How would you go about destroying the self-esteem of a group? If you were an anti-immigration politician, certainly you’d target the group’s values (religion) and exploit your racist arguments by pointing the finger at their most vulnerable weaknesses, like high unemployment.
Prejudice and racism are diehard social ills because they take generations to wear off. It may have taken a few months to label a small group of Somali refugees that came to Finland in the early 1990s, but it will be a very long time before they wash off their stigma.
The Romany minority of Finland are a good example of how negative labels can follow a group like a shadow for centuries.
The Ilta-Sanomat tabloid claims that Somalis swindled authorities in granting them political asylum in Finland.
If it wasn’t a tabloid billboard that spread and reinforced racism and suspicion of groups like the Somalis in the 1990s, the icing on the cake was provided by the tacit silence of the politicians and society in general. Even if one group was being singled out, it was an attack on all immigrants living in this country at the time.
As the old saying claims, there is no evil that lasts 100 years. In the United States, it took centuries to end slavery before we saw the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The Arab Spring movements last year are good recent examples of how “no evil can last 100 years.”
There is a problem with the saying, however, since it implies that evil cannot exist over 100 years because a person cannot live past that age. History reveals that evil is more like Methuselah, the Biblical figure that lived to be 969 years old.
The findings of a study in Britain published exclusively by the Guardian claim that unchecked corporate power, unrepresentative politicians and apathetic voters are fueling today the decline of British democracy. The same illness has spread to other parts of Europe, like Finland.
The Guardian writes: “A study into the state of democracy in Britain over the last decade warns that it is in ‘long-term terminal decline’ as the power of corporations keeps growing, politicians become less representative of their constituencies and disillusioned citizens stop voting or even discussing current affairs.”
Finnish society, which used to be perceived as the least corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International, has had its image seriously tarnished by greedy politicians and corporate leaders.
In the same way that corruption undermines a society’s values and sends it into decline, similarly prejudice and racism constitute serious threat to it as well.
If people are excluded socially and their only aim in life it to live off welfare, certainly they have every right to challenge their situation.
The only way you can avoid violence in society is by empowering people to change their situation through our democratic institutions. Two matters can happen if people lose faith in them: indefinite (very costly) social exclusion and/or violence.
In Europe not thinking today about how to tackle social exclusion and racism is thinking little or erroneously.
Thus the roots of the problem are not the marginalized groups, far-right parties or opportunistic anti-immigration politicians, but our apathy, greed and the fact that some of us have forgotten that we are social animals.