Reclaiming Multiculturalism in the Nordic

The ongoing debate about immigration policy in Europe has produced a tense political and social atmosphere in countries like Germany and Italy.  According to Max Jacobson, Europe needs immigrants,...

The ongoing debate about immigration policy in Europe has produced a tense political and social atmosphere in countries like Germany and Italy.  According to Max Jacobson, Europe needs immigrants, but the Europeans do not want them (Koivukangas, 2002: 2).  Apart from the Western European countries, the Nordic countries have also been seeing higher levels of immigration and a corresponding growth in multiculturalism.

A few weeks ago, Finland drew headlines for a statement made by Olli Immonen, a legislator belonging to The Finns, an anti-immigration political party that is part of Finland’s ruling coalition.  In a Facebook post, Immonen called on Finland to “defeat this nightmare called multiculturalism” and described it as “an ugly bubble that our enemies live in.” Immonen’s tirade against multiculturalism reflects the rise of far-right populist parties in various Nordic countries in recent years.  The Finns got 17.7 percent of the national vote in elections in April of this year, making it the second biggest party in Finland.

Up until the 1990s, Finland had been a rather homogenous society, with a population of 5.2 million.  In 1990, there were 21,000 foreign citizens, or 0.4 percent of the population, and 2000 refugees (Koivukangas, 2002: 4).  Although by 2002 the foreign population made up 1.9 percent of the population, Finland’s foreign population still remains one of the lowest in Europe.  Additionally, Finland has a rather restrictive refugee policy.  In 2000, Finland amended the Aliens Act to impose a seven-day time limit on the Directorate of Immigration to issue a decision on certain asylum applications stipulated in the Act (5).  The Russians form the largest immigrant group in Finland, followed by the Estonians, Swedes, and Somalians.  Overall, the immigrant population is heavily concentrated in Southern Finland, especially in the metropolitan area of Helsinki.

In Finland, “multiculturalism” is considered an issue directly related to immigrants.  According to a 2000 study by Outi LEPOLA, immigrants are fundamentally left outside of the culture of a Finnish identity – with the exception of the Hungarian Finns.  Furthermore, according to government statistics, in 2010, only 250,000 people out of a population of around 5 million were born outside Finland.

While Timo Soini, Finland’s current foreign minister and leader of the The Finns party did not respond to Immonen’s statement, other Finnish politicians and Finnish society strongly condemned the remark.  On July 28, over ten thousand Finns rallied in Helsinki in support of multiculturalism.

helsinki rally

Source: Yahoo News

The immigration situation in Finland provides a similar, but different glimpse into European attitudes toward continued immigration to the continent.  More importantly though, it underscores the need for Europe to come together and develop a feasible and sustainable proposal – if not a solution – for immigration policy for the sake of both Europe’s present and future.

Reclaiming Multiculturalism in the Nordic
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Kayla Chen

Kayla is a researcher at a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. She received her Master’s degree in International Relations from the Barcelona Institute of International Studies. Previously, she worked for the U.S. State Department, and in the fields of international education, and public relations and communications. Fluent in Spanish and proficient in Mandarin Chinese, Kayla has also spent significant time traveling and working in Latin America, particularly Argentina. Prior to joining the main WIB team, Kayla was a regular International Affairs contributor for more than a year.
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