Monday, February 16, 2009

Right to Exclude

I guess it is OK to post twice in a day if you run into really good stuff. The Finnish Institute of International Affairs published today a clear and important paper on the relationship of immigration and recession. Researcher Toby Archer´s concise clarification is highly helpful in understanding the current sentiments in Finland and elsewhere regarding populism and xenophobia. As Archer writes, "during the recession there is a danger that the EU single market and labour movement become seen as negatives - taking away sovereign control from states: stopping governments from protecting jobs or from restricting foreigners from taking work away from local people".

Archer´s paper addresses a point I discussed last week in my meeting with designer Reza Abedini and graphic design agency Lava in Amsterdam: the sense of entitlement. Anti-immigration sentiments are a logical result from feeling like you are losing something you are entitled to. Proverbs like "to be born a Finn is like winning in the lottery" or "Favour Finnish" characterise what I mean. A notion that just being born to a certain citizenship means automatically a right to a certain standard of living is in great contradiction with global solidarity and openness to immigration.

As easy as it would be to judge all this as selfish, some of it has also more sincere and primal feelings behind it - especially in countries such as Ireland and Finland. In both of these countries the national identity is built on being an underdog and on relative poverty. When incredible affluence hit both nations during the last 20 years, people felt that their time had come, the hardships had paid off and that they would be able to leave their children a better place than the one they inherited. In countries like Finland, the post-war generation has gone through an incredibly rapid rise to the middle class.

When immigration is presented mostly as an economic and security challenge, it risks this dream of leaving a good world for one´s children as it brings more people to the kitchen table. And more importantly, these would be people who have not gone through the national experience from rags to riches.

Of course most immigrants come from conditions far worse than Finland during the last decade. Many immigrants, especially refugees, have gone through things no human being should experience - such as torture, starvation and persecution. But this is easily cast aside when one carries concern over one´s immediate family. This is not always loaded with racism or xenophobia but with parental instinct. I would dare to state that the more we can create trust so that people - immigrants and non-immigrants - feel comfortable expressing these fears and worries, the more interaction natives have with immigrants in professional settings and the more the media portrays immigrants who have made a significant contribution to the society, the more there are chances to answer and ease the fears and work towards an inclusive society.

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