On Helsinki’s treatment of homeless Roma

We live in an age that accepts increasing inequality and worships the wealthy. As a result “our moral sentiments have … been corrupted”. All this and much more uplifting if challenging wisdom can be found in Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land (available also in Finnish!). The economic historian (and they should have some perspective!) wrote it practically on his death bed for young people in particular. I’m not young, but I cannot recommend highly enough a book that takes seriously the gnawing but justifiable sensation that something is profoundly wrong with the way we live.

Like in most of the rest of the West (for yes Finland is, for all its monopolies, its love of the backwoods, its short, shallow and therefore often changeable urban history, part of the West or the North) Finland has been building growing inequality into its architecture and landscape. Corporate glass and caffeine here, prejudiced neighbourhoods there, gates and CCTVs everywhere. Lots of land, but not for everyone.

What some hopefully refer to as Metropolitan Helsinki is getting all the warts that come with a big city. Life is now spiced with the products of turn-of-the-millennium financial mismanagement-cum-dogma (on which see previous post). It’s not easy to rule all this, but the most radical/constructive that Finnish critics can come up with at the moment is to turn to social media and self-help. We can build a better future ourselves…

This fine building is where national hero and poor Finnish-speaker C.G.E. Mannerheim was born. By central European standards it’s quite small (for a home for the very rich, I mean) but in Finland it stands out for its obvious wealth and, I think, elegance.

From the moment Louhisaari was built in 1655 until, oh, about 20 years ago, the country around it was steadily progressing towards more well-being for everyone. Social distinctions became less important for how well you could live. From time to time xenophobic fear made it harder for migrants – domestic or from overseas – to make their contribution. (We gather that at present the insultingly renamed Finns-party (aaargghh – that was HARD) are quite popular around Louhisaari.)

But this blog prefers to remember that there have always been people in Finland who have thirsted for inspiration from strangers.

At the Mannerheim dinner table, according to JHJ’s tour guide in Louhisaari,  narrow-mindedness was discouraged. Multilingualism on the other hand was encouraged and, by all accounts, achieved.

Narrow mindedness and a lack of compassion are back, at least in Helsinki.

According to Free Movement, an organisation looking out for the rights of migrants in Finland, the police have finally evicted the Roma who have been using Satama social center [sic] as their base. Satama being, of course, a refreshing but very, very rare example of autonomous and bottom-up use of (otherwise underutilised) urban space in Helsinki. It’s one of the few places where you could point at action to defend a person’s (every person’s) right to the city.

According to Free Movement’s website, the police evicted all of Satama’s volunteer activity and the Roma occupants of the area. They add that:

Häätö tapahtui täysin epäinhimillisellä tavalla, sillä paikalla ei ollut romanien kielen tulkkia ja romaneille annettiin ainoastaan tunti aikaa pakata tavaransa ja poistua.

or:

The eviction was a totally inhumane procedure, since no translator was present and the Roma were given only one hour to pack up their belongings and leave.

The press release goes on to note that constant eviction just makes life more difficult for Roma, but does nothing to get rid of their camps.

They say that according to Amnesty International evictions of Roma have increased in the following countries recently: Slovakia, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Romania and Serbiea.

Nyt Helsingin kaupunki näyttää omaksuneen näiden maiden rasistisen linjan.

or in English:

It seems the City of Helsinki has adopted the same racist approach as these countries.

Then there’s some interesting info about housing conditions for Europe’s Roma – in Romania for example, 73% of Roma live without running water – and so on.

Genuine public space still exists in Helsinki. It’s not primarily designed for temporary shelter, but Helsinki’s Senate Square has always been a place for doing politics. Tonight Social Center Satama is relocating there.

An emergency shelter will be organized for the people who lost their homes in the eviction, starting from 6 pm at Senaatintori. People are asked to bring tarps, shelters, sleeping bags, tents, food, cooking equipment; in other words things that are needed in accommodation. The event will be peaceful.

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