Can an open and honest debate on multiculturalism take place in Finland when people feel directly threatened by it? Can we ever aspire as a nation to integrate people into our society when some of us are not even ready to give the time of day to foreigners?
Racism is a serious problem in Finland because people may get death threats if they try to honestly debate the real issues. Some of those who carry out such threats, or those that are the most recalcitrant, believe that matters such as integrating outsiders into a society is easy if one has the right attitude.
Integrating into Finnish society is difficult for many reasons. If one can pass the hurdles of language and grasps the culture well enough, one soon reaches the highest hurdle of them all: fear and history.
In my opinion, Finland’s tumultuous history in the previous century with its eastern neighbor Russia has kept such fears alive to date. Some Finns still fear that their culture is threatened or under attack. That probably explains why our definition of who is a Finn or not is very rigid.
One has only to look at the regional differences in Finland to understand what I am talking about. If some Finns already make a big deal because a person from Savo moved to the Satakunta region, imagine what it is like for a foreigner who was not brought up with the same cultural tools as the Finn from Savo?
Unfortunately, fear continues to reflect our disjointed immigration policy and even how some Finns see people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Immigration is not a threat. It becomes, however, disjointed and dysfunctional when the majority culture fears. Normal relations and integration are impossible because they are tainted by the poison of a close relative of fear called suspicion.
There is also reluctance by many Finns and foreigners to take part in a meaningful, rich debate about living as neighbors because that too is being intimidated by fear.