The West imagined itself as a human rights paradise, entitled to intervene, using force if necessary, to prod a wayward world to conform to its ways. The human rights report published by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in December 2011 has destroyed that illusion forever.
The report looked at 16 states, one of which was Finland. In order to make an assessment of that country, the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, the UN’s reports on the Rights of the Child, official decisions and many other sources were taken into account. The findings on Finland included shortcomings in legal aid, significant prolongation of trials, discrimination in the workplace, elder abuse, a worrying suicide rate and brutal domestic violence, as well as the injustice experienced by Russian families.
Among the establishment and the media in Finland, the Russian report has engendered indignation, conspiracy theories, scapegoat explanations and attempts to dodge the problems revealed. By contrast, the oppressed in Finnish society have seized on the report to promote their rights. The organization Russian Mothers, led by Irina Bergseth, has organized demonstrations in various parts of the world to encourage dialogue with its Finnish interlocutors.
There are long-standing and successful cultural ties between Finland and Russia. Bringing reciprocal practices into line with the needs of the multicultural and multinational 21st century hardly needs dramatizing, even though Finland has so far refused dialogue in matters relating to families and children.
On 1 June 2009, “in order to promote cooperation,” the Finnish Ministry of Justice published a 14-page report entitled “Russia Strategy of the Ministry of Justice for 2009-2015”. The Finnish report was published 22 days after Simo Pietiläinen, a consul at the Consulate-General of Finland in St. Petersburg, had illegally transported the underage son of Rimma Salonen, a Russian citizen, across the state border of the Russian Federation in the trunk of his car, which had CD plates. The boy’s name was Anton, and he also had Russian citizenship. The same Pietiläinen drew up and signed the Russia strategy of the Finnish Ministry of Justice.
The report by Pietiläinen’s group expresses the will to “develop cooperation with Russia in problems relating to international cases of abductions of children.” According to the Finnish report, the objective is to improve “the efficacy of legal proceedings in cross-border criminal and civil matters on a bilateral basis.”
Ten months after the report by the Finnish Ministry of Justice – on 20 April 2010 – V.Y. Grin, the deputy public prosecutor of the Russian Federation, filed a request for transfer of charges to the Finnish Ministry of Justice. The charge also applied to the said Pietiläinen. On 4 March 2011, the Finnish Office of the Prosecutor General published a decision according to which ex-consul Pietiläinen and the Finnish father of Anton had committed an offence, but the men were not indicted. Nor did the Finnish authorities at that stage allow the Russian mother to speak to her son in her native language, even though the child has been Russian-speaking from infancy. Orthodox worship was forbidden when the mother and her son met, even though the son was baptized in the Orthodox Church.
A fourth conference on the Rights of the Child was held in Helsinki on January 17, 2012. Finnish fathers claimed they didn’t stand a chance against Finnish mothers in custody disputes – and that only Russian mothers were in a worse position than Finnish fathers. Many of the participants ventured to call the current Finnish system a ‘feminist-fascist Gestapo.’ Perhaps the old paintings with valuable frames in the conference room of the nationalist hotel inspired this forceful association of ideas. The shocking paintings depicted Finnish politicians and officers decked with swastikas.
A Russian father at the conference lamented the fate of his family. A doctor had ordered their apparently healthy two-month-old baby to undergo tests. Only on the third round of tests did the doctor find a problem. The doctor called in the police, who removed the baby without any explanation. The police did not suspect the parents of anything criminal. Later the mother and the father were allowed to move in with their baby in a “social house” with non-Russian-speaking care workers noting down how the mother and father interacted 24 hours a day. The mother and father are calm, teetotal and well-educated, but as Russians they speak more intensely than the Finnish way of coming out with a word a minute. The family has been living under observation for six months. In February, a court will decide whether this little baby will become one of tens of thousands of children that are taken into care and from whom Finnish charities make a lot of money.
Some people are so convinced about their paradise that problems simply cannot be talked about.