Halonen and Ahtisarri Differ Slightly On Immigration

Halonen and Ahtisaari differ slightly on immigration

President Halonen and predecessors attend Presidential Forum Tuesday

March 17, 2009

Finnish President Tarja Halonen says that she is not surprised at the recent growth in anti-foreigner sentiment in Finland.

It has been smoldering under the surface for a long time, Halonen said on Tuesday at the ninth Presidential Forum held at the Presidents palace in Helsinki.

The President was commenting on the results of Tuesdays poll, which was commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat and conducted by Suomen Gallup, according to which support for increased immigration had declined to 45 per cent from 55 per cent in September 2007.

It is human to notice that one is prejudiced, Halonen observed.

In her speech Halonen warned against treating immigrants as mere available labour. She said that while she is in favour of free migration, she is opposed to the idea of importing labour.

People must not be handled as mere labour. Work is important, but people do not live on work alone. We need to take care of immigrants also when they get old.

Former President Martti Ahtisaari noted that his views diverge somewhat from those of President Halonen. In his view, there is nothing wrong with trying to encourage people with the kinds of skills that the country needs to immigrate to Finland. However, he emphasised the need to focus on refugee policy as well.

He pointed out that Finland is not an easy country for immigrants to come to. We have a foreign culture, a unique language, and a rough climate.

He emphasised the importance of tolerance. Finns should see arrivals as a resource, and not a burden.

Ahtisaari also underscored the importance of teaching the Finnish language and culture to immigrants. He said that there are examples in many European countries how integration of immigrants can fail.

He also noted that he had heard an estimate in the late 1990s that getting 20,000 immigrants a year might not necessarily be enough, and that about 40,000 newcomers would be needed each year.

Ahtisaari recalled that in the mid-70s, former Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party leader Kalevi Sorsa said in an interview that Finland would need to take in 15,000 immigrants a year in the future. It brought on a fierce reaction, and some people resigned from the [Social Democratic] Party.

President Halonen attributed growth in anti-immigrant sentiment to history.

When the neighbours are the big Russia and the rich Sweden, it affects the Finns self-esteem. Although the Finns are a majority in Finland, we experience ourselves to be a minority of some kind.

Halonen said that possible contributors to this feeling of being a minority include historical experiences of the Civil War, the Winter and Continuation Wars, and language disputes between the majority Finnish speakers and the Swedish-language minority.

Strengthening the Finns own identity is significant in the global world, and this identity is not endangered by a few foreigners moving here. We should send the message to the world that we are a small and tolerant state.


More on this subject:

Vanhanen: Finland needs immigration despite present economic problems

Previously in HS International Edition:
Poll: Rural residents and blue-collar workers most negative toward immigration (17.3.2009)