Meet each other instead of fear each other!
People have migrated and influenced destination countries across the world for several thousands of years. Therefore, migration is a significant aspect in human history. It is not a new phenomenon but moreover a natural social effect of a long colonization period in the entire world. The migration of people into unsettled areas must not be mixed with escape and displacement and economic migration. The latter one is a key-component of globalization and a major socioeconomic process, which most parts of the world are facing on a daily basis. Due to on-going conflicts in many countries, migration has in many cases turned into forced displacement of a vast number of people, who do not leave their home for an economical improvement but because they face violence, torture and prison. In this sense, these people often do not have a choice, as they would risk their lives if they would stay in their home countries.
Due to the aim of countries to have good diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, many governments have in the recent decades implemented an open border policy and in several cases adopted visa free arrangements with other countries, especially inside the European Union, which has made migration easier than ever before. However, due to the on-going conflict in many countries outside the EU, the open-border policy has suffered significantly from the current migration movements. The influx of a large number of migrants and refugees has had an impact on political changes in the recent years. These changes have shown, that a large number of people (voters) in the receiving societies have become increasingly protective over their society which might be a consequence of the fear of foreign and “new”. The migrants arrive with their own cultural background, norms and ethics as well as values and traditions and they are expected to adapt to the traditions and social norms of the migrant receiving society. The process of integration often turns out to be very complicated, due to the cultural clashes that emerge through the diversity, which migrants are bringing into a society and an often-raised question is, whether it is the role of the receiving society to integrate the “newcomer”, or, if the migrants alone have to find their place in the new society. The migrants certainly have to find their place in the new society but if they have to be integrated, they need to meet their new neighbors. In this sense, everybody should take part in the integration process, if we want to avoid parallel societies.
The path towards the right
Movements of people across the world have shaped states and societies for centuries. The impact of migration on nation-state policies has an effect on societies, which share the same language, values, beliefs etc. Although international migration has brought changes into societies for centuries (and it is thus not a new phenomenon), as they have brought the values, traditions and culture of the society in which they grew up in, along with them, it seems like many people do not accept changes in their societies anymore.
Migration is, as a matter of fact, a challenge to national identity. Migration and ethnic diversity may threaten the so-called nation-state, which is premised on the idea of cultural as well as political unity in a country, because migration may create a nation without common ethnic origins. But which state does actually have an exclusive majority with common ethnic origins? What about all the minorities we find in each and every country? And are the migration movements really a threat to the nation-state, or aren’t people exactly in these days of refugee flows, becoming more and more aware of their national identity?
Looking at the recent political developments in Europe, it can be clearly recognized, that the states develop new political structures with regards to protecting their nation-state and welfare system. Taking the current migration movements from the Middle East to Europe as an example, many countries have in the recent years developed their governmental structures, in terms of policies, towards the political right. Political parties, which have been standing more or less in the background or have only emerged in the past years, have recently become very active. The refugee flow from poverty, the recent wars in the Middle East and the antipathy against free labour movement in the wealthier parts of Europe has led to a dispute against internationalism and the European unity amongst the population.
As an example, the German party AfD (Alternative for Germany), a right-winged populist party, has reached out to more voters than ever before. The party is especially putting the current migration crisis into focus, where it is argued that the migrants have a negative impact on the German society. In Austria, the right wing populist party FPÖ has in the recent election in May, gained a vast number of voters compared to the past elections. “Österreich zuerst” (Austria at first) is the motto of the party, which is arguably an allusion to the refugees by saying “Austrians before the newcomers”. In Denmark DF (Dansk Folkeparti) became the second largest party in the Danish parliament in the last elections. The electoral victories, sometimes land-slide victories, have put pressure on the established parties to move towards the right in hope to secure their power. The government thus changed from a social democratic structure to a conservative path, which to some extend moves towards the right wing. Eastern European countries have shown a development towards the right side as well, as in Latvia, where campaigns have been launched against the foreign infiltration (Überfremdung). This may also be due to the cold war when borders have been stable and secured within the two blocks for nearly half a century. An increasing number of countries close their borders in order to have a better control of the refugee flow.
Can this be considered as a step towards nationalism instead EU-wide policy making on migration? Member states of the EU take incremental steps towards making their own policy on migration and border issues. This is certainly a setback in the aims of the EU policies, which are originally based on free movement of people and goods. Isn’t the Union supposed to deal with difficulties that concern all EU member states?
Having in mind these broad pictures, of the impact of migration on domestic policies in European countries, it is necessary to ask, why these countries implement these changes in their policies and societies and why the right-wing parties gain these increasing amounts of votes. The given political developments are most certainly caused by migration. Migrants often move and arrive in groups in receiving countries. Given the fact, that the housings, which they are provided, often are located in villages, the migrants may bring social as well as cultural and economic changes into the society. People often argue that the migrants impact the welfare system, hereunder the health-, education and social service system, without paying taxes. Furthermore the migrants are often blamed to take away jobs, push up housing prices and overload social services. In this way, the people in the receiving countries live in fear of loosing jobs as well as the insecurity of having a large amount of people as a neighbour, with whom they do not share the same cultural background. Although migration is certainly not new to the societies generally, some societies, which have not faced much diversity in terms of national background until the recent years, may be afraid of the new “foreign” societies. However, good examples from the past have shown that the new foreign societies have become part of our European society after all, and it is thus questionable if we should fear the migrant’s impact on our society instead of actually finding a solution on providing refugees a life without constant fear, through integrating them into our society.
Have we seen this before?
As a matter of fact, migrants increase the diversity within a society, but is this necessarily a negative thing? Although social services and education have to be planned and delivered in new ways to correspond to different life situation and cultural practices of many people, it is possible to find a way, where newcomers can be integrated and become part of our society. Didn’t we see that already in the last periods of migrant waves to Europe and isn’t that the case in the societies where majority and minority populations live together? The migrants, who have been living in Europe for years as well as the people who belong to ethnic minorities in countries all over Europe, are an important component to our society.
According to the politics and election results in Europe, it can be recognized that the majority of people in European countries in the recent years have been pushed towards more national path, as many politicians intensify the insecurity and fear of the voters. These political developments have occurred parallel to the migration movements from the Middle Eastern- and African countries to Europe, as it has increased drastically during the recent years. The aspect of foreign infiltration (Überfremdung) is progressively discussed, as there is uncertainty, whether the newcomers will stay for a long period and how much they will cost the welfare states. But if they will stay for a long period, everybody has to get used to it – the question is though how? Would it be better to leave them alone and establish new societies where they can live their culture and values, instead of actually meeting them and letting them learn from our societies as well as we can learn about them. Has it ever been positive to have parallel societies within a society? Europe has a lot of minorities, that live their own traditions and culture, speak their own language and in some cases have their own educational system. BUT, they don’t live parallel to the majority society. Of course, in many societies, there is always space for improvement, but why don’t use the good examples from the societies that are living together instead of side by side, as inspiration for our future. It is possible to create societies where we can all live together despite having different ethnic backgrounds. We have seen it before!
A reality to face is, nobody has the power or authority to stop the migration movements across the world and governments therefore have to deal with processes and changes in the society. The “dealing” part is, that governments need to find a solution on how to host this large number of people in Europe, instead of finding a solution on how to welcome the least number of people. They cannot just rely on a “my neighbour will take care of it” policy. Therefore, this can only be possible if the European governments find a common solution!
The minorities who have been living in Europe for decades need to show their good examples of an integrating society and create awareness about the diversity in their societies. This is a chance to show people that diversity within a society isn’t a new phenomenon and it doesn’t have to be a threat to traditions, cultures or language. As a matter of fact, many minorities in Europe originate from migration movements and many examples in Europe show, that minority societies can live within majority societies and not only next to. They both have found a way of preserving their language, culture, and traditions while learning from each other, which shows, that it is not necessarily a risk to welcome ‘new people’ to the society, but it can actually be enrichment.
Political movements towards the right side in Europe are a risk to democracy and they certainly do not help, to find a solution for the refugee movements. We are all part of the European society, thus we all need to take the necessary steps, for living together peacefully. The minority societies have to show their good examples of living in countries, where the official or national language might not be the same as they speak at home or in school.
If everybody would just stop for a second and actually think that it is possible to live side by side with people who might have different national, ethnic, language, cultural, etc., backgrounds, which we have seen in almost every country in Europe for decades, solutions may be found easier. It may not be easy, however, after all we cannot ignore the fact that the migrants cannot go back to their destroyed home countries within the nearest future. They have to be somewhere and this should not be feared but accepted. Furthermore we cannot ignore the fact that migrant movements won’t stop in our globalized world without losing our own traditions and values. Thus we need to meet the new neighbors and learn from each other instead of fear each other!