This week, we are welcoming Katerina back to our podcast! Last time she joined us was in February, before the coronavirus pandemic changed life in Finland indefinitely. Today, she is going to share her experience trying to get married in Finland.
Katerina and her partner, Alex, were supposed to get married on a Friday. Many of their closest friends and family came to Finland from different places, and they had both taken time off of work. They had booked the wedding, and settled all of the legal and financial questions -- or so they thought. The Tuesday before the big day, they were told that there was a problem. They had failed to provide an official document from their country of origin declaring that they were not married.
Alex was able to provide this document, because he is part Finnish. However, Katerina was at a loss; there is no such document in Greece. She called the Greek embassy, but they confirmed what she already knew: there is no such document, and it cannot be provided. The organization in Finland responsible for processing marriages agreed to accept a letter stamped and translated, issued by the Greek government and sent from Greece. It took getting Alex on the phone with the agency for this exception to be made. What’s more, they would not accept a digital copy with a stamp, so the couple had to postpone the wedding.
Katerina and Alex were disappointed. especially because of Katerina’s negative experience attempting to navigate Finnish bureaucracy without speaking the language. There is a widespread perception that everything works perfectly in Finland; however, Katerina cautions that this does not always hold true for foreigners. She was frustrated that in 2020, Finland needed a physical stamp from an EU citizen.
This frustrating experience exposed what Katerina perceived as a Finnish hierarchy of bureaucracy. Because her husband speaks better Finnish, he now handles all official paperwork. Unfortunately, Katerina explains, people who speak Finnish are often treated better in official situations. She points out that foreigners are even required to carry an ID card of a different color than native Finns, raising the question of potential discrimination based on national origin.
Because she has lived in the country for five years already, Katerina is preparing to apply for Finnish citizenship. Finland is her home now, and she plans to continue fighting for improved conditions for immigrants in Finland. The only way to create better conditions for foreigners, she insists, is to talk about the issues they face.