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.