COVID19 Grant for the artist Romeo Kodra (part II).

A dream scene. That’s what it was. Once more, it was January 6th, not 1996, but in 2016 when I first came to Finland. Yet, to make sure that the perception was real and not a dream, there were -25 degrees … -25 windy degrees. It was challenging to maintain the same convincing and persuading capacity in front of my sister, to whom I, for months before, suggested to transfer with her one-and-a-half-year-old son in Finland. Why? Because Finland is the happiest country in the world, especially for the quality of the education system … even Michael Moore knows that … so, to continue our Bosnian-Albanian family muhaxhir tradition, I suggested “invade” Finland (see Where to Invade Next).

From Vantaa airport to Haukilahti there is 30 minutes drive. From Kehä 1 (Ring 1, which is the zipper axis that connects Helsinki with Vantaa and Espoo making possible the developing Greater Helsinki Region) to Länsiväylä (Western Highway) the landscape was a combination of forests and industrial or contemporary buildings. Once in Länsiväylä the sea appeared … frozen. At Tapiola’s overpass, the taxi driver entered Westend, taking Westendintie, which he left at the corner of Linnake (Fortress), entering finally Haukilahti. The view of Toppelundintie reminded me Tirana’s boulevard, but without buildings … only 20-30 meters high trees wrapped, frozen, in the snow forming a dense white wall. 200 meters ahead the taxi driver turned left and drove up to Pitkänkalliontie where a white building with prefabricates similar to Enver Hoxha’s scientific state socialism ones appeared to me as a perfect joke of someone or some unknown force to stimulate my absent childhood nostalgia. After unloading the luggage in the middle of an almost empty but very warm apartment, I turned at my sister and said: “I don’t know how and when, but I will not stay here only for this month, just to help you with the ‘integration and general settling’ … I will come again, because living here seems like living in a painting.” I still am not sure about the meaning of my sister’s facial expression, whether was related to the -25 windy degrees, to the worry of having to be alone after a month with a small child in a foreign country, or to the disbelief of having a brother so insensitive and out of his mind.

On May 25, 2019 I arrived with my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter and her mother in the apartment of Pitkänkalliontie, where the smiles of my sister and nephew were waiting for us. However, the above-mentioned facial expression of my sister of 2016 wasn’t gone. It just had moved on the face of my partner. Yet, the almost Mediterranean temperatures of Haukilahti’s summer of 2019 helped a lot to relax every one of us. In addition, in few weeks I found a job and everything was going in the right direction. Thus, with a work contract in my hand, I went to Helsinki’s MIGRI Office for the work permit and registration of residence. There, surprisingly, I found that as a migrant, and not an EU citizen (for whom the procedure is immediate), I had to wait from four to six or more months to have my Finnish Residence and Work Permit. I protested, kindly (considering the kindness of the officer), regarding the difference of treatment, especially when I am in posses of an EU Work and Residence Permit for Long Term Residents released by Italian authorities (as I lived in Italy for more than 10 years), which, by the way, are possible to have from the Finnish MIGRI Office if one is a migrants living in Finland for more than 10 years. The officer was so polite and kind to remind me that she was “very sorry” and “this is the Finnish law”, to which I replied that I was “more than sorry to have paid in Italy taxes for EU thinking that Finland was part of it”. The discussion regarding the meaning of “Finland is EU” went long and, neither she nor I won in the end.

[Déjà vu. I left the Albanian coffin on January 6th, 1996 to join INKER Zaprešić, a football club of the first Croatian League where I passed only a few weeks, because another club, HNK Gospić, came with an offer I couldn’t refuse: full-service accommodation in Hotel Velebno, 8000 Deutsche Marks at the beginning of the first year (which served for my sister’s ballet school fee in Baku), 7000 at beginning of the second year, 500 Deutsche Marks per month plus premiums per win and/or goal, as well as the possibility to play on free days (which was Sunday) for the lower league team of Novalja where I could gain some extra per game. Yet, after my parents moved from Albania to Italy in March 1997, my father got badly injured risking both his feet in a factory, in Grasobbio, where he was working. For this reason, at the beginning of 1998, I decided to move to Italy and sign for US Leffe, an Italian club of Serie C. The move was a bargain for the club, because of a special law (being under 21, I benefited from Bosman Ruling and one of its commas, regarding the players that have signed the contract at 18-years-old or less). Because of that law, I could move without US Leffe having to pay for the interruption of my contract. But above all, it was a bargain for me, considering that I could stay finally in Bergamo with my family, which from 1990 was somehow scattered here and there because of the Bosnian war and Albanian State collapse and consequent migratory experiences. But, when everything seemed done, an Italian law impeded me to sign the contract as a non EU player/migrant with less than two years of residence in Italy. So, if I wanted to play in Serie C, I had to wait two years before playing the first game (Three years later a Nigerian player sued the Italian Federation and changed the law). It was strange, because as a migrant worker one could have the residence and work permit immediately after showing the contract, but as a professional football player this was not possible. I don’t know whether I was more angry or depressed. Yet, Roberto Spagnolo, a good man, Leffe’s director now having a lot of success in Atalanta, encouraged me by saying that two years were nothing and I could still sign with the team, and meanwhile play for a “dilettanti” team without losing a penny of my stipend. Yet, just the name “dilettanti” for me was a joke, especially after dreams with UEFA or Champions League (there were some talking between the HNK Hrvatski Dragovoljac and Gospić). In four months I was so depressed that I remember vaguely having left the apartment even for a walk around “le mura di Città Alta”. However, in the summer of 1998, a shocking image saved me: Ronaldo, il Fenomeno, descending the stairs of the airplane in Brazil after risking his life and still playing on the same day of the World Cup Final in 1998. I just understood the shitty world I was angry and depressed for. In two weeks I found a job. With other my fellows from the Balkans, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Senegal, Morocco I enjoyed unloading by hands DHL’s smelly trucks for a so-called cooperative which used to change several times its name to avoid taxes and made profits exploiting migrant workers.]

During the first five months in Finland, without a clear legal status, I spent all my savings and learned a lot about Finnish migration laws. I learned, for example, that in Finland does not exist a Constitutional Court (in Albania some EU and US representative-prostitutes give the lack of an operative Constitutional Court as a justification after the adjustment of which everything will start to be “normal” and Albania will be integrated finally within EU family!!!), an institutional body which checks the Parliament’s laws coherence, especially, as in my case, when these laws contradict the EU laws. In this manner, to have his right recognized, a bottomless pocket migrant like me would have to sue MIGRI Office and wait for the decision (My Finnish law expert friend advised me to avoid this enterprise, especially after considering my “financial resilience”!). I also learned – from my kind colleagues of Europe Direct Contact Center – that, only a member state court can decide and annul a decision taken by member state institutions and not an EU body or authority (But, hey, I learned that I have the right to submit a petition – Article 227 TFEU – to the European Parliament … yew haw!). I can also contact the Finnish Ombudsman, which I did, the general one and Parliamentary one, the task of which are “to promote equality and handle cases of discrimination [as well as] promote the rights of foreigners in Finland”. Thus, I discovered that “taking into consideration the matters [I] raised, concerning the rights of long-term EU-residents, in [Ombudsman’s] work to promote non-discrimination, to the extent that this is possible[…], unfortunately, [they] cannot do more to help me”, because, “based on the information [I] provided, [my] case is already being handled by the competent and appropriate authority.” (extracts from e mail date: 04.07.2019)

By the end of September 2019, my Finnish law expert friend asked me: “Do you understand that being of Albanian origins and having a family – mother, father, sister, daughter, and partner – all with Italian passports, to a MIGRI officer you can easily be suspicious? One can think, for example, that you were not allowed to take the Italian passport because – maybe – you have criminal records. Why don’t you change your citizenship, or, considering that exists as a possibility, at least take a second one?” I didn’t reply as I could, because my friend is a kind person and seems believe sincerely in his candid Finnishness and is proud of it. But, considering that I abhor anything that has to do with identification, especially by a state, a national state, I think even the idea of having a passport is aberrant and vomiting. To me, the passport – not only the Albanian – is not worthy of cleaning my ass.

So, what I did, even because after five months I was without a penny, was changing the application at MIGRI: not at as a long term EU resident asking residence and work permit in Finland, but as a parent of an EU citizen (as father of my “Italian” daughter). And to MIGRI, as to any other institution of any state, just as to the Albanian military doctor of 1996, romancing with my nether regions is its reason of existing. ON November 6th 2019, I joined other my fellows from the Iraq, Kurdistan, Sri Lanka, enjoying parking and cleaning public transportation buses of Helsinki and Espoo, where the first Finnish words I learned, from WhatsApp messages arriving from the central office, were: “oksennus pesu” followed by the number of bus. And to me this made a lot of sense …!