Saturday, September 24, 2016

Far-right extremism claims life in Finland - time to pull the plug

For too long right-wing extremist and neo-Nazi organizations have had their way across Europe. They enjoy freedoms and liberties to organize, demonstrate, express themselves and terrorize opponents under the guise of civil and political rights -- rights that other extremist groups such as extremist groups that kill in the name of Islam do not enjoy. It's time to pull the plug on violent extremism in all its forms. Violent extreme-right organizations should be outlawed like all other extreme groups that claim lives through senseless acts of violence across the world. Political extremism should be painted with the same brush like religious extremism.

A 28-year-old man died in hospital in Finland one week after he was assaulted at a neo-Nazi demonstration in broad daylight in the heart of Helsinki. According to Helsingin Sanomat, the victim was assaulted in front of Helsinki Central Railway Station on Saturday 10 September. His father told Helsingin Sanomat that the attack took place at a demonstration organized by the Finnish Resistance Movement known in Finnish as Suomen vastarintaliike - an infamous neo-Nazi organization.  Police confirmed to Helsingin Sanomat that a man received strikes to the head in the city center but were initially tight-lipped about the case. However, details of the case quickly became clear.

According to Ilta-Sanomat the victim, Jimi Joonas Karttunen, died on Friday 16 September at 10 pm. His father made a police report on Monday. The grieving father told Ilta-Sanomat that his only son was pushed to the ground, hit his head and lost consciousness. He was taken to hospital in Töölö from where he was discharged on Thursday. He however suffered from cerebral hemorrhage the next day and was able to call emergency services before losing consciousness. Emergency services found him on the floor and took him to Meilahti hospital where he died. His father described him as an "international, open person" who was interested in skating and snowboarding. He was born in Sweden and they moved to Finland just ten years ago. Ilta-Sanomat reports that the Finnish Resistance Movement posted its own version of events that day on its website. According to an update on the movement's website, "an activist intervened in a situation and gave a quick crackdown" to a heckler. A video published by the movement shows a man lying on the ground next to a blood splotch.

Police detained a man born in 1990 in relation to the assault. According to Yle, the suspect turned himself in. He is suspected of assault and involuntary manslaughter. Another Yle report reveals that the suspected assailant has a violent background and is a founding member of the neo-Nazi Finnish Resistance Movement. Police confirmed the victim died of a head injury after being kicked.

The accused was remanded in custody on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter which carries a prison sentence of up to six years, according to Yle.

According to MTV News the accused has a heavy criminal record and history with the neo-Nazi Finnish Resistance Movement. For instance in 2010 he, together with a partner in crime, push over a man in Helsinki and kicked him in the face and body. In 2011 he tried to stop police from arresting another man by pushing and grabbing a police officer. In addition, he has previously been convicted of obstructing a public servant, smuggling, possession of a dangerous object and aggravated damage.

My Take

First and foremost, my thoughts are with the family and friends of Jimi Karttunen. The senseless violence that claimed his life is utterly despicable and unacceptable. Jimi Karttunen died apparently opposing neo-Nazism and racism. According to his friends he had strong opinions and was not afraid to express them, and human rights were important to him. For this reason, as a person who shares his values with regard to human rights, I pay him homage. I was one of the numerous people who visited the crime scene and lite a candle in his honor.

Reports say the 28-year-old met his end standing up neo-Nazi demonstrators. Police say the victim walked by a group of neo-Nazi demonstrators who gathered at Helsinki Central Railway Station, stopped by the demonstrators, exchanged words and was chased by one of the demonstrators as he walked away. He was kicked in the chest and hit his head when he fell to the ground. According to an eyewitness, the victim was hit on the chest by a flying kick and he did not have time to react. His father told Helsingin Sanomat that he went with his friends to express his views about the Finnish Resistance Movement.

Not many people have the courage to stand up for what they believe in and make their voices heard. Jimi, according to his father was not a member of an anti-racism organisation. However, the fact that he expressed opposition to neo-Nazism shows that he was an anti-racist at heart. For that, I salute him. Losing a loved one is a horrible experience but I hope Jimi's family takes some solace in the fact that his death brought the threat of neo-Nazism, a long-standing and overlooked problem in Finland, to the limelight. Hopefully, weeks, months or years from now Finland will look at the tragic passing of Jimi Kartunen as a defining moment in the fight against racism, neo-Nazism, far-right extremism and senseless political violence in the country. In this regard, Jimi would have literally left Finland a better place for all. There are already signs that things are moving in that direction.

The tragedy on 10 September literally ignited overdue public discourse about how to eradicate neo-Nazism, a social-ill that poses a real threat to human rights in Finland. A lot seems to have happened since then - geared towards stopping the madness. For instance, Minister of Finance and leader of the National Coalition Party, Petteri Orpo, told Yle that violent right-wing organisations should be banned. The minister said if ways to ban political organisations that use violence are found he would support the ban. According to the minister extreme right organisations are security threat and a ban on such organisations had already been discussed in government at the beginning of the year but legal scholars have had different opinions on how violent organizations could possibly be banned; nine legislators launched a bill to outlaw "organized racism".They will need another 91 MPs to back their legislative proposal but it's a good start; an anti-racism demonstration (Peli poikki!) was organized and scheduled to take place on Saturday 24 September 2015. According to Yle 9 000 people had indicated on Facebook by midday on Friday that they would participate in the demonstration billed to "break the silence" on racism. At the time of this writing the number stood at 10 000. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä will participate in a related demonstration against racism in Kuopio. Former president Tarja Halonen will be one of the speakers at the Peli poikki anti-racism demonstration in Helsinki.

The most important thing, I think, that has happened since the passing of Jimi Kartunen is the arrest and remand to custody of the alleged perpetrator. Police acted swiftly, which is absolutely commendable. If found guilty, the perpetrator should bear the full weight of the law. He should be slapped with the maximum penalty possible for such a heinous crime. Involuntary manslaughter, according to Yle, carries a prison sentence of up to six years. I would like to see the accused sentenced to six long years in prison. His colorful criminal record should make conviction easy. Given his record he poses a threat to public safety. He should be incarcerated for the maximum period of time the law allows. The sentence should not be suspended. He should spend the time behind bars.

As for the so-called Finnish Resistance Movement -- it is a violent organization. It glorified the attack on Jimi Kartunen on its website by boasting about it in a post that described the victim as a heckler who received a "quick crackdown". That is according to Ilta-Sanomat. The "crackdown" apparently led to the death of a 28-year-old man.

The death of Kartunen is not the first time the so-called Finnish Resistance Movement is involved in violence. In 2015, a demonstration organized by the movement went out of hand in Jyväskylä when members of the group entered a department store and assaulted bystanders. Three people were injured and thirty two people were arrested. Assault seems to be the group's preferred method of operation.

It is high time Finland pulls the plug on violent far-right extremism before it claims more lives. Legal restrictions on violent political groups -- restrictions designed to protect members of the public from organized violence and racism -- are necessary and proportionate in a democratic society in the interest of public safety, for the prevention of crime and for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. A ban on violent groups is compatible with human rights. If a group commits or participates in acts of violence, prepares for violence or promotes, encourages and glorifies violence it should be banned. Terrorist groups are already banned for these reasons in many countries, and no one thinks a ban on such groups is in violation of human rights standards of free expression and assembly.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Wage discrimination by Nokia against foreigners in Finland

Public discourse about wage gap or wage discrimination in Finland is mostly gender-based -- but not only women are negatively affected by wage differentials between people doing the same kind of job for the same employer in Finland. Foreigners, or non-Finns, - men and women alike - are a vulnerable group susceptible to many forms of discrimination and unequal treatment, including wage discrimination.

Studies show that women are paid less on average than men in "virtually all labour markets", and the Finnish labour market -- where women receive wages that are some 15-30 percent less than men´s wages -- is no exception. Gender wage differentials may arise from labour market segregation or employers may simply pay lower wages to their female employees than their male employees for the same type of job (Korkeamäki, Ossi, Kyyrä and Tomi 2003). According to Korkeamäki et al (2003) such "within-job wage differentials" between men and women could be interpreted as wage discrimination against women. According to a Yle report, gender pay-gap in Finland is worse than in the rest of Europe.

It turns out that not only women are subjected to wage discrimination in the Finnish labour market. Foreigners are also susceptible. According to information reportedly obtained by Yle from a State Administrative Inspection Agency, foreign IT employees working for Nokia in Finland were paid much less than Finnish employees. Indian, Chinese and Polish IT employees who worked for Nokia between 2014-2015 were paid salaries as low as 750 euros a month - much less than Finnish employees. Yle reports that from the obtained documents foreign workers who worked in product development design earned 50-70 percent less than their Finnish counterparts.

Worthy to mention that according to the Union for Professional Engineers in Finland the salary for work done by the foreign workers discriminated against by Nokia should be at least 4000 euros a month. Compare that to the meager 750 euros a month that Nokia paid them.

According to Yle the issue of wage discrimination against foreigners in Nokia was exposed in a State Administrative Agency inspection, and Nokia received a warning from the agency regarding the matter of wage discrimination.

My view

First of all, a mere warning for wage discrimination by a multinational information and information technology company - or what remains of it - is grossly insufficient reprimand for such an illegal act in a country governed by the rule of law.

Wage discrimination against women in Finland is a serious problem worth discussing and seeking solutions - but not only women are affected by wage discrimination. Public discourse about wage discrimination in Finland should be expanded to included all vulnerable groups, including foreigners - who are not only affected by discriminatory employment practices but also discriminatory wage differential. Although women as a whole are adversely affected by wage discrimination it is possible that foreign women are paid even less than their Finnish counterparts for the same kind of work in the Finnish labour market.

The fact that foreign workers in Nokia were paid up to 50-70 percent less than their Finnish counterparts is alarming. And that is just Nokia. What transpires in other companies and workplaces and in other sectors can only be left to the imagination. If more inspections are carried out as intended by the Regional State Administrative Agency I believe there will be more shocking revelations that would damage Finland's reputation among countries that pride themselves as champions of equality.

According to Korkeamäki et al (2003), women in the Finnish labour market take home 15-30 percent less wages than men. According to Yle, studies show that women in the Nordic country earn on average 18 percent less than men. I reckon the average is higher among foreigners. This is not to say wage discrimination against women is not an important subject; it is to say that wage discrimination among other vulnerable minority groups like foreigners is equally important and worth looking into. After all, it has been said that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Selective outrage to cases of discrimination is in itself discriminatory.

It is unfortunate and unjust that Nokia seems to have, more or less, gotten away with such a scandalous violation of national and international human rights standards on equality and non-discrimination with a mere slap on the wrist in the form of a warning. Imagine a world where all offenders got away with warnings. A satisfactory consequence of such a blatant transgression, I think, would be reparation to victims - in addition to punitive measures. The near-silence on the matter by Finnish civil society and equality advocates - many of whom are usually vocal on matters of inequality, especially when it involves women - is telling. Perhaps the muted response by the Finnish public is because victims of the violation are foreigners. Perhaps Finnish society and the powers that be would have been more concerned and outraged if the affected workers were Finns - or women. Fortunately or unfortunately, Finnish workers were not adversely affected by the scandal -- they in fact earned 50-70 percent more than their foreign counterparts, according to Yle.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Brexit motivated by xenophobia

Britain goes to the polls on Thursday 23 June 2016 to decide in a referendum whether the UK should remain in the European Union (EU) or leave. Like in most elections across Europe these days, immigration is a huge question and there are campaigners and voters who think that without immigration - or free movement of people as in case of EU membership - all a country's problems would somehow disappear. There can not be further away from the truth.

The referendum question, according to The New York Times will ask eligible voters - British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens 18 and older living in the UK, UK citizens living abroad who have been registered to vote in the UK in the past 15 years  - whether the UK should "remain a member of the European Union" or "leave the European Union." According to the BBC there are three million EU citizens (excluding Britons) living in the UK, and immigration is one of the most important issues for EU referendum voters. Three million foreign EU citizens seems to be too much for Britain, but nine member states of the EU reportedly have higher proportions of foreign EU citizens than the UK.

An intense four-month campaign centered around questions on immigration, the economy and national sovereignty reached its climax with the assassination of Jo Cox, a British MP who campaigned for Britain to remain a member of the EU. Ms. Cox, 41, was reportedly killed after getting out of her car in Birstall where she was scheduled to hold a meeting with constituents.

The New Times reports that immigration - including worries that Turkey will join the E.U and expose Britain to a new wave of Muslim immigrants - and national identity have been central to the "occasionally bitter clashes over the referendum. Those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU also evoke economic concerns to make their case - although more than 1,280 business executives, including directors from 51 FTSE 100 companies reportedly signed a letter in the Times newspaper supporting the Remain camp. Companies on the list reportedly employ 1.75 million people. It is fair to mention that some business leaders like Sir James Dyson and one of the UK´s oldest firms, Tate & Lyle Sugars, support the Leave camp. But most economist believe, according to The New York Times, that Brexit would among other things "create havoc with the pound." Even people in the Leave camp like economist Andrew Lilico, the Executive Director of consulting firm Europe Economics, agree that leaving the EU would be detrimental to Britain's economy until around 2030.

My view

A mere look at the names of those who support the Leave camp tells me that xenophobia is the driving force behind Brexit. Names that have become synonymous with racism and xenophobia in Europe; names like Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and supporting from abroad - polarizing figures like Marine Le Penn, leaders of the French National Front - a party known for "its vituperative denunciation of migrants, its uncontrolled hostility towards Muslims, its xenophobic 'France for the French' message" - among other things.

Supporters of the Vote Leave campaign are not in good company.

Brexit appeals to nationalists - some of whom are far right extremists like Thomas Mair - the man who assassinated MP Jo Cox because of her political views - according to her husband. After the cold-blooded killing Thomas Mair gave his name in court as "death to traitors, freedom for Britain". That is the rhetoric of Brexit. Blind (and possibly deadly) nationalism. Supporters of the movement claim that as part of the EU, Britain is not free and anyone who opposes their push to leave the bloc is a "traitor".

Of course not all EU exit propagandists are extreme and xenophobic. Justice Secretary Michael Gove for instance distanced himself from UKIP´s xenophobic "Breaking Point" poster - a poster reminiscent of Nazi-style propaganda. Other decent politicians who are in bad company with the Vote Leave campaign include Boris Johnson, former mayor of London.

Britain is stronger in the EU despite the bloc's shortcomings. Staying in a reformed EU would be a smarter choice. A vote to leave the union would weaken the influence of UK in Europe and jeopardize the lives of numerous Britons living and working abroad thanks to the free movement rule in the EU. It would adversely affect the movement of money, people and products thereby affecting big business negatively. There is a reason why 55% of members of the British Chamber of Commerce favor staying in a reformed EU. According to Yle, Britons living and working in Finland for example are worried about the possibility of Britain leaving the EU due to the impact it would have on their work and residency. Majority of them oppose leaving the EU.

The way I see it, Britons living and working abroad have a broader worldview and understanding of the global impact of Brexit. Those at home have little or no clue about what it means to be a citizen of the EU. All they see is immigrants coming into Britain. They are oblivious to the fact that should Britain decide to leave there would be a new breed of "immigrants" in the form of British returnees from other EU countries, and British livelihood across the EU would be destroyed. "Free movement", one of the main principles of EU membership, is not a one-way rule. There are British citizens living and working in other European countries. And as indicated by those living and working in Finland - they would like Britain to remain in the EU.

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