(Feature Image: Source)
Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature the very popular and eloquent Abdirahim Hussein, also fondly known as “Husu”.
In this interview, Husu shares with us his various thoughts on immigration, policies, welfare system and love for Finns + Finland. Personally, I was particularly moved by Husu’s heart for Finland, and he does come across as sincere and authentic.
It’s a long read, so please make some coffee and enjoy the interview! ♡
TH: Hello Husu! Thank you for accepting our interview. Can you tell us more about yourself and what you do?
Husu: My name is Abdirahim Hussein. People also call me Husu. I’m originally from Somalia and I’d been in Finland for the last 22 years. At the moment I work as a junior consultant in the company called the Finnish Consulting Group.
My job scope includes firstly, going to cities which for the first time are starting to receive immigrants or refugees in their own regions. We help these cities to help integrate the newcomers well into their own vicinity. This is my number one job in Finland—consulting with different municipalities around the country in Finland to inform them of the best practices of how to get immigrants to integrate well.
TH: Wow, that’s a really important role.
Husu: Yes, thank you.
The second thing I do for Finnish Consulting Group at the moment is trying to get Finnish companies that have great products and servies to sell to East Africa, especially Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda. You see, we are talking about 300 million people in that region, so that is a huge market and opportunity for Finnish companies.
My part is to get Finnish companies to be bolder and try to understand better the East-African culture and methods of doing business. I also help Finnish companies connect to the local networks and businesses.
TH: What motivates your political activities?
Husu: I recently left one political party and joined the Socialist Democratic Party.
There was one point in time when I spent 90 days thinking—“Do I want to continue doing politics, or should I spend time doing the consulting business I am doing right now?” I am really good at the consulting business, and I believe I can make a huge impact to not only Finland, but to the world.
Yet after speaking to a couple of hundred of people from my own network, 95% of the people told me, “Husu, you cannot stop politics now. You need to continue to impact people and to get your message through.”
I thought about it and decided to continue. One reason is because like-minded people like myself are not very represented in the Finnish parliament, and in the municipalities of Finland.
As immigrants, we are a growing number—the Finns are not. There are around 230,000 foreigners right now living in Finland. This is a number that is growing through refugees and family reunification—and they need a voice.
Therefore, after discussion with people in my network, I am more motivated than ever now.
TH: Wow, that’s interesting. I thought the Finnish government was actually trying to restrict immigration!
Husu: Well, you can always say one thing and do another. The Finnish government alone cannot decide where everyone goes in this world; people have the right to move around, and you have new immigrants entering Finland every single day.
The biggest wave of refugees coming into Finland was in October/November 2015, and we had more than 30,000 people who just came in a couple of months. Indeed, we were not ready to receive this massive number of people then, because it was so unexpected. In order to cope with the sudden influx of migrants, the government has to pacify the masses in Finland. It was as if we were suddenly overwhelmed and paralyzed by a fear of lack. Therefore, the Finnish government tried to make Finland appear less appealing for refugees.
Yet on the other hand, everyone in Finland knows that we face an aging population here, so we want highly educated people who are willing to work hard here. Currently we have 5 million people living in Finland and 20% of them are over the age of 65, and this is a growing number. So we do need immigrants in their workforce in the coming years.
TH: What are some of the misconception foreigners have about Finns/ Finland, and why do you think those are far from reality?
Husu: There are two approaches to thinking about this question.
The first approach is to consider the perspective of immigrants who are coming to Finland. They hear about Finland via social media or maybe friends who live in this country. They have a misconception that when they come here, everything is given to them for free.
What many of these immigrants or their friends don’t understand is that resouces given to them in this country have to be funded by the taxpayers’ pockets.
A lot of immigrants I see– when they first come to this country–have no clue about the costs. Some of them even think that resources given to them are their right, with the misconception that these resources are fully funded by the European Bank and the World Bank specially for them.
Personally, this is one of the worst misconceptions that I found that some immigrants have.
The second approach is to think from the perspective of other immigrants who are already here. The misconception is that they expect things to be done for them.
This is why I hope that immigrants become more active—instead of merely knowing about their rights, I hope they also know about their responsibilities, like what is expected of them. You know, to understand that things are not free, and are funded by taxpayers too.
One thing Finland is not doing so well at the moment is the integration process. People right now are told more about their rights and less about their responsibilities. The communication of rights and responsibilities have to be done simultaneously as much as possible.
The problem is that sometimes, when some immigrants are informed of their responsibilities, they are already in trouble with the law.
I worked as a translator sometime back and I remembered that I went to the police station to interpret for these people. Most of them said “I didn’t know about this”, or “I didn’t know about that”.
So we’d ask them– “How long have you been here?”
And they’d reply saying–“We’d been here for eight years.”
And I thought, “How is this possible? How can you be in Finland for eight years and not know of your responsibilities?”
TH: Maybe some of them live in their own bubbles…
Husu: Yeah, some of them live in bubbles. But having said that, we can’t fully blame them too. Unfortunately sometimes, society doesn’t necessarily help in the best possible way.
For in order to find out more about their responsibilities, they need to have Finnish friends. They need to have Finnish people around them to remind them and point out to them the various responsibilities.
The challenge for immigrants is that when they first came to Finland, they cannot find Finnish friends, so they’d just mix with their own group of people. So they’d just mingle and socialise with their own groups of people, of their own background.
So they don’t get to know the country better, they don’t get to know the Finns better. Some don’t’ even leave Helsinki—perhaps, they travel abroad, but they have never gone to the other parts of Finland, the “real Finland”, you know? Because the real Finland is not in Helsinki.
TH: What do you mean by the “real” Finland? That’s a very interesting point!
Husu: If you want to know Finnish people, if you want to understand their mentalities—they are very close to nature. Finnish people love their nature, trees, summer houses and lakes!
For example, most Finns have summer houses. Even the people who don’t have summer houses crave to have one. Some Finns even rent their summer houses!
Why do they do that? It’s because it is in the Finnish culture to be close to nature. In Helsinki, we don’t get a lot of nature as it is a metropolitan, international area. Therefore, when you travel 300km or 400km out of Helsinki, you can go to these small village where you can even breathe the air in a different way.
So you can experience “Finnish-ness” outside of Helsinki, and not in Helsinki. Go to places like Parkkano, near to Tampere, for instance. These are places where everyone knows everyone else, where you can understand Finnish people—they are very trustworthy, hardworking and pleasant people. So for you as an immigrant to get to them, it will take some time.
But when you do get to them, and when they accept you as one of them, then you will live a very beautiful and happy life with them.
TH: The Finnish economy has not been doing well since 2007. How do you think the Finnish welfare state can continue to take good care of the people in Finland?
Husu: Actually, that’s a really good question! As politicians, we keep on talking about creating jobs. And once again, I’d always maintained that it is not just about creating jobs, but getting rid of most of the bureaucracy in Finland.
If you want to have a restaurant in Finland, you have to have so many permits or certificates—you’d need to go through so many agreements, to show that you can fulfil this and that. You’d need to have a hygiene card, and if this place breaks down and catches fire you’d need a fire card.
Granted, there are always restrictions when you have your businesses. For one, I would never accept any businesses that take and give nothing back to Finland. But the idea of having normal people who can make money with their own car—as in the case of Uber—that is also one way of getting people to be active.
This is why I personally support these sort of start-up businesses, where people try to be active.
We should help people to want to work. I know of a bus-driver who has five children, and he makes about 3000euros a month. If he does not go to work, and stays at home, he would get the same amount of social benefits, since there are six of them.
So you see, in general, people are not encouraged to work due to the high taxes and so on. Therefore, we should work at creating a happy working environment to encourage employees to continue to work.
And for instance, if a foreign company would like to set up a company or create something for Finland, I think they should be given tax incentives or tax breaks especially if they are increasing employment. However, the current taxes or atmosphere is not very appealing for people to come to Finland to establish companies, or to create more jobs.
So you see, basically it would be great if people start seeing that they are part of the system, and not just wait for the government to come up with a solution.
TH: Ah, so it is also about ground-up solutions…
Husu: Yes, precisely, not just top-down solutions.
Personally I’m more for ground-up solutions. Because whenever we talk about top-down solutions, it seems that politicians are doing the same things over and over again, but expecting different results.
The point is, we cannot expect this to happen. For instance, there was one multicultural association we started named Moniheli. Our board and working force are 90% immigrants. We have shown that through a bottom-up approach, you can go to wherever that you are supposed to be going. Whatever you have to do in the bottom-up approach, people have to accept. And it is only after they accept that people move and level up together.
TH: You are so eloquent in both English and Finnish! Can you give us some tips on learning Finnish?
Husu: Finnish language is not an easy language—in fact it is very difficult! Actually my Finnish sounds to you as fluent, but it is not as perfect as you think. Nobody can actually master this language as well as people who have it as their mother tongue, because it is not your mother tongue.
For me, I came when I was 15, so I learnt Finnish fastest through football and I’m pretty good with soccer lingo, since I play with my Finnish friends!
However, I’d encourage you to be bold, and just keep practising with your Finnish friends. Just focus on making your point. Don’t worry about making mistakes, Finns won’t laugh at you, and this is one point I appreciate us for!
And always remember– even for some Finns, Finnish can be a difficult language—both written and verbal!
TH: What do you think of the current state of politics in Finland?
Husu: Well, the current state is that we have a politically-right coalition in power, and we have a situation whereby the financial situation of the country is not well.
Therefore, we are in a situation whereby we have fundamental disagreements on where and how to balance the spending and debt of the country at the moment.
In my opinion, we are living in a very fragile time. And to be perfectly honest, any political party which is in power now will be facing problems financially.
How do we go about it? There are many solutions. My view is that Finland is not a poor country at the moment; financially we are not poor, but we have debt of over 100 billion euros at the moment that we have to give back. Unemployment is rising though we’re trying to keep it low, and there is an aging population. And we still have to fulfil our responsibilities to the world—to United Nations and Europe, and the rest of the world.
Many countries have recovered from the 2008/2009 financial crisis, and financially-speaking Finland is on the right path. However, the atmosphere we have here is still not really optimistic. We have hate-speeches, people are divided and angry with one another, most people are blaming their problems on others.
As an immigrant-background person, sometimes I worry that the path this country is taking is dangerous. I personally don’t think that we will have a situation in Finland where one day, people start to take guns to shoot each other. However, people might project their anger on others by beating each other up, because of how they feel, or how they say.
Therefore, as we get our finances back on track, we have to get the atmosphere of people back on track too—the positive feeling of being one Finland, for example.
TH: What are the three things you are most proud of as a Finnish citizen?
Husu: The first thing I’m proud of is the Finnish identity. It took me ten years to accept it, and now I am proud of it.
The second thing I’m proud of is freedom and equal rights. No matter what the colour of your skin or religion, we have freedom of speech and expression here in Finland.
The third thing I’m proud of is launching Finland’s Multicultural Independence’s Party. It is a celebration of the independence day of Finland by immigrants. It started from a really small idea, and we have done it now for ten years!
TH: Ground-up again, undoubtedly.
Husu: Yes! And I hope to be alive and well next year when Finland turns 100 years. We are going to have 1000 people celebrating Finland’s Multicultural Independence Party at the Finlandia Talo in 2017!
So we are going to have the whole city and whole country celebrating independence day 2017 next year, and as a Finnish citizen I’m really proud of this.
TH: How about the one thing you are not so proud of as a Finnish citizen?
Husu: The one thing I’m not so proud of is not making the Finnish identity attractive enough. When immigrants go to Canada or America, after 6 months or a year, you will see them using the term I’m a Canadian-Chinese, or I’m an American-African. So you would observe them adding their ethnicity after their nationalities.
But why don’t people say that they are Finnish-Somali, or Finnish-Malays, for instance? You see, after a while of staying here, immigrants are still saying that they are Russians. They are Thais. They are Estonians. Why don’t we say we are Finnish-Russian, Finnish-Thais, or Finnish-Estonians?
TH: OMG you are right! Even in Singapore, we have Singaporean-Chinese, Singaporean-Malay, and Singaporean-Indians.
Husu: Precisely. I don’t know why. And I’m disappointed even. Sometimes when I say I am Finnish-Somali, it pisses some of my friends off. They think, “Ah, so you want to be a Finn”. That’s crazy, because I don’t want to be a Finn—I am a Finn by nationality, and I want to be proud of my identity.
So my hope for all immigrants is that if they want to come here, and the intention is to stay here, and they love Finland, then be proud of the identity.
You see, there is a Finnish great man Zacharias Topelius who said—
“If you love this country in your heart, and if you want the best for it, and if you are ready to accept its rules and regulations, to support it in good and bad times, then by definition, you are a Finn.”
And I absolutely love Finland and Topelius’s definition of a “Finn”. When you accept this feeling in your heart, then it is possible for you to see the world in a different way.
Whenever you have an identity crisis— sexual, racial or a work-related– you’d always be thinking of yourself as an outsider. As long as this happens, you will never be giving your best to the country and its development. I live in this country, I love this country, and I accept this country in my heart. So all my mind is how to derive solutions to solve problems for this country, and how to make this country better.
So you see, I don’t have any identity crisis. I hope we can solve this identity crisis on the part of any immigrants within six months to two years when they come into this country.
If you want to stay in this country, it has to be appealing enough for you to say that you want to be in this country, you want to make this country better, and this country is the best country in the world!
TH: Wow, that’s really some awesome thinking! It’s like once you still say you are “Somali” after eight years, it’s sort of being stuck in the same “Us-versus-Them” paradigm.
Husu: Yep! If after eight years you still say “us Somalis”, then by definition you are not a Finn.
However, if you use the term I’m a Somali-Finn, or Finn-Somali, then you communicate that you have adopted this country as home.
And you have accepted the Finnish-ness and love this country.
TH: Wow, excellent point. So it is the heart, isn’t it.
Husu: Yes, it is the heart. These are things that cannot be changed with paper or legalism, but they might be changed with a proud national movement, or a paradigm shift in general of how nationality and ethnicity are being conceptualised.
Let me give an example of Malaysia. I have met this Indian lady before, and when I asked where she was from, she said “Malaysia, and I’m a Malay.” I was puzzled and asked why she said she is Malay when she obviously looked Indian. Then she told me that in Malaysia, they are one country, one nation, and one Malaysian. Even if you go into shops in Chinatown in Malaysian, Chinese folks will introduce themselves as Malaysians first.
However, when you go to a Chinese store in Finland, store owners will tend to say that they are from China.
TH: Yeah, that’s really true! Now that you mentioned it…It seems that this incident has been bothering you for a while already.
Husu: Yes. For the first six to seven years after reaching Finland, I was an angry young man.
This is because I didn’t like Finland, I didn’t like Finns, and I didn’t like the feeling I had in me. I understood it that this is “their country”, this is not “my country”.
Then as soon as I handled the identity problem– that in my heart, I am 100% Finn– I got rid of the bad feeling.
Of course, there are people who come to me and tell me that “You’re not a Finn, dream on”, but I don’t listen to them. They write everyday to me, on my social media—you’re not a Finn, but honestly, I’d just ignore them.
So there would be hate speech like, “You’d never be a Finn, you f*ckng nigger, you f*cking black, go and die, blablabla”—BUT I will never listen, because I know in my heart that I am a Finn.
TH: I can never understand why people post such hateful comments on social media.
Husu: Because THEY have a huge identity crisis themselves, haha!
For example, if someone were to come to me and say that they are Somali, it’d be a huge compliment for me, because they must have really liked being a Somali enough to want to become one!
So likewise, if someone were to come to a Finn and say, “I’m a Finn”, shouldn’t the natural reaction of the Finn be like “Wow, I must be really great for someone to want to a Finn”?
You know, nobody has ever said what a Finn is. It’s not a white-person, blue-eyed, NO! Admittedly, if you look at the media, you’d get this standard definition of a Finn.
But if you ask around or look at the constitution, nowhere does it define the look of a Finn–nowhere does it say that “a Finn” is a white person.
TH: Can you tell us the top 3 things/ traits you regard as “Finnish”?
- And one more as a bonus—Angry Birds!
I would have said “Nokia”, but not anymore. So… “Angry Birds”. You have to think about Angry Birds in this way, “Angry” and “Birds”. It’s very Finnish no matter how you look at it! ☺
TH: What are some advice you have for aspiring young Finns who want to become a Finnish politician like yourself?
- Always say out loud what you think.
- Don’t assume. Assumptions are silly—don’t assume.
Don’t assume that all Swedish-Finns have wealth. Don’t assume that just because a person is black, he is suspicious or likely to commit crimes. Don’t assume that when a person is white, they are friendly or the converse: not friendly.
- And use the bottom-up approach.
TH: What is the one 100 year-old birthday wish you would make for Finland, since 2017 is Finland’s 100 years of independence?
Husu: You have been a great country. I wish you one thousand and one years of joy and happiness!
It was truly a huge privilege having Husu with us. We hope you have enjoyed this interview as much as we did!
The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme. This series “What is Finnish-ness”? is endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feel free to follow Husu on his facebook page or on twitter @husu78 . Photographs courtesy of Husu, Iltalehti and Unsplash.