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Celebrating Finnish Independence in Sweden

I spend this year’s Finnish Independence Day on a ship. For once I didn’t watch the reception at the Presidential Palace, as I and five colleagues were on our way to visit the Finnish community of Nyköping parish in Sweden. Our contact people there were pastor Pertti and Kaarina Torppa; Pertti is well known to Keravans, having worked in Kerava parish some years ago.

     I was particularly interested in meeting ex-pat Finns as I am an ex-pat myself. Many of the people at the celebration (on Saturday 7th) were in their seventies and had left Finland in the 1960s. Many had worked at the local factory. This older generation spoke fluent Finnish, but their adult children and grandchildren on the whole did not – we chatted with one man who understood Finnish but answered us in Swedish. One lady spoke to me in Meänkieli, before thankfully switching to a mixture of Finnish and Swedish. Language ability is of course only one aspect of national pride – everyone there was united in their sense of Finnish heritage.

     It was a merry gathering – there was good food and good music, with old favourites such as Siniset ja valkoiset going down well. There were speeches, games and prayers. Apparently there had been numerous events on the previous day in the local area for these ruotsinsuomalaiset, as they make up no less than ten percent of the local population.

     All was not merriment, however. I heard numerous depressing stories of how these people had suffered from discrimination. The locals had looked down on the newcomers, immigrants to their country, tolerated but not fully accepted, doing the hard manual labour which the locals refused to do. Finns were seen to in intellectually inferior, unfit for demanding tasks; many saw them as particularly prone to crime and drunkenness. These attitudes are apparently still widespread today. The most extraordinary claim I heard was that Finns were unable to learn English properly. I have met hundreds, if not thousands of Finns who speak excellent English, many of whom also have an excellent accent. You most certainly can learn a foreign language to the highest level even if your own mother tongue is unrelated to it.

     Racism can be found everywhere. It can take different forms but is always based on the utterly unchristian idea that I am better, you are worse. Racism goes completely against Jesus Christ’s command to love one another. Jesus himself lived as an ex-pat in Egypt for his early years and therefore had first hand experience of what life abroad felt like. There are numerous other Bible passages that refer to this subject. A few weeks ago the gospel of the day was the Sheep and goats pronouncement from Matthew 25. I hope every racist will read Christ’s words ”I was a stranger and you didn’t take me in” and think what they mean.

Chris Montgomery

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