Finnish Values

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö

I went to school with Finnish kids, meaning the grandchildren of people who had emigrated to Minnesota eighty or ninety or a hundred years earlier “seeking a better life,” which in Finnish President Sauli Niinistö’s new and bold reading of “western values” is a pejorative phrase. Back then, it meant escaping bone-crushing poverty, unemployment and sometimes even famine in Finland itself.

It was a really a good thing Finns immigrated to Minnesota in such large numbers because, especially up on the Iron Range (the northeastern part of the state where the great Bob Dylan hails from), the Finns were the most militant and well-organized trade unionists among the newcomers (and the old-timers), who also included other Scandinavians and lots of folk from Yugoslavia.

I won’t bore you with the details (you can read whole books on the subject), but many of these newly arrived Finns were (or became, under the pressure of the working conditions they faced in their new country) kick-ass left-wing radicals, and their values definitely changed the state’s collective values for the better. I imagined that things have slipped in this respect since I was a kid (or, rather, since when my parents were kids), but Minnesota once had the reputation of being the most “social democratic” state in the Union, and it had got that way due in no small part to the militant Finns and the injection of funny “alien” values they gave our fair state.

Why do you think Bob Dylan (a middle-class Jew from Hibbing) idolized Woody Guthrie? Because Guthrie preached and lived the values that were professed and lived by hundreds of thousand people in Dylan’s own native land, the mighty Iron Range of northern Minnesota.

As an amateur friend of Finland, it’s maybe not my place to say this, but I think the best thing that could happen to Finland right now would be for the definition of Finnishness to become a lot more inclusive as quickly as possible, just as the definition of being Minnesotan has had to expand, successively and rapidly, to include the rabble-rousing Finns, the hardworking Hmong, the elegant Somalis, and the absolutely essential in all ways Mexicans, just to mention a few groups of immigrants and refugees who have enriched our state in many and different ways.

Because the alternative, you might have guessed, is pandering to the neo-Nazis, racists, and hatemongers who have suddenly felt emboldened, after their forebears were thoroughly defeated in WWII, to come out of their holes and caves and strut their stuff again. And President Niinistö strangely feels more sympathy for the “hurt feelings” of these thugs than for people who in their vast majority are not (“quaintly,” I want to say) just “seeking a better life,” but actually escaping from all-out war, bloody mayhem, and total societal breakdown.

I really regret that Pekka Haavisto of the Greens was not elected president of Finland in 2012. He would not have sunk to this new low in the history of Finland.

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