Monday, 30 May 2011

Finland Wanders Down Racist Memory Lane: the ID as Concentration Camp Badge (+ addendum)

It is reported today all over Swedish media (here, here, here, here) that residents of Finland that are not (yet) Finnish citizens are to be forced to carry IDs that are coloured brown, rather than the ordinary blue. While policies distinguishing people based on citizenship were to be expected as a result of the success of the Finnish new racist (or, as I would have it, nationist) party Sannfinländarna ( ≈ "True Finns"), I was quite shocked by this the first expression of this political shift. Considering the practice of 20th century racist regimes to force people of targetted undesirable groups (such as jews or gays) to wear special markings on their clothes in the concentration camps, but also in general public, one would have thought that an idea like this would be avoided, if nothing else, for tactical reasons.

As I explained in my series of posts last year on the ideological core of the new European racism (pt. 1, 2, 3), the new direction of nationism – where citizenship rather than biological type or ethnicity is in focus for the standard racist idea of sorting people into categories of more or less worthy – that has helped the new European racist parties to achieve some success in recent years, ultimately leads down the same road as those more familiar types of racist ideology that Europe encountered in the 1900's. However, it is also an elaborate tactic of these parties to try to hide this logic behind (untenable) pragmatic arguments re. immigration and citizenship. Therefore, it is a bit of a surprise to see this rather radical and large step in the direction of the ethnic cleansing that I argued will, in the end, have to become the primary objective of the new racists. In the end it will be about separating "real" Finns from the "unreal", regardless of geographical or genetic descent, denying the latter the rights and priviliges of citizenship.

Apparently, according to the news reports, a pragmatic argument has been offered also in this particular case, namely that the new policy will make the job easier for the police. Exactly how, one wonders. IDs certainly makes the police's job easier, but what does it matter for police-work whether or not people contacted in the course of investigations are immediately visible as non-citizens? If the matter of citizenship happens to be relevant (which it is, like, never), this will reveal itself as soon as inquiries are made into the records of the person. No, this argument is so lame, and such an obvious pretext, that one wonders why anyone even bothered to wield it. This is about marking out and separating people on the basis of the basic nationist idea of what makes people more or less worthy of protection (namely citizenship). This is about installing this notion into the minds of Finns who will be exposed to these markings (in the bank, the post office and every time an ID is needed when shopping).

And, of course, this is how it all began in the 1930's.........

Addendum (a few hours later)
According to a Finnish academics friend, the official explanation given in Finland is that it is important "for security reasons" that the ID given to non-citizen residents is not a valid travel document within the Schengen region. This, of course, is as lame as alluding to the needs of the police. First, it assumes that there would be a connection between being a security risk and being a resident non-citizen of Finland (which, of course, there is not). Second, it totally misses the point, since the Schengen region works in a way that means, that everyone have to prove citizenship, residentship and/or valid reason (such as a tourist visa or equivalent) when entering the region, but not within the region (thus, when flying from Helsinki to Gothenburg, no one checks passport or anything else at arrival). If you are a resident of a Schengen country, you have the right to travel to any Schengen country. In effect, it would appear that – if not strictly violating (after all, the non-citizens can use their passport if they have one) the Schengen agreement – the Finnish move most certainly is violently acting against its spirit.

On the webpage of the Finnish police, the reform is explained in terms of "enhancing security", presumably hinting at the just related (invalid) reason.


  1. Maybe the immigrants of Finland also can wear some kind of symbol so that everyone can see that they are immigrants and not Finns?

  2. Shouldn't it be "Finland Wanders Down.." ?

    Also, do you mean nationalist or really nationist (

    Good reading.

  3. Kanske lite korrekturläsning innan du postar?

  4. Jag är finne - så inget problem. En finne igen.

  5. I would just like to point out that the Swedish ID card issued to non-citizens looks different (in several ways, including colour) than the one issued to citizens. I have one. The reason can be explained away by the fact that the cards are issued by different authorities, but the bottom line is that they look different. My friends are often surprized when they see my ID card-- apparently the Swedish media didn't turn the issue into a discussion topic when it happened at home.

  6. menade du "wanders"?

  7. I did mean wanders - thank you, slip of the key/pen/cortex there....

    Interesting info about the Swedish system, it should be brought to public visibility!

    I do mean nationist, but in an explicit normative rather than sociolinguist sense (defined in my earlier postings linked to in this posting). Briefly: the idea that states have a reason by itself (that is, not a pragmatic one) for applying lower standards of treatment to non-citizens or people who are not born by citizens.

    One Finn states that, since he is a Finn, this is no problem. I would say, that this should be seen as a problem especially if you are a Finn.

  8. There is a link available in English.

  9. I note that the Finns are also planning to introduce differently coloured IDs for underaged kids as well. Gosh! Are the Finns also "discriminating" youngsters as well? What do you think?
    By the way you can see some pictures of the infamous IDs in a Helsingin Sanomat article online: []. I honestly can’t see what all the fuzz is about...

  10. Thanks for the English link - will add it to the addendum shortly!

    Re. children. Yes, I noticed that, however, that is significantly different, since it does not introduce anything new to the well known fact that children are not considered legally competent adults. Besides, perhaps you haven't noticed but children can usually be recognised as children anyway, so that's one thing. Another thing is that in the case of children, the restrictions are different: they can travel on the IDs w. their parents and children's passports aren't valid travel documents by themselves in the same way (so, there's nothing new added). Third, the different colouring in the case of children is not marking out residents who are citizens from those that are not. Sad to hear that you cannot tell the difference in political significance regarding this.

  11. Well, since the Finns are not really forcing foreigners to wear visible IDs or forcing the foreigners to live in some kind of ghettos etc. I don’t see what the big problem is. That is also why you, in my opinion, are just scaring people and bashing Finland for a no good reason

    The Finns just introduce an ID with a different colour for foreign people residing in Finland. Fine, what's wrong with that? All around the world there are certain privileges (and obligations, for example paying taxes...) associated with being a citizen in a certain country. It might be free healthcare, the right to work, travel and stay in a region, the right to vote etc. What's wrong with that and what's wrong with something, for example an ID, proving that you are entitled to these privileges?

    One just can't go by the looks because looks are deceiving. As for minors for example, some of the older minors might look old enough to pass as adults. Maybe you have noticed that? The same applies for foreigners. Sometimes you just can't tell by the looks if a person is a Finnish citizen, they just as well might be Russian, Norwegian, Swedish etc. - and with long range migration becoming more and more common you can, believe it or not, even meet coloured Finns nowadays. Thus an ID just might come handy.

    Notetheless, I think you've wisely observed the nationalist surge in Europe. I've also noticed that the tide has turned – but will the end results be disastrous or will it just refresh everything by flushing away some unwanted political garbage that is not anchored down by the voters? Only time will tell. I think the main reason these nationalist parties gain support is probably because an increasing number of voters feel somehow let down by their "regular parties" and are thus disappointed with how they've run the country. It might just be the consequences of the recession, the unemployment situation or the fact that they somehow feel uncomfortable with the perceived high immigration levels or the social unrest and economical uncertainty that may follow from the above mentioned reasons. This consequently creates a political vacuum and an opportunity for a party that adresses these questions in a "reasonable", "appealing" way. Thus there just might be some extremely interesting times ahead of us.

    And as for the Schengen treaty, I would not be surprised if it has to be revised any time soon...

  12. As to the bare bones causal explanation of the new racism's success in Europe in terms of disappointment: sure. As to the idea of it taking away "political garbage": this assumes said garbage to be connected to citizenship or who your parents were, which is obviously false. Re. you cannot go by the looks: sure, but why on earth is it important that people can see who's a citizen and who's not? I can see absolutely no reason in terms of either security or national interest why it should be. Re.the Finns are not forcing anyone to wear the IDs. You're obviously ill informed about the possibility of living a minimally functional life without an ID in Scandinavian countries.

  13. I am just a little curious about your definition of "racism". I mean, sorting people into different groups (e.g. citizens or non-citizens) could not reasonably be seen as a "racist" policy, so long as it is not about "races". One could perhaps call this particular policy "nationalist", but "racist"...?

  14. Mikael: well, the racism we know from the 1900's has never been about biology (at least not mainly) - this is well confirmed today among researchers in the field. Racists have sorted out groups that are held to be of less moral worth mainly using criteria where some surface physiology (like skin colour, which of course makes for no race in the biological sense) has been attached to one or more socio-cultural signifier (religion, language, customs, mores....). What I have pointed out earlier is that the new European racism uses the socio-cultural signifier of being a citizen (you can read about this at length in the 3 pieces linked to in this post) and has thus called this ideology Nationism. And you're right, just sorting people into groups - be it races, citizens or something else - does not amount to racism or nationism. What needs to be added is the idea that the distinction between race x and y or between being a citizen and not being a citizen is of moral importance in its own right.

  15. To clarify, pragmatic measures that countries are forced to implement due to the organisation of the global human community into a multitude of nation states, so that not anyone can enjoy all of the benefits of a country just by being there (this is basically what the citizen - non-citizen distinction does in Sweden today), is not nationism. But the new European racists want to go much further than what any pragmatic reason can motivate - this is described in detail in pt. 1 of the three pieces on the ideology of the new European racism.

  16. My last Swedish drivers licence had an entry stating that I was born in Finland. That was unwarranted. However the national ID card (which by the way is issued in many countries including Sweden) is a travel document similar to a passport. It is (as is the case with passports) only issued to citizens of the country in question. As you may know passports are only issued to nationals of the issuing state. A similar principle applies to national id cards.

    If you are not a citizen of Finland but a resident you can still apply for a id card from the state authorities. This is not a national id card in the sense described above (travel document similar to passport) but just an id card plain and simple. This has existed for some time. The news is that the colour has changed. Previously the colour was similar to that of the national id card and for this reason it was easily confused with that. The reason for the change in colour is to avoid this confusion. Btw this form of id card is not very common in Finland because it is not very useful (cannot be used as a travel document) and only a couple of hundreds are issued each year.

    If non Finnish residents wish to become Finnish citizens they can apply. The rules are similar to the ones in Sweden and other Nordic countries.

    Frankly I don´t understand your sense of alarm wrt to this issue.

    The bigger issue is whether we should make any distinction between citizens and non-citizen residents. For example in Sweden non citizen residents are not permitted to participate in general elections on the national level, this means that residents that for some reason cannot or do not wish to become Swedisn citizens are from participating although they may contribute to the Swedish society just as much as citizen residents.

    There are also other restrictions pertaining to non citizens, wrt to military service, support from Swedish authorities abroad, etc.

  17. When it comes to treating citizens and non-citizens differently, see my former comments + the earlier posts mentioned there.

    I have done some research and as far as I have been able to determine, the national ID is the only ID issued by Finnish authorities, besides drivers licenses. The new type of ID's introduced in Finland with info embedded in chips makes it very likely that in the close future, driver's licence will be issued in that form. This is what many European countries strive for presently, since it is cheap and rational from an administrative point of view.

    This means that, presently, unless you drive, if you are a resident of Finland but not a citizen, this will be very clearly visible to other people in all situations where an ID has to be displayed; shopping, picking up parcels at the post office, making transactions at a bank, et cetera. In the future it is likely that the option of using your driver's license to avoid this situation will disappear.

    I claim (1) that this effect is a major downside, especially in the present Finnish political climate (for the reasons mentioned in the original post), (2) that there is no sensible reason for having this effect in terms of national security or police efficiency.

  18. "that residents of Finland that are not (yet) Finnish citizens are to be forced to carry IDs that are coloured brown"

    That is disinfo. OR a blatant lie. Having an ID is not required in Finland at all. No foreigner is *forced* to have the (mostly green) ID. Foreigners are *allowed* to get one, if they want to. Not all countries agree to give foreigners an ID at all.

    Is Brazil also a racist country when they have similar system than Finland? Or Malaysia? etc. etc. In fact: Please, list the countries that give identical ID's for citizens and foreigners.

  19. Dear Anonymous,

    you have obviously not read the comment thread above, where most of your concerns are addressed. Otherwise, it is interesting to see that you view Brazil and Malaysia as the moral beacons for the rest of the world to follow.