“That’s the central issue,” said President Niinistö. “People who want to be here need to accept our core values: democracy, equality, human rights and all of that. If they don’t, they can’t stay in Finland.”
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While few will disagree with what he said, it’s unfortunate that we assume too many things about ourselves and the asylum seekers. When we place ourselves on a pedestal and compare ourselves ethnocentrically to Others we easily forget that we too are humans and have a lot of faults and much to learn.
The key to building a successful culturally and ethnically diverse society this century hinges on our Nordic values. In them rest values like social equality and human rights. In such values lies opportunity. Why wouldn’t anyone be in favor of such values that would include them as equal citizens?
But the problem doesn’t only lie in Others who come to Finland but in our society as well. Are we an inclusive society? Do we treat minorities equally? Do they have equal opportunities? What is the role of discrimination and racism in our society? Do we tackle such social ills or do we look the other way?
This cartoon expresses well how we treat difference in countries like Finland.
We have left a lot of incriminating evidence of how we see people who are different from us. One of these is how we classify them officially.
In Finland, a person’s ethnic or non-Finnish background is classified in the following manner: by nationality, place of birth and mother tongue.
If you qualify for one of these groups, and even if you are a naturalized Finn, you are considered a person “with foreign” or “migrant background.”
When the police service, public officials, politicians, schools and the media label you a person with foreign or migrant background they are effectively telling you that you are an outsider. If you are an outsider you don’t have the same rights as a Finn, who is white, speaks Finnish as his or her mother tongue and was born in this country.
Does being labelled a person with foreign or migrant background (without even ever asking you if this is ok) make you an equal or unequal member of society? Do those labels promote or undermine social equality?
If Finns practiced what they preached, why is there a party like the Perussuomalaiset (PS)* and politicians in other parties who openly insult and aim that migrants and minorities be treated as second- and third-class citizens by society?
We have ministers like Hanna Mäntylä and Jari Lindström, both of the PS, who are planning to pass new laws that would be unconstitutional and would demote migrants to second- and third-class citizens.
Unfortunately as we place ourselves on a pedestal and point out what is wrong with Others we easily fall into the trap of ethnocentrism.
In all cultures there are good and bad people. Cultures are made up of individuals and cultures change if given the opportunity, which is a key word to keep in mind.
Ultimatums and ethnocentric catchphrases don’t help in integrating Others into society. It only serves to remind them that they are outsiders.
* The Finnish name of the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The English-language names adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We therefore prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings.