The Same Old Tapes Spin Round in Our Heads


We don’t ever think. We just have a small collection of tapes we stick in slots in the back of our heads when the need to say something “smart” arises.

* * * * *

Russian speakers living in Finland are not a homogeneous group, but one thing unites them strongly: a large number of them regard asylum seekers with a grain of salt.

“I relate to the phenomenon negatively. I think the people coming here do not have the necessary information on how people live here. They are trying to come here with their own traditions and customs, and at the moment this hinders their adaptation,” say Gleb Ulanov, who lives in Helsinki.

[. . .]

Despite the fact that the Russians themselves are immigrants, they do not want to compare themselves to the people now arriving from the Middle East. Russian speakers are of the view that they do not have similar adaptation problems.

“The biggest difference is the mentality. Most Russian speakers adapt, find work, and respect Finnish customs and celebrations. In my experience, only a small minority of people from the east does this. They prefer to form their own communities,” says Grigory Berkinfand, who lives in Helsinki.

[. . .]

Many Russian speakers fear that Finns have a naive attitude toward the asylum seekers, and do not properly distinguish those who are genuinely in need of protection.

Just like Finns, Russians are primarily concerned about safety. Many say that traditionally peaceful Finland is changing at a rapid pace.

Gleb Ulanov, who in Soviet times lived for about a year in the Caucasus, is of the opinion that merely integrating the refugees is not enough. In addition to telling the asylum seekers about Finnish customs and laws, Finns should also tell the refugees about culture and how they should behave around them.

[. . .]

Even a man from Russian Karelia who is living in a reception center and applying for political asylum questions the motives for coming to Finland of many of the people living with him. The man wished to remain anonymous.

“I can see what is happening here. They do not appreciate either the local culture or the help they receive. The majority are of the opinion that the Finns are obliged to help them. Many of them say that one can live here without working, and everything is given free of charge. They are quarrelsome if they notice they have not been given something and they complain about conditions. For example, I am really satisfied with everything here. I have not received such a warm reception in my own country,” he said.

* * * * *

Excerpted from “Suomen venäläiset varoittavat: Ei kannata olla liian sinisilmäinen turvapaikanhakijoiden suhteen” [Russians warn Finland: do not be too gullible with regard to asylum seekers], YLE, January 30, 2016. Image courtesy of Translated, from the Finnish, by the Russian Reader

Solidarity, Community, Internationalism (and Good Public Broadcasting)

Yle, the Finnish public broadcaster, asked four recent immigrants to Finland, people who are still in the process of studying Finnish and integrating into the society, to interview representatives of the country’s main political parties in the run-up to parliamentary elections, which will take place there on April 19.

The catch was that Yle also asked the parties to send as interviewees party members who were immigrants and had themselves learned Finnish as adults or teenagers. Among other things, the interviewees were asked to explain how they had come to join the particular parties they now represented.

Interestingly and unsurprisingly, the Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset), notorious for its anti-immigrant views, was unable to provide an interviewee for the program.

The Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto) sent as its representative Suldan Said Ahmed, a young entrepreneur and politician originally from Somaliland. (Somaliland is an autonomous region of Somalia that seeks recognition as an independent country from the rest of the world, but as yet hasn’t got it.)

According to Said Ahmed, solidarity, community, and internationalism are the three words that best sum up the Left Alliance for him.

If like me, you are someone studying Finnish, you should love listening to Said Ahmed, because his Finnish is much easier to understand and “correct” than that spoken by “real” Finns, what with their variety of local dialects and reliance on puhekieli (conversational language), which is often shockingly at variance from the “proper” textbook Finnish we foreigners and immigrants learn on courses.

I found a recent article profiling Said Ahmed in the leftist Finnish newspaper Kansan Uutiset.


Suldaan Said Ahmed. Photo: Kalevi Rytkölä / Yle

It seems Said Ahmed has political ambitions in his native Somaliland as well. He would like to become the youngest MP there and is planning to stand, apparently, in this year’s upcoming parliamentary elections there.

Said Ahmed would also like sometime in the future to be president of Finland, but that job, alas, is constitutionally only open to native-born Finns. (So far, I would like to think for his sake.)

I find all of this so fascinating in part because, just last week, I had to go verbally postal on a few of my classmates in the advanced Finnish course I have been taking here in the former capital of All the Russias. For the second or third time this semester, they regaled the rest of us with dark tales of how Somalians like Said Ahmed are ruining the fair country of Finland by moving there in droves to become—yes—welfare scroungers. Meanwhile, the government has decided, allegedly, not to let more Russians to move to Finland, even though generally it wants to encourage more immigration to the country to help care for its aging population, etc.

You get the drift.

It might rock my classmates’ world to find out that one of the interviewers in the “Let’s Meet the Parties” program (along with a man from the Philippines, a woman from Lithuania, and a woman from South Korea) is Svetlana Siltanen, who emigrated to Finland from Russia last year.


Svetlana Siltanen. Photo: Mikko Kuusisalo / Yle

My “dream a little dream” today would be to put Yle in charge of public broadcasting for a year in Russia. What a difference that could make to people’s outlooks here.

Finnish Lesson

Talvisota alkoi 75 vuotta sitten

Helsinkiä pommitettiin talvisodan ensimmäisenä päivänä 30.11.1939.
Helsinkiin putosi monta pommia talvisodan ensimmäisenä päivänä. Kuvassa Teknillinen korkeakoulu. Kuva: YLE Kuvapalvelu


Suomalaiset ovat muistaneet talvisodan alkamista. Talvisota alkoi tasan 75 vuotta sitten. Talvisota alkoi, kun Neuvostoliitto eli Venäjä hyökkäsi Suomeen marraskuun 30. päivä vuonna 1939.

Monet suomalaiset muistavat vielä talvisodan pommitukset. Venäjän armeijan lentokoneet pudottivat pommeja Suomen kaupunkeihin jo sodan ensimmäisenä päivänä. Esimerkiksi Helsinki kärsi suuria vahinkoja.

Talvisota loppui maaliskuussa 1940. Rauhansopimuksessa Suomen täytyi antaa Neuvostoliitolle suuria alueita. Suomi menetti esimerkiksi Viipurin, joka oli Suomen toiseksi suurin kaupunki.

Talvisota oli osa toisen maailmansodan tapahtumia. Suomi ja Neuvostoliitto sotivat myös vuodesta 1941 vuoteen 1944. Tuota aikaa sanotaan jatkosodaksi.

Source: YLE (Selkouutiset)


The Winter War began 75 years ago

[Photo caption: Many bombs fell on Helsinki on the first day of the the Winter War. The Helsinki University of Technology is pictured here. Image: YLE Photo Service]

Finns have remembered the start of the Winter War. The Winter War began exactly 75 years ago. The Winter War began when the Soviet Union or Russia attacked Finland on 30 November 1939.

Many Finns still remember the Winter War bombings. Russian military aircraft dropped bombs on the cities of Finland already on the first day of the war. For example, Helsinki suffered major damage.

The Winter War ended in March 1940. Under the peace treaty, Finland had to cede large areas to the Soviet Union. For example, Finland lost Vyborg, which was Finland’s second largest city.

The Winter War was part of the events of the Second World War. Finland also fought against the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1944. This period is called the Continuation War.