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Cablegate: Finland's Russian Speaking Minority: Invited But

VZCZCXRO7123
RR RUEHIK
DE RUEHHE #0408/01 3071144
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 031144Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY HELSINKI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5242
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HELSINKI 000408

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PINR ECON ELAB SMIG PREL PGOV FI
SUBJECT: FINLAND'S RUSSIAN SPEAKING MINORITY: INVITED BUT
NOT ALWAYS WELCOME

HELSINKI 00000408 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Finland's Russian-speaking minority is the
largest immigrant group in the country. Most
Russian-speaking immigrants are ethnically Finnish, and have
come since the 1990s as part of a government program to
encourage resettlement of ethnic Finns in the Karelia region,
lost to Russia in the 1940s. Despite being invited to settle
in Finland, this community has found integration difficult.
A common stereotype is one of mafia criminality, but the
reality is one of often highly-educated people coming because
of family connections. The failure of many immigrants to
learn Finnish creates a barrier to social and economic
participation, resulting in high unemployment. Aside from
ethnic Finns, ethnic Russians are also coming to Finland.
Finnish officials express some concerns about that extremely
small population, in particular about trouble from
disaffected and disconnected youths. Another concern comes
from increasing tourism from Russia, and with it the
irritation of Russians purchasing the famous Finnish country
cottages. Though polls show Russian-speakers are among the
least-liked immigrant groups, Finnish officials and
representatives of the immigrant community note that tensions
are generally low and incidents fairly isolated.
Nevertheless, the government is actively seeking ways to
integrate this community. End summary.

Russian-speaking Minority Presence in Finland
---------------------------------------------

2.(U) According to FARO (Finnish Association of
Russian-Speaker Organizations/Finljandskaja Assotsiatsija
Russkojazychnyh Obshestv) and official Finnish sources,
Finland's Russian-speaking community is the country's largest
immigrant group. The community is small but growing:
numbering approximately 42,000 in 2006, by the end of 2008
the Finnish population included approximately 50,000 whose
mother tongue is Russian. A majority live in the Helsinki
region; the remainder live in considerably smaller
populations predominately in the southeast, close to the
Russian border.

3. (U) Almost half of these Russian-speaking immigrants are
not ethnically Russian. Many are of Finnish or related
ethnicity (e.g., Ingric). Finns and related ethnic groups,
and their descendants, remained when Finland lost the Karelia
region to Russia in the Continuation War (1941-1944). The
collapse of the Soviet Union presented the Government of
Finland (GoF) with an opportunity, and in the 1990s it
adopted a policy to encourage Ingrians and others to settle
in Finland (many, but not all, spoke Russian). A large wave
came to Finland in the 1990s; the GoF did not track this
influx carefully, creating difficulties in measuring the
Ingric presence in the country. (NOTE: The GoF has limited
population statistics based on ethnicity. After gaining
Finnish citizenship the GoF no longer lists ethnicity,
leaving mother tongue as the most useful statistic. END
NOTE.)

4. (U) After the initial surge of immigrants the GoF
tightened immigration and citizenship rules. Despite the
restrictions, immigration of Russian-speakers remains
significant. According to the GoF, the number applying for
Finnish residence permits coming from Russia and Estonia
doubled over the last two years, from 5,000 to 10,000.
Official statistics show that most immigrate to Finland
because of a spouse (typically a native Finnish husband) or
other family relationship. Media reports point to the global
economic slump for the surge in applications.

Social and economic participation proves difficult
--------------------------------------------- -----

5. (U) Despite family and ethnic connections, native Finns
often view Russian-speakers in a negative light.
Russian-speakers report feeling that the media stereotypes
them as mafia criminals. Polls show that they are among the
least-liked groups of immigrants, next to Arabs and Somalis.
Officials at the Ombudsman for Minorities Office say they
have received numerous reports of Finnish students bullying
Russian-speaking students. Unemployment for this group
remains higher than the population as a whole.

6. (U) The reality often differs significantly from the
negative perception: Russian-speakers commonly arrive in
Finland with a good education, and researchers note about 40
percent have graduated from university or polytechnic
education, a number higher than the native Finnish
population. Academic studies also show that this community
does not contribute disproportionately to the overall crime
rate. In fact, from 1997 to 2007, the number of crimes
involving at least one Russian-speaker has fallen by almost
1,000 cases even though total criminal cases increased by

HELSINKI 00000408 002.4 OF 002


nearly 100,000.

Ethnic Russians in Finland raise concerns
-----------------------------------------

7. (SBU) The Russian-speaking minority includes ethnic
Russians, typically from Russia or Estonia. Though a small
community, GoF officials view it with some concern, for while
it faces the same language barrier as the
Ingric-Russian-speaking minority, it lacks the ethnic ties.
For that reason GoF officials view ethnic Russian teenagers
as the most at-risk of all Russian-speakers and worry that
they will join groups outside society participating in
drug-trafficking, nationalistic or racist activities
(officials express similar concerns about other minority
groups, like the growing Muslim community).

8. (SBU) The number of ethnic Russian residents may be small
but GoF officials estimate that the number of Russian
visitors to Finland is significant and rising: roughly 50,000
Russians are in Finland on any given day. GoF reports that
Finland's four diplomatic missions in Russia processed over
90 percent of the approximately 800,000 annual (mostly
non-immigrant) visa applications for 2008. Most Russians
come for tourism: GoF officials state that only one in six
Russians come for work (for example, as Russian language
teachers, special needs assistants at schools, or low-skill
jobs), and that 30 percent of all tourists are Russian.

9. (SBU) Russian visitors have been purchasing hundreds of
the famous Finnish country cottages. Though these purchases
represent approximately one percent of all real estate
transactions in Finland, they raise the ire of many Finns,
who complain that Russian law prevents them from purchasing
homes in the formerly Finnish portion of the Karelia region.
Concerned about a negative perception of those purchases, a
FARO representative told Poloff that the purchases do not
represent a concerted Russian land-grab but the desire for
relaxation in a relatively crime-free environment.

Movement towards integration
----------------------------

10. (SBU) GoF officials remain concerned about strong ties to
Russia that inhibit the community's social participation in
Finland. The community looks almost exclusively to
Russian-based media for information. Russian interests are
also reaching directly into Finland: this summer the Russian
Orthodox Church announced plans to expand in Finland in order
to cater to the needs of its Russian population.

11. (SBU) GoF officials acknowledge that Finland needs to do
more to increase this community's participation in the larger
society. The government plans to increase Russian-language
school instruction. YLE, the national broadcaster, currently
includes Russian language news and programs on its
multi-lingual YLEMONDO station, and has plans for a
Russian-language television station. The City of Helsinki
has a privately-funded and run Russian-language radio
station, Radio Sputnik. GoF officials have spoken to Finnish
Orthodox Church officials about providing some services in
Russian.

12. (SBU) In a meeting with Embassy staff, a FARO
representative sought to downplay the GoF's concerns. She
differentiated Finland's experience from that of the Baltic
countries, pointing out that Russian-speakers seek to live in
Finland and are not like Russian-speakers in former Soviet
countries who "awoke one morning to find themselves in
another country." The representative was optimistic about
prospects for integration. Separately, the Ombudsman's
Office echoed this sentiment, noting that while attitudes are
slow to change, Finnish employers, particularly in eastern
Finland, have started to appreciate Russian-speakers.

Comment
-------

13. (SBU) Given Finland's history with Russia it is not
surprising that the presence - temporary or indefinite - of
even a small Russian-speaking population would generate some
tension. As a result, when one's primary language is
Russian, possessing ethnic or familial ties to Finland may
not mitigage or insulate one from negative attention.
Overall, the concerns surrounding this community appear
disproportionate to the reality. The level of tension is
quite low, and as the population increases the government
seems to be prudently and actively engaging in integrating
that community into Finnish society.
ORECK

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