Finland’s Legal Aid – willful neglect or (subtle) racism at its best? 

Haven’t been to Finland in a while. Haven’t even written about it. Time for a look at Hungary’s brother from another mother (but probably the same father). 

While Hungary is practicing active resistance where letting anyone who’s not white and at the very least  conservative (though populist would be way better) into the country, Finland – remembering some vestiges of concepts of humanity taught in the stories grandparents told about the war – decided to be slightly more helpful. Or did it? 

Finland, where the state – compared to Hungary at least – has always been more friend than foe, also displays a more liberal streak than its brethren to the south. While “homo” is still liberally used as a slur, two guys or girls kissing in a bar won’t raise an eyebrow. Well, not as much as in Hungary, where some bouncers achieved national fame by picking on same-sex couples who just happened to be male. The siding with the bouncers in the comment section of various outlets running the story wasn’t as surprising as the few messages of support, chiefly along the lines of leave these individuals alone. For Hungary that’s a lot. 

So no surprise then that – again compared to its younger brother – Finland is more open towards refugees. Make no mistake, Finland is very vocal against this “influx,” for the most part. And you’d be forgiven in seeing the ones that do seem to support the refugees in their plight as lonely middle-aged women desperately seeking companionship while battling their midlife crisis. 

Finns are notorious for taking their time when it comes to making a decision. Arriving 12-15 minutes early to an interview and being told that the person “is already waiting for you,” is one thing. People taking three months to confirm a project (involving money), or emailing you to confirm that one year from now you’ll be available, took some time getting used to, even knowing the above. While I do have friends there who are extremely spontaneous (and Finnish), I really had to get used to people arranging to meet socially two weeks in advance. 

All of which may or may not serve to illustrate why the facts mentioned in this article are so outrageous. Finns take responsibility very seriously. When Finns give their word – cliched as that sounds – you can pretty much count on them. I learned that when I arranged accommodation for the first time while still in the U.K.  A flurry of chats, embedded in which was the simple, “I think it’s a deal.” Even though every Finnish person I knew then assured me I could take it at face value, I only believed it when I was actually in my room. 

And yet, of course there were exceptions. Someone asking you to borrow money, then never paying it back. Promising to call or message you (socially, not in terms of dates), then never calling you. But the sense of duty, the sense of responsibility far outweighs these instances. I dare say that this is another reason Finnish musicians are so well-liked with organizers. They’ll drink you under the table before you can click your heels three times, but they’ll show up when they’re scheduled. And they’ll have their s*** together. I’ve heard of cases where musicians performed with all kinds of afflictions, which would have made their non-Finnish brethren quit and no one would have gotten mad. 

But Finns are also fiercely protective of their own. Their manner of sticking up for you will be slightly more subtle than what you as a foreigner might be used to, but it’ll touch you nonetheless. When a potential collaborator decided not to come on board (to be fair, I took a shot, the person said no), two friends quietly stepped in. One just stood there saying nothing, signaling, we’ll always stand by you, and the other provided written proof for his ability to help, while listing a whole bunch of sources. Plus, he wouldn’t stop making fun of the non-collaborator’s profession for a week, never mentioning the person. But it made me laugh, which was the point. 

That this attitude of protecting your loved ones (and here I also include friends) can quickly extend to an attitude of meeting the alien element with a metaphorical brick wall, should not come as a surprise. Anything that makes the difference too pronounced is kept at arm’s lenghth, at the very least.  In this Finns and Hungarians really are brothers in arms (Hungary, being more extreme – see attitudes towards refugees, and homosexuality – wins this round though). 

Darker skinned people, it’s safe to say, are more unpopular than popular in either country. I get that. I’m by no means condoning it, but I get it. One keeps thinking of all the rulers they’ve had to endure, and the other pretty much thinks the same. But where Hungary uses this hatred and disdain for the Other to – for once – operate on a basis of total honesty, Finland pretends. 

And herein lies the crux of the matter. Finns, like their Hungarian counterparts, hate losing face. And for once it seems that in Finland dark triumphed over light, and hatred outweighed a sense of duty. Lawyers assigned to asylum cases either don’t show up, do a shoddy job, or – as the article states – show up p***** out of their minds and even throw up halfway during the hearing. Admittedly, this was only one case, but taken against the backdrop of the others, it paints an interesting picture. Could these people in charge of others’ lives actually be racist and totally ticked off that they were assigned these cases? And therefore quietly sabotaging their clients? 

It’s a worrying thought, as no matter how you look at it, they are playing with and endangering people’s lives. The lives of the refugees, naturally. But also the lives of their fellow countrymen. The more you marginalize a group, the more they will quietly steam, only to explode later. Just look at how any fascist regime came into power, aided and abetted by the “little man” in its early stages. 

I understand if you don’t want to let the equivalent of just any Tom, Dick, and Harry in. That’s your prerogative, every opinion is valid. What you do with it is another question. But lying to them when they most need you, is beyond low. At least tell them openly that you don’t care for them. Marginalizing them will only serve to radicalize either the very people you’re pretending to help or the next generation. Bombs going off and vehicles charging into crowds are no joke. 

And it has to be said, too, that Finland is ill equipped for the job. A crash course in The Plight of the Refugee and His Religion is clearly not enough. You know They are different, but you don’t care to see just how. As several other articles pointed out, linguistic misunderstandings abound, and – for women especially – the notion of tribes brings its own problems. Men reporting back to the homeland, about itinerant wives, or future wives, family feuds getting in the way of proper help. 

Clearly much more has to be done. Yes, the crisis developed (somewhat) suddenly, yes most administrators are out of their depth, yes, people need to be closely vetted and precautions should be taken. But if you’re already willing to abide by the rules, and if your nation prides itself on being dutiful and following the law to the letter (so as not to lose face), do a proper job. Invest in getting proper and appropriate (read in-depth) information. Use those refugees as guides to really understand the area, beyond the surface observation. And when you do hire someone darker, not from your part of the world, don’t hire the token guy or gal and have them work off a script, just so you can say “look! We have diversity.” But that’s another post for another day. 

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7 comments

    • Thank you! Sad thing is, it’s such a typical “human” thing to do, if you’ve seen it in one place, you learn to recognize it everywhere. We all need to go away to a better planet and learn some serious hardcore skills there. Then come back and try again.

      Liked by 1 person

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