Friend of the blog Jussi Jalonen has just posted, at the group blog History and Futility, the essay “Refugee Crisis and the North”. Here, Jalonen takes a look at the way the Syrian refugee crisis has impacted both his Finland and neighbouring Sweden, looking at the political climate in both countries. One thing I particularly liked is his prediction of different outcomes for refugee assimilation in each Nordic country, based on–among other things–the two countries’ very different recent histories of immigration.
Some time ago, my hometown on the West Coast made a decision to accept refugees from Syria. The decision was historic. Although the town of Rauma has always had a relatively substantial community of guest workers and immigrants, the town has not accommodated refugees or asylum seekers so far. This morning, the residential building which was supposed to be used as a reception center for asylum seekers became a target of arson attack. Only a few days before, an old garrison building intended for similar use was burned to the ground in Kankaanpää. Evidently some people in Western Finland do not like the idea of providing housing for asylum seekers.
Another piece of news today came from Sweden. The school teacher who was injured in the Trollhättan attack in October has now died from his wounds. The attack made international headlines two months ago, and was also a sign of the times; a sword-wielding masked young man with far right sympathies assaulted a local Swedish school, in a violent assault against the immigrant students. So far, no comparable incident has occurred in Finland, although occasional direct assaults against asylum seekers have taken place. Three weeks ago, an Iraqi asylum seeker was stabbed by three local men at the reception center of Kangasala.
While a good part of the people in both Nordic countries have participated in volunteer work on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers, the refugee crisis has also triggered a wave of xenophobia. The European refugee crisis has occurred at the moment when the Nordic countries are experiencing the apex of the ongoing radical right-wing populist reaction. Sweden, which appears to be accepting the largest number of refugees, is going through a massive political realignment, as the so-far isolated and solidly anti-immigration Sweden-Democrats have enjoyed record poll support, occasionally as the largest political party. The refugee crisis has contributed to additional political radicalization, and earlier this year, the Sweden-Democrats terminated all cooperation with the youth organization of the party. Already in the spring, a number of SD youth activists were discharged due to their links with neo-Nazi groups.
The situation in Finland is somewhat different from Sweden. The main populist party, the True Finns, which contains its fair share of hard-core anti-immigration extreme nationalists, is exercising political power, having accepted a position in the new center-right government coalition. The party has found itself in a very precarious position, especially since Finland, as the only Nordic member of the Eurozone, is now facing impending austerity measures, and the center-right coalition is also enacting new, tougher labor laws. So far, the True Finns have quietly abandoned their former social conscience and their commitment to the consensus society. The party has acceded to these packages, and even moderated their position towards the EU bailout programs. The disappointment of the party rank and file has been visible in the polls, and the support of the party has plummeted. This has generated additional pressure for the True Finns to somehow crack down hard at least on the refugee crisis, and the party has been clamoring for new anti-immigration legislation modeled after Denmark, including cutting the welfare benefits of refugees and asylum seekers.
I’ve also linked to this essay at Demography Matters, here.