I recently had a very interesting chat with a colleague of mine over how much foreigners should integrate or assimilate into Finnish society. He felt that it was definitely not a matter of assimilation and that integration should only apply to the workplace. “Integration is important if you want to take part in the Finnish labor market,” he said. “Anything else, should be conversation.”
Some of the readers of this blog have very strong opinions about the matter. They believe that tax-paying foreigners who live in Finland have no other choice but to give up their identity and adapt 100% to Finnish values. This model of integration is not only impossible but ends up destroying the person’s identity and self-esteem.
In my opinion, one of the biggest setbacks of modern-day Finnish culture is in its definition of what is a Finn. It is too narrow and exclusive. If we are fair, there is a historical case for such a narrow definition. Finns are still in the process of molding a sense of national identity 91 years after the country´s independence. While it has been successful at building a strong sense of “us” and “them,” its drawback is that it has little tolerance for diversity. This is why some Finns believe that the only way for foreigners and their children can be accepted as Finns is by throwing away their identity.
One of the biggest setbacks of the present identity model is that by excluding others from being “Finns,” it has made the Finnish cultural field much smaller. One group that has suffered from this type of national identity model are Finnish expatriates and their children and grandchildren. In sum, all those who despite their diverse cultural background continue to have a sentimental bond with this country.
Finnish culture does not only include our mainland culture but a very diverse and rich group of people that were brought up in diverse cultural backgrounds in foreign lands as well as in Finland.
If there is work to do in improving our perception of ourselves as Finns it is in this area. Widen the definition to include all those who may wish to embrace this culture.
I for one hope that in the future Finns will start to look at their identity in a more open fashion that will include diverse groups irrespective of their background. This can only strengthen not weaken Finland.