The high price of being too alike and not thinking outside the ethnic and national box

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Some may correctly ask what is the price Finland pays today for its lack of cultural and ethnic diversity. Finding answers to this question would require some serious thinking outside our ethnic and national box.

This question is an important one today for two reasons: Our population is seeing dramatic changes due to the graying of the population while the growth of anti-immigration sentiment is becoming more visible through parties like the Perussuomalaiset (PS).

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These are the lies that parties like the Ukip are spreading. Nigel Farage of the Ukip and Timo Soini of the PS are political and ideological soul mates.

According to one forecast by Statistics Finland, the number of pensioners will rise from the present 17% (905,000 persons who are older than 65 years) to 27% by 2040 and 29% (1.79 million) by 2060. Better medicare will fuel this trend. Persons over 85 years in Finland will rise from 2% (108,000) to 7% (463,000).

While such parties and voices want to make Finland white again, the fact is that this can never happen but promise voters that they’ll do just that. Dutch Islamophobe Geert Wilders shocked Holland recently when to supporters that “we’re going to take care” that there would be less Moroccans in Holland.

Here’s a question politicians like PS MP Jussi Halla-aho or Wilders won’t answer: If you are so much against multiculturalism, what will happen to those people you constantly loathe after you tighten immigration policy and close your borders to the visible migrants and refugees?

When I moved to Finland, there were very few foreigners. In 1980, there were officially about 12,843 migrants.

Unfriendly labels were given to non-Finns back then like muukalainen, or alien. In order not to upset our giant eastern neighbor, the former Soviet Union, refugees from that country weren’t called as such but known officially as loikkarit, or defectors.

While hundreds of thousands of Finns emigrated from this land between 1860 and 1999, our foreign population has been relatively small. During independence, it reached a peak in 1928 of 29,685 migrants and hit an all-time low in 1970 of 5,483 migrants, according to three sources cited by the Migration Institute.

Matters have changed since EU membership in 1995. Finland’s foreign population has grown steadily and last year 195,511 people, accounting for 3.6% of the country’s total population, lived here, according to the Population Register Center.

If we look at the Restricting Act of 1939, which effectively shut Finland from foreign investment and foreigners, and that first aliens act that came into force in 1983, or 66 years after independence, it’s pretty clear that we haven’t been a nation that has accepted foreigners with open arms.

This attitude and suspicion of the outsiders creeps in everywhere. In the 1970s, when Finland considered bringing foreign workers to compensate for the over 700,000 Finns had emigrated to Sweden after World War 2, the government decided against bringing foreign migrants.

Returning back to the original question, has our lack of cultural and ethnic diversity been a positive or negative matter, sheds light in my opinion on many of our economic, social and political problems. Does our lack of cultural and ethnic diversity explain the rise of the Perussuomalaiset (PS), Finland’s ever-growing anti-immigration sentiment, and some who are quite open these days about their fascination with fascism?

Matters would be quite different today if Finland were a more culturally and ethnically diverse society like Sweden. I’m certain that issues like racism and discrimination would get more attention and we’d challenge such social ills with more resolve.

One matter that is difficult for me to understand in the ongoing debate about our ever-growing cultural and ethnic diversity is how we’ve forgotten who we are. Over 1.2 million people emigrated from Finland between 1860 and 1999. Think about how much these people mixed culturally with other groups. How come we’ve nearly forsaken them?

While those that loathe cultural diversity will invest a lot of time stressing how different and Other we are, our answer to them should be the following: This land is much as mine as it is yours.

 

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