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Home NATIONALOulu haunted by fear for ethnic polarization
Fri, 07 Aug, 2015 12:00:36 AM
FTimes- Xinhua Report by Juhani Niinisto, Aug 7
Police imposed ban on protest at Rajakylä in Oulu on August 4 to avoid unwanted incident. Photo Lehtikuva.
A lady of Indian origin who works as a co-ordinator in a municipal multicultural centre had to escape to a restaurant, after she found herself followed by a seemingly hostile person in the street in Oulu, northern Finland.

     The lady, Priyanka Sood, told Finnish national broadcaster Yle this week that the centre had arranged a discussion attended by immigrants, original residents and the police.

     The city of Oulu, known mainly as a technology hub, has been put into the spotlight in late news reports due to the worsened relationship between immigrants and original residents.

     Yle reported that the atmosphere in the city has become increasingly tense and some immigrants have not ventured to go out to work even though they have jobs.

     "We must be able to trust the police," Sood underlined. But reports about street patrols by the far-right Finnish National Resistance Movement have added to the anxiety.

     The National Resistance group, known for its critical attitude towards immigrants and allegedly associated with recent violence in Jyväskylä, central Finland, has started its own street patrols and increased tension further. The police have labelled such activity as "unnecessary", but has not intervened.

     The director of the local police command centre Jyrki Kiviranta told the newspaper Kaleva that the police hope the patrols show restraint. "The police appreciates such private action that protects property and does not primarily seek conflict with anyone," Kiviranta said.

     Talking to Xinhua, Matti Pennanen, the Mayor of Oulu, dismissed any general trend in the city, but admitted the existence of anti-immigrant groupings.

     Professor of Sociology at Oulu University Vesa Puuronen believed the attempt to instigate ultranationalist sentiments has continued in Finland for fifteen years. "When this sort of effort continues long enough, it starts bringing the results we see now," he told Yle.

     During the past week there have been reports about gun crimes and rape cases allegedly involving immigrants. Puuronen said that isolated cases of violence and allegations of rape have created tense atmosphere in Oulu.

     "Those prone to racism often make generalizations on the basis of isolated cases, and then some people can take that as a proof that immigrants are a danger to Finnish society," he said.

     Talking about the public opinion in the city, Mayor Pennanen mentioned that Oulu is the home of Member of Parliament Olli Immonen, who very recently got major national publicity through his endorsement of "pure Finland".

     The immigrant population in Oulu is socioeconomically differentiated. During the high tech boom of the 1990s, Oulu attracted well educated foreigners and many of them have remained in Oulu and lived through the decline of the ICT business.

     Meanwhile, the city also receives refugees and asylum seekers. "Just this past weekend we got 200 more via the Red Cross," Mayor Pennanen noted.

     Arto Verajankorva, a journalist of Yle who covers ethnic relations in Oulu, told Xinhua that the issue has been underreported. Earlier this year reporters had difficulty in finding someone in the city administration who were willing to comment on the issue. Later in the spring the city established a council as a forum for immigrants to participate in municipal affairs.

     The worsened societal climate in Oulu is not a direct repercussion of the demise of the technological industries, but rather collateral damage.

     Mayor Pennanen noted that the majority of the over 4,000 white collar workers who lost IT jobs in late 2000s have been recruited by new employers, but they usually earn less than they used to and spend less. "This has created unemployment in the service sectors, and we still have long time unemployment caused by the closedown of forest industry production in late 1990s," Pennanen said.

     The reports about worsened ethnic relations are bad publicity to the city, which has worked intensely to regain its image as a successful base for growth and innovations.

     The city of 200,000 inhabitants boasts a self-proclaimed title of "the Capital of Northern Scandinavia" and focuses on attracting new investment and international interest. Mayor Pennanen also mentioned the new air connections directly to Northern Sweden and Norway without going via the south.

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