The serpent that swam into the news

The Serpent That Swam Into the News

A young woman sits in a prayer position, muttering a mantra that sounds like a prayer. I pass her quickly, at a distance, just so I don’t end up bending down in front of her. But the woman is not alone. On the same street, an old man sits in a prayerful attitude - perhaps the woman's father? Some blocks away, at the Stockmann delicatessen entrance an old woman coughs, dressed in rags – the family's grandmother?

The Satamarakennus (Harbor Building) was closed a few weeks ago. "The beggar problem" has become an increasingly prominent part of the downtown cityscape. Everyone is forced take a position on it, and many are voting with their feet. The mayor has already expressed a position on the matter. The Roma are talked about as a problematic minority. During the Second World War there were other minorities that were considered problematic in Europe, and were elimi-nated - with the moral approval of many - by the millions.

It’s in the news, too. Most often described as "a problem to be solved." Not just our problem, but a common problem throughout Europe. Roma culture has a resistance to the modern - or perhaps just the globalized? - rules of the game. They are suspicious of education as a means of learning the rules of the game of a foreign culture. Like many other indigenous people, they want to continue to live honorably within their own traditions. But mostly they are driven to the northern and southern cities to seek a living in the streets, by begging or by illegal means.

This is how we know "them". But too often we forget that even "they" have mothers and fa-thers and want to live as dignified a life as possible. This is true for anyone, whether your re-frigerator is full and a lamp burns in every cozy room, or you’re sunk in the depths of the bread line, whether you feel safe, or so unsafe that all your spare time is spent hunting for a sense of security or in a deep torpor.

In addition to the Roma, there are many others arriving, almost always from the south. We re-ceive each arrival in the shape of a form to fill out for asylum or immigration. Believe me, I think they should have to fill out these forms – I am, after all, an overeducated Finnish citizen. And they fill them out obediently without understanding any of the officialese, because they really believe that this is about the closest place to paradise that they can imagine on earth.

What they don’t know is that here, too, there are people without homes, friends, help, support. That, in fact, particularly here there are such people, but they are silent! People who move from one bread line to the next and can’t fill out a single form. In fact, they don’t even know about the forms, don’t even know they exist. Their problems won’t be solved by their own efforts.

"Violence overshadows the Nigerian elections' declares the national television and radio news. Violence which has killed ten people. Corresponding headlines from South Africa and Ivory Coast read: "South Africa - Land of Hope," "World Cup Football 2010" and "Ivory Coast Troops fire on UN Weapons Inspectors", "Côte d'Ivoire's Cocoa Supply Still in Sufficient," "Violence Threatens to Escalate on Ivory Coast."

We watch news from the whole African continent, all the Africas, with blinders on, one-eyed and deaf. And that one eye always singles out the election surprises, the wars, the sporting events we all collectively cheer. That’s when we can scream our throats hoarse for our national team. Or - if it’s not looking too good for our team - cheer for our neighbor, or more radical still, another team that represents our continent.

Meanwhile an internet search tells us that in the upcoming parliamentary elections, "only a few Finland Swedish intend to vote."

The first results of a search for “True Finns” are "Coalition Party and True Finns Have the Least in Common" and “Popularity of True Finns At a Record High". The True Finns, who have climbed to a level of support of nearly 20 percent at a record pace, would like to close our bor-ders and enact an unprecedentedly tough immigration policy (or perhaps end immigration alto-gether) and a cultural policy that yearns for the “National Romantic” art of over a hundred years ago. The “patriotic” art of Jean Sibelius and Albert Edelfelt, who spoke Swedish as their mother tongue, represent the values of the supporters of the the “traditionalist” True Finns.

Our borders have been opened, legally or illegally, to all kinds of phenomena – currencies, com-panies and individuals – citizens, those without citizenship, an endless cycle of people and goods, those who are playing with their lives and those looking for a different kind of security. There are many interests using the prop of patriotism or liberalism in an effort to establish sup-port for a wide range of ideas, whether these relate to immigration, Russia, Africa, emerging and developed countries, sexual minorities, different ethnicities, Islam, freedom of speech, Latin America, democracy, or gender inequality.

This one-eyed culture of silence is emerging together with a complex crisis that will either force us to take a stand or drive some interested parties to find opportunistic uses for large-scale cri-ses. When a muzzle is taken off after a long silence, the noise is usually terrible, downright deafening, and the ensuing fuss forces us to take a stand. Formerly unwanted and undesirable positions appear. A wide range of opinion makers, governmental bodies, NGOs, businesses and political actors and institutions will try to take advantage of the situation. Even more meaningful and far-reaching than the short attention span of opportunism are the large-scale structural changes in the state, in the values and attitudes of individuals and political institutions and ac-tors. A still more important issue for our common future is whether our words match our deeds.

Nationalism in its various forms usually raises its ugly head when something somewhere is al-ready on fire. Our House of Parliament has been lit on fire and the Bank of Finland will follow suit, not to mention businesses, which will be foremost among the truly trans- and counter-illuminating forces of our society to be destroyed. Even the public sector can no longer rest in peace. I’m not talking about Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, or South Africa. I’m talking about this paradise of peace which has been infiltrated by a serpent. That serpent is so loud, and so silent, that the noise it makes penetrates our ears. We are forced to take a stand. It is an unpleasant reminder that we, too, may some day drop into an attitude of prayer on a street corner. And when that happens, who will drop ten cents into our coffee cup?


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