The longer I live away from Finland, the more apparent its isolated position on the map seems to be.
When the Swedish speaking minority of Finland is being threatened on social media and the head of the successful True Finns party expresses his European ideals by marching as a part of Paris’s demonstration against gay marriage, I think that Finland could do with a little bit more of a worldly international influence.
It’s taken a long time for Finland to become even slightly multicultural. When I was growing up, I was taught that being a Finn means you’re as lucky as a lottery winner. I think I only saw my first foreigner at the age of 12, when Somali refugees were sent to my town in the Finnish countryside. A couple of years later our school class was joined by a New Zealand exchange student. It dominated discussion for weeks to come.
But by then it had already become clear for me that other nationalities did not compare being in Finland to a lottery jackpot. Immigration numbers were small until the 1990s, as were the numbers of foreign visitors.
Although cosmopolitan visitors probably still don’t consider Finland to be on the top of the list of the most attractive destinations to move to, there have been a few brave ones who have taken that step.
I have been lucky enough to get to know such great individuals. I know one German whose dream may be something like living in a lighthouse on the Faroe Islands. But while waiting for a suitable lighthouse to come up for sale, she is staying in Helsinki. Another one was an American who somehow got stuck in Finland and decided to stay. I think he just became lost in the countryside and got brainwashed.
What the actual statistics indicate is that the largest immigrant group in Finland is the Russians – not very surprising, considering that they’re Finland’s neighbours. There have been a lot of Estonians moving to Finland too. Better salaries and almost no language barriers have been the traditional reasons for our southern neighbours to emigrate.
Next on the list you find a number of countries with small numbers. Their reasons are varied. Some are highly educated and come to work for top salaries at the ECHA (The European Chemicals Agency) or to design mobile phones at Nokia. And then there is probably the most common reason, the one you cannot miss if you fly Finnair between London and Helsinki, as I do. The planes are always packed with couples of British guys and Finnish girls with long blonde hair. Yes, love is a reason to immigrate to Finland.
Even though there are always people opposing, a majority of Finns still do believe that the country needs foreign workers and talent. Looking at the passengers in the planes bound for Helsinki airport makes me wonder if Finland should just make sure that the young generations go abroad for some time and hopefully return with better halves.
That could be the key for a better Finnish future and society.
Markus Hippi is a producer for Monocle 24.