View Full Version : Lessons to be learnt - Atle Heatland - 29th November 2012

29th November 2012, 10:11 AM
But is Scandinavia so successful, or all the Nordic countries - Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland? Yes, I believe so, probably the most successful in the world, all things considered. I have just had time to reflect on it again, as the co-organiser of a seminar recently held in Islamabad. It became clear that immigrants and women are key contributors to the success.
The keynote speakers comprised Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Dr Khalid Rahman, Swedish Ambassador Lars-Hjalmar Wide, A. Amir Iftikhar Warraich and Hina Akhtar, a Norwegian and a Dane of Pakistani descent now back in their parents’ homeland. As a Norwegian myself, with part of my university education in Sweden, I thought that the Scandinavians have a duty to explain to the rest of the world what it is that has made them so successful. What’s in the Scandinavian Model that made it successful in the past, present and for new countries in future?
Sometimes, when Pakistani immigrants in Denmark and Norway speak at seminars and meetings, they are at least as patriotic on behalf of their new homelands as the indigenous citizens. Sweden has relatively few Pakistani immigrants, but several thousand students and they are usually as positive. Alas, from last year, Sweden started charging full-cost fees like the rest of the European Union. Finland has very few Pakistani immigrants - much due to a language that is very difficult to learn, unless you grew up there. But Finland has major cooperation with Russia and the Baltic states.
The Scandinavian countries have 10-15 percent immigrants; most of them arrived in the last generation and a half. They are generally doing well. The Scandinavians know that it is necessary to provide help to immigrants, and certainly refugees when they are new in a far away country. Many refugees come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and other countries. A few weeks ago, the Norwegian Ambassador in Islamabad signed an agreement for additional funding to support the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and the Scandinavian countries are among the top contributors to UNHCR headquarters.
True, the Scandinavians too have restrictive immigration policies. Yet, they also know that they may soon need more immigrants in certain professions and vocations. The Norwegian Director-General of IMDi, the Immigration Department’s new sister agency dealing with integration and diversity, has confirmed that. The policy of “immigration freeze”, which has been there for a generation, is outdated, although it is relatively liberally interpreted.
Sometimes immigrants experience discrimination by odd groups in society, and there may be scepticism to foreigners due to ignorance, and when there are different values, such as concerning women’s equal rights. Sweden, as the largest Scandinavian country with the highest percentage of immigrants, seems to have the best system for handling immigration and integration issues. All countries have to develop better future-looking immigration and integration policies.
The Scandinavian countries have gained a lot from the large number of immigrants in the last couple of generations. New impulses from abroad are diversifying and enriching perspectives in the otherwise homogeneous and complacent countries. Yes, they had already done well, but it helps to listen to others, too, and immigrants begin to occupy senior positions in politics, the civil service and elsewhere in society.
The Scandinavian countries have managed to tolerate the immigrants’ different religions, but only three to four percent of the inhabitants in Scandinavia are Muslims. The majority of the immigrants are Christians, even those who come from outside Europe. It was good for the secular, Protestant-Lutheran Christians to get believers from other denominations and religions. They even inspire the Scandinavians. But don’t tell them what to believe and how to interpret dogma; the Scandinavians want to think for themselves.
What happened in England last week, notably that the Anglican Church voted to ban women from senior posts, would today be unthinkable in Scandinavia. There are many women pastors and bishops and it is not unlikely that in a few decades, the majority of the clergy will be women. There is still some debate about same sex unions, but that too is likely to fade. The Muslims will face challenges to become as open-minded as their fellow Christian co-citizens.
Everybody takes for granted that women do as well or better than men at school and work. About 10 years ago, it was made mandatory that Norwegian companies registered on the stock exchange have at least 40 percent women board members. Today, there are 46 percent women.
A few days ago the Norwegian Deputy Minister for Development Cooperation, Arvinn E. Gadgil, said on a BBC programme that a major reason for Scandinavia being so successful has to do with the contributions women make. They contribute more to the economy than the total oil and gas sector, noting then that Norway is the fifth largest oil exporter and the third largest gas exporter in the world. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has also made this important point.
When I worked in the World Bank in the mid-1990s, it was considered conventional wisdom that education for girls leads to economic development. The Scandinavians live by this fact. And, the bottom line, the whole society becomes more prosperous and everyone happier.
When analysing modern Europe, including Scandinavia, it is necessary to look back at least a 100 years. The period between the world wars was important, including influences from the then Soviet Union as well as the US. The Norwegian political parties and the welfare state have their roots in this period.
Also, the many popular organisations for enlightenment and adult education were developed that time, with membership organisations. The strong labour unions and employer associations are, indeed, essential in the economic model with numerous professional and sector organisations.
It is in human nature to complain about high prices, taxes and fees. But in Scandinavia, everyone knows that the welfare state is only possible if everyone contributes and pay very high taxes, and then, in return, everyone is entitled to equal treatment in hospital, receive unemployment and disability benefits if needed, drive on safe roads, and so on. The free Scandinavian social and education services are among the very best in the world.
The Scandinavian Model is not a socialist model. The private sector is capitalist, but the government puts in place regulatory mechanisms that everyone has to abide by. Corruption is almost non-existent, partly because of the good control systems and because it is very shameful if one is caught cheating.
Most of the Scandinavians are fair-minded. That is one major reason for their success. And again, there are mechanisms for checking that nobody jumps the queue or takes unfair advantage of rules and regulations. The basic rules about equality are constantly debated and propagated, and every generation must accept and believe in them. In some fields, we have seen growing inequalities in recent decades. But, the general ethos still remains, the Scandinavians believe in equality and participation in decision-making.
To participate in the democratic system does not only mean that you vote in elections; it also means forming opinions and participating in debates, at the work place, in associations and elsewhere in society. Most people are members of political, professional, sports, cultural and other organisations. Yes, immigrant mothers know the importance of this so that their children can be better integrated. Almost everyone is active in building and protecting the society’s structures and values. Again, most immigrants are staunch supporters. And those who fall outside and get involved in crime, drug abuse or cannot fit into society for other reasons (to no fault of their own) are helped so that they too can live decent lives.
But all this could only be done because the Scandinavian countries are wealthy? Yes and no, because they were not always wealthy, and women were not always as powerful. Other countries can borrow lessons from Scandinavia, and maybe they will succeed faster and do better than the Scandinavians in some fields. Good luck Pakistan!
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from research, diplomacy and development aid.