Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Welcome to Old Europe

LJ user lasterix mentions a Postimees report about proposed changes in the labour import laws. The EU is pushing new members to accept more foreigners, and by 2009 Estonia might adopt a simplified work visa scheme, as well as doubling the annual quota to 0.1% of the population, around 1300 people.

This is scaring a lot of people: after the April riots, the last thing locals want is a bunch of Africans and Muslims, or any other foreigners in significant numbers, in fact. While the law states that any guest worker must receive at least the industry standard wage, and the employer is significantly responsible for them, the fear is that with Estonian specialists increasingly moving to other EU countries for work, the immigrants will be poor, uneducated, cheap labour that will turn this country into another shell of a European paradise, infested and polluted by mullahs screaming at prayer time.

Curiously, the LJ user in question writes in Russian, and so do her commenters; the people most scared of a black ghetto in Kopli are the ones currently perceived as unwelcome foreigners. It's a well-known phenomenon that the second-to-last group of immigrants are usually the most adamant about keeping the borders closed, just funny to see it actually happen so close to home.

However, I think Estonia is in a better position to handle the influx of guest workers than most other EU countries, and the local Russians have had a hand in this.

The key issue, again, is idealism. Europe is too wrapped up in its own noblesse oblige to approach the problem of immigrants forcefully.

The problem is not that the immigrants are there. It's that both sides - the immigrants and the locals - have the wrong approach, a mentality that precludes successful coexistence. After all, migration has been an aspect of human society from the start; very few peoples can claim that they now live where they originally did (though Estonians at least have the distinction of descending directly from the first human tribes to settle the north Baltic). Immigration itself does not lead to conflict; what does is the lack of desire to understand and accept the values of the new country.

A British friend of mine has once stunned me with his pathological tolerance, saying he didn't mind that all the people with wildly differing lifestyles and values came to Britain, nor that they continued to practice them; he would just appreciate if those values were not forcefully applied to him. This approach is wrong because it puts the native population into the position of a powerless minority, happy for whatever small opportunity is given to them. The truth is that IT has given a new dimension to globalization; we are now in the initial stages of a post-global world, where instant communication and cheap transport can be used to decouple economics from geography and society. A business's new branch can be established anywhere on the globe, wherever the labour is available; globalization now creates not only sweatshops, but positions for highly qualified, well-paid specialists, who can have a comfortable enough existence in their own country. This will not completely eliminate migration, of course, but it does weaken the economic argument for migration. People who leave their countries because there is no way for them to make a living there, are very rarely qualified enough to practice their profession somewhere else.

Or at least they won't have the excuse. Most Third World countries now have a booming economy, as the West wages its wars with economic means rather than military (this is the point behind the quip about democracies not going to war with each other); the Western economy needs access to new markets, but these markets need to be rich enough to pay the West's prices. Since the West is in a post-industrial state, and richer than ever, it actively wants its customers to be increasingly wealthy, not just from selling off their countries' natural resources, but from having a healthy economy of their own. North Africa and South-East Asia are no longer disaster zones, and people who leave them to come to Europe do not have the justification of inevitability.

So any immigrants to Europe now come here because they want to partake of the riches and security of the world's single wealthiest entity. This is where the buck stops and the white man's burden morphs into righteous indignation; because if these folks want the benefits of life in Europe, they'd better fucking behave themselves. European countries have every right to demand, individually, that immigrants subscribe and follow the rules of the community they have proactively decided to join.

But they won't, at least most of them, because Europe is still suffering from the spectre of intolerance. Between the effect of the Holocaust and the increasing historical awareness of colonial abuse, Old Europe has not been willing to implement any sort of policy that could be seen as limiting the rights of the immigrants. Of course, the personal liberty that is the hallmark of Europe is only viable if the citizen chooses not to exercise it to its full extent. The civilized European community functions on consensus and compromise, with members who realize that limitations for the sake of society benefit themselves in the end. Immigrants with no tradition of living in a social democracy do not have this understanding. Both sides are at fault.

However, I think Estonia may be one of the very few European countries with the ability to resist this combination of offense and apathy - and to a large part this will be because of the Russians, because of the riots of April 26th. Because while Estonia does suffer one half of the problem - the lack of the immigrant community's desire to play by the rules, and their sense of entitlement unmarred by obligation - it has just come through a test case, and is certainly not short of political will to tackle the issue.

The Tallinn riots were tame by world standards in terms of actual violence - in fact I've been told by Canadians that over there hockey riots with no political undertones whatsoever regularly result in far more damage - but in terms of political fallout, this was quite close to the worst case scenario. The riots broke out over a historically sensitive subject, a third rail that most European politicians will not touch (people have pointed out that the EU outrage over Russia's behaviour formally applied to the breach of the Vienna convention only); the government, with a single leader assured of his personal mandate and popularity, antagonized a very significant portion of the population, which was backed by an agressive neighbouring country that was also an important trade partner.

And yet here we are, less than two months later, and the world has not ended. The Kremlin has more or less stopped making noises in our direction, and local Russians may still be pissed, but they've realized that there is nothing for them to gain. Overall, the Estonian government - and more importantly, any future government - has a precedent for defending its decisions against a violent minority. For what it's worth, the YouTube propaganda clips will convince any potential immigrant with an Internet connection that Estonia is a country where foreigners are tolerated only as long as they don't stir up any trouble. Those that do, end up in D-terminal.

Ironically, the recent EU member state that was woefully unprepared for riots, is now the one most capable of dealing with hostile immigrants. If we do have to open up our borders to refugees and guest workers, I guess it's not such a bad thing to have that sort of reputation.

When I first wrote about the riots, the best comment was "Welcome to Old Europe". Glad to be here, Jens-Olaf; we've brought our own riot squad.


Anonymous said...

Hmm. I'm not sure there has been a hockey riot in Canada in 20 years or more. AFAIK the only real hockey riot happened over 50 years ago with Rocket Richard.

Jens-Olaf said...

Well, I guess you all have seen the riots during the G8 summit in Germany, and the fierce clashes between police forces and demonstrators.

An the older EU should know that Estonia had to face more immigration problems than Germany and France and Britain ever had. The percentage of people with roots in the Soviet Union, not born in Estonia, suddenly becoming member of a different state.
Again, there are more frequently clashes between Turkish and Germans and Russian Germans. Something that did not happen in Estonia in that scale yet. And it happens in Germany when immigrants make up only a 10 % of citizens of an average city. Officialy the Russian Germans are not counted as minority, cause most of them got the German passport cause of descent. Turkish people do not receive automatically German citizenship, even in the third generation not. Etc.. For too long Germany was in a state of "denial" to be a country of immigrants.

space_maze said...

I think it's true that Estonia has a lot more experience dealing with immigrants than your average European country, yes. As Jens-Olaf noted, Germany is having a hard time dealing with its Turkish minority. And that's a total of less than 2 million Turks over 82 million people in Germany. *2%*

And this is a group of people that came to Germany theoretically knowing the rules. Most Russians arrived sans any local rules, without the approval of the locals, and stayed long enough to get used to this. Which makes it, in theory, a much more "hostile" minority than Turks in Germany, for example.

The only "advantage" Estonia had is that, in theory, the religious differences should be less of an issue. I mean .. the Russians came as citizens of an atheist state, and I can't think of a more atheist spot on planet earth than Estonia. In practice though, some of the crap that happened in April .. totally felt like religion. All this talk of "blasphemy" when Estonians refused to bow to their idols, all this talk of "heresy" when Estonia moved soviet graves .. it made me realise that the Soviet Union didn't need a religion as the Soviet Union IS a religion.

So yeah, I do think Estonia is quite well prepared. The only "issue" I can think of is that people might want to see immigration somewhat "finished" with the Russians before accempting more foreigners. In my experience, though, the integration of one group of immigrants does not have to affect the integration of a second group of immigrants, if they have no connection to eachother whatsoever.

The class I was in here in Vienna when I was 10 years - 12 years old had maybe a third of "real" Austrians (--> 3rd generation Czech and Hungarians) .. aside from that, there was One American (me), one Iranian, one Romani, one Persian, one French, one Somalian, one Hungarian, two Bosnians, three Turks, one Korean, one Indonesian, one Pole, one Czech ... I can't even remember who and what else.

Communication in this class worked *quite* well, though. I can't say there were any integration issues whatsoever, in spite of Austrians being a minority. Why this? Probably because the German language and Austrian culture was the only communication base we had with eachother. If I wanted to speak with the Korean guy, we spoke German, of course. Indonesian guy and Persian guy .. ditto. Turkish girl with Hungarian guy, same thing. If it had been 2/3rds Turks in the class, I doubt it would have worked too well.

I would only see the presence of a huge Russian minority of which a good half is not integrated well as a "threat" if this somehow meant that immigrants would learn Russian, and not Estonian, when coming to Estonia. I can't see this happening in the modern day and age, though.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone read the actual postimees article? OK I had to read the Russian language version as my Estonian isn't quite that good, but I'm assuming it was a straightforward translation. Anyway, in the first or second paragraph it said something like, "From 500 million European citizens, Estonian employers are unable to find suitable candidates".

Makes it appear as if in Europe there are 500 million imbeciles!

antyx said...

Makes it appear as if in Europe there are 500 million imbeciles!

If the expression of this sentiment surprises you, you've not spent nearly enough time in Estonia. ;)

Giustino said...

I think we are forgetting here that Estonia is a remote part of the EU.
Either that or Finland is one xenophobic country. Because the difference between Oslo and Stockholm and Helsinki and Tallinn in this regard is staggering.

In Oslo and Stockholm, the guys at the fresh vegetable bazaar are Arabs. In Helsinki and Tallinn, they are Russians. I have to say the sheer homogeniety of Finland made me feel that the 'fear' of Estonia turning into Amsterdam lacks foundation.

Across the gulf you don't see that kind of situation manifesting itself. And that is in a country that is 4 times larger in population size, immensely wealthier, and has been in the EU for nine more years than Estonia.

So I hate to bring Estonia's 'older brother country' into this again, but why would a miniscule 'southern' population, which would perhaps be even less in proportion to the already miniscule one they have in Helsinki, change anything?

antyx said...

Oh, I think Finns are every bit as - well, not xenophobic, but isolationist - as Estonians. ;) Sweden is a lot more worldwise, and Norway has been scared of depleting is gene pool. But you're right, the percentage of non-natives in Finland is admirably small. :P

Anonymous said...

"The EU is pushing new members to accept more foreigners, and by 2009 Estonia might adopt a simplified work visa scheme, as well as doubling the annual quota to 0.1% of the population, around 1300 people."

I'm curious about this statement because it seems to tie 2 unrelated issues.

The EU might be stressing that the intake of REFUGEES should be more evenly spread across Europe, which I think is a valid point - for example, Sweden takes per capita a much higher percentage of refugees than most other EU countries.

However this is a different issue to immigration for labour purposes. As far as I know, this is still an area where each country has retained its sovereignty - to the extent that some can still exclude new EU entrants from their labour markets. So Brussels can't dictate to the riikikogu, "You WILL take so many non-EU workers to work on your territory."

Sorry if I'm being picky, but aren't they different issues?

antyx said...

You're right, there's a difference between refugees and guest workers, but in this case I'm talking about the relationship between immigrants and natives - how the immigrants got there is secondary.


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