"Fear of the unknown is a natural human reaction"

Ministry of the Interior 17.9.2013 12.47
News item

On 4 September, the Legal Affairs Unit of the Finnish Ministry of the Interior held an international workshop in Helsinki aimed at discussing what the concept of good relations between different communities means in the Finnish, Swedish and European contexts. The workshop, organised by the Ministry's Good Relations project, also initiated discussion on how to establish indicators for measuring the state of good relations.

Goal: reasonably good society

Doctor of Social Science Pasi Saukkonen, Senior Researcher from the Foundation for Cultural Policy Research Cupore, gave the keynote speech. He talked about the concepts of good relations and xenophobia, and the promotion and measurement of good relations.

"Ethnic relations are relationships between people, and relationships between people are often quite poor. So, in pursuing better ethnic relations, we should treat them as 'normal' relationships."

According to Saukkonen, fear of the unknown is a very natural human reaction, but what people consider strange or foreign is very much culture and time-specific.

"Our history is reflected in our attitudes. It is an entirely different matter to be a Russian in Finland than Sweden, for example. The promotion of good ethnic relations requires a change of culture, which takes a long time and is bound to cause resistance. We are often too impatient and expect to see results straight away."

Saukkonen emphasised that we should not set too ambitious targets for the promotion of good relations. "Conflicts between people are inevitable. But what really matters is how to settle them and prevent them from becoming structural. Instead of pursuing a paradise with perfect relations, we'd be better off trying to achieve a reasonably good society and tolerable relations."

Combating racism takes time

Alongside its Finnish collaborators, the Ministry of the Interior has two international partners in the Good Relations project: the Swedish Ministry of Employment and the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM). Christer Mattsson, from the municipality of Kungälv, presented an example of local action to combat racism in Sweden. A teacher, he is Director of Social Welfare Services and has several years of experience in working with radicalised young people.

"Intolerance and xenophobia are the most significant barriers to the co-existence of ethnic groups", Mattsson said. The municipality of Kungälv truly woke up to the horrors of extremism in 1995 when neo-Nazis killed a young boy. Since then, the municipality has taken determined efforts to promote tolerance and combat racism.

Mattsson underlined the fact that tolerance is the key to the peaceful co-existence of people. Like Saukkonen, he also called for patience in anti-racism work.

"If we try to change things too quickly, they are more likely to take a turn for the worse. Raising people's awareness about tolerance and combating racism take time and require determined efforts through good times and bad. One-off anti-racism events, demonstrations and symbolic acts are not enough to change the reality at grass-roots level."

Establishing indicators for good relations

A total of more than 40 representatives of civil society organisations, municipalities and universities participated in the workshop. In the afternoon, the participants held discussions in working groups aimed at identifying indicators for the measurement of good relations. Representatives of ethnic minorities and multicultural associations took active part in the discussions.

In the Good Relations project, relations between different communities are examined across four domains as set out in the Good Relations Measurement Framework published by the British Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2010. These domains are attitudes, personal security, interaction with others, and participation and influence. The purpose is to establish indicators for each, together with concrete tools for measuring progress at local level.

The results will be published in the form of a good relations framework document and a set of indicators. In addition, the project will also produce a practical guide for local-level actors, providing a range of tools for promoting good relations. Both the framework document and the guide will be released at a final conference in September 2014.

A report of the Helsinki workshop will be available this autumn on the website of the Good Relations project at http://www.intermin.fi/en/development_projects/good_relations

For further information, please contact Ms Liisa Männistö, Project Manager ([email protected], tel. +358 71 878 8296)