The ongoing debate on labor immigrants and refugees goes much further into the schizophrenic relationship that some Finns have of the outside world and diversity.On the one side, you have people who have no issues with cultural and ethnic diversity because Finland is already such a country. It is a normal and welcome characteristic of our society. But then you have others that see themselves as the last Mohicans defending “Finnish values and race.”
Here is a list of observations I have made during the past months concerning the ongoing immigration-refugee debate:
(1)Debating openly the role of immigration and refugees is healthy. When has Finland debated so openly issues like racism and diversity? Despite all the hysteria and xenophobia, some believed that racism did not exist or was a minor issue. Today we know that it is a visible sore spot of our society.
(2) The core of the debate and the schizophrenic view of other cultures offers us a good opportunity to attack such deficiencies at schools. Our educational system has failed because it has never paid enough attention to what diversity means in our society. In 1870, 15% of the population of Helsinki was foreign-born. Why have we intentionally forgotten such facts about ourselves and that we are officially a bilingual country? How many of us come from other cultures? Why do we sidestep such historical facts about Finland? ANSWER: It isn’t mentioned enough because some, intentionally or unintentionally, have pretty closed and racist views of the outside world.
(3) Change in our educational system will come when immigrants and their children have decision-making power and influence over how things are taught and what values are strengthened at school and in society generally. This is what we call equal opportunity in the labor market and participatory democracy.
(4) We need new historians to take a fresh look at Finland and to not echo what has been taught and continues to strengthen stereotypes and old suspicions of others. For example, the Russians are “bad” people because they attacked us in 1939. True, it was the Communist government, but that was over 80 years ago!
(5) Our perception of ourselves as a nation is outdated as well and seated in many respects in the 1930s, when eugenics helped find our identity through race. In most of the Western world, these types of “theories” have been disproven and are nothing more than boloney. This type of education is crucial since the immigrant population is growing. Some 4% of people who live here come from other cultures.
(6) Since some of us don’t have a clue what racism and discrimination is because they feel that they can treat newcomers anyway they wish, we defend such questionable values by portraying some ethnic groups like demons. Education should stress and encourage healthy ethnic relations among people who live in this country. The ongoing debate and Finland’s stance on immigrants, which has changed slowly, reveals that too many Finns have no idea what it means to live in a society with people from other cultures.
(7) The aim of this country in this century should be to create healthy ethnic relations and pathways of incorporation into our society. Today, unfortunately, some of us are busy building walls on those pathways. The road to good ethnic relations is a two-way street, where there is a generous amount of give-and-take on all sides.