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Column: Immigration Issue Becoming Political Touchstone

Political and public debates over the issue of immigration could change Finland's political landscape, says columnist Erkki Laatikainen, former editor-in-chief of the Jyväskylä-based newspaper Keskisuomalainen. The following is a column on the issue written by Laatikainen for YLE.

Kuva: YLE

Immigration could well become the central issue in the next parliamentary elections. The considerable weakening of the national economy, combined with a rising insecurity, have coloured the debate.

The issue is problematic. Finland is not accustomed to discussing immigration or laying out guidelines for it. Comments that even slightly deviate from an officially sanctioned opinion are labelled racist or insulting to human dignity, even if the person who made the comment was a humanist who was simply trying to discuss what was in the nation's best interests with respects to the issue. People are walking on eggshells in order not to be seen in the same light as simple-minded idiots or politicians who have built their careers on populist viewpoints or even illegal turns of phrase.

A recent poll commissioned by the daily Helsingin Sanomat, and conducted by the Gallup organisation, is symptomatic of this problem. The percentage of people who support immigration has dropped from 56 to 45 in the past two years. The Finnish public is worried. It has begun grumbling and griping.

This cooling of attitudes is probably even more significant than the poll reveals. Many respondents are politically correct, and do not express their real feelings in polls. No, they do this in the voting booth.

Finland's main political parties and the state government carry the responsibility for creating a policy on immigration. If they continue to shove it to the back burner, the public's dissatisfaction will quietly swell and explode in a hail of votes for the True Finns Party. That's who will gather up the voices of dissatisfied loners, craftsmen, professors, colonels and entrepreneurs.

The True Finns don't even have to try particularly hard any more. Thanks to party leader Timo Soini, the party is already seen by many to be a plucky bullhorn for the conscience of the common man. Soini would be wise to smooth over any controversy as much as possible.

This trend could lead to a situation where the True Finns, who now have only two seats in Parliament, are suddenly rewarded with more than twenty. The shock would be horrific. Finnish government would become much more complicated.

Finland needs immigrants. And as a Nordic democracy, the country also has responsibilities to human rights. It is entirely possible to reconcile the humanitarian point of view with the national economy's need for skilled immigrants.

The route laid out by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Martti Ahtisaari in the recent historic meeting of living Finnish presidents represents the voice of reason.

Embracing a naïve refugee policy would lead to a calamitous atmosphere. On the other hand, it is in the national economy's best interests to encourage skilled foreigners to move here. At the same time Finland can live up to its humanitarian obligations by taking in refugees as much as such a small country can be expected to. This way we will also ensure a less bumpy ride for our democracy.