From my French perspective, Finland seems like an introverted, but understanding, progressive and solidary nation that in its 100th year is still learning to adapt to a global world. Multiculturalism is widely seen as an ideal, and Finns are taught to respect and tolerate people from elsewhere.
This, I find, is the very root of the problem. Multiculturalism will not take Finland very far.
Multiculturalism aims to build a sort of a mosaic of different cultures, each culture represented by different coloured pieces of glass. Ideally, with mutual respect and tolerance, cultures will form a vibrant and beautiful mosaic.
What advocates for multiculturalism often miss is that respect and tolerance have become the mortar that visibly separates each piece. They have noble intentions, but often tend to create isolation, exclusion and an awkward juggle with power relationships – who is even allowed to tolerate whom?
Focusing the debate on ethnicities, minorities, or diasporas only solidify the mortar between those isolated pieces of cultures, and in turn create a stronger wedge between them.
Strangely enough, the first time I encountered multiculturalism was when I moved to Helsinki six years ago. I learned to distinguish the Somalis from the Roma or the Sami as their own groups, instead of seeing everyone as Finns.
This was striking, as in France people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds are assimilated in one big “melting pot”, where everyone contributes to a common pot called French culture.
People make up the ingredients, spices and textures, and each element contributes to the flavour. It is up to the chef, the nation state, to make sure the tastes balance and complement each other. Additional seasoning, like religion, is then left to the eater in the private sphere.
Simply respecting and tolerating minority groups will always create a divide between ‘me and them’, ‘us and the others’, and prevent us from real equality.
One potential solution to help Finland solve its growing issue of exclusion and structural racism would be to work towards a new kind of nation building: Finland as a postnationalist state.
Postnationalism means adopting a mind-set that encourages the renewing of the nation’s values.
While the actual model of multiculturalism has been a good temporary alternative to the total rejection of the latest migration waves, today second or even third generation immigrants, or anyone who doesn’t fit the Finnish stereotype, struggle with issues caused by this model. This has been an emerging theme in Nordic literature, with writers like Koko Hubara, Jonas Hassen Khemiri or Yahya Hassan tackling issues such as tangled cultural identities and ‘in-betweenness’, ‘encapsulated betweenship’ or ‘hybridity’. In their work they discuss a feeling of isolation from the Nordic community, without any possible retreat elsewhere.
With postnationalism, Finns – of all backgrounds – would constantly renegotiate what to include in the nation. This would not be something new to Finland either. Sociologist Miika Tervonen recently won the Vuoden Tiedekynä award for his article Historiography and the myth of a monocultural Finland. According to Tervonen, the idea of a monoculture came into being in the early 20th century as a means to create stronger national self-understanding. Before that, Finland was a country where people from everywhere in Europe lived together.
Taking the Leijonat back from the neo-Nazis, or singing a classic Finnish hit like Romanssi while demonstrating for same-sex marriage are two striking postnationalistic examples. The same can easily be done with issues such as ethnicity and cultural backgrounds to actively update our shared imagined community. Only then can we all say as a nation: “Nouse Suomi!”
The writer is a Ph.D candidate in Nordic Literature at the University of Helsinki and Paris-Sorbonne.