Ever since I moved to Finland thirty years ago, I have watched how immigration officials and their planners have attempted to deal with foreigners. When I came to Finland in the late- 1970s, there were so few outsiders living in the country that some sociologists like Heikki Waris claimed that there was no racism as a result.
Looking at Finland’s history, ethnicity and/or nationalism have played powerful roles in shaping the country’s history last century, especially if we look at our relations with the former Soviet Union. Irrespective of the small number of outsiders, racism always existed in Finland. Waris only had to look at the treatment of the Roma or how some Finns perceived the “lazy” Orthodox Skolt Saami versus the more “efficient” Lutheran Saami. Any sociological study of how some blacks were treated in the 1960s in Finland would have proven Waris’ argument incorrect. Brand logos like Musta Pekka, the former black mascot on Fazer licorice, and very old ones no longer in existence such as “Kongo” shoe polish explain the obsolete view some Finns had of black people.
By keeping the number of foreigners small does not help purge a country of racism. The argument is as ridiculous like a white person from the South of the United States claiming at the height of the slave era that there was no racism until blacks started living in that part of the country.
Sometimes I think that Finland’s integration model before for foreigners was based on the idea that if you integrate and disappear, everything will be find. A good example was when the Vietnamese boat people came to Finland. Instead of concentrating them in one area, our “intelligent” social planners spread them throughout the country evidently as way to speed up their integration.
What should Finland’s effective integration model be? For one, it should be founded on human rights and should reflect the underlying spirit of the social welfare state — nobody is left behind because we are a community. You do not need a policy like multiculturalism in Canada to understand that everything works more effectively when there is respect and sensitivity for other cultures. Like religious and political freedom, people have a right to practice their culture.
Any other so-called “integration” model that tramples on the human rights of a person and offers simplistic answers to a complex matter, such as those former Finnish mascots depicting blacks, will not work and are doomed to fail.