Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Song of Norway

U.S. Americans on the left love to romanticize Europe in general, and the Scandinavian countries most of all. They have such a nice social safety net, high taxes, gay marriage, sex-change operations. They abjure violence, are neutral in World Wars, give out the Nobel Peace Prize. Plus they’re the source of those great Dragon Tattoo books we’re all reading, and the Wallander mysteries we love to watch on PBS.

Thanks to Anders Behring Breivik, we’re seeing another side of Scandinavia. It’s a side that closer observers have been talking about for a while. Between September and November of 2010, nearly every news outlet had a story hailing the arrival of far-right politics in Sweden, after the Swedish Democrats won ten seats in Parliament. By that time, Norway’s Progress Party held nearly 23% of the seats, making it the nation’s second largest party.

How could this be happening in the countries we so admire, and how could something nearly as terrible as the Oklahoma City bombing occur in a country so humane that its prisoners get to go horseback riding and use the internet?

In May of this year, the MiRA Resource Centre for Black, Immigrant and Refugee Women in Norway published an article entitled, “Welfare state and immigration: Non European nationals as second class citizens?” They were responding to a government report on Welfare and Migration.

“The Norwegian welfare model is, in the Welfare and Migration report, defined as dependent on high level of participation in employment and a relatively equal distribution of income in order to keep a generous and universal supply of welfare to all citizens. Immigration, according to the rapport, can contribute to the labour market with proficiency, labour and innovation, and can therefore be strengthening the welfare state. However, if the immigrants are not gainfully employed, they will become a double loss for the Norwegian state with increased welfare expenses and reduced tax incomes. As a result, migration would not be profitable for the Norwegian economy. Therefore, the Welfare and Migration Committee recommends active integration of migrants within the workplaces in order to rescue the welfare state. The committee also proposes that the various economic benefits such as child welfare allowance to the immigrant communities could be converted into the provision of employment or qualification programmes which can result in creating job participation. It means in practice that if the immigrant women are unemployed, they would not be qualified for welfare allowances like their ethnic Norwegian sisters.

“We are … sceptical to some of the recommendations which portray immigrants who become unemployed due to various factors among them discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion and the colour of skin, as a burden to the welfare state.”
In 2000, newspapers and scholarly journals of Europe were filled with articles on “demographic change.” What this referred to was the anticipated arrival of the baby boomers at retirement age, without leaving enough replacement workers because of the declining birth rates. The fear was that this would result in both a labor shortage and the depletion of the pension funds. One of the major remedies for this coming catastrophe was to encourage immigration from less wealthy areas.

“Today, there is a growing awareness in the EU that there are at least two major policy issues in relation to population ageing. These are the ageing of the workforce and the risk of growing imbalances in the financing of the social protection. … There is a growing awareness that restrictive immigration policies of the past 25 years are no longer relevant to the economic and demographic situation in which the Union now finds itself.”
EXPERT GROUP MEETING ON POLICY RESPONSES TO POPULATION AGEING AND POPULATION DECLINE, Department of Economic and Social Affairs United Nations Secretariat, New York, 16-18 October 2000

The strategy worked brilliantly. War, climate change and global economic instability were boons for the European population crisis. Between 1995 and 2010, the immigrant population of Norway rose by nearly 250%. Over half of the 234,000 new immigrants were from other European countries, with Poland, Bosnia-Hercogovina, Kosova and Russia accounting for just over 85,000. Asia accounted for over 147,000 and Africa more than 50,000, so these “undesirable” and heavily Muslim immigrants combined to represent almost twice as many of the new Norwegians as people coming from other Western European countries.

In 2004, Italian Prime Minister Sergio Berlusconi offered a “baby bonus” to counter the declining birth rate caused by a majority of (Christian) Italian women choosing not to have children. When he learned that Muslim families had claimed the bonus, he tried to get them to return it.

In 2006, a number of European online papers published a screed against Muslim immigrant youth entitled “Swedish Welfare State Collapses as Immigrants Wage War.”  The "article" claimed that Muslim "gangs" were robbing Swedes as a form of warfare against "the Swedish model."

Flash forward to late 2009, when even the prosperous European nanny states were feeling the ripple effects of the U.S. financial debacle. European scholarly journals are full of articles with titles like, “Migration and welfare state solidarity in Western Europe”:

“In recent decades Western Europe has had to face increasing migration levels resulting in a more diverse population. As a direct consequence, the question of adequate inclusion of immigrants into the welfare state has arisen. At the same time it has been asked whether the inclusion of non-nationals or migrants into the welfare state may undermine the solidaristic basis and legitimacy of welfare state redistribution. Citizens who are in general positive about the welfare state may adopt a critical view if migrants are granted equal access.” (Steffen Mau, University of Bremen, Germany, July 2009)

“We find (1) that people who hold both negative views about immigrants generally tend to be less supportive of income redistribution, and (2) that they become even less supportive if they perceive a high share of immigrants in the population.” (C. Senik, H. Stichnoth, K. Van der Straeten, 2008)

It’s easy for us to believe that the U.S. has a monopoly on racism and immigrant-bashing. But it helps to remember that the Anglo-Saxon population of this country came from the Northern European countries in the first place, many of them escaping persecution for fairly minor differences. These societies have been notoriously homogeneous. As increasing migration into and across Europe brings waves of economic and political refugees, many of them darker skinned and/or practicing Islam, those countries start to look a lot more like this one.

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