Immigrants and the difficulties of integration and getting into the cultural mainstream
Researcher explores access to culture among immigrants to Finland, and deplores the disrupt between speeches and actions on multiculturalism
By Sirpa Pääkkönen
Researcher Pasi Saukkonen is concerned about recent discussions, according to which immigration should be stopped and Finland should return back to "normal life".
”It is a totally wrong idea. Immigration does not come to an end simply by stopping it. Finland should have a serious debate on how the country changes when foreigners move here. The share of foreign-language citizens and that of non-Christians are both inevitably going to grow significantly in Finland within the next few years. One related factor is the present immigrants’ getting married and having children”, Saukkonen notes.
His recently-published study entitled Kotouttaminen ja kulttuuripolitiikka (”Integration and Cultural Policy”) deals with immigration and multiculturalism in Finnish arts.
According to the Population Register Centre, a total of 155,660 foreign citizens lived in Finland at the end of 2009.
The largest language-groups are Russian-speakers (51,683), Estonian (25,096), English (12,063), Somali (11,681), Arabic (9,682), Kurdish (7,135), Chinese (7,078), and Albanian (6,736).
A migration flow to Finland began to accelerate at the end of the 1980s.
Before World War II, Finland also had a good many immigrants, but after the war migration was insignificant for several decades. Instead, Finns themselves migrated abroad in search of employment, for instance to the car factories of Sweden.
There were three underlying factors behind the '80s acceleration, according to Saukkonen.
”The borders opened when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended. Many crises, including the war in Iraq and the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, increased the number of refugees to Western Europe and to some extent even to Finland. A third factor was the fact that Finland got wealthier. Finland became an interesting destination, which needed labour. Even the number of asylum-seekers increased”, Saukkonen notes.
In Saukkonen’s opinion, it is interesting that the integration of refugees and immigrants is precisely described in the Act on the Integration of Immigrants and Reception of Asylum Seekers.
For the purposes of this Act, integration means the personal development of immigrants, aimed at participation in working life and the functioning of society, while preserving their language and culture.
”The definition is good, but at the same time it is a source of dissatisfaction, as the target is impossible to reach completely. Not everyone is employed. Some immigrants get marginalised. As for the preserving of language and culture, it is difficult to determine when this target has been met”, Saukkonen continues.
There are large differences between various groups of population.
Estonian-speaking immigrants appear to become one with the original population, while Russian-speaking people try to preserve their own language and culture.
The employment situation of Estonian immigrants is better than that of Russian- and Somali-speaking people.
In addition, there are differences in language skills between various groups of immigrants. Without Finnish language skills it is difficult to find any job, as anyone who has tried to break through the wall will tell you.
The preserving of their own culture, identity, and religious traditions is important for most immigrants.
Big questions are for example how culture, language, and identity can be preserved in the second and third generation, and how large ethnic and cultural minorities will be formed here.
"The latter issue is significant for Russian- and Somali-speaking immigrants in particular: whether they will integrate into Finnish society or whether they will isolate themselves. What language will they speak in the future? Religion and values become topical matters, when immigrants start a family and think of raising children”, Saukkonen argues.
Immigrants are a very heterogeneous group. Even their field of culture is large.
”For some immigrants it is easy to find their place in cultural life. For example, professionals in the classical music branch who come here from Russia follow music and find jobs in Finnish orchestras. Russian-speaking immigrants have a strong field of cultural associations to lean on."
"The other extreme consists of asylum-seekers, many of whom cannot find Finnish cultural supply and are facing a risk of marginalisation. An exception is the public library system, which is free and serves as a way out for many immigrants”, Saukkonen feels.
Music is likely to be closer to immigrants than literature and theatre, which are both associated with the language.
Entertainment integrates, especially among young people.
Immigrant teens and young adults do well in competitions like Idols and Talent. The entertainment business offers them an opportunity for symbiosis with the mainstream culture.
Young immigrants can in this way live between two cultures, where their own background is combined with the surrounding culture.
In speeches, political and otherwise, multiculturalism is regarded as a blessing, but the practical measures to support it are few and far between.
”There is an egregious conflict and disrupt here. People are given to understand that society would be willing to support the cultural projects of immigrants, while financial grants to do just that are negligible”, Saukkonen claims.
The most successful cultural institutions in Helsinki in this respect are the International Cultural Centre Caisa, the Multicultural Art Centre Kassandra, the Multicultural Singing Contest Ourvision, and the World Village Festival.
”It is good that these have been successful, but at the same time, it makes one think just how often their existence is used to justify the fact that other theatres and song contests do not open their doors to immigrants. People just think that the foreigners have their own singing contests and that is enough. However, the long-term goal of immigrants is to join the mainstream. Separate solutions may just discourage and hamper such mainstreaming”, Saukkonen argues.
Saukkonen fears that many people remain in the shadows.
They find neither the mainstream culture supply nor those events that are available for immigrants.
Particularly young people are at risk of remaining in limbo - in a dead zone that is neither here nor there.
Pasi Saukkonen: Kotouttaminen ja kulttuuripolitiikka (”Integration and Cultural Policy”). A survey on immigration and multiculturalism in the field of Finnish art and culture. Cupore, 248 pages, €30.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 7.6.2010
Previously in HS International Edition:
Alexis Kouros resigns from Arts Council of Finland to protest nominations policy (19.3.2010)
Foreign Minister Stubb defends immigration and multiculturalism (19.3.2010)
Multicultural child custody battles tend to result in single parenting (25.8.2009)
Study indicates mixed marriages end much more often in divorce (4.8.2009)
One in four marriages in Helsinki involve at least one foreigner (9.2.2009)
Ernst Billgren introduces colourful new versions of classic Finnish paintings (11.5.2010)
Population Register Centre
International Cultural Centre Caisa
Multicultural Art Centre Kassandra
SIRPA PÄÄKKÖNEN / Helsingin Sanomat