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September 2016

[The Hieno! Suomi 100 series] Interview with Dr. Gareth Rice: Academic, journalist and social critic.

Finnish Education, Foreigners in Finland, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office
gareth rice

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Dr. Gareth Rice, an academic, journalist and social critic based in Scotland.

From 2008 to 2014, Dr. Rice worked as a postdoctoral researcher and Geography lecturer at the University of Helsinki. Dr Rice’s journalism has been featured in Times Higher Education, National Geographic Traveler, Monocle, Harper Collins, Runway, Wonderland, The Skinny, Counterpunch, Global Politics, Maa&ilma, ViaHelsinki, Six Degrees, Helsingin Sanomat and Inside Higher Education.

In this candid interview, Dr. Rice shares with us his various thoughts on Finland, Finns, myths, the Finnish higher education system and expat life. I’d like to encourage you to read Dr Rice’s interview with an open-mind, for he wrote it with positive intentions.

Enjoy the interview! ♡


WW: Hello Dr. Gareth Rice! Can you tell us more about yourself?

Dr Gareth Rice: I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I have a PhD in Urban Geography. I currently work as a university lecturer who teaches right across the social sciences.

In my spare time I enjoy rolling with friends and going to the cinema. I am a dedicated reader of quality magazines and an avid fan of Iain Sinclair, Jonathan Raban and the late J.G. Ballard.

I also spend a lot of time exploring the great Scottish outdoors.

WW: Why did you initially choose to come to Finland?

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Dr Gareth Rice: I initially chose to come to Finland to take up a two year postdoc position in the Department of Geosciences and Geography at the University of Helsinki.

I assumed that it would be a great career move.

WW: What do you see as your “place” in Finland when you were staying here?

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Dr Gareth Rice: If a society’s integrity is measured by how it treats its minorities then Finland has a lot of work to do.

I was made to feel that my place in Finland was always going to be as part of a socially ostracised group of people, wheeled out to raise the worthless international trophy for Finns when it suited them.

As I wrote in Times Higher Education, I was initially given a warm welcome then the cold shoulder. [TH: Dr. Rice also wrote a piece that was featured in the Global Higher Education]

I felt that my place in Finland changed when I indicated to my line manager that I would like to stay at the Department of Geosciences and Geography to advance my academic career. This, I believe, would have happened had my line manager not been a nasty Professor.

Until earlier this year I was struggling to find a definition of this breed of Professoriate. Then one fine Spring day I visited the Dick Institute, in Kilmarnock, Scotland to see the Still Future II exhibition.

There was a piece on display called “The Nasty Professors” by the artist Martin Fowler. On the label it said–

“The wood-cuts are a critique of academia and specifically its tendency to elitism, exclusivity and abuse of power. The nasty professors depict the abusive side of the academic and the academic institution.”

Abuse of power sounds about right: When an “open” permanent job came up in the Department of Geosciences and Geography, my line manager made sure that their favourite candidate, a lesser experienced Finn got the position.

This made me question the purported fairness of the University of Helsinki’s recruitment policies and drove me to gather more information about the recruitment policies of other Finnish universities.

I discovered that my case wasn’t isolated. I spoke with many other academics, including Finns, who had suffered discrimination at the hands of nasty Professors.

Outside the university I was part of a small but vibrant expat community. There were quite a few different nationalities and cultures and I liked learning about them. This group provided me with some great friends who I keep in touch with to this day.

WW: What are your feelings about Finland when you were staying here? Did they change along the way?

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Dr Gareth Rice: Initially, my feelings about Finland were positive.

I loved many things about the country: The Finnish language, the enchanting forests and the green pea soup!

The summer was magic. Here’s how I captured it in a Helsinki Times article from July 2011:

THE wind had feathered the lake with bluecaps that danced in the midsummer sun.

The shoreline was thickly forested and afforded the contemplative privacy that my Finnish friends and I have come to savour and relish.

Forest blankets around 80 per cent of Finland and yields a rich supply of foods and quietude. The wooden, red and black cottage had thick, white window frames with a separate sauna building.

Blueberries dangled from lush green bushes. Mushrooms were snuggled up to the bases of birch trees. Everything was flooded with magical light…”

The many positive claims about Finland made me think that I was moving to a place called utopia.

These claims included:

  • World’s Best Country (Newsweek, 2010);
  • World’s Sixth Happiest Country (World Happiness Report, 2015);
  • World’s Fourth Most Dynamic Business Environment (The Grant Thornton Global Dynamism Index, 2015);
  • World’s second best in gender (World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, 2015);
  • World’s second best place to be a mother (Save the Children, State of the World’s Mothers Report, 2015);
  • World’s Second most Innovative Country (World Economic Forum, Global Competitiveness Report, 2015);
  • World’s Greenest Country (Yale and Columbia Universities, Environmental Performance Index, 2016);
  • World’s least fragile State (Fund for Peace, Fragile States Index, 2015);
  • World’s Second Least Corrupt Country (Transparency International, Corruptions Perceptions Index, 2015); and
  • World’s best in press freedom (Reporters Without Borders, World Press Freedom Index, 2016).

However, after six years of living in Finland my feelings changed. I discovered how Finland really worked.

Finns are master myth makers. To take but two examples from the above list, it is interesting that perception of corruption rather than actual levels of corruption were measured. Much of the corruption in Finland gets kicked into the long grass or goes unreported by the Finnish media which is dominated by journalists and editors whose careers are defined by self-censorship – this wasn’t a variable in the World Freedom Press Index.

Many of positive perceptions which Finland flaunts are false. But it wouldn’t matter if they were true; what matters is that your perceptions of Finland will not match up to your reality of actually living there, struggling to sustain yourself through the daily feelings of isolation and silence.

As my good friend, the late James Thompson once wrote, “Finns do everything in silence.”

WW: Was it a difficult decision to leave Finland?

Dr Gareth Rice: Initially the thought of leaving Finland seemed difficult.

I had gotten so used to living in Helsinki that I hadn’t realised that I had fallen into a rut. However, this failed to quash my ambition to have a meaningful academic career, quite the opposite in fact.

After I started applying for academic jobs outside Finland and the offers rolled in, leaving Finland was an easy decision.

I had worked too hard to end up being left with the crumbs from the Finnish academic table – being paid to lecture by the hour. Oh please!

WW: What was the most important and meaningful event or experience that happened in Finland?

Dr Gareth Rice: In August 2010, I saw U2, the Irish rock band play at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium.

That night was important and meaningful because it was the first time that they played their song “Every Breaking Wave.”

WW: What was the happiest moment in your life in Finland?

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Dr Gareth Rice: My happiest moment in Finland was back in 2008 when I first arrived.

I was wet behind the ears and filled with positivity and optimism. It was winter. I jumped off the bus outside the Finnish National Theatre and thought that I had just arrived in Narnia.

I never did bump into Mr. Tumnus, though I did get to pick mushrooms with a few peaceful Finnish forest dwellers.

WW: Can you tell us what were the top 3 challenges you faced in Finland?

Dr Gareth Rice: My 3 top challenges were

  1. The Finnish language (though mastering it wouldn’t have spared me from the discrimination which I faced);
  2. The prolonged darkness; and
  3. Securing a job which I was qualified for over lesser qualified and lesser experienced Finns.

WW: Do you think there are solutions or better alternatives to how we think about these three challenges?

Dr Gareth Rice: There are always solutions or better alternatives but those Finns wanting to maintain the status quo are the ones with the most power and influence. A complete root and branch change of Finnish employer’s mentality and hiring practices would need to be enforced.

The reality is that, most Finnish companies cannot be trusted to play fair when it comes to hiring people. As long as the ability to speak Finnish like a native and being connected to the right people in the right places are unofficial hiring policies in Finland, then those with mother tongues other than Finnish will continue to be discriminated against.

There isn’t much which can be done about the darkness other than praying for lots of proper snow (it reflects the beams from street lights which brightens places up a bit) or dropping the retail price of SAD lights.

Finland is so expensive!

WW: You have been rather vocal with some of your well-intended criticisms of Finland. Have you ever received death threats? How did you feel about the social media backlash?

Dr Gareth Rice: I am not sure whether I received death threats or not but it wouldn’t have mattered.

The social media backlash was inevitable, I suppose, but it had no bearing on my decision to write the much needed criticisms of Finland.

Staying true to myself and writing the truth was always more important.

WW: Do you personally know foreign academics who are successful in pursuing an academic career in Finland? How do you think they coped?

Dr Gareth Rice: Yes, I do know some foreign academics who have been successful in pursuing academic careers in Finland, but I could write all of their names on the back of a postage stamp with a blunt pencil!

From what they have told me they have coped by biting the bullet and not rattling Finnish cages. They have been forced to become one dimensional people to survive in a higher education system which is propped up by nasty Professors who lack critical thinking skills and open-mindedness.

WW: What are your dreams and visions for the future, Dr Gareth Rice?

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Dr Gareth Rice: I work in higher education so one of my dreams is that many more of our young people will have the chance to attend university to get the skills and mindset they need to life happy and meaningful lives.

I hope that I will continue to play a part in this.

As an optimist I have a positive vision for the future: One of peace and stability.

I would like to see a stronger culture of accountability to make examples of those who continue to abuse their power in Finland and beyond.

WW: What are some of the advice you might have for aspiring foreign academics who want to come to Finland?

Dr Gareth Rice: Dear aspiring foreigners wanting to move to Finland, there are many pieces of advice which I could offer.

At the top of my list would be, don’t go to Finland thinking that you will be integrated into Finnish society and be treated on equal terms with Finns. Even after you master the Finnish language and tick all of the other official boxes, you will still be made to feel like a lower animal.

You should also be prepared to deal with long periods of darkness, depression and feelings of isolation. As Daniel Johnson wrote in the October 2016 issue of Standpoint, “Isolation is always alluring, but it is never splendid.”

Any ambitions you have about progressing in your career will meet a dead end in Finland. It is unofficial policy that most Finnish employers in the public and private sector prefer to employ Finns.

And there is nothing that you will be able to do about it because Finns will never let you wear their cloak of power and influence. You are more likely to feel like you’re being made to wear the invisibility cloak from the Harry Potter films!

My last piece of advice to you would be to identify and avoid the nasty Professors (defined above) and their equivalents in other employment sectors. They have a long history of failing to add a veneer of openness and intellectual respectability to a higher education system which turns on flat-out falsehoods. They have the system “tied up tight as a drum” to borrow the phrase from the American community organiser Saul Alinksy.

Unless you are a ‘favoured Finn’, the nasty Professors will never have your back and they will steer your career into a dead end.

On the up side you might take comfort from Martin Fowler who believes that, “The nasty Professors are only interested in self-advancement and glory, but are ultimately destined for a future of self-delusion, bad teeth and loneliness.”

WW: 2017 is Finland’s 100 years old birthday! Do you have any birthday wish for Finland?

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Dr Gareth Rice: I wish Finland a very happy birthday and best wishes for the future but I would also ask that those who will be shaping that future do so with open minds and empathy.

Everybody knows that the road to disappointment is paved with broken promises, empty rhetoric and small talk so take steps to avoid them! If you say one thing, then do the opposite you will be exposed and deservedly so.

Why say things like “We Finns want to become more international” unless you can demonstrate that you are very serious about it?

Don’t set yourself up for a fall, just be honest, get loaded and have a good time!


We hope you have enjoyed this interview with Dr. Rice!

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme.This series  “What is Finnish-ness”? is endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feel free to follow Dr Gareth Rice on his twitter @belfastnomad . Photographs courtesy of Dr. Rice and Unsplash.🙂

About our Suomi 100 Book.

Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office

Have you ever wondered exactly how to preserve a glimpse of beauty in Finland 2016/2017?

Such that a glimpse of this beauty, authenticity and vulnerability:

  • becomes a legacy to be passed on from generation to generation;
  • can be presented as a sincere gift to a foreign friend who wants to understand and know Finnish culture better;
  • is revisited as and when necessary to warm hearts in cold winters.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Finnish life in 2016/2017 is preserved in a physical, tangible form?

Wouldn’t it be nice if…you can go back to these heartfelt interviews ten years later to see how the interviewees have changed?

-“Ah, so ten years on, this Carol Chen is now retired and travelling the world.

-“Ah, so ten years on, there are many immigrant-background leaders who, inspired by Husu, are helping the immigrant community do even greater works in Finland.”

-“Ah, so ten years on, this Emma lady is now back in Finland with kids.”

Wouldn’t you want this book? I know I would want it. 

So, there you have it.

We’re going to print our official “What is Finnish-ness” series into beautiful books.

It’s designed to last forever.

~~

The Hieno! Suomi 100 series is part of the official programme endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office in Finland. This series revolves around the theme of “What is Finnish-ness?”, and we interview 35 people from various backgrounds who love Finland.

80% of our interviewees are nominated by the community. We are already two months into the project, and 12/35 through in terms of completed long-form interviews and anecdotes.

A couple of weeks ago, I bounced the idea of printing this series into beautiful books off Michaela, one of the best designers based in Helsinki. Mimi then got really excited and then told me about a similar concept done by The Great Discontent.

TGD’s print format looks like this:

(Source)

SO stunning! 😀

Imagine various long-form interviews, quotes, and anecdotes printed in classy hardcover, on beautiful Finnish paper and elegantly designed/ spaced.

Imagine catching a whiff of the sweet, crisp scent of Finnish forests from the printed papers of the book.

Imagine YOU contributing a part to the history of the Finnish nation.

Imagine this Suomi 100 book designed and preserved to last forever.

Can you imagine our book together?

Yeah, we’re going to do the book. I don’t know how but we will get it.

And we’re going to do it together.

 

 

[The Hieno! Suomi 100 series] Interview with Husu, the eloquent politician with a heart for Finland!

Finnish People, Finnish Politics, Foreigners in Finland, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office
husu

(Feature Image of Husu: Source)

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature the very popular and eloquent Abdirahim Hussein, also fondly known as “Husu”.

In this interview, Husu shares with us his various thoughts on immigration, policies, welfare system and love for Finns + Finland. Personally, I was particularly moved by Husu’s heart for Finland, and he does come across as sincere and authentic.

It’s a long read, so please make some coffee and enjoy the interview! ♡


TH: Hello Husu! Thank you for accepting our interview. Can you tell us more about yourself and what you do?

Husu: My name is Abdirahim Hussein. People also call me Husu. I’m originally from Somalia and I’d been in Finland for the last 22 years. At the moment I work as a junior consultant in the company called the Finnish Consulting Group.

My job scope includes firstly, going to cities which for the first time are starting to receive immigrants or refugees in their own regions. We help these cities to help integrate the newcomers well into their own vicinity. This is my number one job in Finland—consulting with different municipalities around the country in Finland to inform them of the best practices of how to get immigrants to integrate well.

TH: Wow, that’s a really important role.

Husu: Yes, thank you.

The second thing I do for Finnish Consulting Group at the moment is trying to get Finnish companies that have great products and servies to sell to East Africa, especially Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda. You see, we are talking about 300 million people in that region, so that is a huge market and opportunity for Finnish companies.

My part is to get Finnish companies to be bolder and try to understand better the East-African culture and methods of doing business. I also help Finnish companies connect to the local networks and businesses.

TH: What motivates your political activities?

Husu: I recently left one political party and joined the Socialist Democratic Party.

There was one point in time when I spent 90 days thinking—“Do I want to continue doing politics, or should I spend time doing the consulting business I am doing right now?” I am really good at the consulting business, and I believe I can make a huge impact to not only Finland, but to the world.

Yet after speaking to a couple of hundred of people from my own network, 95% of the people told me, “Husu, you cannot stop politics now. You need to continue to impact people and to get your message through.”

I thought about it and decided to continue. One reason is because like-minded people like myself are not very represented in the Finnish parliament, and in the municipalities of Finland.

As immigrants, we are a growing number—the Finns are not. There are around 230,000 foreigners right now living in Finland. This is a number that is growing through refugees and family reunification—and they need a voice.

Therefore, after discussion with people in my network, I am more motivated than ever now.

TH: Wow, that’s interesting. I thought the Finnish government was actually trying to restrict immigration!

Husu: Well, you can always say one thing and do another. The Finnish government alone cannot decide where everyone goes in this world; people have the right to move around, and you have new immigrants entering Finland every single day.

The biggest wave of refugees coming into Finland was in October/November 2015, and we had more than 30,000 people who just came in a couple of months. Indeed, we were not ready to receive this massive number of people then, because it was so unexpected. In order to cope with the sudden influx of migrants, the government has to pacify the masses in Finland. It was as if we were suddenly overwhelmed and paralyzed by a fear of lack. Therefore, the Finnish government tried to make Finland appear less appealing for refugees.

Yet on the other hand, everyone in Finland knows that we face an aging population here, so we want highly educated people who are willing to work hard here. Currently we have 5 million people living in Finland and 20% of them are over the age of 65, and this is a growing number. So we do need immigrants in their workforce in the coming years.

TH: What are some of the misconception foreigners have about Finns/ Finland, and why do you think those are far from reality?

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Husu: There are two approaches to thinking about this question.

The first approach is to consider the perspective of immigrants who are coming to Finland. They hear about Finland via social media or maybe friends who live in this country. They have a misconception that when they come here, everything is given to them for free.

What many of these immigrants or their friends don’t understand is that resouces given to them in this country have to be funded by the taxpayers’ pockets.

A lot of immigrants I see– when they first come to this country–have no clue about the costs. Some of them even think that resources given to them are their right, with the misconception that these resources are fully funded by the European Bank and the World Bank specially for them.

Personally, this is one of the worst misconceptions that I found that some immigrants have.

The second approach is to think from the perspective of other immigrants who are already here. The misconception is that they expect things to be done for them.

This is why I hope that immigrants become more active—instead of merely knowing about their rights, I hope they also know about their responsibilities, like what is expected of them. You know, to understand that things are not free, and are funded by taxpayers too.

One thing Finland is not doing so well at the moment is the integration process. People right now are told more about their rights and less about their responsibilities. The communication of rights and responsibilities have to be done simultaneously as much as possible.

The problem is that sometimes, when some immigrants are informed of their responsibilities, they are already in trouble with the law.

I worked as a translator sometime back and I remembered that I went to the police station to interpret for these people. Most of them said “I didn’t know about this”, or “I didn’t know about that”.

So we’d ask them– “How long have you been here?”

And they’d reply saying–“We’d been here for eight years.”

And I thought, “How is this possible? How can you be in Finland for eight years and not know of your responsibilities?”

TH: Maybe some of them live in their own bubbles…

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Husu: Yeah, some of them live in bubbles. But having said that, we can’t fully blame them too. Unfortunately sometimes, society doesn’t necessarily help in the best possible way.

For in order to find out more about their responsibilities, they need to have Finnish friends. They need to have Finnish people around them to remind them and point out to them the various responsibilities.

The challenge for immigrants is that when they first came to Finland, they cannot find Finnish friends, so they’d just mix with their own group of people. So they’d just mingle and socialise with their own groups of people, of their own background.

So they don’t get to know the country better, they don’t get to know the Finns better. Some don’t’ even leave Helsinki—perhaps, they travel abroad, but they have never gone to the other parts of Finland, the “real Finland”, you know? Because the real Finland is not in Helsinki.

TH: What do you mean by the “real” Finland? That’s a very interesting point!

Husu: If you want to know Finnish people, if you want to understand their mentalities—they are very close to nature. Finnish people love their nature, trees, summer houses and lakes!

For example, most Finns have summer houses. Even the people who don’t have summer houses crave to have one. Some Finns even rent their summer houses!

Why do they do that? It’s because it is in the Finnish culture to be close to nature. In Helsinki, we don’t get a lot of nature as it is a metropolitan, international area. Therefore, when you travel 300km or 400km out of Helsinki, you can go to these small village where you can even breathe the air in a different way.

So you can experience “Finnish-ness” outside of Helsinki, and not in Helsinki. Go to places like Parkkano, near to Tampere, for instance. These are places where everyone knows everyone else, where you can understand Finnish people—they are very trustworthy, hardworking and pleasant people. So for you as an immigrant to get to them, it will take some time.

But when you do get to them, and when they accept you as one of them, then you will live a very beautiful and happy life with them.

TH: The Finnish economy has not been doing well since 2007. How do you think the Finnish welfare state can continue to take good care of the people in Finland?

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Husu: Actually, that’s a really good question! As politicians, we keep on talking about creating jobs. And once again, I’d always maintained that it is not just about creating jobs, but getting rid of most of the bureaucracy in Finland.

If you want to have a restaurant in Finland, you have to have so many permits or certificates—you’d need to go through so many agreements, to show that you can fulfil this and that. You’d need to have a hygiene card, and if this place breaks down and catches fire you’d need a fire card.

Granted, there are always restrictions when you have your businesses. For one, I would never accept any businesses that take and give nothing back to Finland. But the idea of having normal people who can make money with their own car—as in the case of Uber—that is also one way of getting people to be active.

This is why I personally support these sort of start-up businesses, where people try to be active.

We should help people to want to work. I know of a bus-driver who has five children, and he makes about 3000euros a month. If he does not go to work, and stays at home, he would get the same amount of social benefits, since there are six of them.

So you see, in general, people are not encouraged to work due to the high taxes and so on. Therefore, we should work at creating a happy working environment to encourage employees to continue to work.

And for instance, if a foreign company would like to set up a company or create something for Finland, I think they should be given tax incentives or tax breaks especially if they are increasing employment. However, the current taxes or atmosphere is not very appealing for people to come to Finland to establish companies, or to create more jobs.

So you see, basically it would be great if people start seeing that they are part of the system, and not just wait for the government to come up with a solution.

TH: Ah, so it is also about ground-up solutions…

Husu: Yes, precisely, not just top-down solutions.

Personally I’m more for ground-up solutions. Because whenever we talk about top-down solutions, it seems that politicians are doing the same things over and over again, but expecting different results.

The point is, we cannot expect this to happen. For instance, there was one multicultural association we started named Moniheli. Our board and working force are 90% immigrants. We have shown that through a bottom-up approach, you can go to wherever that you are supposed to be going. Whatever you have to do in the bottom-up approach, people have to accept. And it is only after they accept that people move and level up together.

TH: You are so eloquent in both English and Finnish! Can you give us some tips on learning Finnish?

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Husu: Finnish language is not an easy language—in fact it is very difficult! Actually my Finnish sounds to you as fluent, but it is not as perfect as you think. Nobody can actually master this language as well as people who have it as their mother tongue, because it is not your mother tongue.

For me, I came when I was 15, so I learnt Finnish fastest through football and I’m pretty good with soccer lingo, since I play with my Finnish friends!

However, I’d encourage you to be bold, and just keep practising with your Finnish friends. Just focus on making your point. Don’t worry about making mistakes, Finns won’t laugh at you, and this is one point I appreciate us for!

And always remember– even for some Finns, Finnish can be a difficult language—both written and verbal!

TH: What do you think of the current state of politics in Finland?

Husu: Well, the current state is that we have a politically-right coalition in power, and we have a situation whereby the financial situation of the country is not well.

Therefore, we are in a situation whereby we have fundamental disagreements on where and how to balance the spending and debt of the country at the moment.

In my opinion, we are living in a very fragile time. And to be perfectly honest, any political party which is in power now will be facing problems financially.

How do we go about it? There are many solutions. My view is that Finland is not a poor country at the moment; financially we are not poor, but we have debt of over 100 billion euros at the moment that we have to give back. Unemployment is rising though we’re trying to keep it low, and there is an aging population. And we still have to fulfil our responsibilities to the world—to United Nations and Europe, and the rest of the world.

Many countries have recovered from the 2008/2009 financial crisis, and financially-speaking Finland is on the right path. However, the atmosphere we have here is still not really optimistic. We have hate-speeches, people are divided and angry with one another, most people are blaming their problems on others.

As an immigrant-background person, sometimes I worry that the path this country is taking is dangerous. I personally don’t think that we will have a situation in Finland where one day, people start to take guns to shoot each other. However, people might project their anger on others by beating each other up, because of how they feel, or how they say.

Therefore, as we get our finances back on track, we have to get the atmosphere of people back on track too—the positive feeling of being one Finland, for example.

TH: What are the three things you are most proud of as a Finnish citizen?

Husu: The first thing I’m proud of is the Finnish identity. It took me ten years to accept it, and now I am proud of it.

The second thing I’m proud of is freedom and equal rights. No matter what the colour of your skin or religion, we have freedom of speech and expression here in Finland.

The third thing I’m proud of is launching Finland’s Multicultural Independence’s Party. It is a celebration of the independence day of Finland by immigrants. It started from a really small idea, and we have done it now for ten years!

TH: Ground-up again, undoubtedly.

Husu: Yes! And I hope to be alive and well next year when Finland turns 100 years. We are going to have 1000 people celebrating Finland’s Multicultural Independence Party at the Finlandia Talo in 2017!

So we are going to have the whole city and whole country celebrating independence day 2017 next year, and as a Finnish citizen I’m really proud of this.

TH: How about the one thing you are not so proud of as a Finnish citizen?

Husu: The one thing I’m not so proud of is not making the Finnish identity attractive enough. When immigrants go to Canada or America, after 6 months or a year, you will see them using the term I’m a Canadian-Chinese, or I’m an American-African. So you would observe them adding their ethnicity after their nationalities.

But why don’t people say that they are Finnish-Somali, or Finnish-Malays, for instance? You see, after a while of staying here, immigrants are still saying that they are Russians. They are Thais. They are Estonians. Why don’t we say we are Finnish-Russian, Finnish-Thais, or Finnish-Estonians?

TH: OMG you are right! Even in Singapore, we have Singaporean-Chinese, Singaporean-Malay, and Singaporean-Indians.

Husu: Precisely. I don’t know why. And I’m disappointed even. Sometimes when I say I am Finnish-Somali, it pisses some of my friends off. They think, “Ah, so you want to be a Finn”. That’s crazy, because I don’t want to be a Finn—I am a Finn by nationality, and I want to be proud of my identity.

So my hope for all immigrants is that if they want to come here, and the intention is to stay here, and they love Finland, then be proud of the identity.

You see, there is a Finnish great man Zacharias Topelius who said—

“If you love this country in your heart, and if you want the best for it, and if you are ready to accept its rules and regulations, to support it in good and bad times, then by definition, you are a Finn.”

And I absolutely love Finland and Topelius’s definition of a “Finn”. When you accept this feeling in your heart, then it is possible for you to see the world in a different way.

Whenever you have an identity crisis— sexual, racial or a work-related– you’d always be thinking of yourself as an outsider. As long as this happens, you will never be giving your best to the country and its development. I live in this country, I love this country, and I accept this country in my heart. So all my mind is how to derive solutions to solve problems for this country, and how to make this country better.

So you see, I don’t have any identity crisis. I hope we can solve this identity crisis on the part of any immigrants within six months to two years when they come into this country.

If you want to stay in this country, it has to be appealing enough for you to say that you want to be in this country, you want to make this country better, and this country is the best country in the world!

TH: Wow, that’s really some awesome thinking! It’s like once you still say you are “Somali” after eight years, it’s sort of being stuck in the same “Us-versus-Them” paradigm.

Husu: Yep! If after eight years you still say “us Somalis”, then by definition you are not a Finn.

However, if you use the term I’m a Somali-Finn, or Finn-Somali, then you communicate that you have adopted this country as home.

And you have accepted the Finnish-ness and love this country.

TH: Wow, excellent point. So it is the heart, isn’t it.

Husu: Yes, it is the heart. These are things that cannot be changed with paper or legalism, but they might be changed with a proud national movement, or a paradigm shift in general of how nationality and ethnicity are being conceptualised.

Let me give an example of Malaysia. I have met this Indian lady before, and when I asked where she was from, she said “Malaysia, and I’m a Malay.” I was puzzled and asked why she said she is Malay when she obviously looked Indian. Then she told me that in Malaysia, they are one country, one nation, and one Malaysian. Even if you go into shops in Chinatown in Malaysian, Chinese folks will introduce themselves as Malaysians first.

However, when you go to a Chinese store in Finland, store owners will tend to say that they are from China.

TH: Yeah, that’s really true! Now that you mentioned it…It seems that this incident has been bothering you for a while already.

Husu: Yes. For the first six to seven years after reaching Finland, I was an angry young man.

This is because I didn’t like Finland, I didn’t like Finns, and I didn’t like the feeling I had in me. I understood it that this is “their country”, this is not “my country”.

Then as soon as I handled the identity problem– that in my heart, I am 100% Finn– I got rid of the bad feeling.

Of course, there are people who come to me and tell me that “You’re not a Finn, dream on”, but I don’t listen to them. They write everyday to me, on my social media—you’re not a Finn, but honestly, I’d just ignore them.

So there would be hate speech like, “You’d never be a Finn, you f*ckng nigger, you f*cking black, go and die, blablabla”—BUT I will never listen, because I know in my heart that I am a Finn.

TH: I can never understand why people post such hateful comments on social media.

Husu: Because THEY have a huge identity crisis themselves, haha!

For example, if someone were to come to me and say that they are Somali, it’d be a huge compliment for me, because they must have really liked being a Somali enough to want to become one!

So likewise, if someone were to come to a Finn and say, “I’m a Finn”, shouldn’t the natural reaction of the Finn be like “Wow, I must be really great for someone to want to a Finn”?

You know, nobody has ever said what a Finn is. It’s not a white-person, blue-eyed, NO! Admittedly, if you look at the media, you’d get this standard definition of a Finn.

But if you ask around or look at the constitution, nowhere does it define the look of a Finn–nowhere does it say that “a Finn” is a white person.

TH: Can you tell us the top 3 things/ traits you regard as “Finnish”?

sauna

Husu:

  • Sauna.
  • Nature.
  • Lakes.
  • And one more as a bonus—Angry Birds!

I would have said “Nokia”, but not anymore. So… “Angry Birds”. You have to think about Angry Birds in this way, “Angry” and “Birds”. It’s very Finnish no matter how you look at it! ☺

TH: What are some advice you have for aspiring young Finns who want to become a Finnish politician like yourself?

Husu:

  • Always say out loud what you think.
  • Don’t assume. Assumptions are silly—don’t assume.

Don’t assume that all Swedish-Finns have wealth. Don’t assume that just because a person is black, he is suspicious or likely to commit crimes. Don’t assume that when a person is white, they are friendly or the converse: not friendly.

  • And use the bottom-up approach.

TH: What is the one 100 year-old birthday wish you would make for Finland, since 2017 is Finland’s 100 years of independence?

Husu: You have been a great country. I wish you one thousand and one years of joy and happiness!


It was truly a huge privilege having Husu with us. We hope you have enjoyed this interview as much as we did!

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme. This series  “What is Finnish-ness”? is endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feel free to follow Husu on his facebook page or on twitter @husu78 . Photographs courtesy of Husu, Iltalehti and Unsplash.🙂