Réunion informelle des Ministres de la culture: «Le nouveau rôle et les nouvelles responsabilités des ministres de la culture pour initier le dialogue interculturel» - Strasbourg, les 17 et 18 février 2003 

(version anglaise seulement)

Intervention Kalevi Kivistö, Directeur Général, Ministère de l’éducation de la Finlande

"A world civilisation could represent no more than a worldwide coalition of cultures, each of which would preserve its own originality"
Claude Lévi-Strauss

We have now moved in our discussions from the perspective of individual and group interaction and communication to collective management of intercultural relations. All the issues selected for this session: governance, inter-sectorial co-operation and subsidiary are extremely important in this regard. In my contribution I would like to emphasise an important principle underlying all these issues. This principle is the rule of law. At the same time I try to open up a Nordic perspective to these issues. I will use Finnish examples to illustrate some of the problems and solutions.

We have an old adage for constructing a good society: “The nation should be built up by laws”. We can also argue that a multicultural society must also be built up by law. While saying this, I do not wish to belittle the role of other policy efforts to improve intercultural dialogue or to prevent intergroup conflicts. I know that legal solutions are often only technical solutions. To become effective they presuppose first right legal ethos, a real respect for the spirit of laws, and second, compassion, a real feeling of sympathy for the predicament of people who wish to maintain their own culture while living in another culture.

One could say, that the Nordic countries, have been rather advanced when it comes to the application of the rule of law with respect to our national minorities, but probably rather innocent in applying the same principle in respect to newcomers, immigrants and refugees, into our countries and national cultures. We have some excellent models for building the cultural autonomies. As examples, we can take the position of the Swedish-speaking Finns in Finland, the autonomy given to the islands of Aland and Faroe, and the solutions that all Nordic countries have managed to muster to guarantee the cultural and related material rights for their common Artic indigenous people, the Sami.

We have also succeeded in guaranteeing at least the minimal educational, linguistic and social rights for the Roma people living in our countries. I'm not saying that these solutions would not have been arrived at without some problems, and there still are some. I only want to underline that these solutions have become, in the course of time, not only enshrined in our laws and constitutions but also generally accepted in practice by the population at large.

If we turn to the problems of the newcomers, the immigrants and refugees, the Nordic approach that relies on the rule of law has probably been less successful. There is no doubt that we have tried to build up good legislation, enacted laws pertaining to the rights of entry, to the rights to asylum and to at least sufficient rights to material and social security. We have also tried to increase equality between resident immigrants and native citizens as regards political rights and equality in administrative processes.

We have also been well aware that the refugees and immigrants need support to maintain their own culture and we have provided them cultural services. For example, we can mention public library services that provide refugees and immigrants with written material in their own languages.

We have been proud of all these efforts and, from the comparative perspective, probably rightly so. When I say that these efforts have been less successful than our efforts with respect to our national minorities, I wish to raise the issue of inter-sectoriality. Our focus has been on formal rights: rights to security in different senses: legal, political, economic and social. We have not been successful in linking these rights to cultural rights. Cultural rights mean that you feel at home in your new cultural environment. Feeling secure is not the same as feeling at home. This feeling at home comes only when the immigrants and refugees feel that there is a balance with their culture and the national majority culture.

In Finland we have invented a new word “kotouttaminen”, “making you feel at home”, as an umbrella term for adjusting refugees and immigrants in our society. Unfortunately the means that we have been using have pertained, and still do, to formal and material rights, not to cultural rights.

I started with a suggestion that we should use the principle of the rule of law to build up our new multicultural societies in the same way as we have build up our national societies. If we, in Finland, have succeeded rather well in using the legal instruments in making our national minorities “feel at home” in our majority culture without loosing their identities, we should be able to do that with respect to newcomers into our culture. This will not be easy. For instance, the use of subsidiarity principle in the case of minorities succeeds only when the minority and majority cultures have become in some sense commensurable, that is, comparable in terms of basic cultural codes, such as those pertaining to family relations and gender equality. The Nordic experiences in respect to minority cultures bear witness that this is possible. The understanding and compassion for other cultures does not come about easily, and there is a need for innovative policies, inter-sectorial approaches and legislative means to build basis for this understanding and compassion.