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Cablegate: Finland: Embassy Participates in Orthodox Church

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Poloff David Schlaefer spoke at a conference on
trafficking-in-persons organized by the Finnish Orthodox
Church on April 11 in Joensuu, Finland. The Finnish Orthodox
Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church are both recognized as
official state churches by the GoF. Although only around 2%
of Finns are practicing Orthodox (approximately 60,000-70,000
people), the Church maintains an influential role in Finnish
politics and society and has actually seen modest growth in
recent years, whereas the dominant Lutheran Church (over 80%
of Finns are Lutheran) has experienced a decline during the
same period. The Joensuu seminar was held at the Finnish
Orthodox Seminary in Northern Karelia near the Russian
border, an area with a large Orthodox population. Increased
attention to trafficking-in-persons in the Nordic-Baltic
region prompted the Church to organize the seminar to explore
the Church's role and responsibilities as the EU expands and
issues such as trafficking, refugees, migratory pressures,
etc., become more severe.

Emphasis on the Victim

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2. (U) Poloff spoke to the group of about 40 clergy,
activists, and seminary students about the importance of
crafting an approach to trafficking in persons that focuses
victim assistance and victim's rights. Poloff emphasized
that internationally accepted definitions of trafficking
recognized that coercion could occur at any point of the
process; even if a woman entered a country willingly to work
as a prostitute, if an element of coercion was later employed
by her handlers to exploit her for commercial gain and secure
her continued acquiescence, then a trafficking dynamic
existed. The fact that Finland's new National Action Plan
recognized this and promoted a victim-centered approach to
the issue was a significant step forward for Finland. Poloff
told the group that governments alone would never be able to
stop human trafficking, and provided examples of state-NGO
partnerships that had made effective use of complementary
strengths and resources to combat TIP. Poloff suggested that
it was in the area of victim assistance that institutions
like the Orthodox Church could play an important role in the
Nordic-Baltic region in fighting trafficking.

3. (U) Finland's Speaker of Parliament, Paavo Lipponen,
also addressed the conference and led a discussion about
trafficking in Finland and the broader Nordic-Baltic region.
Lipponen told the participants that the United States had
been right in the past when criticizing Finland's approach to
trafficking through its annual TIP report. He said that
Finns had not believed that trafficking was an issue in their
country since there are no "sex districts" as are found in
some other countries and the phenomenon was invisible to the
general public. However, he said that Finland now recognized
that a problem existed and would continue to exist since
"Finland's neighborhood" was not going to change and
countries like Russia would continue to provide opportunities
for traffickers to exploit poor women. Lipponen praised
Finland's interagency TIP working group, and said that
implementation of the country's new National Action Plan
should be given the highest priority. He also said that the
GoF and institutions like the Church needed to address the
phenomenon of Finns going abroad to engage in "sex tourism,"
a practice that aided traffickers and hurt the women involved.

4. (U) The general discussion that followed the
presentations suggested that the Orthodox Church, perhaps in
partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, should
develop an action plan at the regional level to assist
governments and non-governmental organizations in combating
trafficking. Swedish Bishop Ragnar Svensrud said that the
Orthodox Church's conservative positions on issues such as
immigration and migration should not stand in the way of
recognizing that the "free movement of goods and people"
would have an ever greater affect on Europe, and that the
Church had an inherent moral responsibility to assist the
most vulnerable in society, including trafficking victims.
There was also an extended discussion of the Church's role
(if any) in countering a secular permissiveness that
contributed to Finnish (and other) European men believing
that there was nothing morally wrong in frequenting brothels
in "Thailand or Amsterdam or Estonia," despite the fact that
the women they visited, whether trafficked or not, were still
victims of an exploitation that would scar most of them
mentally and physically for life. The difficulty of
addressing moral issues in general in a postmodern secular
Europe was cited as a challenge for the Church in grappling
with issues like trafficking.

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