Abstract

In this article, we argue that the discriminatory acts and laws that the Finnish government issued in the 1930s and 1940s to regulate vagrancy and impose labor obligations on the population were intended first and foremost to put pressure on the Finnish Roma, an ethnic minority consisting of an estimated number of 4,000 persons at that time. Although the irtolaislaki (Finnish Act on the Regulation of Vagrancy) of 1936 did not mention the Roma explicitly, its content and intention is comparable to a series of similar acts directed against them in Europe before and after World War II. These similarities show that Finland's vagrancy legislation cannot be fully understood without a European perspective because Roma policies tend to have a supranational character. Up to now, the historiography on Finland's Roma policies has rarely gone beyond its Finnish and Scandinavian interpretive scope (Gasche 2016, 17–19). Yet, even during WWII, the development in Finland was comparable to some other countries allied with Nazi Germany, as we will show. At the same time, however, the postwar development in Finland seems to be unique in international comparison. Unlike the Finnish Roma, the Roma in Germany and other (West) European countries began a Roma rights movement and started to demand protection within the majority society along with political equality. This activism was primarily based on a consciousness of the centuries-old discrimination against “Gypsies” practiced by the majority, which culminated in the Nazi genocide of Europe's Roma (Matras 1998; Rose 1987; Wippermann 2015, 138–50). The Finnish Roma, however, identified themselves with a positive narrative about Roma soldiers fighting in the Finnish Army for their home country (Ruohotie 2007, 12). This strategy was successful, we argue, since it perfectly fits into the official Finnish narrative about a brave and fair “war of continuation” that Finland fought against the Soviet Union independently and separately from Nazi Germany—a point of view questioned in recent years in light of the information on Finnish Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht volunteers involved in Nazi atrocities against Soviet civilians, including the Roma.

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