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Melania Trump feeds stigma of submissive E. European woman, Finnish author writes in scathing open letter

Finnish author Sofi Oksanen has published a scathing open letter to US First Lady Melania Trump, urging her to speak up about the stigmatisation and sexualisation of women from the former Soviet bloc. The letter, printed in several newspapers in four languages across the Nordic countries on Thursday, calls on Trump to break her silence and help change the world.

SofI Oksanen ja Melania Trump.
Finnish author Sofi Oksanen (on left) and First Lady of the United States Melania Trump. Image: Toni Härkönen ja Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Finnish writer and playwright Sofi Oksanen wrote an open letter to the US First Lady Melania Trump in several Nordic newspapers on Thursday, saying that Trump should speak up about the sexualisation of Eastern European women and urged the First Lady to become more active and to dare to raise her voice.

The letter, which was published in English in the Swedish tabloid Expressen, and in many papers across the Nordics, calls on Melania Trump to raise awareness of human trafficking and abuse and to become a hero.

She said that because of her silence on the issue and her apparent docility in her role as First Lady, Trump was not helping the situation of stigmatised Eastern European women around the world.

Like Trump, Oksanen also has an Eastern European background. The author's mother is Estonian and her father is Finnish.

Oksanen said she used to admire women like Trump when she was growing up because she'd been raised on both sides of the Iron Curtain, but didn't understand why so many young Eastern Bloc women wanted to get to the West so badly.

From East European Knavs to western-flavoured Knauss

"Western guys weren’t fairytale princes any more than the local boys, and I knew because I’d grown up on both sides of the Curtain, in Finland and Soviet Estonia," Oksanen wrote.

She said she got the impression that women from the East thought that "Western men were a kind of dream job that would open up a new world of social and economic opportunities for them."

Oksanen also made several generalisations in the letter about the motivations of women from the Eastern Bloc - as well as Trump herself. In one instance, Oksanen questioned Trump's motivations for changing her name.

Some time before marrying the reality TV show host as she embarked on her fashion modelling career, Trump changed her Slovenian birth name Melanija Knavs to Melania Knauss.

 "I’d wager there’s more to it [than just westernising your name]: by then, Eastern European girls had developed a certain reputation. In the West, women cast them suspicious glances, and men ogled them, all of which came as a complete surprise to the newcomers, presumably including you. Your accent alone suddenly let everyone know you were for sale, and cheap," Oksanen wrote.

Oksanen said that like many other Eastern women, Trump had made her way westward for a life of freedom and fortune. The author said Trump's escalation to the White House had made her a symbol of the East European dream but - Oksanen wondered aloud - at what cost?

Oksanen pointed to Trump's status as First Lady and the opportunity of influence that the position has.

"You are the First Lady of the United States of America, but whenever you hear a familiar accent on TV, the woman on-screen is a prostitute, a stripper, or a mail-order bride. And she doesn’t get many lines, either, because what would be the point?" Oksanen wrote.

Melania can make a difference

"Each new article about the indignities you’ve endured in your marriage sells more bachelor getaways, attracts more customers to the dating apps and interpretation services. That’s why your silence isn’t a private matter. It affects the lives and opportunities of countless other women," Oksanen wrote.

"But we still need help, and we need it from women like you. Be the First Lady and change the world, as First Ladies before you have. Start a foundation, visit shelters, raise awareness, help people to recognise the signs of trafficking and abuse, and give courage to victims to come forward - make them feel they have the right to do so. Lead by your example, break your silence, and we will welcome you with open arms. You can do it. You can make a difference. You can be a hero to us all," Oksanen wrote.

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