On May 15, Janne Saarikivi published a turd of an opinion column in YLE (Finland’s national broadcasting company). The article is a prime example of nationalistic fearmongering. It has the appearance of being well-thought out and reasoned, like the contemplations of a reflective scholar, but a peek under the hood shows that it’s just repackaged right-wing ideas. The problem is that Saarikivi’s article is likely to convince readers who do not have any knowledge about his topics. And that’s a lot of people. So strap on your Nokia boots and let’s wade through this bullshit swamp.
First, Saarikivi’s article is in Finnish, so I’m going to be translating a bit here. I don’t pretend to be a professional, so plug the article into your favorite online translation service if you want another take.
Second, it’s going to take a lot more words to refute Saarikivi than he used in his article. This is the nature of refuting lies. But it’s worth it because Saarikivi’s deceptions are dangerous.
Suomenkielisen väestön määrä väheni vuodessa 22 000 henkeä. Samaan aikaan oli uutta väestöä tilastosarakkeeseen ”muut kielet” tullut noin 38 000 henkeä.
‘The number of Finnish-speaking people decreased by 22,000 last year. At the same time, the number of speakers of “other languages” in the population grew by about 38,000.’
Saarikivi presents the numbers like because they are BIG SCARY NUMBERS. 22,000?! 38,000?! Lions and tigers and bears oh my! But we need to think about the population here:
- In 2021, 86.52% of the population spoke Finnish as their native language.
- In 2022, 85.89% spoke Finnish as their mother tongue.
The difference is -0.63%. That is not a big number. It’s a little itty bitty one.
How little itty bitty is it, you ask? Let’s use some pictures. We’ll start by being misleading like Saarikivi. If we chart the population of Finnish speakers since 1990, things look pretty worrying. Look at that line drop! Oh no!
Now let’s chart the growth of foreign language speakers. Things look pretty drastic here too!
Smart readers (aka people who are not Janne Saarikivi’s intended audience) will notice something fishy here. The Y axes are misleading. Let’s put both of these charts together. And since we’re talking about the whole population of the country, let’s have the Y axis go from 0 to 100%. What do we see?
Wow, it looks like a whole heck of a lot of people in Finland still speak Finnish as their first language. It’s almost like Saarikivi was trying to scare us into thinking that foreign-language speakers were replacing Finnish speakers. I wonder what purpose that would serve?
Fascism. It’s serving the purpose of fascism. This is the great replacement theory and it has been used by white people in western countries to scare their populations into voting for fascists. It is used by white supremacists and terrorists in their attacks on people from minority groups. And Saarikivi is using it here.
This is the kind of misleading nonsense we’re dealing with. Saarikivi was a professor and should know better. Or then misleading people is the point. (I don’t know who linked to the population statistics in the article. If it was Saarikivi, then he’s a big dumb-dumb. If it was some editor at YLE, then well played. That’s some expert level subterfuge.)
But Janne Saarikivi doesn’t want you to think about any of this because it ruins his argument.
Fakta silti on, että väestö vaihtuu.
‘The fact remains that the population is changing.’
Yes, the fact remains. The population is changing. By fractions of a percent.
The fact remains that Janne Saarikivi is a very smart person.
Saarikivi’s article completely erases the other two official languages in Finland: Swedish and Saami. Swedish has a stronger position in Finland, but Saami has some protections that other languages do not have. If we include these speakers with the Finnish speakers – because they are officially national languages in Finland – then the differences in the percentages in the charts above becomes even more stark. Swedish speakers make up around 5% of the population and Saami speakers are about 0.4%. So the population of domestic language speakers is over 90%.
Avoiding the blame
Vuodessa kuolee yli 20 000 henkeä enemmän kuin syntyy ja vauhti kiihtyy. Jos ihmiset katoaisivat yhdestä paikasta, pyyhkiytyisi kartalta joka vuosi keskikokoinen kaupunki, sellainen kuin Kemi, Forssa tai Varkaus. Tulijoille taas tulisi rakentaa vuosittain isompi kaupunki – Kotka tai Kouvola – tai sitten jättiläislähiö kuten Vuosaari tai Hervanta – todellakin joka vuosi uusi! Vuosikymmenessä syntyisi tulijoista Tamperetta paljon suurempi kaupunki.
‘Every year, 20,000 more people die than are born, and this ratio is widening. If this amount of people disappeared from one place, a medium-sized city like Kemi, Forssa or Varkaus would be wiped off the map. At the same time, a bigger city would need to be built for the immigrants, such as Kotka or Kouvola, or a giant suburb like Vuosaari or Hervanta – and we’d need a new one every year! In a decade, the immigrants would create a city much bigger than Tampere.’
This is where we see who Janne Saarikivi’s article is for. It’s not for people living in large cities like Helsinki and Tampere. It’s for people in the countryside. Saarikivi’s article is designed to scare these people into thinking that they are being replaced by foreigners. That’s why he says that the supposed immigrants of the future would overflow one of Finland’s largest cities. It’s fearmongering. People in rural areas voted for the xenophobic Finns Party because they were scared into believing that immigrants (aka “foreign-language speakers”) were invading their small towns. But here’s the thing: No one is invading the Finnish countryside. Just the opposite. Small towns are disappearing – but not because of foreigners. Instead, Finnish-speaking people are moving out of them because there are no jobs and no healthcare and nothing to do and no one to talk to. And there sure as shit ain’t no foreigners. There is no future in these towns. So the Finnish-speaking people are the problem here. But again, Saarikivi doesn’t want his readers to know that.
(It could be that people in Kemi, Forssa and Varkaus are moving out because they’re just sick of living next to their bigoted neighbors, but who knows. I’m sure that motivates some people to leave. I know there were a lot of neighbors that I didn’t miss when I moved out of Podunk, Pennsylvania.)
Saarikivi wants it both ways
Siivoojaksi ei Suomeen pääse ilman kielitaitovaatimuksia, mutta professoriksi näkyy pääsevän ja se muuttaa yhteiskunnan. […] Professoriksi pääsee Suomeen englanninkielistämään ympäristönsä ilman kielitaitovaatimuksia, mutta työväenluokkaan ei pääse. Pakolaiset ja kouluja käymättömät pannaan TE-keskuksen pakolliselle kielikurssille ennen kuin pääsevät hakemaan siivoojaksi. […] Näin maahan syntyvät jälleen erilliset herrojen ja torppareiden maailmat. Herrat puhuvat englantia ja torpparit suomea. Tätä minä vastustan ja kirjoitan siitä kolumneja vaikka maailman tappiin, kunnes asiat muuttuvat. Ja olen torppareiden eli suomen kielen puolella.
‘You can’t become a cleaner in Finland without passing a language test, but you can become a professor […] You can become a professor in Finland without any language requirements and make your environment English-speaking, but you cannot become a working-class person. Refugees and school dropouts are placed in mandatory language courses at the Employment and Economic Development Office before they can apply to become cleaners. […] This will recreate the separate worlds of lords and peasants in the country. The gentlemen will speak English and the peasants Finnish. I am against this and I will continue to write columns about it until the end of the world or until things change. And I am on the side of the peasants, aka the side of the Finnish language.’
This is laughable. Saarikivi seems to be saying that you can go all the way through school in Finland, become a professor, and never learn Finnish. He doesn’t name any examples because he can’t. Students that go to school in a language other than Finnish or Swedish are required to take Finnish language classes. They will have had at least 9 years of Finnish class before high school. Their hobbies will be in Finnish, they will have friends who speak Finnish, they will have a driving test in Finnish. It isn’t even theoretically possible that someone goes all the way through elementary school, high school, undergraduate and postgraduate studies and then becomes a professor in Finland without learning Finnish. Saarikivi is full of shit.
Or then Saarikivi means that you can emigrate to Finland as a professor and not have to know Finnish. But like… So what? Professorships are internationally advertised jobs because the universities in Finland want to be international. So of course there aren’t language requirements for professors. There also aren’t language requirements for hockey players or comedians or scores of other jobs. There’s no language requirement to be the CEO of a major Finnish company. Here’s the thing though – non-Finnish-speakers do not get these jobs.
The part about an elite of non-Finnish-speaking population is a joke. The overwhelming majority of professors are Finnish speakers (not even Swedish and certainly not Saami). The entire parliament is Finnish-speaking, including the members of the Swedish People’s Party. Every single mayor in Finland is a Finnish speaker. Police officers, bank CEOs and tellers, doctors, lawyers, school principals – all Finnish speakers. The elite in Finland is Finnish-speaking right now and it will continue to be that way.
Saarikivi is lying when he says that Finnish speakers are the “peasants” – they are both the elite and the peasants. They are literally 85% of the population. They are everything. This is classic victimhood mentality by Saarikivi. He wants us to think that Finnish is the underdog language in Finland – an idea that is exactly as dumb as it sounds.
Not for nothing, the Employment and Economic Development Office has a website in English. Where you can search for jobs in Finland… in English. So much for those language requirements, huh? Janne Saarikivi is full of shit and he thinks his readers are stupid.
And also not for nothing, people can be bilingual. The “gentlemen” in Finnish society already speak Finnish and English – and probably Swedish and some German and maybe another language too. Almost all of Finnish society is bilingual (at least with Finnish/Swedish/Saami and English) and could benefit from further language classes. But Saarikivi’s thoughts don’t make room for multilingualism – even though that has always been and will always be the reality for most people in the world.
Speak Finnish or die!
Valtiolla on jo liimapurkki, jolla eritaustaiset ihmiset voidaan liittää toisiinsa kiinni siten, että kokonaisuus pysyy joten kuten kasassa, näin ajattelen. Se on tämä suomen kieli. […] Yhteiskunnan tehtävä on huolehtia, että suomi pysyy maan koulutuksen ja työelämän pääkielenä, jota joutuvat käyttämään niin ylhäiset kuin alhaiset. Muuten tämä ei ole enää Suomi, vaan pelkästään siivu harvaanasutettua taigametsää planeetan pinnalla.
‘I think that the country already has the glue to keep people from different backgrounds together so that they make one whole. It’s the Finnish language. […] It is society’s duty to ensure that Finnish remains the main language of education and working life in the country, and that it is used by the high and low alike. Otherwise this will no longer be Finland, but simply a slice of sparsely populated taiga forest on the surface of the planet.’
According to Janne Saarikivi, the great replacement of Finnish speakers is assured. He knows (because he’s a linguist by trade) but doesn’t tell you that the children and grandchildren of immigrants speak the majority language of the country that they grow up in. That means that all these immigrants to Finland are going to produce Finnish speakers. Very often, immigrants do not have a community of people who speak their language. If they do, that’s a good thing. If they do not, we should be cultivating one. Because that’s what helps immigrants become part of society.
Language does not guarantee unity or social cohesion, no matter what Saarikivi states. If it did, then the United States and England would be the tightest knit societies on the planet. Absolutely no one thinks that they are. But even smaller countries do not fit Saarikivi’s fever dream. The majority of people in Northern Ireland speak English thanks to the United Kingdom’s colonialism. Northern Ireland is not known for its cohesiveness.
On the other hand, forcing a language on a marginalized population is and always has been used as a way to control or destroy that group of people. It happened in Canada with residency schools. It happened in the United States with every single Native American population. It happened in Europe when the idea of nation states started to become popular. Speakers across vast areas were forced to conform to standardized French or Italian or German. No other dialects or languages were allowed. If you wanted to be French or German, you had to speak the “correct” form of French or German. It happened in Finland too when people changed their Swedish-sounding names to things like “Saarikivi” in order to conform to the nationalistic sentiment of the time.
Now Saarikivi wants it to happen again, but he wants you to think that it’s in the name of equality. He wants you to think it’s for the good of society. He’s full of shit. Don’t believe him. There isn’t room for a diversity of languages in Saarikivi’s world: Either everyone speaks Finnish or society collapses. Saarikivi is openly promoting the “one nation, one language” policy on the website of Finland’s national public broadcasting company. This is the same “one nation, one language” policy that was so popular the Franco’s fascist government in Spain. Fascists love this idea because it’s a simplistic way to sort the population into Us and Them. And things need to be easy for fascists because fascists are stupid people.
Janne’s friend Jussi
Ymmärrän perussuomalaisten äänestäjiä. Olen sitä mieltä, että Suomen lähitulevaisuuden ykköskysymys on maahanmuutto.
‘I understand voters of the Finns Party. I think that the most pressing issue for Finland is immigration.’
The Finns party hates me and other immigrants. They won’t stop hating me if I speak Finnish. I could speak only Finnish from morning to night and they would still hate me. They still would consider me illegitimate. I’m not really Finnish to them – not a true Finn –and I never will be. My kids probably won’t be either. Because they are xenophobes and racists. They probably don’t like being called that, but every time someone in government gets caught saying racist stuff, they’re always a member of the Finns Party.
It’s no surprise that Saarikivi says he understands the Finns Party. He name-drops Jussi Halla-aho, a Finns Party politician who was found guilty of disturbing religious worship and of ethnic agitation. The Finns Party is a fascist party. They even had a split before the last election. Their more right-wing extremists formed a separate party which was openly racist and xenophobic. This way the Finns Party would be more acceptable to the public.
All the politicians in Finland and this is the one that Saarikivi mentions. He understands the Finns Party voter because he is one of them.
Don’t pity Janne the Fool
Kun katson Tilastokeskuksen lukuja, pohdin, mahtaako siinä hoivakodissa, johon dementtinä joudun, olla vielä joku, joka ymmärtää kunnolla puhettani, 1900-loppupuolen helsinkiläistä puhesuomen muotoa
When I look at the data from Statistics Finland, I think about being in the nursing home after dementia has taken hold and I wonder whether anyone will understand my late-1990s Helsinki accent.
Saarikivi is a professional linguist and he’s over 50 years old. The nursing home ain’t that far away. But more importantly, he knows that language does not change that quickly. This pondering of his actually pandering. It’s for people in nursing homes right now who are worried because that one caregiver is a little dark. It’s for your grandmother who saw that thing on Facebook about some immigrant who committed a crime and just can’t remember anything like that ever happening before. Saarikivi is setting himself up as the victim. He’s imagining himself as helpless in a nursing home without even the ability to be understood. In reality, he has a column with one of the biggest news media in Finland and everyone understands him just fine unfortunately.