A word with Kati Hiekkapelto

Finland
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Kati Hiekkapelto ©

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by nature: birds, plants, light, sea, wind and forests. Nature is the essence of my being. I could not live without the touch of the Earth and the wild. I sometimes think that I am some kind of an animal. I love walking barefoot, lying on the surface of our planet, swimming in its waters, wandering in its woods. I am also inspired by good-hearted and wise people. I am lucky to have a profession where I can meet interesting and inspiring people and find soulmates all around the globe.

Your university dissertation was on racist bullying in Finnish schools. To what extent is racism a problem in Finnish society?

Hate crimes, hate talk... hate is increasing all the time. It is a huge problem not only in Finland but everywhere. Extreme rightwing populism is brainwashing people. Many immigrants can’t get work, or apartments; they fall out of education.

Do you know what the Finnish government’s response was to the refugee wave Europe is facing? They decided that Somalia, Iraq and Afganistan are ‘safe countries’ and refugees can be returned there. It’s an easy solution, isn’t it? It reveals the extent to which laws and regulations can be used as tools for power and oppression. Just like in Germany in the 1930s.

What are the particular problems immigrant children face?

It’s a disaster for immigrant children to lose their mother tongue. They cannot learn another language well if the foundations of their mother tongue are fragile. And if you don’t have proper language skills, you risk dropping out of education and work. This naturally causes exactly those problems immigrants are accused of creating: crime, packed suburbs and other social problems. Immigrant children are also over-represented in special education in elementary schools. It can be seen as an attempt to help them, of course, but also as marginalizing and labelling them by society and its institutions.

These are only a few of the problems they face. There are many more: bullying; living between the pressures of home culture and the surrounding Western culture. Young girls are guided towards traditionally low-paid ‘female jobs’ by school councillors and not encouraged to study to their full potential.

Anna Fekete, the hero of your novel The Exiled, is an outsider – living in Finland but from Serbia’s Hungarian minority. What role do identity and the feeling of belonging play in our sense of self?

That’s a big question. The short answer is simply that identity and belonging are everything! Humans are pack creatures. Every single person needs roots, family, friends, a strong sense of self and belonging to something to feel alive, to live happily. Why do we so often and so strongly want to forbid this for some individuals or groups?

Who would you like to banish from the earth and why?

No-one in particular, other than the whole human race, because we damage ourselves, each other and our planet. I don’t think that the Earth needs us for anything especially.

As well as writing, you are a punk singer and performance artist. To what extent do you use these different art forms to put forward a political message?

I don’t write to deliver a political message. I write because writing is my passion. I’m a storyteller, that’s all I want to do. There’s a political message in my writing, for sure, but it is completely up to the reader to take it or leave it. Punk is different, of course. Punk is my political instrument but also a way to have fun, do crazy things, be creative in a lyrical format, or with short poems, and to allow my angry and aggressive side to come out.

Most of my performances I do alone in nature. I like the idea of nobody watching or recording. It is happening in the moment, in peace and quiet. n

The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto (Orenda Books) is out now.