A model for cultural diversity in Finland

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

While the term multiculturalism means many things to many people and groups, Finland is not officially a multicultural country. Nowhere in our laws will you find that magic adjective, multicultural. But taking that big leap from the perception of being a monolithic ethnic society from one that is multicultural like Canada is a tall order for any country. Even so, Finland needs today best practice models and values that promote and encourage inclusion and acceptance of our ever-growing cultural diversity.

For far-right Couner-Jihadists like Perussuomalaiset (PS) MP Jussi Halla-aho and his followers, multiculturalism is a left-wing policy that facilitates the entry of Muslims and non-European immigrants like Africans to this continent. For Migrant Tales, multiculturalism is a Canadian social policy to integrate immigrants.

There are only three countries in the world that are officially multicultural, according to Peter Kivisto. These are: Canada, Australia and Britain.

A good synonym for multiculturalism is cultural diversity.

When looking at Finland in the twenty-first century, one of the biggest challenges facing us now is how to make cultural diversity work and how to raise that magic word, acceptance, to the same level of importance as equality (tasa-arvo).

While there are a lot of good intentions and real efforts in Finland to foster greater acceptance of our growing cultural diversity, many are still much in the fog about the big picture. The PS, which uses the Nuiva manifesto as its benchmark for immigration policy, is in my opinion the furthest from a successful integration policy because it is based on assimilation.

Defined in the simplest way possible, assimilation is one-way integration. Another reason why the Nuiva manifesto would be a failure if ever implemented is that it only expresses the subjective views of  a small group of people, who are anti-immigration to start with, on how they’d want immigrants to adapt to Finland.

Since the world has changed radically from 1917, when Finland became an independent nation, langauge, surname as well as physiological features played key roles in forging the Finnish prototype.

No matter what your background was after independence, everyone was essentially accepted as a Finn as long as that person was white, practiced an accepted religion like the Lutheran faith, spoke one or two of the official languages and had a Finnish, Swedish or Germanic surname. Acceptance happened by erasing one’s foreigness.

Historical circumstances, however, such as the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II and the Cold War discouraged newcomers from moving to Finland. This forced the foreign population to drop to 7,000 by around 1970.

Can the same model that was used in the 1920s and 1930s to mold Finns work in the 2010s? I don’t think so and if ever applied it would have a limited impact.

One good model that could work would be based on three premises: mutual acceptance, respect and equal opportunities.

Acceptance means accepting a group’s or individual’s right to lead the lifestyle he or she prefers. One of the greatest matters about our society, and which we have fought for so long, are civil liberties and equality.

Chapter 2 Section 6 of the Constitution sums it up well: No one shall, without an acceptable reason, be treated differently from other persons on the ground of sex, age, origin, language, religion, conviction, opinion, health, disability or other reason that concerns his or her person.  Children shall be treated equally and as individuals and they shall be allowed to influence matters pertaining to themselves to a degree corresponding to their level of development.

In many respects, and in line with the spirit of our laws, society should be like a clothing store. Instead of purchasing clothes we can try out and use different lifestyles that suit us the best at that moment in life.

Mutual acceptance is a key factor for that clothing store to succeed and respect further icing on the cake of acceptance. For the latter to occur we must have equal opportunities to access employment and education in order to make our dreams/lifestyles possible.

If we want in Finland to get a view of the big picture of immigration, it must look way past petty debates like if immigration is good or bad.  We have to implement models that foster “us” as opposed to “them.”

The society that will do that successfully is based on mutual acceptance, respect and equal opportunities.

  1. Method

    “We have to implement models that foster “us” as opposed to “them.””

    This is where there’s a great room for error, and it’s fully dependant of how you view the world. The questionable part of it is, can you really manipulate or indoctrinate people into “us” where it counts. I mean, it’s easy when it’s easy. In the time of crisis is where it all is weighted. How I see it, we’re not even in a crisis yet and we’re already divided. There’s no “us” in anyway, but in an abstract sense. In reality, there’s just bunch of us, that are sitting next to each other because we have to. Be it money, standard of life or something like that.

    When there’s no money and the standards of life are low, you’ll see what “us” is made of. I maybe bit cynical, but I’ve seen enough of so called friends leaving when it gets hard. If “us” is just talk and fairy tails, it’ll brake down.

    That’s what I saw in London recently, that’s what I see afterwards. In Finland, there’s no “us”. It broke apart in 70’s or so. Just a bunch of “us” who see each other as “them”.

    • Enrique

      Hi Method, there are many types of Finns. Our society is far from being a monolithic bloc. Even so, the “us” means that they are accepted as part of the group. From an immigrants’ or Multicultural Finns’ point of view, the idea of “us” is clearer. It is a general acceptance by the majority of the minority and there right to participate and even change their place/standing in society.

  2. Niko

    There always will be “us” and “them”. However, I don’t think “them” means immigrants or foreigners. “Us” are the people who can fit to our society/norms and “them” are the people who don’t, doesn’t matter if the person is a foreigner or a native Finn.

    • Enrique

      Niko, if we measure “us” by having access to basic services like health and so forth offered by the welfare state, then there is “us.” What you are saying is that if the economic situation continues to deteriorate, access to those services will be undermined and thus increase “us” and “them.” As I wrote to Method, the idea of “us” by immigrants, Multicultural Finns and other minorities when looking at society in general involves matters like acceptance, less prejudice and more opportunities.

  3. Timo Ojanen

    Enrique, thanks for your input that seems to avoid certain pitfalls of for-against bickering on immigration etc. by focusing on the values of mutual acceptance, respect and equal opportunities. How I wish they were more generally subscribed to by both “us” and “them” of whichever definition.

    Apropos, as a Finnish national who has resided abroad for a number of years, I would not have access to Finnish welfare services if I went back, not before I worked for a number of months (not quite sure how many). This, of course, would be a bit difficult since my foreign-earned degree would not be directly recognized, and “updating” it into a Finnish one might necessitate an internship of a number of months of unpaid work. Wonder how I would do that without access to welfare, especially since I’m now working in a country where my locally considered-decent salary is less than basic welfare benefits in Finland? Of course, I could try working at McD and doing an unpaid internship simultaneously, but not quite sure how realistic something like that would be.

    Cut the long story short, if I went back, and my us-ness or them-ness was measured by my access to welfare provisions, I’d be one of “them,” despite my rather Finnish surname. In fact, by the way Finnish welfare law treats someone like myself, I already feel like one of “them.” In this sense you may be even more correct you initially thought.

    • Enrique

      Hi Timo Ojanen and welcome to Migrant Tales. Let’s hope we can get past the for-against immigration phase with your input. One important area that more people will have to focus on, in my opinion, is the word acceptance. Politicians, policy- makers and common people have to pepper their speeches with that magic word.

      We look forward to reading more of you.

  4. Tiwaz

    Where Enrique is your MUTUAL side.
    When reading this blog, one cannot miss that you are always demanding Finns to appease immigrants. Never telling that immigrants are doing something wrong and must change.

    It is always Finnish people, Finnish society, Finnish culture and anything Finnish which has to make the compromise, give up it’s unique nature and appease foreigners.

    Do you call this “mutual”? Do you see this as fair?

    As for your point regarding legislation. This law is being violated with preferential treatment of immigrants. If immigrant cannot get a job, study position etc with their own credentials, then they do not deserve a it. Period.

  5. Timo Ojanen

    Hi Enrique,

    thanks for greeting back.

    Another thought for today. As an atheist, I personally don’t care much for the practice of singing Suvivirsi in school’s end festivities in Finland, or for any other religious components of such ceremonies for that matter. The Christmas break festivities are a more difficult case since there isn’t much left of Christmas if you take out Christianity, and therefore it’s quite difficult to devise a secular celebration for a Christmas break without it appearing hollow and fake.

    I don’t have to be a foreigner to feel a bit oppressed by such practices, however hallowed cultural traditions they may be. By having such elements in the ceremony, I as a student was made to feel I was being considered inferior since I didn’t (and don’t) share the beliefs of “the good and the proper” people and stood out by not joining in signing the hymn. I think immigrants from different cultural backgrounds might feel the same.

    Based on similar considerations, I decided not to participate in my graduation ceremony at an international university in my new adopted homeland, because doing so would have necessitated swearing an oath that by God, I will remain loyal to this country’s King. As an atheist democrat, doing so would have made me feel like a traitor to my beliefs. Even just standing there, even if I didn’t say the words, I felt I would have been implicated. So I made the difficult decision on the last minute not to attend.

    Hallowed cultural traditions make those who believe differently feel that they are not valued for who they are.

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