How to confront anti-immigration parties in the Nordic region

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

The societies of the Nordic countries are still models for the rest of Europe and the world when it comes to social justice, equality, and inclusion. Slower economic growth is not the only threat that they face today, but an ever-growing minority that believes that exclusion of certain groups is acceptable.  

Is there such a thing as selective suspicion or hatred? Can you hate one group and claim to be not hate another? What happens to us if we begin to exclude some and include others in our society?

Far right and right-wing populist parties like the Perussuomalaiset  of Finland, Danish People’s Party, Progress Party of Norway, and Sweden Democrats have grown in recent years thanks to their anti-immigration rhetoric.

If there is a threat to the Nordic welfare state system and the values that uphold it, it is these parties’ anti-immigrant message that goes much deeper and further than meets the eye.

For one, and if we permit it, their view of society creates a paradox that will end up checkmating those values we hold so dear to us. You cannot further the cause of  social equality while on the other hand you aim to make other groups unequal.

Martin Luther King Jr. dealt with centuries of hatred and suspicion when he led and inspired others to the US Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Even if anti-immigration groups are hostile in their approach to their imagined and real enemies like immigrants, we must never succumb to their brand of hatred. We must remember King Jr. words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It should be one of the rallying cries of our cause.

  1. angryfinland

    If only there was a simple solution.

    Although maybe there is, it seems to me that these extreme groups represent a noisy minority of the population while the open and integration orientated majority are staying as silent as usual. What is needed is for the silent majority to rise up and make their voice heard by collectively declaring ‘no more hatred’.

    What is needed is for the media to stop sensationalizing the extreme parties and to start focusing on the integration minded moderate groups.

    What is needed in other words is a fairly simple solution.

  2. Mark

    People are not that political, even though most people have some kind of opinions.

    Personally, I think the only answer is to try to address the concerns of people. Mainstream politicians have avoided the immigration debate for years, and that has left the populist parties to move in, create a sense of grievance and then exploit.

    Likewise, for institutions like the EU, not enough is done by the mainstream politicians to spell out the benefits of membership. We pay a lot, but we get a lot back in return. A lot of local development and capital project funding comes from the EU these days (7th Framework Programme), and it allows us to also combine expertise with professionals throughout Europe. Isolation for Finland will bring stagnation.

    National identities do not need to be maintained by politicians. Finns are quite capable of being Finns without needing politicians to tell them how to do it. But with the rise of nationalism, that is exactly what is happening.

  3. andi

    You are quite right Mark, mainstream politicians need to start talking about the issues and take the initiative away from the extremist parties.

    Particularly in rural areas most of the funding for local development comes from the EU, to such an extent that it is many times the amount paid in contributions.

    National identities will unfortunately remain in place whatever is decided by politicians at any level. I do hope that national identities will develop to encompass the unity of Europe and to allow for changes due to integration of immigrants.

    Personally I have no particular identity, I think of myself as neither British nor Finnish, but rather as a European. I have no sense of patriotism either. I am also trying very hard to bring my children up to hold the same beliefs.

  4. Seppo

    “I do hope that national identities will develop to encompass the unity of Europe.”

    This is possible and perhaps the way to go. What is very important is that the change in identities has to happen naturally, from bottom to top. We all know fairly well what were the consequences when there were efforts to replace national identities with multinational ones in a top to bottom manner. I am talking about Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Especially in Yugoslavia people were pushed to consider themselves “Yugoslavs” in stead of Serbs, Croats, Slovenes etc. Now we know how it all ended. The same way there are ideas among certain groups of people that we should try to get rid of the current national identities in Europe and instead force a common “European” identity on everyone. I’m telling you, it will not work and at same point it will produce a strong, possibly violent counter-reaction out of which the current rise of the right-wing populist parties is one symptom.

    “Personally I have no particular identity, I think of myself as neither British nor Finnish, but rather as a European. I have no sense of patriotism either. I am also trying very hard to bring my children up to hold the same beliefs.”

    I also think of myself as a European, but first of all Finnish. I have a certain sense of patriotism for Finland. If I ever get children with my non-Finnish wife, I will teach them to be proud of their background. I would like them to feel Finnish and I would also like them to feel that they belong to the nation that their mother represents. They will be by definition multicultural and since the country their mother comes from is also located in Europe, there is a good chance that they will identify first and foremost as Europeans. We’ll see.

  5. Mark

    Seppo

    – “The same way there are ideas among certain groups of people that we should try to get rid of the current national identities in Europe and instead force a common “European” identity on everyone.”

    Who on earth has ever mentioned getting rid of national identities in Europe? I’ve never ever ever ever heard a politician advocate that. It’s just not true. There may many pressures that ‘challenge’ national identities – the biggest being poverty. The irony is that those that complain loudest about national culture are those that know the least about it – because of lack of education or cultural development themselves. ‘Identity’ is something of a luxury. Who the hell cares about identity when you are trying to feed your kids or pay the mortgage? Some things in cultural life are important to lots of people, like sauna is in Finland, but much of culture is important only to a few people, who may act as the guardians of that culture.

    Thinking as an artist might, I would find ‘culture’ is a curse if it is somehow a prescribed way of doing things. Much of the politics behind modernism was about saying ‘we can make any kind of art we want’, and much of the fascist backlash was about trying to tell There is a shared history in Europe, which other nations outside of Europe have for not necessarily been a part of, though the World Wars are exceptions. Likewise, the biggest incentive behind the common european market is the simple fact that European countries trade largely with other European countries. We rely on each other in that sense. Our economic welfare is now tied up in that. And such is the modern world, that a country cannot now exist in isolation, without trying to reverse the trend of industrialisation and modernisation of their societies. We have seen that already in countries that have tried to maintain their strong authoritarian regimes in place, such as Belarus and until recently, Serbia. They have lagged far behind in terms of their economic development.

    There is no national identity called ‘European’, unless you travel outside of Europe, and then you are to many others, from Europe, simply because they have little idea about the real diversity that exists within Europe.

    I strongly agree Seppo that diversity for diversity’s sake or an identity imposed from above simply doesn’t work, whether it stems from the Left or the Right in terms of political ideology. You can create a culture where people are scared to express themselves outside of a politically prescribed norm, but history tells us that people are not happy in those countries. So why we should start allowing politicians to start dictating on cultural issues and cultural identities is very much a step backwards. The common European framework is an economic one and to a lesser extent a social one, in the sense that certain rights and benefits apply universal to European citizens. But that is no bad thing. Common currencies and properly harmonised economic policies help Europe function as a trading block and makes Europe on the whole more competitive. The benefits of that are obvious. The problems of modern times are that governments have simply borrowed too much too fast, and the downturn in the economy has made their debts unsustainable. Liquidity has dried up throughout the world’s economy – the effect was always going to be recession. It’s nothing to do with national identities or the lack thereof. Blaming it on ‘Europeanism’ is just stupid. Iceland have been very independent politically and their economy still collapsed. In fact, the collapse was even more severe there because of the lack of diversification within their economy and the reliance on financial services.

  6. Seppo

    “Who on earth has ever mentioned getting rid of national identities in Europe?”

    andi writes above: “National identities will unfortunately remain in place whatever is decided by politicians at any level. I do hope that national identities will develop to encompass the unity of Europe.” I interpret this as him wanting to get rid of the national identities in Europe they way they are now. Maybe I’m wrong. But what I do know is that there are many people who would be much more straight forward with their formulations.

    My friend went to visit the European Commission with his high-school class some ten years ago. One of the then commissars they had the honor to meet with told them that “you are the future, you are no longer Finns, you are Europeans”. I was quite amazed when I heard this story but I trust my friend so I believe it is true.

    “‘Identity’ is something of a luxury.”

    I agree. But it’s a luxury that most people in Europe, at leas the ones living in the northern part of the continent, can definitely afford.

    I strongly support political and economical co-operation between the European countries. If this leads in the long run to the birth of a European identity, then be it so. But this is not something that the politicians should care about.

  7. Mark

    Seppo

    – “One of the then commissars they had the honor to meet with told them that “you are the future, you are no longer Finns, you are Europeans”.

    Yes, but one crass comment from an official doesn’t make for a policy does it. But there is a lot to be said for Europeanism. For example, looking at the long, long bloody history of wars in Europe and if that history could be totally reversed by the creation of a common identity that would ensure peace, would you accept it? Truth is, being European and Finnish or any nationality within Europe is perfectly feasible and is what the absolute vast majority of politicians working towards a more intergrated Europe have in mind.

    Still, it did make me smile – ‘You are no longer Finns’. What a stupid statement! I did realise when I came to Finland that one of the most common words you hear is ‘Suomalainen/suomaliasen’. I also wonder that if an identity is so ‘natural’, why it has to be constantly reinforced. We are by our nature, human beings, but you rarely hear people talking about that, saying, human being this, or human being that. There is something constructed about natiionalities, not that that is a bad thing. Identity is very important, and if it helps to keep the peace, I’m all for it. But, as we have discussed before Seppo, it has sadly also led to a lot of war and conflict. What we need is some literacy about identity, some self-awareness about it, so we no its benefits, but we know its pitfalls too.

  8. Seppo

    “For example, looking at the long, long bloody history of wars in Europe and if that history could be totally reversed by the creation of a common identity that would ensure peace, would you accept it?”

    I am accepting it already. And I agree that identifying as a Finn and at the same time as a European is 100% feasible. All I’m saying is that the European identity should not be imposed on anyone but it should be let to develop naturally from bottom to top. And it should not be seen as something replacing the existing national identities.

    “What we need is some literacy about identity, some self-awareness about it, so we no its benefits, but we know its pitfalls too.”

    Absolutely!

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