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colonial and the postcolonial:
A view from Scandinavia on Italian minority issues
Ralph Grillo and Jeff Pratt, eds., The Politics of Recognizing Difference:
Multiculturalism Italian-style, pp. 219-236. Aldgate 2002
There has been a
tendency in the academic literature on nationhood to emphasise anything
that nations might have in common print-capitalism, standardising
mass education, citizenship as a basis for rights, industrialism and so
on (Grillo 1980, Anderson 1983, Gellner 1983). This perspective has much
to recommend it, and the uniformities between modern nation-states are
indeed striking, not least when seen through the lens of comparative social
anthropology. The socio-cultural grammars of different nation-states do
display important structural and syntactical parallels. On the other hand,
this should not detract attention from differences, which are not mere
surface phenomena, but which pertain to structural features such as forms
of national discourse, principles of integration and mechanisms of exclusion.
Historical and assumed contrasts between Germany and France thus inform
some of the literature on nationhood (e.g. Kohn 1946, Dumont 1991); contrasts
between "new world" and "old world" nationalism are
also occasionally invoked; and some (such as Smith 1983) even deny that
the multi-ethnic, future-oriented state ideologies of newly emancipated
African countries should be regarded as nationalism at all. In the introduction
to this volume, Grillo (see also Grillo 1998) emphasises the differences
not just between the semantics of nationhood, but also in ways of reconciling
cultural variation with social and political integration in a state.
As a contribution
to the comparative study of nationalisms and minority politics, this chapter
offers a comparison between some features of ethnic and cultural complexity
in Italy and Norway. The coupling seems unlikely; if anything, in the
popular European imagination, Italy and Norway represent opposites in
almost every respect. As European stereotypes would have it, one is warm,
swarthy, sensuous and southern, while the other is cold, blond, frigid
and northern; one is Catholic, the other is Lutheran; one is socially
fragmented, the other is socially homogeneous; one is dominated by family
networks and informal sector economy; the other is rule-abiding and run
on principles of formal justice; one favours aesthetics over ethics, the
other favours ethics over aesthetics and utility over everything; one
cultivates pleasure and a certain dolce farniente, the other
owes its frightful efficiency to a joyless Protestant work ethic
and so on. Not to mention demographics: although the two countries located
at either extreme of Europe are of roughly the same size and shape, with
a distinct northsouth axis, Italys population of 57 million
is more than twelve times that of Norway (4.5 million). These contrasts
make the similarities, to be explored later, all the more intriguing.
is structured as follows. First, I present a brief comparison between
the three Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden and Norway), indicating
important differences in the dominant modes of exclusion. This is followed
by a comparison of the histories of nation-building and of migration
in Italy and Norway. The comparison is deepened by way of some key issues
in domestic discourse over the integrity and "essence" of
the nation, followed by a comparison of discourses and practices relating
The main point
of this exercise, apart from shedding light on variations between processes
of exclusion and inclusion in different European countries, is to show
that the study of multiethnic societies requires a sensitivity to local
particularities of both social and symbolic kinds. The statistical and
questionnaire-based methods often used as a basis for generalisation and
comparison of European policies of migration and integration, conceal
differences in the local handling of cultural difference that may be results
of deep structural differences, concerning personhood, ethos, kinship,
local organisation and so on. While this contribution cannot cover everything
relevant, it addresses a few issues and thereby suggests what kind of
material we shall need in order to develop a truly comparative anthropology
of migration in Western Europe.
exclusion in the Scandinavian countries
John Rexs distinction,
mentioned by Grillo in the introduction to this book, between control
agendas, social agendas and difference agendas in minority politics, can
be a useful starting-point for a brief comparison between the Scandinavian
countries. In spite of their similarities, it can be argued that for each
Scandinavian country, one of these agendas predominates.
Scandinavian countries have a lot in common. Following the usual form
of social classification, they all look the same when viewed from a distance:
Cold, rich, well organised. There is also a general feeling in all countries
of belonging to an extended family. Although books are translated between
the languages, they are to a great extent mutually intelligible. A Swedish
woman is in charge of my son in his kindergarten, and no parent would
even dream of complaining about her undiluted Swedish language. However,
there are important differences too, which are naturally magnified in
local identity politics; the shaping of national identity in Sweden and
Denmark has in no small degree come about through mutual contrasting,
and Norwegian nationhood was developed, in the nineteenth century, through
a double contrast to Sweden (the politically dominant neighbour) and Denmark
(the culturally dominant neighbour). Swedes are perceived as efficient,
bureaucratic and formal; Norwegians as rural, uncultured and (lately)
vulgarly rich; while Danes are seen as the Italians of Scandinavia
laidback, informal, enjoying a Continental joie de vivre unknown
in melancholic, forested northern Scandinavia. Their capital cities can
be seen as an index to their differences from stately, Baltic,
watery, serious Stockholm; via smallish, aspiring Oslo whimsically searching
for an urban identity in a country basing its national ethos on the rural
life; to sprawling, cosmopolitan, liberal Copenhagen. Swedes and Norwegians
take the ferry to Copenhagen in the weekends to party; no Dane is known
to have gone in the other direction for the same reason.
their mutual differences, all three countries have social democratic welfare
states which are still trying to ensure the formal equality of all citizens
(but not necessarily those of aliens); they all have their small extreme-right
fringe groups which militantly and occasionally violently oppose current
threats to pure Germanic appearance and language in the population, as
well as larger population segments which oppose the new poly-ethnic situation
in more moderate ways. In Denmark and Norway, right-wing populist parties
that place resistance to immigration high on the agenda can occasionally
get more than 20 per cent of the votes in elections. In Sweden, no similar
policy, Sweden has received many more immigrants and refugees in recent
decades than Denmark and Norway, both in absolute and relative numbers.
Foreign-born residents now (2001) make up about ten per cent of the total
Swedish population, while the percentage in both Denmark and Norway is
between 4 and 5; however, these figures include West European and North
American immigrants as well groups which, in all three countries,
comprise about half of the actual immigrant population, but which are
not included in the popular conceptions of immigrants. The term "immigrant"
(innvandrer) in Scandinavia suggests a physically distinct (dark-skinned)
member of the working-class, legitimately or illigitimately in the country,
employed or unemployed. In popular discourse, it is not common to distinguish
between labour migrants, typically arrived during the 1960s and 1970s,
and refugees, who have arrived under very different conditions in the
1980s and 1990s. In Sweden, Yugoslavs and Syrians form large communities,
while Turks make up the largest single group in Denmark, and Pakistanis
occupy a similar place in Norway. In all three countries, moreover, the
tendency is for immigrants to be most numerous in the metropolitan areas
in greater Copenhagen, greater Stockholm, Malmö and the Oslo
region. Finally, the public debates over immigration have followed similar
lines in all three countries, where issues regarding linguistic pluralism,
religious rights, exclusion from the labour market and crime rates have
A main problem
has been perceived, by the political authorities in the three countries,
as the problem of integration, a term widely used by politicians and bureaucrats
who speak of minority issues as a synonym for "assimilation".
How should the immigrant populations be integrated in such a way as to
enable them to enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities to the majority
population? There is a characteristic Scandinavian way of framing this
issue integration is seen in terms of similarity-cum-equality
but it is dealt with differently in Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
The idea of social
engineering is still deep-seated in Scandinavian political culture. The
good and just society is, according to this vision, achieved by giving
all inhabitants the same formal rights and opportunities through the institutions
of the nation-state. Large-scale, standardised solutions to specific problems
are believed to apply universally. The state is responsible for implementing
and monitoring the processes of integration of immigrants. Unlike in Italy,
no systematic distinction is made between society and the state. When
Riccio reports (this volume) that Italians try to protect their piece
of urban space and the integrity of their families against immigrants,
this is in clear contrast to the typical Scandinavian way of handling
immigrations, which would consist exclusively in appeals to politicians
and local authorities.
In one of the
most penetrating recent studies of the political predicament of immigrants
in Sweden, Thomas Gür (Staten och nykomlingarna, "The
State and the Newcomers", 1996) argues that the strong involvement
of the state prevents the use and development of informal networks, and
thereby tends to turn immigrants into clients dependent on state support.
Comparing the situation of immigrants in Sweden with that prevailing in
countries such as Canada and Australia, he shows how different immigrant
groups, drawing on specific social resources, rapidly become autonomous
and self-sufficient in countries where the state encourages independent
initiatives and does not seek to standardise the behaviour of immigrants
by subjecting them to a rigid bureaucratic regime. Another general point
in relation to the ideology of social engineering is that "immigrants"
is merely a lump term bringing together individuals, families and larger
groups in extremely different situations, and that any policy based on
standardised solutions (relating to e.g. language training, employment
strategies and education) is bound to fail, since the requirements of
different groups and individuals vary significantly. Importantly, the
cause of failed integration is located to the state bureaucracy in Sweden,
in other words a control agenda.
There is no terminological
distinction between similarity and equality in the Scandinavian
languages (see Gullestad 1992). Since likhet/lighed, which has
politically important, positive connotations, translates both as similarity
and as equality, an automatic equivalence is established between the two.
When the international youth campaign "Equal but different"
was launched in Norway in the mid-1990s, thus, it was difficult to translate
the slogan. Lik, men forskjellig ("Similar/equal, but different")
evidently did not make sense. As a consequence, similarity is believed
to be a necessary condition for equality. The general conflation between
the two meanings of "likhet" leaves the impression that cultural
difference (from "us") is tantamount to lacking something as
the other is still not "equal" (i.e. similar); and also contributes
to creating a rather confusing framework for debates about cultural rights.
One cannot, within this conceptual framework, be culturally different
and politically equal. Many immigrants feel that they have been offered
the worst of both worlds in this respect: They are offered similarity
(especially in the Norwegian case) in the realms of language and religion,
where many of them demand the right to be different; while they are not
offered equality in the realms of education and work, where equal treatment
is essential for integration proper to come about.
There is moreover
an awkward double-bind in official communication about culture in all
three countries, due to a widespread essentialistic understanding of culture.
This closely parallels the situation in Italy. Immigrants have generally
faced an impossible choice: either become culturally Scandinavian, or
retain your own culture. Of course, neither option is feasible in practice.
A migrant can never shed his or her cultural background entirely, even
in a totally new cultural environment, but he or she cannot retain it
unmodified in a new environment either.
conceptualisation of culture, there has as noted by several contributors
to this volume been a general shift in recent years, at least among
activists and researchers, a shift which has scarcely been followed up
by policymakers and politicians (a notable exception being the recent
Parekh Report in Britain; Runnymede Trust 2000). Rather than conceiving
of the world as consisting of neatly bounded, clearly delineated "cultures",
theorists now see culture as a dynamic field marked by flows and variation
rather than a fixed entity with definite bounaries. Yet, ideas reifying
and contrasting "their culture" and "our culture"
proliferate and underlie a lot of policies. This way of thinking implies
a strong cultural determinism, and indeed the problems experienced by
immigrants are frequently accounted for through cultural explanations.
Usually, this cultural determinism goes together with an idea of a "white
man's burden", but it is also sometimes activated in a relativist
context where "the other culture" is seen as equivalent to "our
culture". Both stances imply impossible options, strengthen boundaries
between "us and them", and freeze culture in the same fashion
as Romantic nationalism does.
In her book Mot
en ny underklasse ("Towards a new underclass"), and in several
newspaper articles published in the latter half of the 1990s, social anthropologist
Unni Wikan (1995) questions the ability of immigrants (chiefly, it seems,
Pakistani, although this is implicit in the book) to adapt to the cultural
values and practices of Norway. Her main concern is the predicament of
second-generation girls who are seen as the victims of an authoritarian
patriarchy. Following recent American theory of culture, Wikan rejects
essentialism, but seems to re-introduce it through the back door when
she posits a Norwegian set of values as a common denominator to the various
groups that make up Norwegian society today. Her controversial book highlights
the importance of gender equality and, between the lines, cultural homogeneity,
for social cohesion. This work expresses a discourse of difference:
what is at stake amounts to cultural values.
is difficult to reconcile with nationhood and the integration of minorities
in all three countries, and immigrants remain a category apart. However,
the causes of exclusion differ. In Sweden, the State is seen as an obstacle;
in Norway, the threshold insurmountable for many immigrants
is culture; in Denmark, the third discourse, that relating to social integration,
is prevalent. There, it has been pointed out, it may be said that den
danske hygge ("Danish coziness") functions as an efficient
mechnism of exclusion at the level of informal social interaction. Informal
Danish coziness, which is proverbially enacted around a table with plenty
of food and drink, is a pleasant form of interaction for all who take
part, but not for those who do not, who are by default excluded. A heated
debate in that country was initiated in the mid-1990s by sociologist Mehmet
Ümit Necef's notion of "the white woman's burden". In a
newspaper interview (with Politiken) Necef argued, slightly tongue-in-cheek,
that for immigrants to become properly integrated into Danish society,
they had to be allowed into the beds of Danish women. In other words,
the problem of integration was located to informal social life. It was
not enough to work, go to school and vote with ethnic Danes. Necef thus
highlights the social agenda of discourse about minority issues
In other words,
it could be said that the feeling of exclusion among immigrants can be
traced to Enlightenment causes in Sweden, to Romantic causes in Norway,
and to processes of informal social life in Denmark. What about Italy?
One would by default expect Italy to be most similar to Denmark, that
emphatically Southern, fun-loving, emotional, warm and charmingly disorganised
country as the SwedishNorwegian stereotype would have it.
However, it may yet be the case that the most fruitful comparisons are
to be made between Italy and Norway.
Histories of nation-building
In addition to everything
else, Scandinavia consists of two of Europes oldest states and one
of the youngest. Denmark and Sweden have never been colonised, and can
trace the history of their statehood (albeit not their nationhood) back
to medieval times. Norway, portrayed in domestic school curricula and
official propaganda as the true descendant of the kingdom located roughly
in the same location until the mid-fourteenth century, came into existence
as an independent state only in 1905. It had been a Danish province for
centuries until 1814, and the junior partner of an enforced union with
Sweden since then. Occupied by Germany during the Second World War, the
country seems a more precarious construction than its two neighbours,
and it is renowned for the strength of its collective sense of nationhood.
It was during the union with Sweden that modern Norway was slowly shaped,
largely through the fashioning of a distinct national culture drawing
on rural tradition often mixed with European high culture, typically in
the music of Edvard Grieg. Unlike Italy, Norway had no traditional high
culture to draw on in its incipient nation-building. At the same time,
both countries were slow in the making compared to other Western European
countries Italy because of internal fragmentation, Norway because
of foreign domination and the Risorgimento was followed eagerly
and enthusiastically by Norwegian intellectuals. (Ironically, Mazzini
himself regarded Scandinavia as one nation, united by language, history
There are also
relevant parallels between the two countries histories of migration.
From the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, both countries
were net exporters of people. As much as a third of the Norwegian population
migrated, largely to North America, between 1850 and the First World War.
Both Norway and Italy (at least south of Rome) were considered underdeveloped
and impoverished parts of Europe until well into the twentieth century,
which naturally explains the high rates of emigration. Since the late
1960s, both countries have been on the receiving end, attracting migrants
from a great variety of origins. Unlike in France or Britain, where the
bulk of immigrants come from dismantled colonial empires, the historical
link between receiving and sending country has either been tenuous or
non-existing. In spite of Italys colonial adventures in Africa,
there seemed to be no pre-existing colonial, hierarchical slot into which
one could classify immigrants (however, see Sórgoni, this volume).
Below, I shall explore how Norway and Italy have, in different ways, drawn
upon existing forms of social classification in order to place the threatening
foreigners into familiar categories. Their prior histories of mass emigration
are, incidentally, strangely absent from contemporary discourses of immigration.
to the total population, Italy and Norway have roughly the same numbers
of non-Western immigrants, that is about 2.5 per cent, or one in forty.
These parallels belated statehood, histories of migration, recent
prosperity, pattern and intensity of recent immigration may serve
as a starting-point for a discussion of more complex issues. Let us begin
with the domestic discourses of nationhood and its challenges, before
moving on to issues relating directly to immigrants.
Centre and periphery
Many countries are
simultaneously culturally integrated and socially divided through a shared
master discourse about a central conflict or tension in society. This
is interesting in the context of immigration and new cultural complexities,
since such master discourses, being both centripetal and centrifugal in
their functioning, create templates for thinking and acting in relation
to differences within the nation. In Britain, the key division is arguably
class; in the USA, it is race; in Trinidad and Mauritius, it would definitely
be ethnicity, and so on. In Italy, the north/south divide is fundamental
to the maintenance of national identity (see Pratt, this volume), and
in Norway, the constitutive tension of society is the historical opposition
between the urban and the rural (see Eriksen 1993). This tension is unparalleled
in the other Scandinavian countries. Denmark is a small, flat, densely
populated country with short distances and no real geographic periphery;
Sweden is a centralised state where all roads lead to Stockholm and where
economically marginal areas have been unceremoniously and efficiently
depopulated during the past century. In Norway, by contrast, decentralisation
is a key term in domestic political discourse. For one thing, the sources
of Norways wealth oil, fish, hydroelectricity, wood
lie in outlying areas; but generous subsidies also emanate from the centre
to regions which would otherwise not have been economically viable. For
centuries, the only city worthy of the name was Hanseatic Bergen in the
west. National imagery, moreover, is associated with nature and the rural
life hardly any tourist agency markets Oslo as an interesting destination
in its own right, and even picturesque Bergen is chiefly depicted as the
most convenient point of departure for fjord tours.
nineteenth-century form of European nationalism drew its inspiration in
part from Herderian romanticism, in part from French political ideas.
A widely shared assumption in the urban elites was the "organic"
link between language and nationhood (race was less important then, and
reached its zenith only in the years before the Second World War). The
case for an Italian nation seemed strong it was, after all, the
country of Dante. Nevertheless, dialect variation in Italy is such that
a traveller who has learnt standard Italian will experience great difficulties
understanding the vernacular of a great many Italians, especially in the
south. In this, Italy is more typical than one might assume; hardly anywhere
in Europe does the posited one-to-one relationship between language and
Unlike in Italy,
dialect variation formed the focus of an important current in Norwegian
nationalism. The written language, which was Danish in the nineteenth
century (no attempts were made by the Swedes to assimilate the Norwegians),
has been subjected to various reforms well into the postwar years. The
most radical proposal nevertheless came already in the 1950s, and led
to the development of an entirely new written language, "New Norwegian"
(nynorsk), created singlehandedly by the self-taught scholar and
political activist Ivar Aasen (1813-96) and based on those dialects he
approved of for their assumed authenticity (Aasen, eagerly excavating
any trace of Old Norse, disliked the hybrid speech of townsmen and the
"impure" dialects of the south-east). To this day, the tension
between the assumed "Dano-German" culture of urban Norway and
the assumed "Norse" culture of rural areas forms the backbone
of Norwegian politics and social classification. The periodically very
bitter relationship between New Norwegian (used by ten to 20 per cent
of the population) and Danish-influenced standard Norwegian effectively
epitomises this tension. All schoolchildren have to learn both varieties,
and state media are obliged to broadcast 25 per cent of their programmes
in New Norwegian.
Contrary to expectations
that arise from national stereotypes, then, the differences in the politics
of language reveal a hierarchical, centralist tendency in Italy, while
Norwegian language policy is the ever provisional result of compromise,
decentralisation, bitter conflicts and shifting standards. The Herderian
notion of equivalence between language and Volk works only in theory
here as elsewhere: Italian dialects vary significantly (and there is no
definite fit between linguistic and national boundaries, as witnessed
in Corsica and parts of south-eastern France); and Norway is split
notwithstanding the presence of an indigeneous population, the Sami, in
the north between standards influenced by Danish and rural dialects,
offer templates for handling diversity. In the Italian case, they are
ordered hierarchically; in Norway, the result is symmetrical conflict
and competition. In the latter case, pluralism has come about not as a
result of pluralist convictions, but due to compromise.
situations reflect the town/countryside (Norway) and north/south (Italy)
divides. Both offer templates for classifying people, but in relation
to immigrants they work differently. The Norwegian ideal is equality mediated
by the State; the Italian ideal is hierarchical diversity arising from
cohesion, the two countries are very different. Norway, a very cohesive
nation in the sense that ethnic Norwegians tend to emphasise their national
identity, has had plenty of dAzeglios (whose famous statement, "Now
that we have made Italy, all that remains is to make Italians", is
quoted by Pratt in this volume), that is to say zealous Norwegianisers
determined to instil national pride in the population and cleanse its
culture of questionable foreign influence. Norwegian resistance to EU
membership (in two referendums, 1972 and 1994, it declined to join with
narrow margins) can be seen as an instance of insular nationalism, but
also reflects a hierarchical relationship to the outside world. Ideals
of equality stop at the Swedish border. In that Northern country, moreover,
it would be difficult to come across that proverbial North Italian who
argues that Garibaldis feat did not consist in uniting Italy, but
in dividing Africa adding, perhaps, for good measure, that dAzeglios
goal (to create Italians) was never achieved; that the people living in
Italy are even today primarily Lombardians, Romans, Sicilians and so on.
Although it is not perceived as ethnic, the north/south divide in Italy
is in important ways reminiscent of the north/south divide in Yugoslavia
before the break-up; Slovenes complaining about Serbs who never paid their
parking tickets, Kosovars who could only be used for the simplest manual
work, and Macedonians whose folk music was beautiful, but who lacked higher
Several of the
chapters in this book argue that Italy is divided by a colonial situation,
North dominating and oppressing South Grillo even talks about an
Orientalist discourse about the South. Similarly, it could be said that
Norway is united in a postcolonial situation. Its national identity has
for two hundred years been forged in direct opposition to the dominant
external powers, chiefly Denmark and Sweden. While modern Swedish and
Danish fiction deal with the human condition, modern Norwegian fiction
tries to define the unique qualities of Norway. In spite of the internal
tensions, therefore, the sense of national identity is deep and nearly
universal, and the Norwegian nation is imagined as horizontal and homogeneous.
Pratt (this volume)
distinguishes between political unity and cultural diversity in his assessment
of the Italian condition. At the time of the Risorgimento, Italy already
existed as a network of like-minded elites able to subordinate the sprawling,
diverse masses. These networks were both geographic and class-based, concentrated
in the north and the urban middle classes. In the Norwegian situation,
the explicit ideal is that of equality-cum-similarity, and the considerable
regional differences are undercommunicated in nationalist discourse. Although
the "northern ants, southern grasshoppers" contrast certainly
has its parallels (the proverbially extroverted and spontaneous North
Norwegians are often cast as the Norwegian grasshoppers), unity through
similarity is the cultural norm. Schoolchildren are taught that Norway
is culturally homogeneous and socially egalitarian, largely because feudalism
was weak and inefficient in that thinly populated, mountaineous and poor
Both in Norway
and in Italy, then, there were existing ways of handling domestic cultural
variation before the influx of immigrants. The Norwegian way was missionary
activity and assimilation the road to equality was similarity.
Nowhere was this more evident than in Norwegian policy towards the Sami.
The Sami, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, traditionally
transhumant reindeer herders, have for two hundred years been offered
similarity (their drums and other shamanistic paraphernalia were burnt
at Kautokeino already in the 1780s), but it was only when international
media became interested in their cultural assets, from around 1980, that
they were grudgingly offered linguistic rights by the State. The Italian
way has been hierarchy and subordination; similarity was neither possible
nor desirable, but social integration did not require it. A typical Norwegian
discussion begins with the words, "Really, I think we agree, but...".
Differences are undercommunicated. Men no longer wear bow ties except
at weddings; the Crown Prince is about to marry a single mother from Kristiansand;
the polite term of address (De equiv. to Italian lei)
is nearly extinct, and so on.
Templates of classification
Harmannus Hoetink (1973) once suggested that a major difference between
slavery in the Catholic and Protestant colonies consisted in the modes
of integration between planters and slaves. In the Catholic areas, he
said, slaves were baptised and offered a subordinate place in the greater
family, that is on the lower rungs of a caste-like system encompassed
by the Faith. In the Protestant areas, by contrast, no institutionalised
religious hierarchies were available since faith was a matter of a direct
relationship between God and (wo)man. Thus equality was communicated internally,
and a sharp boundary was drawn between the egalitarian in-group and the
slaves, who were in every respect beyond the pale. The bloodiest slave
uprisings took place in British Jamaica and the Dutch Guianas, and British
Barbados was widely considered to be the cruellest of all the colonies,
seen from a slaves point of view.
could be a starting-point for comparing the handling of immigrants in
Protestant Norway and Catholic Italy. Culture looms large in Norwegian
discourse of selfhood and otherness. Important debates about immigrants
in recent years have concerned cultural practices such as arranged marriages
(widely assumed to be enforced marriages), Islam (including the building
of mosques) and female circumcision.
are at the forefront of Norwegian (and other Scandinavian) discourse about
immigration. The most regularly recurrent question in public debate during
the past five years has been the predicament of Muslim girls of the second
generation, wedged "between two cultures" and often obliged
to marry relatives from their country of origin. Another way of emphasising
equality is through the argument that immigration should be limited because
immigrants may not enjoy exactly the same standard of living as Norwegians.
Personally, I have once or twice suggested publicly that it might in the
long run be good for Norway to allow the development of relatively poor
immigrant communities, in order to remind ourselves that all is not well
outside our borders; this argument does not go down well in Norway, where
equality ideals are absolute within national borders and irrelevant outside
them. When social scientists study the conditions of life among immigrants,
comparisons are made with ethnic Norwegians, not with conditions in their
countries of origin.
The welfare state
manages equality well but lacks tools for dealing with difference. Rich
in infrastructure and poor in inhabitants, Norway is more of a panoptical
society than Italy. The proportion of illegal immigrants is thus much
lower. Italy is criticised for not following the dicta from Brussels;
Norway complies with every EU rule without even being a member.
of Norwegian society seem to lack parallels in Italy. The historically
hierarchical relationships that obtain within Italy, and also between
Italians and foreigners such as Albanians and North Africans, makes the
Italian handling of difference in theory deeply different from the typical
Norwegian way. The immigrants in Norway come from further afield, from
countries with which Norway has no historical connection. The transnational
networks of the Catholic Church, which facilitate the integration of Catholic
immigrants, similarly lack parallels in Protestant Norway. Protestant
immigrants are almost a contradiction in terms, and the Catholics, such
as Filipinos and Latin Americans, are not thought of primarily in terms
of religion. The notion that a shared urban space which is regulated by
local, largely kin-based networks, is threatened by the aliens, is also
unknown in Norway, where the State and local authorities are seen as responsible
for social cohesion.
immigration policy, a sharp distinction is made between labour migrants
and refugees. The Senegalese selling goods on the streets in Rimini, studied
by Riccio (this volume), would be very hard to find in legalistic, panoptical
Norway they may, at the most, be encountered in one known location
in downtown Oslo during the short Scandinavian summer. Without a permit,
a vendor will normally be out of business within five minutes. Permits,
of course, are impossible to get for non-white itinerant merchants.
Few European countries
are as different as Norway and Italy, and thus far this chapter has accentuated
the differences. It is therefore appropriate to point out that in important
regards, immigration issues are dealt with in remarkably similar ways
in the two countries. These shared features are likely to be found in
other European countries as well.
and social distance. "An Italian thief is a thief, a Moroccan
thief is a Moroccan," Pratt writes (this volume). Classificatory
grids become increasingly vague and diffuse as perceived social distance
grows. In parts of Norway where there are few immigrants, all immigrants
(and they come from all parts of the world) tend to be associated with
a few cultural characteristics, while the grid is more detailed in multiethnic
parts of Oslo. Somali are thus considered "bad" and Tamils "good"
immigrants. Naturally, no similar sweeping generalisations exist for ethnic
Norwegians, who are individualised. This mechanism is probably one of
the most universal features of social classification: familiarity leads
to individualisation, social distance to cultural essentialism and gross
stereotyping. Mai notes (this volume) that Italian media associate immigrants
with "hygienic degradation and moral degeneration, (...) smuggling,
trafficking, sexual exploitation, and theft." While Norwegian media
may be slightly more cautious, similar stereotypes are widespread in the
population. 70 per cent of the Italian population, it is reported, feel
that immigration has led to increase in crime. In Norway, the neologism
innvandrerkriminalitet ("Immigrant criminality") was
coined in the early 1990s to suggest a link between immigration and crime
rates. Criminological research has revealed that this assumed connection
is at best questionable.
terminology. A hierarchy of Norwegian others would place other Scandinavians
as "not quite foreign", North Europeans and North Americans
as "culturally close", and South Europeans as "different".
Indeed, Scandinavian stereotypes of Italians traditionally lump them with
other Mediterranean peoples, as swarthy, highly emotional Catholics living
in societies that are "less developed" and certainly less ordered
than their own. The quintessential Italian in the Scandinavian imagination,
naturally, is more likely to come from Palermo than from Milan. However,
in the 1990s, the neologism fremmedkulturelle ("culturally
alien people") was coined for non-European immigrants whether
they were computer engineers from Bangalore, economists from Santiago
or camel nomads from Somalia.
The Italian terminology,
described by Maritano in this volume, includes terms like the general
stranieri and the more specific extra-communitari
non-EU people. (In theory, Norwegians are actually extra-communitari.)
In addition, both languages have more detailed terminologies, including
terms like marocchini (dark-skinned people, lit. Moroccans) and
pakkis ("Paki"). Again, it must be pointed out that Italian
usage to some extent grafts the new differences onto pre-existing templates;
Mai thus notes that the marocchini of a North Italians experience
in fact used to be South Italians.
A recent (autumn
2000) public debate in Norway concerned the use of the term neger
("negro"). Blacks living in the country felt it to be pejorative,
while most of the Norwegians contributing to the discussion in the media
defended it as a "neutral" descriptive term. What the latter
did not realise, was that an emphasis on skin colour, no matter how benign
in intention, creates a classificatory grid based on appearance ("race")
and not on culture or place of origin. Lumping Kenyans together with Trinidadians
is not even culturalist; it cannot be described as anything but racist.
"negroes" in Norway and Sicilians in Italy, Islam forms the
most important boundary in both countries. Muslims are, in general, emerging
as Europes defining other, particularly since the Gulf War (where
the Antichrist himself, Saddam Hussain, was ironically a
mainly secular tyrant). Islam is nevertheless pitted against Christianity
as well as secularism (Eriksen 1995, Borchgrevink 2000 for Norwegian details).
Comparative work on ethnic discrimination in Europe has suggested that
racism, strictly speaking, is less widespread in Italy than in Northern
Europe (Wieviorka et al. 1994). Sòrgonis chapter in this
book confirms that the discourse on race was less confident and less unequivocal
in Italy during the interwar years than in Northern Europe. Nevertheless,
she shows that clear boundaries were eventually created in order to prevent
Italians from mixing with colonial subjects in North-Eastern Africa, and
she also interestingly argues that there was a great deal of continuity
between liberal phase and fascist phase regarding discourse on race and
eugenics. In the Scandinavian countries, where Nazi parties were never
large, eugenics and race theory were nevertheless highly influential in
the interwar years. A sterilisation law with strong eugenic elements was
passed in Norway in 1934 against the vote of a single member of parliament
(Hviid Nielsen et al. 2001: 102). It was supported by all major political
parties, including Labour, whose party line consisted in purifying the
Aryan race in order to develop a rational, just, efficient, technocratic
society. Short of physical extermination, their view was identical with
the Nazi view, although the justification differed. The recent neger
debate reveals that a large part of the Norwegian population still feels
that physical appearance makes an important difference. As a guest on
a prime-time talkshow in February 2001, the Norwegian foreign minister,
Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland of the Labour Party, made a blatantly racist
joke about an African politician he had recently met, describing him laughingly
as "Bongo from Congo". In sum, it seems as if racism proper
is more deeply ingrained in Norwegian than in Italian representations.
Two racist murders took place there in 2000; both victims were a hundred
per cent Norwegian, culturally speaking (one was adopted from India as
a small child, the other the son of an African man and a Norwegian woman),
but physically distinct. Yet, culturalism as a rule tends to overrule
racism in Norway as well. Zinn (this volume) quotes a reference in LEspresso
to "the likeable Brazilians, who have rhythm in their blood";
and in Copenhagen, Somali men are known to have taken Spanish classes
in order to be able to pass as Cubans in the citys nightspots. In
Oslo, similarly, where people are regularly exposed to various categories
of immigrants, socially relevant distinctions are made between West Indians
and Gambians, the latter being associated with drug-related crimes.
on the political Left. The experience of the Forum in Bologna,
described by Però (this volume), is reminiscent of similar initiatives
in Norway. The standard response to a collective sense of injustice in
twentieth-century Scandinavia has consisted in forming an association
or a trade union. In Norway, numerous such organisations, founded by immigrants
since 1970, exist. Typically, they are sponsored by government bodies,
and more often than not receive the blessings of left-leaning political
parties. Like the Forum, such organisations contribute to continuing segregation
and wield little real political power. When immigrants run for office,
they are presented as "immigrant candidates".
Views on integration.
Salih reports (this volume) that four criteria used to measure the degree
of integration among immigrant women are (i) period of residence, (ii)
whether or not they have a permit of residence, (iii) linguistic competence,
and (iv) knowledge of "network of services available at the local
level". In the Norwegian case, the validity of the second criterion
goes without saying without a permit, immigrants are unceremoniously
expelled while the third criterion, that of language, is considered
crucial by the authorities.
Several of the
contributors to this book, notably Però and Zontini, deal with
the double standards of a rhetoric of inclusion matched by a practice
of exclusion. Although one might expect Scandinavia to be different, this
is a common complaint there as well. Ethnic discrimination in the labour
and housing markets is both widespread and well documented in all three
To sum up: There
are major differences regarding pre-existing templates for dealing with
difference in Italy and Norway. In Italy, grids include the regional hierarchy
and the tension between secular leftist politics and the Catholic church;
in Norway, the main contrast is that obtaining between Norwegians and
foreigners. Nevertheless, there are important similarities regarding notions
and practices concerning immigrants: stereotypes are often negative and
associated with perceived social distance (including social rank, naturally
nobody ever complained of the brownness or cultural alienness of
the Sultan of Brunei); culturalism is often invoked as an explanatory
variable, race less frequently; successful integration is associated with
linguistic proficiency and ability to deal with the shared institutions
of society; and Islam is considered the quintessence of Otherness. A final,
interesting parallel concerns the emergence of self-irony among immigrants.
Zinn (this volume) describes media appearances by immigrants making culturalist
jokes at their own expense; in Norway, a moderately successful satirical
show is called "Radio Yalla" and involves immigrants playing
out the majoritys stereotyping of themselves. This kind of self-depreciation
has proven successful in the gay movement, and it may indicate that European
societies are entering a new phase in their dealings with majority/minority
Equality or nothing?
A normative view
implicit in much scholarly work on minorities and migration in Western
Europe, including this chapter, defends a pluralism which (i) is anti-essentialist
in that it does not divide the population into mutually exclusive groups,
(ii) recognises hybrid cultural forms as equal to "pure" forms
in terms of rights, and (iii) regards cultural variation in society as
a continuum characterised by differences in degree, not by unambiguous
boundaries. Moreover, the values of equality that are theoretically (and
desirably) prevalent in politics and in the economy, ought not to be translated
into demands for similarity in civil society and the domestic sphere.
If cultural similarity is required for social integration to be successful,
this position argues, the result will in all likelihood be fundamentalism
and entrenchment on both sides; and the hybrids, who are the true-born
children of the migration process, will become ever more marginal in relation
to both public discourse and the state. However, although hybridity and
fuzzy boundaries may appear as the best option for experts and for the
many Salman Rushdies of the world, there is nothing in this volume to
suggest that it will be the next major orthodoxy in society as such. This
goes for Italy as well as for Scandinavia. Yet, Italy and Norway present,
at the end of the day, contrasting alternatives, both of them founded
in varieties of essentialist thought.
Let us phrase
it like this: In concluding the capsule review of Scandinavian discourses
of recent cultural complexity, I noted that similar outcomes might have
different causes. In all three countries, immigrants were both insiders
and outsiders, both integrated and excluded, and moreover in similar ways.
Yet, the underlying causes of their ambiguous status seemed to differ.
In the more detailed comparison between Norway and Italy, if anything
an unlikely pair, we seem to reach pretty much the same conclusion. Allow
me to recycle Grillos categories from his introduction to this book:
(i) There is a politics of multiculturalism in both countries. People
are classified by nationality and treated accordingly, and there is an
increased concern with cultural differences. (ii) Recognition is not always
positive it offers linguistic and religious rights, but freezes
boundaries and prevents the flourishing of those hybrid adaptations that
would serve both immigrants, (certainly) their children and (probably)
the natives best. (iii) Racism emerges situationally; essentialism is
deep-seated in national cosmology, although both Italy and Norway are
actually more culturally complex than their citizens assume when confronted
with foreigners. (iv) There are problems of difference in this regard.
Templates for reconciling difference with equality are lacking. (v) Italy
is divided along the secular/religious, left/right and north/south lines;
in Norway, the centre/periphery divide functions in a similar way in creating
"natural" social distinctions. Yet and this is a main
conclusion the Italian north/south divide, being colonial and hierarchical,
can accommodate immigrants as legitimate residents if not as equals, while
the Norwegian obsession with equality-cum-similarity entails that integration
must be symmetrical and egalitarian in order to fit the national imagery.
Whether the Norwegian model (full equality or nothing) or the Italian
model (immigrants can be accepted as subordinates) is to be preferred,
is a matter of political persuasion.
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