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  • The Tapanila gang-rape shocked the quiet Helsinki suburb, and all of Finland. Many wondered why these second-generation Somalis, citizens of Finland, would carry out such a savage attack.

  • The rapists were eventually brought to trial. One was sentenced to a year and four months imprisonment, two were given one-year prison sentences and two others were acquitted. Penalties were softened due to the age of the rapists.

  • "1,010 rapes were reported to the police in 2014, according to the Official Statistics of Finland. The number of suspected immigrants in these cases is about three times higher than of the suspected natives in relation to the population." – Finland Today.

  • The criminal law prohibiting blasphemy seem archaic in the eyes of many Finns, especially after the attack on the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Unsuccessful attempts to decriminalize blasphemy took place between the 1910s until the 1990s. For many critics the concept of prohibited hate speech is problematic: there is no clear definition, a lapse that leads to confusion and acrimony.

Finland -- an open country that prides itself on respecting different ways of life, cultures and religions -- is being greatly tested by the wave of Middle Eastern asylum seekers.

Finland is a homogenous country that has roughly 5.5 million inhabitants, about 4% of which are foreign[1]. Twenty years ago, thousands of Somalis immigrated to Finland. In the last decade or so, more international students came to study, and more foreigners came to live and work.

Finnish universities and the academia are of a high level, and most Finns speak some English. But it is not easy for foreigners to find jobs. The barrier is the language: Finnish, like Hungarian, is a part of the Finno-Ugric languages, and difficult to learn.

How many asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan arrived in Finland in 2015? The figures keep changing. Authorities estimate between 30,000 and 50,000 -- significant numbers in terms of the ratio of migrants to the native population.

Multiculturalism, Migration Policy, and the Law

"Hate speech" (vihapuhe) is defined in Finland as "speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation." Hate speech is prohibited if such an act is a kind of ethnic agitation. For many critics -- including Jussi Kristian Halla-aho, a member of the European Parliament for the True Finns Party -- the concept of prohibited hate speech is problematic: there is no clear definition, a lapse that leads to confusion and acrimony.

The criminal law prohibiting blasphemy seem archaic in the eyes of many Finns, especially after the attack on the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Many Finns believe that freedom of speech should be absolute. Unsuccessful attempts to decriminalize blasphemy took place between the 1910s until the 1990s. In one extreme case, Halla-aho was fined in 2008 for making links between Islam and paedophilia on his personal blog.

The current immigration situation in Finland is exceptional in nature. Muslims fleeing from the Middle East have opened up a humanitarian crisis the likes of which have not been seen in Europe in a long time. International public opinion and EU policy in the field are being tested. The current flow of Muslims through Sweden to northern Finland is chaotic.

The Ministry of the Interior website states that "Finland is an open and safe country" and explains the country's policy toward migration:

"The Strategy views migration as an opportunity: mobility creates international networks and brings with it new ways of doing things. Migration will help to answer Finland's dependency ratio problem, but at the same time, competition for workers between countries will increase. To succeed in this competition, Finland must be able to effectively attract skilled workers who will stay in the country for the longer term. As a responsible member of the international community, Finland is committed to providing international protection to those who need it."

The ministry also adds that "everyone can find a role to play," and "diversity is part of everyday life."

Government officials have taken this strategy personally. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä attracted the attention of the international media last autumn when he offered his second home in Kempele to refugees. He stressed the values of mercy and compassion in the context of immigration.

While the Finnish government can produce liberal policies calling for more openness towards immigration, real politics eventually come into play. When it came time to vote in Brussels on the EU's quota system for refugees and their relocation in EU countries, Finland abstained.

The ruling center-right political party, the Center Party (Keskusta), is both pragmatic and skeptical towards the European Union. The second most powerful political party, the True Finns (Perussuoamalaiset), is known for its anti-EU, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric; its leader, Timo Soini, is the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The political cooperation between the Center Party and the True Finns exemplifies a powerful point on Finnish democracy: consensus is important.

Prior to last year's election, the True Finns website stated: "Finland is not to make everybody happy in the world. Finland should take care of the Finns first." The slogan explains much about the seemingly contradictory domestic and international immigration policies of the Finnish government.

The people of Finland have also commented on their government's stance on immigration by ousting of former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb in the 2015 election.[2] The President of the Republic, Sauli Väinämö Niinistö, said in February 2016 that international commitments are treated too seriously, and that Finland does not the control migration flows. Niinistö's comments were deemed politically incorrect and censored from public television for two days.

The Rape Problem

With all of Finland's talk of multiculturalism and immigration, new narratives about the corrosive effects of both multiculturalism and the wave of asylum seekers have surfaced in the media, shocking both the government and the public. News stories discuss the increase in unemployment, the mounting cost of social benefits during the decline of welfare state, problems in educating foreigners, and issues of assimilation with the majority culture, which respects Finnish values and a secular, liberal and open society -- all different from traditional Muslim values.

In Finland, more and more cases of Finnish girls and women being raped by asylum seekers are being widely publicized. Much of Finnish society seems shocked, embarrassed and angry because of the increase in rapes perpetrated by asylum seekers. These crimes have provoked many nationalists, and led to the establishment of a paramilitary movement known as the Soldiers of Odin. Members of the movement view themselves as Finnish patriots, roaming the streets of Finland, protecting against Muslim immigrant offenders.

The Soldiers of Odin are accused of being far-right and may de facto be related to previous skinhead movements from the 1990s. Their uniform is all black attire and their symbol makes reference to the ancient Viking god, Odin.

Members of the paramilitary movement known as the Soldiers of Odin view themselves as Finnish patriots, roaming the streets of Finland, protecting against Muslim immigrant offenders. Critics accuse them of being far-right, and they may de facto be related to previous skinhead movements from the 1990s.

The Tapanila Rape

On March 9, 2015, five males gang-raped a young Finnish woman near the Tapanila railway station. The rapists were of Somali heritage and between the ages of 15-18. According to reports, the Somalis boarded the same train as the woman and began harassing her. They followed her off the train and, under cover of darkness, brutally raped her in a nearby park. They were immediately caught.

The Tapanila rape shocked the quiet suburb, which lies on the outskirts of Helsinki, and all of Finland too. Many were left wondering why these second-generation Somali citizens of Finland would carry out such a savage attack.

When news of the attack first came to light, it was published by a conservative website, and many in Finland claimed it was a false report. However, authorities soon confirmed that the rape occurred, and uproar ensued.

According to an article published by Finland Today, the Somali community feared that its members would be unfairly labelled as criminals, and racist attacks would increase. However, the article also noted that

"1,010 rapes were reported to the police in 2014, according to the Official Statistics of Finland. The number of suspected immigrants in these cases is about three times higher than of the suspected natives in relation to the population. There is no unambiguous answer to why this is the case and is yet to be researched."

The rapists were eventually brought to trial. One was sentenced to a year and four months imprisonment, two were given one-year prison sentences and two others were acquitted. Penalties were softened due to the age of the rapists. Prosecutor Eija Velitski called the sentencing "embarrassing." The social impact of the attack spread far and wide.

The Kempele Rape

A second attack, the so-called Kempele rape, was met with a reaction by the prime minister himself. Kempele is a small town of roughly 15,000 inhabitants, located near Oulu. It is more famously known for its innovative entrepreneurs and high levels of overall satisfaction and happiness of its residents.

On the evening of November 23, 2015, a 14-year-old girl was walking home in Kempele, when a 17-year-old immigrant from Afghanistan attacked and raped her. She was later found by locals walking through the area.

A police dog led authorities to a nearby refugee center for underage asylum seekers. "The police dog patrol followed the tracks of the suspects, which led to an apartment. From the apartment, the police caught two men who are now suspected of aggravated statutory rape and aggravated child sexual abuse," the police said in a statement. Police could not immediately interrogate the suspects because a qualified interpreter was unavailable. The 17-year-old denied any involvement in the attack, and the second suspect was eventually freed.

The Kempele rape caused outrage in Finland. Seppo Kolehmainen, the National Police Commissioner, admitted after the attack that Finnish authorities had previously received reports of disturbances, physical altercations, thefts and inappropriate treatment of women from in and around the reception center.

The Soldiers of Odin

The Tapanila and Kempele rape cases became fertile ground for Finnish nationalists. According to their Finnish Facebook page (their website has been taken down), the Soldiers of Odin blame "Islamist intruders" for the "uncertainty, lack of safety and crime in Finland." The nationalist movement claims that the police have lost control and keeping order on the streets is now up to them. They say that preventing Muslim immigrants from committing crimes, especially rape, is one of their main priorities.

The Soldiers of Odin recently expanded their patrols to the city of Joensuu, in Eastern Finland. Paradoxically, the National Police Commissioner expressed his support for this type of self-organized behavior by the Finnish people. Some liberal Finns have accused the commissioner of racism and have demanded his dismissal.

Next for Finland?

Finland is a peaceful society, and many Finns are afraid of the consequences of the latest wave of immigration. However, due to political correctness and their own national character, most Finns abstain from openly expressing their concerns. But now the curtain of silence and political correctness has been fractured.

Finnish culture, law and policy encourage all people to live together despite cultural or ethnic difficulties. However, this can only go so far. Finns are now demanding action. The government must "do something" to show that Finland is still safe and to limit immigration.

Dawid Bunikowski, has a Doctor of Law (Nicolaus Copernicus University). He teaches at the University of Eastern Finland (Law School), is an Associate in Cardiff Centre for Law and Religion (UK).


[1] There is also a minority of the Swedish-speaking Finns (about 5% of the population), as well as a Russian minority (about 1.5%). For five centuries, Finland had been occupied by Sweden (by 1809). Later, it was a part of the Russian Empire (until 1917).

[2] The victory of two EU-skeptic parties over the EU-enthusiastic and pro-immigrant Kokoomus Party says much about the feelings of injustice felt by the Finnish public. But while Stubb's Kokoomus joined the governmental coalition with Soini and Sipilä, its position is weak. Today, the Finnish government is at a crossroads. Tensions are running high and beginning slowly to fracture the nationalists, led by Soini's party.

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