I recently discovered an interesting blog called ‘Migrant Tales‘. The author of which is clearly concerned with immigration matters and writes a lot on Finland’s migration politics. Often, in debates on how immigrants should be integrated into Finnish society, one hears the argument “When in Rome, do as the Romans”; in other words, that integration should mean that migrants to Finland so quickly as possibly forget their own background and take on entirely a Finnish lifestyle – essentially abandoning or replacing their own cultural values and taking on ours completely. This argument comes up in comments to Migrant Tales and in many other online and offline debates on immigration and integration policy.
This “When in Rome, do as the Romans attitude” got me thinking today when I heard a story on Yle Radio Västnyland (I’m on holiday at the moment in my wife’s home area near Ekenäs) this morning about the increase in people moving from the capital region to the rural municipality of Ingå. The report was about this high level of Finnish-speakers moving into Ingå causing the municipality’s sole Finnish-language school becoming overcrowded and featured a Kokoomus (National Coalition party) Finnish-speaking member of the Ingå council suggesting that Ingå ought to urgently look to constructing a new, second Finnish-language school in the municipaltiy as many Finnish-speaking families were “making do” with putting their children in Swedish-language Ingå schools to save them from travelling longer distances to the municipality’s one Finnish school.
Now, I wonder what the “When in Rome, do as the Romans” attitude holders would make of this. Surely if Rome were Ingå, and one was to do as the local ‘Romans’, one should be adopting the Swedish-language rather than insisting on Finnish language services. Today’s Ingå is a bilingual municipality with Swedish as the majority language (according to the municipal website, around 57% of the 5 458 residents speak Swedish – 40% have Finnish as their mother tongue.) If one went back to 1950, before any widescale immigration to the municipality had got underway, you would have found that 89,5% of Ingå’s residents spoke Swedish as their mother tongue (according to Folktinget’s statistics). Before the wars of the 40s, you would have found that the municipality was unilingually Swedish-speaking. So, presumably if you held the “When in Rome” attitude, you would be condemning those unthoughtful Finnish-speaking immigrants of today and the latter half of the 20th century for not integrating and insisting on the superceding of their own culture on to the Finland-Swedish. You would be accusing them of failing to act as one should in Rome.
Incidentally, this argument could be applied to many, many more districts – including municipalities that no Finnish speaker would think of as a traditionally Swedish-speaking area today; for instance, the capital region’s Esbo (Espoo) which is today’s second largest city in Finland with around 235 000 residents (mainly due to immigrants from the rest of the country moving to the capital region) was 43% Swedish-speaking still in 1950. Today it is 8,9%. Before the wars and in the first half of the 20th century it was still a very rural, sparsely populated unilingual Swedish municipality. Is this another example where the “When in Rome” attitude holders would see a failure?
Now, I’m not arguing for the application of the “When in Rome, do as the Romans” (i.e. integrate completely or stay away) attitude in official policy. Hopefully my thoughts here help expose such thinking as unrealistic at the very least. I would love to hear from some “When in Rome, do as the Romans” attitude holders as to whether their beliefs also cover their own Finnish-speaking compatriots when they have chosen to move to Swedish-speaking areas and often cause them to dramatically change in cultural and linguistic character.