What is the aim of Finland’s new integration law, which came into force in September 2011? While the law talks about two-way integration, what does it mean and how is it promoted?
Finland’s integration program is like an old abandoned Cadillac. It awakens our optimism but discourages us from acting because it is too costly to restore.
The fact that some politicians in Finland still speak of maassa maan tavala, or ”live in the country as they live, or leave,” reveals that there is still hostility against two-way integration.
Irrespective of the arguments, the key question we should ask is what are these country’s new inhabitants adapting to? Are they encouraged to throw away their cultures and learn how to live in a white Finns’ world? Or is the aim the creation of a healthy bicultural or multicultural identity and society?
There’s been a lot of debate in Finland about the “threat” of so-called ethnic “ghettos” in places like Helsinki and Turku’s Varisuo. Certainly matters like crime and unemployment are social issues that must be addressed by society in any neighborhood.
Why do some consider it a bad matter if ethnic groups and immigrants are concentrated in a neighborhood?
When Finns emigrated to different parts of the world like the Americas and Sweden, the aim was to be where other Finns lived. In my research of the Finns of Argentina, Colonia Finlandesa was a colony where up to the 1930s Finnish was spoken more than Spanish.
The promotion of assimilation as opposed to integration has given birth to a new underclass of second-generation Finns with immigrant backgrounds. Some live in a permanent gray zone where they not only experience animosity from the host culture but from their parents’ culture as well. Who is promoting their acceptance and bolstering their self-esteem?
Another distressing trend was a survey published in early 2011 in Opettaja magazine that reveals 41% of teachers polled would like to place limits on how many children with immigrant backgrounds can attend class.
Opposition to ethnically concentrated neighborhoods and schools reveals in my opinion support for assimilation and opposition to two-way integration.
A question: How are immigrants, never mind their children and grandchildren, ever going to create a sense of cultural pride, identity and self-esteem if the expectation is integration but the reality is assimilation?
I personally want to see a Finland that is culturally diverse where we can embrace and reap synergies from our diverseness.
The 10,000-strong Roma minority that has lived in Finland for 500 years is a good example and a warning of what happens to a group if they don’t assimilate. The Roma have paid a very high price for not assimilating into white Finnish society through social exclusion and racism.
A Roma elder expressed to me the issue in the following terms: “Even if we have been discriminated against in Finland, we still hold our culture. Nobody can destroy that.”