The unbearable lightness of xenophobia

Under this headline the national daily Helsingin Sanomat (1 February 2001) stresses the necessity of preventive action in order to avoid the kind of violent xenophobia and organised extreme right-wing action witnessed in other Nordic countries. The paper fears that it is only a question of time when similar phenomena will arrive in Finland.

In a leading article, Helsingin Sanomat says that there are models of preventive actions, some of which have been proven good and some of which have been proven bad.

"Politicians and media should mount barricades in the fight against racism, xenophobia and intolerance. President Tarja Halonen made her contribution in her New Year's speech in which the main theme was intolerance against people of foreign origin. In her recent speech in the Council of Europe, Halonen named the improvement of the fate of the Romany people as the touchstone of European human rights policy. The Romany people were also forgotten in the conference on intolerance held in Stockholm. This omission made the Swedish Prime Minister promise that this will not happen again."

Helsingin Sanomat writes that in the Stockholm conference many speakers said that indifference, belittling of phenomena or at worst silence is a dangerous path to take.

"Racism, xenophobia and intolerance must be tackled and fought. In seminars, politicians may agree with experts. In public they often choose silence as if no problems existed. In Stockholm the UN General Secretary Kofi Annan was brave enough to bitterly criticise the EU countries for their too stringent refugee policy and politicians for their part in passing populist laws which are hostile towards immigrants. In Annan's view, tightening refugee policies is not the correct answer to rising xenophobia. The General Secretary is right. However, everyday reality tempts politicians to turn to solutions which Annan described as populist.

"In addition to politicians, the media has been criticised — and it seems with reason — of passivity and indifference, and in the worst cases even of intentionally or unintentionally encouraging prejudices with careless news reporting."


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