The building of Finnish national identity within a multicultural society
One of the matters that some Finns who read the many comments in this blog should try to understand is that cultural diversity or multiculturalism should not be perceived as a threat but as an opportunity.
For some Finns, who see foreigners as a threat to our culture, this fear can be best explained through two historical factors: 1) Finns are still building a national identity since independence in 1917 from Russia; and 2) the Winter and Continuous War that put in grave jeopardy that identity- and nation-building process.
Finns have gone to great lengths to forge a sense of national identity. In the 1920s, for example, Finns were encouraged to change their “foreign” surnames for Finnish ones.
It may seem odd, however, to some that even to this date the process of building a national identity appears to be as strong and as imperative as it was after 1917. Even so, facts like globalization, European Union membership, and the fact that more foreigners living in Finland of diverse backgrounds, have brought in question how we define Finns and how foreigners should be perceived within that national identity-building process.
Since mutual respect is one of the golden rules of living in a successful society that has diverse backgrounds, it has to be a two-way street. Finns have a right to be Finns and be proud of their identity in the same way as other groups that may not fit the general definition of what is a Finn have the right to be proud of their heritage. It is a healthy matter that cultures can grow together in synergy and retain a sense of “us” and “them.” The strong healthy sense of “us” should not mean excluding others from being a part of this society.
What is pathological, however, is discrimination, racism and the lack of respect for other cultures. That is something unacceptable in any society, especially in a country such as Finland.
Why is it unacceptable? Because it runs against our sense of justice and undermines those very values that keep our society from falling into a state of moral disarray.