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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Immigration (again): The Romani Problem

All immigrants are not created equal.

This is a pretty simple and important lesson to learn when moving to another country.

My American and UK friends are well versed and, as I approach the two year mark in my attempts at moving to Norway, I can say I have a better understanding of that truth in Norway.

The dirty, little secret is that not everyone will be a part of the "New Norway"
Just like in the aforementioned Anglo-phone countries, here in Norway, feelings on immigration tend to diverge with regards to members of the second/third worlds.  Unfortunately, it's a poor coincidence that this group (usually asylum seekers or just looking for a better life in economy-rich Norway) tends to be darker skinned and of a different ethnic/cultural background, linking Norwegians to the more unsavory elements of American/English culture.  

While it would be naive to think that these thoughts aren't present here in Norway, it would be accurate to say that the revolting ideology of hate groups are in the complete, extreme minority (like, .09% of the population).  However, those that share in the fear of a loss of national/ethnic identity are quite high.

I get it.

Being Norwegian is like a very select club of people who survived various periods of being invaded, invading others, emigration, and a bunch of plain, old bad luck.  I can't describe just how contemptuous Norwegians find Americans claiming kinship on the backs of forefathers (well, not all Norwegians feel this way).

Norwegians feel special and unique and that, with the pressing and invasion of globalization and various EEA agreements, they can feel those traits being warped and diluted.  With the economic downturn throughout most of Europe that Norway has survived and thrived through, that precarious feeling of self is being threatened by waves of Mediterranean jobseekers in addition to the usual groups.

One of the usual groups that incur the most wrath and judgement would be the Romani people.

Originating from the fringes of the EU allows the largely nomadic group more freedom (visa stay restrictions?  What visa stay restrictions?) than non-EEA country people (yes, this includes yours truly as well as citizens from other 1st world countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) to come to Norway.

The popular legend goes that droves of Romani come to Norway where they beg on street corners and hustle for cans (returning cans gives you significantly more than it does in select states, here is a great post about it).  They're organized by bosses that rotate and instruct them on how to look sad and needy. Meanwhile, other groups roam the countryside in large RVs looking for unattended cottages and homes to rob.

While this may be true on some level (the best part of the can collection is that every cookout in a park comes with a dutiful attendant eager to take your empty can), it can't possibly be the whole story.  

I did some research.

Norway isn't even a top ten destination for Romani (btw, America has the most with a little over one million.  Sweden with 50,000 has the largest population in Scandinavia) nor does it have the most contentious relationship (Keep it classy, Italy).  While there has been some rough areas, there largely seems to be just a "boogie man" used by society as a scapegoat for the big fear that looms over everything.  Change.

The world is changing.  There are more internationals pouring in to the major cities of the world every day.  Half of Oslo is constantly under construction creating new buildings and skyscrapers to house the ever-expanding large firms.  With prosperity and blessings come expectations and demands.  It should be noted that the Norwegian state does more than its part around the world, the average citizen can not be as selfless.  I may not be the best person to judge, but there is a disconnect between "Doing the right thing" and "Making sure there is a plan in place to maintain quality of life".  Which may be the reason the current majority party may lose next month's elections (among other reasons).  People want to feel guaranteed of the future despite the known logic that such a promise is impossible.

While I'm not advocating that the Romani are blameless (I've seen the vans drop off disheveled women.  I've seen the older men lecturing young girls on how to look more pathetic) and/or innocent (Dude, how you gonna be on your cell phone when you're begging for money?), the distrust of certain foreigners plays a role here.  As does the inability to formulate the place for old ideals and beliefs in a modernizing world.  It's not that the ways of the past have failed us or were wrong, they just apply to a life that may be impossible to live anymore (which may contribute to Norwegians obsession with nature).  

Or I could be completely wrong and Norway just needs to invest in more policemen and border control.


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