Radio Sputnik unites Russian-speakers in Helsinki
By Tomi Tyysteri
When Irina Kuzmina reads the first radio news bulletin on the Russian-language Radio Sputnik on weekdays at seven in the morning, she probably reaches more of her target audience than any other Finnish radio broadcaster.
Recent listener surveys indicate that 89% of Russians in Helsinki have listened to the station, which operates in Itäkeskus in the east of Helsinki.
In addition, three out of four Russian tourists visiting Finland tune in to Radio Sputnik, which began operations in 1999.
The news, produced by Kuzmina and her colleagues, deals with events in Finland, Russia, and the rest of the world.
"Nevertheless, what is most important is news concerning Finland. We must be able to tell what happens here", Kuzmina says, echoed by the station’s head of marketing, Nadja Leinonen.
Sputnik, for its part, serves as a unifying factor for Russians, which is important, because as both Kuzmina and Leinonen point out, the Russian-speaking community is not especially homogenous.
"There are various clubs and other entertainments, but there is such a broad range of us."
Sixty percent of the music played on Radio Sputnik is Russian. The proportion has increased over the years, in response to listener demand.
In the years that Kuzmina, age 30, has lived in Finland, her urge to travel has eased considerably. She came to Finland five years ago from the Russian Karelian city of Petrozavodsk with her Ingrian husband.
The first days in Finland were difficult. She had neither work, nor the necessary language skills. After searching for half a year she found Radio Sputnik.
"This was like winning the lottery for me", Kuzmina explains.
Not all Russian-speakers living in Finland have been so lucky. In 2003 40% of them did not have jobs, in spite of the fairly high level of education within their community.
"It is my experience that not all Finnish employers trust academic degrees and diplomas earned in Russia", says Leinonen, age 28.
Finns who do not speak Russian often make note of the somewhat more exuberant style of Radio Sputnik than is typical for Finnish stations. Advertisements are full of sound effects, and the flow of words from announcers is torrential by comparison.
Sputnik employs 12 people.
"This is an interesting and pleasant team to work with. Sometimes the slightly artistic way that Russians operate is a cause of slight amazement", says Mauri Raveala, the station’s managing director and only Finnish employee.
Not all contact between Russians and native Finns is pleasant.
According to a fresh study by Statistics Finland, many Finns hold very negative stereotypes of Russians.
"Once at Stockmanns’ Department Store a mother would not let her daughter go into a stall in the public toilet after I had used it, because a Russian had just been there", says Nadja Leinonen.
She says that some Russians are reluctant to speak their own language in public for fear that they might be labelled.
"I am not shy at all, and I will speak the language in the future as well", Leinonen says.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.3.2005
More on this subject:
BACKGROUND: Finland’s largest group of immigrants
Previously in HS International Edition:
Russian immigrants ease problem of net population loss in Eastern Finland (7.3.2005)
Immigration and tourism from Russia boost economy and population of Eastern Finland (7.3.2005)
TOMI TYYSTERI / Helsingin Sanomat