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Former President Halonen: Finland’s reputation has received a blow

Finland’s 11th President Tarja Halonen is of the opinion that Finland’s image on the world stage has suffered in response to recent attacks on asylum seekers. In an A-Studio interview Friday evening, the former leader said that in the eyes of many Finland is now seen as growing closer in affinity to Eastern European countries like the Baltics, Romania and Hungary.

Tarja Halonen
Image: Yle

Tarja Halonen served from 2000 to 2012 as Finland’s President and for years prior to that as a Social Democrat MP. In addition to her political career, Halonen has had a long and extensive career in trade unions and different non-governmental organizations.

In an A-Studio interview on Friday, Halonen agreed that violent acts and protests against refugees entering the country have directly influenced Finland’s image abroad.

“And in a negative way, of course. The person wrapped in sheets was one such incident. The fact that Finland has traditionally been associated with the Nordic countries, which have been seen to be prosperous, supportive of international cooperation and tolerant has now been called into question. Some people are thinking whether Finland can really identify itself as a Nordic country anymore”, the former president said.

Dislike of the foreign or strange

Halonen says when it comes to talk of xenophobia, for example, Finland is often grouped with Eastern European countries over its Nordic neighbours.  

“There are Finns whose behaviour is in line with the classic definition of a racist. The majority of us are nevertheless just reticent, inclined to express slightly more negative emotions than positive ones. On an international scale, however, we Finns tend to have a very calm attitude towards most things.”

Should have thought twice

Attacks on refugees fleeing violence in their homelands and criticism of the European Union’s immigration policy are commonplace in Europe in recent months, but news of a Lahti protester dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit nevertheless made its mark in international headlines.

Halonen says that in general, people are accustomed to seeing Finland as a reserved and peace-loving place. Against this background, she says, the young man’s insensitive costume choice inspired a particularly strong reaction in the outside world.

“The lesson to be learnt here is naturally that when you set out to do something, it doesn’t just happen in the here and now. It could also have enormous effects elsewhere.”

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