Norwegian open society and immigration

What does it all mean?

Questions:

1. Many commentators write about the Norwegian open society and the role ‘openness’ plays in it. But does something like it exist, or is it just a perception that Norway wants to build?

2. Do you think the Norwegian society will change now, or people will gradually forget and there will be no visible impacts?

3. In the last 15 years almost half a million immigrants arrived to Norway. How did they perceived the concept of open society and how did they react to it?

4. Did the society itself change with the arrival of immigrants?

Answers:

Katrine Fangen, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo

1. Yes, in general, I think it is valid to consider Norway as an open society in this regard. For example, commentators defending a restrictive immigration policy are allowed much space in the Norwegian media debate. With new communication technologies like blogs, twitter etc is has maybe become too easy to forward hateful messages.But this development is seen in all countries.

2. I think people have been very conscious about the good ideals they want this society to forward: democracy, peace and tolerance, not hatred and fear.

3. I am coordinating an EU project where we research young immigrants’ experiences of inclusion and exclusion in 7 European countries, including Norway. In the Norwegian setting, those migrants who come from war zones in general express that it is good to come to a society marked by peace (however, this event might maybe change this event, although it hopefully is an incident only happening once and will not lead to new events). However, many migrants experience Norwegians as a bit reserved and not so open in social interaction. In our interviews with young immigrants, not many have experienced open racism, but rather they sometimes have experience skepticism etc. There is an ethnic hierarchy in Norway, as in all European countries, and some you migrants do not experience much negative attitudes than others.

Some Norwegian newspapers are very conscious in letting migrants have a voice int he public, and also there are many immigrants activities in Norwegian political parties. However, we have interviewed some immigrants who think their voices are not taken into account by other party members.

In general, I think Norway is a quite open society for immigrants in the sense that they do participate in politics and in the media and the rate of participation in the labor market and in education is quite high in comparison with other European countries.

4. Yes, it has become more colorful, which is good, we have had more restaurants representing cuisines from all over the world, more variation in clothing, new youth styles, new language styles among youth etc. There is also a new debate about the welfare state, since many immigrants have become dependent on welfare benefits.

Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo

1. I have myself wondered what the Prime Minister and others have meant when they spoke about ‘openness’. It does not refer to open borders; Norway’s immigration policies are not THAT generous. It probably refers to the informal, trusting way we carry out our affairs, without too much anxiety and security measures. This, to a great extent, is there, still. There are so few of us that we occasionally, at moments of crisis, may feel like a large family.

2. There will be no dramatic changes. Yet, this tragedy will have long-term effects on our collective mind. We will grow slightly more suspicious, slightly more wary, anxious and worried about risks and dangers. Knowing that the terrorist attack was hard to foresee and probably impossible to prevent, we also know that it could happen again. For so many years, the horrors and tragedies of the world were far away. They have reached us now.

3. I should say that a large majority are deeply impressed and appreciate Norway. I have met Pakistani-Norwegians in Lahore who couldn’t wait to get back to Norway, seeing it as a far superior society to Pakistan. Many Iranians, who fled a theocratic dictatorship, are among the most enthusiastic supporters of Norwegian informality and freedom. On the other hand, many immigrants also feel excluded in various ways – there is racism and discrimination – and many do not make enough of an effort to adapt to Norwegian society. Mistakes are being made on both sides. It is important now that everybody who is committed to the nation are being included in the big family of Norwegians, regardless of where their grandparents came from.

4. Yes, and the positive message from the ‘politically correct multiculturalists’, myself included, has been that we learn something from them and they learn something from us. They have to adjust more than us, being foreigners in a foreign land, but they inevitably add something to our society. We have a much more vibrant music scene, better restaurants and more interesting public debates now than we used to have when the country was more homogeneous. We also have new social problems arising from discrimination, withdrawal from society among some minorities, and generally difficulties in dealing with diversity.

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