The broadly-based European Social Survey indicates that the Finns, and people in the other Nordic countries, have a more positive attitude in general toward immigration and immigrants than in most parts of Europe. However, the same study shows that a significant portion of immigrants experience discrimination.
One theme in the most recent public debate on racism in Finland has been the question of whether or not Finnish society is especially racist, and how attitudes compare with those in other countries.
Several pan-European studies have been carried out on the issue. One of those is the European Social Survey. This is an academically-driven social survey designed to chart and explain the interaction between Europe’s changing institutions and the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour patterns of its populations.
In its latest questionnaire in 2010, people around Europe were asked if they think immigrants are good or bad for their country’s economy and culture, and if they in general change the country for better or for worse.
On the basis of this survey, people in Finland, the other Nordic countries and Poland are the most positive about immigration. The most negative attitudes were found to exist in southern and eastern Europe.
One primary factor was seen to be the state of the economy.
Only part of the picture
However, a formal survey of attitudes says little about the day-to-day discrimination many immigrants face.
At the request of Yle, Heikki Ervasti, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Turku, used the same data to compile answers by immigrants to the question of whether or not they experience discrimination on the basis of their ethnic or linguistic origin.
Examined in this light, the most difficult conditions for immigrants are to be found in Estonia, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and Portugal.
Even in the more positively-oriented Nordic region, one-tenth of immigrants said they had experienced discrimination.
“This could bring to the fore special features of the Nordic countries, for example how difficult it is to get into our labour markets. Still, the Nordic countries are on the positive end of the scale, meaning that experiences of discrimination are fewer than in European countries on average,” says Professor Ervasti.
Averages can, however, obscure the worst discrimination against some groups. In 2008, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights carried out a study on experiences of discrimination among various immigrant groups in the workplace, in public services and in private services. The most-discriminated against were found to be Europe’s ethnic Roma. Over half of the Roma interviewed in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Greece said that had experienced discrimination within the previous 12 months.
But, it is also not easy to be an African among the snows of the north, either. Nearly half of the Somalis interviewed in the same survey in Finland and Denmark said they had experienced discrimination.