Immigration and the importance of foreign languages were some of the topics covered during The Great Election Debate at Sanomatalo in Helsinki earlier this week.
In the run-up before the parliamentary election on Sunday, large media houses have taken their turns to arrange “great” election debates, some televised, where journalists stand on the podium and fire questions at the candidates.
Here are some of the highlights of the debate on April 9. It was arranged by the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat.
A young member of the audience was allowed to present a question:
“Hi, I am Piia and I am eleven years old. What languages do you think I should learn in school?
“As many languages as you like. Regardless of the location, you live in,” said Left Alliance chairwoman Li Andersson.
“English is important but I recommend that you learn another European language as well, such as German. I have some friends who have started to learn Chinese,” replied Pekka Haavisto, chairman of the Green League.
Jussi Halla-aho, chairman of the Finns Party, said with a British accent that “as far as languages are concerned, you never know what you are going to do with the rest of your life or where you will end up.” “So, the more the better.”
It was the journalists’ turn to present questions.
“You have just been elected as the new Prime Minister of Finland. And you have been invited to speak in a reception center somewhere in Finland. The listeners are refugees and they are seeking asylum. What would you say to them or what kind of advice would you give them?”
Sari Essayah, chairwoman of the Christian Democrats: It’s incredibly important to learn the ways and customs of the Finnish society and the law and to adjust to the Finnish society.
Pekka Haavisto of the Green League: “I would wish them welcome. I would tell them where the nearest flea market is, where you can get goods for cheap. I’d say that in Finland people value that one learns the language and wants to find work, and hopefully one finds a voluntary job and then other jobs as soon as possible.”
“I would wish them welcome. I would tell them where the nearest flea market is, where you can get goods for cheap.
Pekka Haavisto of the Green League talking about what he would say to asylum seekers after being elected the Prime Minister of Finland.
Jussi Halla-aho of the Finns Party: “I would probably suggest to them, if they, in reality, are not in need for asylum, but are instead seeking for a better standard of living, that they should spin on their heels and go back.”
Here’s where the applause got loud.
A huge crowd surrounded the panel from three sides. A projection was set up on a TV screen behind the seats of the auditorium for those who couldn’t get seats in the bleachers or who simply wanted to listen to the debate over a cup of coffee.
Anna-Maja Henriksson, chairwoman of the Swedish People’s Party continued: “I would say, ”Tervetuloa Suomeen,” “Välkommen till Finland,” “Welcome to Finland.”
She continued: “I would say that in this country, in this good country, there are two official languages: Finnish and Swedish and I would recommend you to learn at least one of them. And then you should put effort into learning how the Finnish society works. Ask, because by asking one learns. And follow a Finn daily so that you can learn from that person how to visit the grocery store, how the schools work, how to visit the pharmacy. Basic things.”
Petteri Orpo, chairman of the National League Party: “I would tell them that their personal matters are going to be investigated individually, are they in need for asylum . . . do they need protection or not? The [asylum seeking] process is going to be processed as fast as possible and even faster in the future. Then, as long as one stays in Finland, one is going to live according to Finnish law and customs.”
Swedish People’s Party chairwoman Anna-Maja Henriksson, NCP chairman Petteri Orpo and SDP chairman Antti Rinne. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today
Antti Rinne, chairman of the Social Democratic Party: “If they have the right for asylum, one needs to learn Finnish fast, one must also understand how the Finnish society works, nobody is to be touched without permission and everybody follows the law—both Finns and the people who arrive here.”
Juha Sipilä, prime minister and chairman of the Centre Party: “At first, I would say that in Finland we live according to the Finnish customs and laws and one should learn these as the first thing. Learning a language is important. I would wish that those who don’t receive an asylum would leave the country voluntarily.
Sampo Terho, chairman of the Blue Reform Party: “I would say that one should live in a country according to its customs. And if the country’s culture and way of living are somehow intolerable, then you have sought asylum from the wrong country. If one gets an asylum, learn Finnish and get a job.”
Paavo Väyrynen, chairman of the Seven Star Movement:
Väyrynen said that instead of pondering the immigration question in this form, he would have asked why Finland has practiced reckless immigration politics. “Who is responsible for that?” he asked and continued, “Every Party is responsible what has been happening in Finland since 2015. But what would I say [at the reception center to asylum seekers]? I would say something similar to what Halla-aho said but in a more civilized way.”
Li Andersson, chairwoman of the Left Alliance. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today
Li Andersson, chairwoman of the Left Alliance, got the final word:
“I was two years ago asked to speak in a Christmas celebration for refugees. They couldn’t believe that a person of my age who looks like this and arrives with a backpack without security is a Member of the Parliament. During the same occasion, I had the opportunity to explain how the Finnish democracy and social order works and about the Finnish equality that currently allows a person of my age that looks like this to not only be an MP but also the party leader. I would probably explain similar matters if I would receive a chance to go to speak [in a reception center].”
Based on the latest polls, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) is projected to win with a comfortable margin, but it is less clear if it would be able to form a strong left-wing coalition with the Green League, the Left Alliance and the Swedish People’s Party, or if it would instead have to look across the aisle for support.
Finland’s parliamentary elections are held on Sunday, April 14.