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Ahtisaari: “Finland won’t survive without foreign labour”

The Nobel laureate and peace negotiator says he is worried about how Finland’s reputation is being hurt by calls to block immigration.

Martti Ahtisaari
Martti Ahtisaari Image: Yle

Former President Martti Ahtisaari has spoken out strongly in favour of a multicultural Finland.

On a visit to Oulu on Wednesday, the Nobel Peace Prize-winner told Yle that he has been saddened by the domestic debate over immigration, noting that it has harmed Finland’s international reputation.

“I have monitored the debate over immigration with considerable sorrow. Throughout my life, I have always seen myself as a Finn, a Nordic, a European and a world citizen,” he said.

Ahtisaari pointed to calculations that the ageing of Finland’s population will require more workers from abroad.

“People here are getting older. I’m part of that group, too. Unless we want to keep working longer, we won’t survive without foreign labour,” said the 78-year-old former UN envoy. In 2008 Ahtisaari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his decisive role in mediating peace in places such as Aceh, Namibia, Northern Ireland and the Balkans.

Nordic democracy must be accepted

Ahtisaari expressed concern over how Finland’s reputation internationally is being affected by statements denouncing multiculturalism. The ex-president stressed his faith in an open, international Finland.

“Of course it has an impact, as there have been similar phenomena in various parts of Europe. But it must also be a given that everyone who comes to Finland must accept our Nordic democracy,” he added.

Ahtisaari said he still considers Finland to be an open nation despite the furore in recent days. It followed a social media posting by far-right Finns Party MP Olli Immonen last weekend, who aggressively called for a “fight” against “enemies” who back multiculturalism in Finland.

“We’re clearly on the plus side,” he told Yle. “Each of us has a responsibility to say what kind of country we want to live in. That should not be very difficult.”

On Tuesday evening, more than 15,000 people gathered in Helsinki calling for an open, multicultural Finland. Demonstrations were organised throughout the country, triggered by Immonen’s comments. Representatives of all parties in Parliament – including the Finns Party – spoke at the Helsinki event.

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