By Enrique Tessieri
One of the biggest challenges facing Finland in the next few decades will be defining what role immigrants will play in our society. Anti-immigration groups like the True Finns would like to place immigrants under a magnifying glass (see Nuiva campaign document) while other parties have taken more lukewarm stances.
If we could cut through the rhetoric of the different parties during an election year, we’d most likely end up with the same unanswered question: What do they really think about the ever-growing role of immigrants in Finland and their place in our society?
Are they speaking in favor of cultural diversity and equality on paper as long as things don’t change too much? Do those great Nordic values like equality apply only to us, not them?
A good measuring stick to see what the country thinks is by looking at how immigrants are labelled by the media and society in general. Even if the term maahanmuuttajia, or immigrants, is acceptable we venture into the twilight zone when we start calling people maahanmuuttajataustainen, or a person with an immigrant background.
The above-mentioned labels define the person as an outsider.
These small examples show a serious flaw in our thinking. A strong “us” and “them” divide does not make Finland any different from how other European countries see immigrants; they want foreign labor but expect them to move back to where they came from. A good example was Chancellor Angela Merkel claim in October that Germany’s multicultural society has failed.
Did multiculturalism in Germany fail because immigrants did not want to become part of German society or were they never welcomed in the first place?
Finland has to avoid perilous mistakes that hinder the inclusion process of immigrants into society. We have very good laws and a general disposition to advance the cause of social equality thanks to our Nordic welfare state.
A good model for Finland to follow would be to look across the Atlantic to The Americas. The big difference between immigration policy in countries like Canada or the United States to many European countries is that it takes into account the big picture, which seeks the inclusion of immigrants in society through acceptance and opportunity.