Translated as: "When in Rome act like Romans", Urpilainen's phrase is in fact much more dire. The Finnish version of this idiom, as many reminded Urpilainen, continues as: "or get out of the land".

Both these sentences were as true as Milošević's announcement in Kosovo, but similarly the context, timing and geography of these words have had extreme significance, overriding their literal meaning. They all were opinion shifters. What Milošević did knowingly, Katainen and Urpilainen committed ignorantly. Hoping to get their share of Soini's hype, in fact they threw more coal into his engine.

Endorsement by authority is a powerful force that should not be taken lightly for both right and wrong. Our boy and girl on the top, Jyrki and Jutta, pulled their fingers off the holes in the dyke and the outcome is poured upon us.

Restraint is a major element of human civilisation. We hold back on everything from our animal instincts to the expression of our fears, thoughts and opinions uncensored and unsoftened. Without that restraint and self-control, our societies would undoubtedly fall apart. What happened in this last election was probably a shift in attitudes for some, but "freedom of expression" for most of the "protest voters". Except that this time, what is expressed freely in the form of a political will is, unfortunately, fear and ignorance.

But there is a bright side to this story. 80 percent of the electorate did not vote for steering the country inward and backward. The surprising progress of fundamental thinking has made this part of the society more active. Many have joined parties and lots of groups have been formed in the social media. We got our wake up call. Progress is not self evident, it needs to be cared for.


4 Kommentarer Add Comment
Regrattbly the writer got it worng
skriven av Anka4711 den 26.4.2011
"maassa maan tavalla" , Mr Katainen's statement and Mrs Merkels statement that multiculturalism has failed has nothing to do with xenophobia, they are admission of facts. To indiscriminately lump rational critics of immigration (without even bother to look at which kinds of immigration are criticizised) together with extremists as e.g. HBL, Magma and SFP regularly does, alienates even moderate critics, strengthens the extremists, does considerable damage to the Fenno-Swedish and makes even moderate people like me that happen to like the world and an open society (jag är finlandsvensk, har rest ensam runt jorden och jobbar i en internationell omgivning där alla hudfärger och religioner förekommer och ingen funderar över dom) starting to seriously doubt the competence and realism of the people leading the insitutions in question. The "tolerant" people in the Finnish mass media sounds disturbingly like the "taistoites" in the 70s (yes I'm that old :-)) . Didn't the "uesful idiots" learn anyting?
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You are wrong
skriven av Johan S den 27.4.2011
Indeed, Katainen and Urpilainen jave said what you write, but this has not been the problem in Finland. The problem has been, in Finland as in Sweden, that there has been a lid on public discussion on immigration, refugees and related issues. Anyone having a critical view on any issue related to this has bee branded a racist, fascist or right-wing populist. Still, anyone with any sense has seen that there are problems in this domain, if we want it or not.

This refusal to discuss has given the power to the right-wing political parties, where it should not be. Ask any immigrant coming to Finland, and he/she can immediately point out where the biggest problems lie, both with the immigrants and the majority.

The fact is that normal Finns have the right to ask people coming here to adapt to Finnish culture, just as we when we move to another country would not expect to be allowed to drink Koskenkorva in the park in Brussels. This doesn't mean that the immigrants have no right to import their own culture, but they have no right to impose it on the majority. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame immigrants, but the Finns who go out of their way not to "discourage" immigrants, for example by reducing Christian influences on Christmas parties in kindergartens and schools, thus giving the impression that Finnish culture is less valuable than that of the immigrants.

We must have the right to discuss things with their right name, otherwise we just feed prejudices. I am myself an emigrant, be it only to a European country, but one thing I have learned: we must adapt to where we move, in order to adapt the society to which we have moved.
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the writer got it right
skriven av Zack den 28.4.2011
To Mr Anka: Merkels comment about the failure of multiculturalism is ridiculous - the German state has not had a policy on what they want the multicultural society to be - if you have no policy, just let things be, then it is easy to say afterwards: oh, it didn´t work.

The "maassa maan tavalla" can not be interpreted in any other way than that it was a desperate attempt from the SDP-leader to get cheap votes from imagined SDP-voters who had jumped over the fence to Perussuomalaiset ("True Finns"). There problem here? By flirting with nationalism in this way a party only legitimizes this kind of rhethoric - you do not get any new votes. (Why vote for a light nationalist maassa maan tavalla party when you have a heavy weight maassa maan tavalla party next door). After the speech Jutta Urpilainen tried to save the situation by saying that she only meant that everybody residing in Finland must obey the local laws. Wow - so that was her point.... (has any group or party suggested anything else?? different legislation for different people?...) answer: no)

To Mr Johan S. I would argue that it is a myth that there has been a lid on the public discussion. (There might have been comments made where criticism automatically was seen as racism - but these claims should be researched. I think it is mostly a myth, such as the myth of the "powerful left or green wing army of women in flower hats ruling the public debate and policy"...) Human rights NGOs, researchers and activists have for years discussed these issues, raised concerns, criticized the consumeristic light multiculti etc etc - the mainstream media and most of the politicans haven´t been interested! (in the 90´s and early 00´s some politicans have discussed the topics, but some ie, Sulo Aittoniemi, Ville Itälä, Kari Rajamäki have spread myths about "hoards of asylum seekers invading Finland". Not very much difference to the talks by some the most extreme of the PS-politicans of today...)

At the moment many moderate politicians of all parties and many researchers are afraid to say anything. (or why are they silent??)They are afraid because they do not want to be harassed by the virtual mob around Homma and Suomen sisu.

So: today claiming that we must discuss the things with their right names is very difficult: in most cases in today´s Finland it means that people with an either xenophobic or very migration-restrictive agenda speak out loud and the rest are quiet. Luckily the silence is not total - Alexis Kouros is one moderate speaker. So thanks Mr Kouros for sharing your thoughts.

Finally Mr Johan: you mention that immigrants do not have the right to impose their culture on the majority: could you be a bit more specific? I haven´t noticed any migrant-run campaigns rallying for Finns having to adapt to other cultures....
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Zack is deliberately misunderstanding?
skriven av Johan S den 29.4.2011
If Zack would read again what I wrote, she might realise that I speak for the immigrants and their rights, I'm heavily against discrimination, racism, minority oppression. However, the tone in the Finnish discussion has too long been the same as in any 'ism: if you are not with us, you are against us. This is the way both sides discuss, there is no grey area for many. You are automatically labelled, just like Alexis K and Zack are labelling Katainen and Urpilainen. They don't want to acknowledge that there might be reasons for why they said something. But it is easier to brand someone immediately than to accept that parts of their story might be true. This attitude gives the "virtual mob" the upper hand, as moderate politicians are immediately labelled.

So Zack, is everything in the present manner Finland treats immigrants and refugees OK? Are politicians allowed to be critical without being labelled?

Please also read what I wrote about imposing culture on the majority: I clearly write that it is not the immigrants but for example people in schools who don't allow Christian psalms to be sung at the end of the school year any longer or ham to be eaten at Christmas parties. Such actions do very much harm, and very few immigrants ask for this. However, asking for specific swimming hours for immigrant women, or not allowing girls to take part in school gymnastics, this is clearly trying to impose their culture (not religion) on the majority, as this impacts the society.
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