Some 200 guests from different backgrounds took part in the afternoon event held at Cultural Centre Caisa in Helsinki City centre.
The occasion started on a sombre note, with a one-minute silence observed for Nelson Mandela, who passed away the previous night.
After this, the festivities kicked off with a multilingual rendition of ‘Maamme Laulu’, Finland’s national anthem.
Somalia-born Mohamed Abdirahim Hussein, better known as Yle Puhe talk radio host ‘Husu’, is the man behind the event.
“New immigrants to Finland have an identity problem, often they don’t feel part of society here,” Husu says, continuing: “If immigrants are having difficulty getting into society, then we should look for important things and events that bring people together.”
Multicultural Independence Day was Husu’s attempt to create such an event:
“[This is] important, because as people who left their countries because of war, lack of democracy, lack of freedom of speech and so many other things, when you come to a country like Finland, and you find these things here, you appreciate them. But sometimes it takes you a little bit time before you get it. And as you know, the Finnish mentality is not so welcoming sometimes, so we try to create our own ways of culture in Finland. So this is our new culture as the new Finns. “
Idea sparked by ‘Unknown Soldier’
Husu remembers watching the Finnish classic Winter War movie “The Unknown Soldier” back in 2005, and wanting to share in the patriotic sentiments the film roused in Finns. From this he got the idea of an Independence Day bash for people of foreign origin.
The head of Cultural Centre Caisa at the time, Johanna Maula, liked Husu’s idea, and tasked him with organising a celebration the following year, 2006.
The event branched out beyond Helsinki in 2007, when Finland celebrated 90 years of Independence. With the support of the Ministry of Education, Multicultural Independence Day was hosted in Espoo, Vantaa, Turku Tampere and Kajaani, attracting some 2,000 people in total.
The organiser of this year’s celebrations is Moniheli, an association promoting diversity and interculturality in Finland.
Government greetings from Haavisto
Speaking at the event, Minister for International Development Pekka Haavisto conveyed regards from the Finnish government to all those present.
“I think it is important that us politicians and Finnish citizens show that we have the respect for those who have moved here, who have changed their lives to here, who are maybe married to a Finn, and so on. And I think it’s also one way, being present here today, to show the respect to those who have chosen Finland as their country and want to build this country,” Haavisto told Yle before his speech.
In considering the importance of the event, the Minister spoke out against intolerance:
“It’s very important that we show tolerance to each and everyone. And as we see at the same time the racist tendencies, all kinds of negative feelings growing around, in Europe and worldwide, it’s very important that here in Finland we also pay attention that tolerance is a very big value in our country.”
In addition to Haavisto, speakers at Caisa included Peter Kariuki from the Ministry of the Interior and Irma Lähdesmäki representing Helsinki war veterans. It was not all speeches, however; the afternoon also featured cultural programme with music bands and dance performances, as well as food.