The Danish Immigration Paradox – When Ideal Meets Reality
Denmark, the Kingdom located in Northern Europe between the North Sea and the Baltics, is a wonderful country, and the friendly Danes a wonderful people. With its dependence on foreign trade, a knack for innovation and a small open economy, Denmark has managed to carve out an internationally competitive position in an increasingly globalized world. A country others turn to in admiration and seek inspiration from when it comes to progress, sustainability, work-life balance, and well-being.
She is the home of happiness, equality, ‘hygge’ and fairy tales, She is the home of freedom, free speech, trust, tolerance, and fairness, as well as sympathy for the unfortunate, welfare, and foreign development aid.
At the same time, she is the home of one of the most stringent immigration policies in Europe. An immigration policy, which even has been internationally criticized because it at times borders on what is seen as a violation of basic human rights (e.g., Human Rights Watch, 2023). How can we make sense of this apparent paradox? The paradox between the freedom and peace-loving country of fairy tales, on the hand, and the conservative, fenced in, “shut border” nation, on the other. The paradox between a national culture, applauding the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), on the one hand, and where the same national culture to some extent complicates DEI, on the other hand.
Needless to say, international migration in all its forms and the approaches to migration are complex, not to mention that any society is a complex system. This is the case for the small Kingdom in the North as it is for all other countries. However, three reasons in particular help explain why Denmark finds itself in a paradoxical situation in the 21st century. To begin with, the number of migrants worldwide has risen sharply over the last decades. At historical levels (Esses, 2018), migration has risen to a level where a small country like Denmark is unable to meet the demand. Secondly, like its Scandinavian neighbors, Denmark is a so-called welfare society. An exceedingly high number of immigrants puts the welfare model under pressure. In addition, Denmark is a homogenous country, and the Danish culture is not a culture, which lends itself easily to integration to begin with. This refers to ethnic Danes, as well as to immigrants. However, with increasingly more immigrants originating from so-called non-Western countries, large cultural differences make integration even more difficult. In what follows, the above reasons are reviewed. While a single article cannot adequately cover such a vast topic as culture and migration (let alone migration), a glimpse through a cultural lens is offered.
Keywords: National Culture, Immigration, Denmark, Non-Western Countries
Migration, i.e., “the movement of people from one location to another” (Esses, 2018, p. 1), is nothing new (e.g., UN, 2023; Esses, 2018; Hofstede et al., 2010). What is new, however, is that due to advances in technology, global mobility in all its forms have increased multifold (e.g., Esses, 2018). According to UN global migration statistics, in 2019, international migrants amounted to 272 million globally, equivalent to 3.5 % of the global population (IOM, 2020), and in 2022, UNHCR estimated the number of international refugees to surpass 35.3 million., 
Drivers of Migration
People migrate for a number of reasons. Typically, drivers of international migration are divided into push and pull factors, both of which may be of an economic or non-economic nature (Esses, 2018). Push factors are the factors which make migrants want to leave their country of origin (emigrate). Such factors include, e.g., poverty, poor economic conditions, poor education or employment opportunities (e.g., UN, 2023; Esses, 2018; Castles, 2013), climate change, natural disasters, environmental degradation, safety concerns, crime, political instability, conflict, violence, terrorism, war, and persecution (UN, 2023; UNHCR, 2017; Esses, 2018). Pull factors are those drivers that attract migrants to a particular host-country and make them want to relocate there (immigrate). Education and employment opportunities, high standards of living, presence of family and friends, political freedoms, safety (Castles, 2013; Esses, 2018), political stability and lack of corruption are examples of such factors.
Culture & Attitudes to Migration
Receiving-country attitudes tend to fall into the following categories: Perceived economic contributions and costs, perceived threats to health and safety, perceived cultural and value-related threats and competition as well as [threats] to national identity (Esses, 2018). Perceived negative attitudes to economic contributions and costs center around the belief that immigrants take resources from the receiving society (Esses, 2018). According to Hodson et al. (2006) perceived threats to health, and especially to safety are frequently due to the salient association between immigrants and terrorists (Esses, 2018). Perceived cultural and value-related threats and competition refer to belief that “immigrants are a potential threat to the dominant culture and values of the receiving country” (Esses, 2018, p. 6).
Culture, “the unwritten rules of the social game” (Hofstede, 2001, Hofstede et al., 2010), is important when it comes to migration because migration implies that two or more cultural groups come into contact (Esses, 2018).  Such contact is more likely when it refers to international migration where members of “one national group (society of origin) come into contact with members of another national group (receiving society)” (Esses, 2018, p. 1).
Denmark’s Migration Policy
A country’s migration policy, “indicates Government’s policy to influence the level of documented immigration into the country” (UN, 2013), and is the result of a complex pattern of historical, economic, political, social, and cultural factors. This is true for Denmark, as it is for all countries.
Looking back, Denmark was a country known for its tolerance of alternative lifestyles (Mouritsen and Olsen, 2013). It was the first sovereign European state to grant women voting rights , and the first country in the world to recognize same-sex marriage  (Mouritsen and Olsen, 2013). The approach to migration (immigration), was one of acceptance and tolerance. The integration law of 1983, one of the most liberal in the world, emphasized immigrants’ rights. Similar, but not identical to the integration policy of the Dutch (Østergaard-Nielsen, 2003) where the focus was on acceptance of multiculturalism, “there should be room for [others’] particular ways” (p. 451). Participation in Danish society was encouraged and nudged, but assimilation neither forced nor required. (In general, an emphasis on integration as opposed to assimilation comes naturally to a feminine country [such as Denmark] (Hofstede, 2001; Hofstede et al., 2010)).
Today, the Danish immigration policy is strict, and the country known for some of the strictest immigration rules in the European Union (France 24, 2023). The reason Denmark’s immigration policy has become increasingly stringent is due to several developments and events (reviewed below), which have catapulted immigration to the top of the Danish political agenda. One of the consequences of Denmark’s immigration policy, which emphasizes making pull factors less desirable, is that the number of asylum seekers has fallen by nearly 80% between 2015 and 2022 (France 24, 2023).
At historical levels of migration (e.g., ION, 2020; Esses, 2018), a small nation like Denmark made up of approximately six million inhabitants is unable to take in the potentially high numbers of immigrants. In the words of Social-Democrat MP, Kasper Sand Kjær, “Numbers matter; If we have too many coming in a short time, then it is really difficult to make the integration work” (France 24, 2023).
Denmark, together with its Scandinavian neighbors, is a welfare society. The essence of the welfare model is redistribution of resources to guarantee a minimum level of quality of life for everyone; hence the higher taxes witnessed in such societies (Wursten, 2019). However, for the model to work, enough tax-paying residents voluntarily footing the bill for the greater good are required. In case of too many people on public support over a long period of time, not enough people will be able or willing to pick up the bill. With too many immigrants, who are unable to contribute relatively quickly, the welfare model comes under too much pressure.
Few people in this world, let alone Danes, do not remember where they were or what they were doing when New York and Washington were attacked in 2001, and approximately three thousand people were killed. The 9/11 attacks changed the world and ”polarized issues of local and global values and the outlook on Muslim residents throughout Europe and also in Denmark” (France 24, 2023), setting off an era of rising support for the anti-immigrant far right (France 24, 2023).
Anti-immigration support also came about as a result of the publication of a set of controversial Danish Cartoons. According to former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Per Stig Møller, the Cartoon crisis resulted in“the most significant foreign policy crisis since WWII” (AU, 2023). The controversial Cartoons were first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten September 30, 2005. The Cartoons came about after a call by Culture Editor in Charge Flemming Rose for illustrations of the Profet Mohammad, a hugely significant cultural manifestation for the world’s Muslims regardless of country, language, interpretation, tradition, and school (AU, 2021), and something which is forbidden according to Islam (Lex.dk, 2023). Many declined, however, twelve illustrators, of which the most well-known is Kurt Vestergaard (1935-2021), accepted the task. While many Danes did not have any knowledge of their publication, that is, until their existence was brought to their attention by the international community, putting Denmark on the global map, the Cartoons angered a large part of the Muslim world; abroad as well as in Denmark (AU, 2021). Within months, the crisis was a reality and “demonstrations and violent actions against Danish interests in the Middle East and in the rest of the world [took hold]” (AU, 2021, n.p.). Death threats were published against the cartoonists (Lex.dk, 2012). Following the publication of the Cartoons, in an act of support, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished the Cartoons in 2006, with fatal consequences. In 2015, seventeen employees at Charlie Hebdo were killed by Islamist militants in avenging the Prophet Mohammad, and more than one hundred persons lost their lives in Paris (Wursten, 2016). Around the same time (2014), attacks on the Danish cultural institution ‘Krudttønden’ and the ‘Jewish Synagogue’ in Copenhagen took place, which left two persons dead, in addition to one of the attackers.
At the beginning of 2023 (and continuing), Danish as well as Swedish individuals from the far right, spearheaded by lawyer turned self-proclaimed politician, Rasmus Paludan, have taken it upon themselves to express their views on Muslims and Islam by setting the Quran, a religious book sacred to Muslims, on fire in public, including outside various embassies. Approximately two hundred persons (outside Denmark and Sweden) have been killed as a result of the Quran burnings. Furthermore, due to the burnings, Denmark as well as Sweden officially have been threatened by the militant Islamist terrorist organization, al-Qaeda.
Events like the ones described above have been seminal when it comes to attitudes toward certain cultures and religious groups, as well as migration in general.
Danish Culture & Immigration
According to Hofstede (2001) culture can be defined as the “collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” (p. 9). The core of culture is made up by values, which form systems (Hofstede, 2001). At the societal level, such value systems are often referred to as cultural dimensions or cultural value dimensions (Hofstede et al., 2010). The most well-known cultural dimensions are those identified by Professor Geert Hofstede, i.e., power distance (PDI), individualism vs. collectivism (IDV), masculinity vs. femininity (MAS), uncertainty avoidance (UAI), long-term orientation (LTO) and indulgence vs. restraint (IVR) (Hofstede et al., 2010).
Although, cultural dimensions are autonomous, any country or situation can only be understood in full through their interaction (in particular the interaction of power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity and uncertainty avoidance). Countries, which share similar cultural values are typically grouped in what is commonly called a culture cluster. In other words, the countries in a cluster share a similar ‘mental image’ or mindset (understanding) of what society and organizations should be like (Wursten, 2019). It pertains to the governance of society, as much as it does the governance of any public or private organization, and such mental images have tremendous implications for political and societal issues (Wursten, 2016). Furthermore, within a culture cluster the small differences between the countries, are typically best interpreted as nuances, which nevertheless can translate into quite different ways of doing things, as for instance, observed in the different approaches to decision-making and formality between Denmark and Sweden.
Denmark falls into the cluster of national cultures referred to as ‘the network cluster’, which consists of the Nordic countries in addition to the Netherlands (Wursten, 2019). In the network cluster, core values include, but are not limited to a strong emphasis on equality, individualism, cooperation, solidary and belonginess. The governance model is one of careful stakeholder management. Continuously trying to align the interests of the various stakeholders, the leading principle can be summarized in four Cs, cooperation, consensus, collegiality, and cooptation.
The specific cultural profile of Denmark (the nuances) leads to members of the Danish culture in many ways behaving somewhat differently from her Nordic compatriots (as previously indicated). Not only does Denmark have the lowest power distance in the Nordics (third lowest in the world), but it is also the most individualist, which translates into an unwavering sense of (and demand) for autonomy among the Danes. The strong feeling of autonomy does not lend itself easily to control and even less to external control (as in the case of supra-national organizations). Furthermore, while Danes experience a high degree of both objective and perceived freedom as well as autonomy (Bjørnskov, 2019 cited in ‘Lykkeland?’), such freedom comes with the expectation that individuals will take personal responsibility.
It also translates into the most trusting society in the world. More than three in four Danes trust other people (78 %) (Tinggaard, 2018). Such trust is also referred to as general social trust, i.e., “trust in strangers you have not met before”(Tinggaard, 2018, p. 13), and implies general confidence in others to interact and behave decently (Tinggaard, 2018). Denmark is also the most trusting country in the world with respect to institutional trust, which refers to “people’s confidence in formal public bodies such as the courts, police and administration” (Tinggaard, 2018, p. 14), according to whom 84 % of Danes have been found to trust the government, legal system, police, and bureaucrats. Trust in such institutions is a typical characteristic of low power distance societies (Hofstede et al., 2010)). In a high trust society, citizens trust and expect power holders to act in the best interest of society (Tinggaard, 2018). Citizens are therefore more likely to respect the law (Tinggaard, 2018), as well as comply with requests and guidelines. Furthermore, trust is a two-way street; Power holders in such societies also tend to place their trust in citizens. According to Elinor Ostrom, power holders trust citizens and expect them voluntarily to cooperate through self-enforcement (Tinggaard, 2018). However, trust is put to the limit if expected behavior does not materialize.
Although Denmark, in a similar way to the other Nordic countries, often is erroneously taken for a collectivist society due to the strong emphasis on the collective, Denmark, as previously mentioned, is an individualist country, and a highly individualist one at that. In individualist cultures, the starting point is the individual (Wursten, 2016). Individualist cultures, are in principle, characterized by equal rights and equal obligations for everybody, independent of religious affiliation, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, which are reflected in the rule of law (Wursten, 2016).
The belief in human rights for everyone depends on an individualist value system (Wursten, 2016). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR] adopted in 1948, and to which Denmark is a signatory, “is only whole-heartedly supported in Individualist cultures” (Wursten, 2016, p. 3). The purpose of the UDHR is to safeguard an individual’s human rights as understood in individualist cultures (commonly referred to as Western countries in the immigration discourse). In contrast, the Islamic world has its equivalent to the UDHR, the so-called “Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI)” (cited in Wursten, 2016, p. 5). Briefly, the CDHRI guarantees many of the same rights as the UDHR. However, at the same time “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Sharia” (CDHRI cited in Wursten, 2016, p. 5), and thus exceptions are made for issues related to gender, sexual orientation, political rights, and separation of state and religion (Wursten, 2016).
Collectivism is defined as “loyalty to your‘ in-group (clan, religious faction, region, ethnic group) with the expectation to receive help and support from this in-group” (Wursten, 2016, p. 3). Collectivist cultures take the group as the starting point (Wursten, 2016). People from collectivist cultures put the interests of their in-group first (Wursten, 2016, Hofstede et al., 2010). The rules for dealing with one’s in-group are specific to the in-group, and not automatically transferrable to outsiders (Wursten, 2016). In immigration discourse, non-Western countries commonly refer to collectivist cultures, and especially collectivist cultures, which are poor (Wursten, 2016).
The Cartoon crisis raised the seminal question of which rights are the most important in a democratic society in terms of freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and consideration of religious minorities (AU, 2021), however, “the perception of being under attack in the exercise of essential democratic rights had little impact outside Europe”; especially in Muslim countries (Lex.dk, 2021). In other words, the crisis created a clash between individualist and collectivist value systems.
Furthermore, the Danish communication style is one of directness, explicitness, and informality. One says what one means and means what one says. Sugarcoating is uncommon. While polarization is not favored, when it does happen the tone in the debate can at times come across as somewhat harsh. This has been the case with the political discourse with respect to immigration, which at times has been very harsh (Østergaard-Nielsen, 2003), opinions clearly polarized. For outsiders (even to some extent Denmark’s Nordic neighbors), the desire for as clearly as possible getting a message across (meaning), the communication style may even come across as rude or appear somewhat aggressive, although it is not meant to offend the other party.
Where would Denmark be without the collective. The people-orientation observed in the Nordic countries does not originate in collectivism, but instead in femininity. Feminine cultures are characterized by an emphasis on solidarity and cooperation, in addition to a desire for a society, where everyone is guaranteed a minimum quality of life; a society with sympathy for the unfortunate (Hofstede, 2001; Hofstede et al., 2010).
In the tension between individualism and femininity, lies the very seed of the debate on how to best balance the individual’s freedom, including the individual’s freedom of expression and the concern for others and not hurting others (including their feelings). Where lies the limit for intervening in the autonomy of Danes? Where lies the limit for consideration for others? How is it best balanced?
Like its Scandinavian neighbors, Denmark is a so-called welfare society, which weighs heavily in how the Danes views themselves, what it means to be Danish. A welfare society is characterized by a model where resources are redistributed to maintain social cohesion (Wursten, 2019). The Danish welfare model is furthermore based on people being willing to help themselves. The system works because it rests on the premise of ‘freedom with responsibility’, and before one can enjoy one must give (“yde før man kan nyde”), a common Danish saying. The sympathy for the unfortunate is combined with a strong requirement with respect to accepting responsibility for one’s own life. In other words, a constant nudging for self-reliance takes place. Unfortunate people are assisted to help themselves, and if the unfortunates who should be, are unwilling to help themselves, it ultimately comes down to a choice and a fault of their own. If someone is not willing to help him or herself, sympathy ends. A high number of immigrants puts the welfare model under pressure because of the costs involved, especially in the cases where immigrants cannot start contributing almost right away (despite being unfortunate).
The fact that solidarity and consideration for others are important in the Danish culture is no more evident than in the Law of Jante (Janteloven), the implicit moral code for behavior so characteristic of Scandinavian societies, documented by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose. Ask any Dane, and the chances are high that he or she will convey a strong dislike for it, or at least its consequences. At the same time, there is probably not a single Dane, who is unfamiliar with it, and obeys it at least to some extent, and at least domestically, whether it be in the local community, at school, at university, or in the workplace.
Contrary to common belief, the Law of Jante originates in a desire for something good. It comes from a place where the aim is to make sure everyone at the table is incorporated and everyone gets an equal piece of the cake. Moderation by all is required, otherwise the risk is that someone may not get a piece. However, when the implicit push for incorporating everyone is extremely strong it becomes exceedingly difficult to be allowed to stand out. This together with making sure everyone is treated equally, results in an emphasis on modesty taking hold in the culture, i.e., one should not think that one is better than others (and therefore entitled to a bigger piece of cake than others).
Beginning at school, any child, who thinks he or she is better than the other children, will ‘gently’ be put in place by the other children through slight ridicule and though the implicit threat of exclusion from social life, all to get the individual to adapt his or he way to be able to fit neatly into society again. Because no one wants to be left out, most people comply. If one wants to be part of the community, it is expected to voluntarily comply. In the Danish culture, it translates into a situation where people will include others if they behave like them, otherwise they put themselves at risk of being excluded. One’s appearance in terms of skin color matters less; what matters is people’s behavior. It is also unrelated to xenophobia. It is so well put by Schwartz (1985) when quizzed about the difference between Denmark and the U.S., “In America, there is one politics, and fifteen ways to celebrate Christmas. In Denmark, there are fifteen political parties and one way to celebrate Christmas” (Østergård, 2000, n.p.) In other words, in Denmark there is one way of doing things, one way to behave to be a [true] member. The social control in Denmark is extraordinarily strong, which reinforces a culture of likeness for ‘sameness’; “We will accept you if you are like us, i.e., behave like us”.
The key to understanding the Law of Jante is that it pertains to everyone. Thus, it pertains as much to Danes as to foreigners, as much to Mr. and Mrs. Jensen as to Mr. and Ms. Abdullah. Not only foreigners, but also ethnic Danes, who behave differently from the majority are at risk of social exclusion. With respect to immigrants, it amounts to a situation where ‘‘you have to integrate ‘our way’ for us to truly accept you.’’.
Such fundamental Danish cultural values or perspectives have not significantly changed. What has changed, however, is that now more than ever the homogeneous Danish culture comes into contact with a multitude of different behaviors, ways of doing things, than has ever been the case before. This means that successful social integration is made even more difficult.
Denmark is also characterized by a weak uncertainty avoidance (the weakest in the network cluster). The weak uncertainty avoidance translates into a situation where practice counts more than principles (Wursten, 2019). A desire for flexibility is, furthermore, seen in the attitude to rules, which are understood as “useful as general guidelines and subject to change depending on the situation” (Wursten, 2019, p. 37). The pragmatic, inductive approach of the Danes is a far cry from Descartes’ philosophical, deductive reasoning; “I think, therefore I am”. The key issue is ‘does it work in practice?’, and if it turns out that something does not work, it will most likely be changed. In contrast to Descartes’ thinking, the Danish way is best summarized as, “it works, therefore it is”. The pragmatic Danes take the cue from the situation, letting the situation determine actions to be taken.
Both in terms of the Muhammad Cartoons and Quran burning incidents, Danes realized the hard way that what is expressed domestically does not necessarily stay domestic. Advances in technology means that any domestic conversation or event may become known anywhere in the world. As a result, the line between domestic policy and foreign policy is fluid (Lex.dk, 2021). Although it divides the waters, the Danish Government’s recent legislative proposal, would outlaw “improper treatment of religious scriptures and other objects of importance to religious communities” (Politiken, August 25, 2023). Likely to be adopted (albeit by a narrow majority), this legislative intervention validates that completely disregarding others’ sentiments in a globalized world does not work in practice for reasons of safety.
When Hofstede (2001) defines culture as the “collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” (p. 9), what is important to keep in mind is that when it refers to culture, it is not about the individual. Cultures are not giant-size individuals (Hofstede et al., 2010). Individuals are influenced by personality, several types of culture of which national culture is only one, in addition to life experiences. Furthermore, an individual’s behavior “is only partly predetermined…he or she has a basic ability to deviate…and to react in ways that are new, creative, destructive or unexpected” (Hofstede et. al., 2010, p. 5). In other words, it does not make sense to equal the individual Rasmus Paludan to Denmark and the Danish culture, in the same way extremist militant individuals are not indicative of all the Muslims in the world.
Contrary to what many may believe globalization does not result in a world where cultural differences at the level of values are disappearing (Hofstede et al., 2010; Wursten, 2016) leaving only differences at the level of individuals (Wursten. 2016). With global mobility in all its forms on the increase, the more different cultures (often quite different cultures) get into contact with each other. As a consequence, the more important it becomes to increase awareness and understanding of other cultures and ways of doing things, as well as to be able to bridge cultural differences to ensure successful integration.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals are at the top of everyone’s list of priorities, and the reader is probably left with a feeling of powerlessness; pondering what can be done when it comes to immigration. is successful immigration even possible? The short answer is ‘yes’ and this especially important topic is addressed in a follow-up article, ‘Culture & Migration – Proven Best Practices; What Really Works’, in which practical solutions to this complex issue are offered.
“The survival of mankind will depend to a large extent on the ability of people who think differently to act together.”
(Professor Emeritus Geert Hofstede, 1928 – 2020)
About the Autor
Pernilla Rorso, Consultant, Public Speaker, and Researcher
Ph.D. Fellow, M.Sc. International Business Strategy
Pernilla primarily deals with culture from an international business perspective (corporate culture as well as national culture). Her focus is culture and strategy in action. Areas include organizational development, leadership, global processes, M&As, DEI and implementation of the UN Sustainability Goals in practice.
Working globally, she has more than 10 years practical experience in helping corporations turn cultural strategy and goals into action; solving complex cultural challenges in the process.
While her focus primarily is on the corporate world, she answered the call by Drs. Huib Wursten (one of her mentors) for a journal article on the topic of culture and immigration from a Danish cultural perspective. Because Pernilla is bicultural (Danish-Swedish), having grown up in both countries; literarily with one foot in each country, she has both an insider’s and an outsider’s perspective when it comes to the Danish culture (i.e., an etic and emic perspective), which is ideal when it comes to understanding a single culture (personal conversation with Professor Geert Hofstede).
“Culture may be a soft factor, but it has a very hard effect on performance in all its forms.”
Correspondence with author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Connect with or follow the author on LinkedIn: https://dk.linkedin.com/in/pernilla-rorso-608481
This article does not address migrants in terms of expatriates.
This article does not address the issues related to the few young immigrants or children of immigrants who fall through stools and end up in a downward spiral, and in search of an identity turn to adopting extreme ideas, or the even fewer young individuals, who take the big step from extremism to terrorist acts (Wursten, 2016).
 In this article, culture refers to national culture, unless otherwise stated.
 According to the UN Migration Agency (IOM) a migrant is defined “as any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of (1) the person’s legal status; (2) whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; (3) what the causes for the movement are; or (4) what the length of the stay is” (UN, 2021).
 A refugee is defined as any person, who is ”formally recognized as having fled their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of persecution, armed conflict, violence, or war” (Esses, 2018, p. 1).
 The Media’s role should not be underestimated in forming attitudes to immigrants and immigration (e.g., Esses, 2018).
 Culture is important with respect to immigration for several reasons of which only a few will be directly or indirectly addressed in this article.
 Femininity here is not to be understood at the individual level. It does not say anything about an individual’s personality or identity. It refers to a culture, i.e., the group level.
 In this article, immigrants refer primarily to low-educated immigrants from non-Western poor countries.
 The sixth cultural dimension indulgence vs. restraint was identified by Professor Michael Minkov.
 The culture which resembles the Danish the most is the Dutch.
 It is the same mechanism that applies when a great number of expatriates choose to leave Denmark again after a few years. It is one of the reasons why Denmark, together with the other Nordic countries, although ranking high in most indices in international expatriate surveys, tend to find themselves at the very bottom of the list with respect to the social aspect. Denmark is a very homogeneous society, and it is difficult to integrate socially, which is a problem for a country like Denmark, which is in need of highly educated labor.
 Improper treatment is defined as “burning, soiling, trampling, and kicking. Such a gesture is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to 2 years” (Politiken, August 25, 2023); Freely translated into English.
 The cultural explanation offered in this article also helps explain the ambiguity around Denmark’s attitudes towards supra-national organizations, where on the one hand, Denmark seeks international cooperation and on the other hand wants to reserve the right to keep its autonomy, as can be seen in the four op-outs Denmark negotiated with the EU (one related to immigration). In connection with the Cartoon crisis, it became even more clear to Denmark that it does not work to stand outside international communities (with allies) in a globalized world. Although Denmark, as a feminine country, prefers to resolve conflicts through compromise and negotiation, and has thus mostly focused on helping allies through peacekeeping, one of the opt-outs has been revoked; the defense opt-out, as a consequence of Russia’s war with Ukraine.
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Wursten, H. (2016). Culture, (self) exclusion, extremism and terrorism – The danger of adaptive preference. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/22342982/Culture_self_exclusion_extremism_and_terrorism
Wursten, H. (2019). The 7 Mental Images of National Culture – Leading and Managing in a Globalized World. Hofstede Insights. ISBN-10: 1687633347 ISBN-13: 978-1687633347
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Culture and Immigration: When Tribes Need to Share Territory
By Fernando Lanzer
Immigration is a contentious issue because it is linked to archetypical values and emotions at the roots of our tribal ancestry. This is something people enjoy discussing at a superficial level (are they in favor of or against immigration), but it is rather unpleasant to look at when you dive deeper into the underlying values of culture and discover that modern cultures are still driven by tribalism, prejudice, discrimination and racism. This happens across the whole political spectrum from extreme right to extreme left, from conservatives to progressives, and it is linked to Hofstede’s so-called “Fifth Dimension” as it was originally identified and described by Professor Michael Harris Bond. This paper will explore and attempt to explain what lies beneath the roots of cross-cultural misunderstandings, unconscious bias and racist hatred.
Human beings are “beings in the world” (1) and they need to be analyzed and understood within the context that surrounds them. Part of that context is the fact that human beings are social: they interact with other human beings and form small groups that grow into tribes (2). When we look at different land animal species, we know that some tend to live more isolated, while others form packs and tribes. Humans certainly belong to the second category: we are a tribal species (3).
Human beings are also very mobile. From an evolutionary perspective, the first human tribes were nomads (some still are, to this very day) (4) that settled for a relatively short period in an area that offered food and shelter; then moved to another location when their needed resources had been depleted and exhausted (5).
Humans are also very territorial. Since pre-historic times, once they established themselves somewhere, the group or tribe claimed the territory around them as their own. They tended to treat other humans aggressively, especially when resources were scarce. If a nomad tribe encroached on another tribe’s territory, violent conflict ensued; and the result was typically that one of the tribes moved on, in search for unclaimed lands.
With the development of agriculture, humans became less nomadic and settled more permanently in a space that could provide them with food and shelter for longer periods of time: several generations, rather than a few seasons.
One of the consequences of this development was that tribes became even more protective of their territory and even more hostile toward newcomers (6).
Initially, the defining norm of collective identity was race: the members of a tribe shared some clearly evident physical characteristics such as their skin, height, eyes, and hair. We might say that early humans were racist in the sense that they valued their own tribe’s physical characteristics as being the defining aspects of group identity. They may or may not have considered their own race as being superior to other races, in the sense that we have modernly come to define as white supremacy or as Arian supremacy in the Nazi culture, but certainly, there was a tendency to reject those who looked “different from us” and to share resources only with members of our own tribe. If the newcomers came alone, they were probably not perceived as a threat; but if they came in numbers, it was very likely that they were rejected and driven away, using force whenever necessary.
Racism evolved into ethnicity, incorporating rituals, heroes and symbols as defining characteristics of tribal identity. Cultures began taking shape as a set of shared values that describe what is considered right and wrong for a group of people, defining what is acceptable behavior and what is rejected (7).
Tribalism (8) became the established social norm and a more stable form of culture developed, with greater emphasis on behavior, symbols and rituals.
From a personality development perspective, babies begin to form a rudimentary concept of self even before they complete their first year as human beings. Along with that concept comes the notion of what is right and wrong, an introjection of culture, if you will. Personal values (Freud’s Superego) (9), learned from a child’s cultural values environment, develop throughout infancy and onto adolescence and adulthood.
An adult person’s values are not only the product of culture, but rather are shaped through the interaction of an individual’s personality with the people around them. However, the influence of culture is undeniably very strong.
In the 21st Century, we like to think of ourselves as civilized (10). And yet, tribalism persists as a strong influence on the behaviors of individuals, although that influence is often overlooked or minimized.
The irony is that modern human tribes have become more capable of moving practically anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours; but the rejection of newcomers by established tribes on a certain territory is just as strong (if not stronger) as it was 10,000 years ago.
In the past 100 years, after the horrors of two World Wars became widely known, genocide was acknowledged and officially rejected by our so-called civilized cultures. And yet in the 21st Century, we still see genocide happening. Not only in so-called underdeveloped cultures in Africa, but also in Europe. It happens in the Russian-Ukrainian war, between ethnicities that have been in conflict for decades, and also in modern-day Brazil, where millions of so-called civilized people believe that indigenous peoples should be “eliminated” because they are standing in the way of progress.
Sadly, we see that we are not really as civilized as we would like to think. Tribalism and racism are behind all the discussions about immigration. The point is that this is nothing new; this is the lingering phenomenon of tribalism, still very intense among us, despite thousands of years of civilization.
Still crazy after 8,000 years
Diversity, the idea that we should not only tolerate but actually promote interactions with those who are different from us, in order to broaden our individual and collective repertoires of responses to an increasingly diverse and interconnected world, has expanded beyond race and ethnicity to include religion, gender, sexual preferences and age. This has happened basically because we have learned that the outright violent rejection of people who are different from us creates disruptive tensions that threaten the very concept of civilization. This rejection of what is different begs the question of just how civilized are we, after all. And whether we should allow societies to develop without planning or constraints, or we should take some kind of action to ensure that we avoid destroying our species due to our incompetence in managing the diversity and complexity of a world that we ourselves have created through the evolution of human history.
They say that the Dutch are very tolerant, except with their next-door neighbors. The thinking behind this statement applies not only to the Netherlands, but to all cultures.
The idea of tolerance to diverse behavior seems noble and appropriate when we are discussing it as a theoretical principle; yet when many people see a new next-door neighbor behaving in a way that they find offensive or threatening to their values, this triggers an aggressive response dating to many previous millennia.
These responses are also influenced by culture. People’s attitudes towards immigration have a link to prehistoric tribal times, but they are also shaped by the different kinds of cultural values that they have introjected as a component of their personalities. It may be useful to refer to Huib Wursten’s Mental Images (11) as a framework to describe the way discussions about immigration tend to happen in different parts of the world.
Immigration Reactions in Different Kinds of Cultures
Immigration issues in these cultures are, of course, characterized by confrontation. The United States of America was founded in 1776 inspired by Enlightenment values, born in France and disseminated throughout half the world. We need to realize that “the world” in the minds of the American “founding fathers” was not really as global as we see it 250 years later.
Therefore, the Enlightenment ideals of equality and liberty for all and fostering immigration were likely adopted in the new nation with an eye on welcoming the immigrants at the time coming to North America: basically the Scots and Irish who were persecuted by the English because of religious differences; the Dutch who had arrived even before most British nationals, accompanying the Puritans in the Mayflower, and who established the colony of New Amsterdam in Manhattan; and many other Northern European nationals.
The policy of fostering immigration in order to occupy the vast territory of the North American continent continued into the 19th Century, but by the early 20th Century Jewish immigrants and those coming from Italy were already being discriminated against by those that had come generations earlier and considered that the United States was their country. Suddenly, they were not so keen on sharing the land and its resources with newcomers who did not look so much like them, were clearly of different races and religions. The famous Emma Lazarus poem with the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” was only added to the Statue of Liberty in 1903, almost 20 years after the statue had been dedicated. The monument itself had not been designed as a welcoming symbol to immigrants arriving in New York; rather, it had been created to celebrate the end of slavery. The link to immigration came only through the later added poem, and immigration was already a contentious issue.
“According to Alan Kraut, a professor of history at American University, language restricting immigration for those likely to become a public charge appeared in U.S. legislation as early as 1891, and throughout its history, the United States has courted immigrants but simultaneously ‘repelled them and was very not welcoming to [them] when they arrived.’” (12).
Racist discrimination as a radical form of tribalism was already evident in the genocide of indigenous American peoples and in the treatment of enslaved people from Africa. Flash forward to the 21st Century and we see a divided Contest Culture in the United States. Half the country supports Trump. They want their country back and they want to make America great again. This basically means going back to a time when they felt that the country belonged to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP’s) who shared similar cultural values and rejected those who did not espouse the same ideals.
The US became a “mosaic” rather than a melting pot. Immigrants (mostly European, but also Mexican) were accepted to some extent as long as they behaved like WASP’s. Those who didn’t, formed ghettos where they continued to cultivate their home customs and language. The Contest Culture mentality of confrontation, expressed as “you are either with us, or against us,” supported the formation of the mosaic society.
After World War II and the Korean War, immigrants from Asia and Latin America (not just Mexico) began flowing to the United States in increasing numbers. Many were attracted by the universities, that had been fostered by a public policy to re-occupy the millions of soldiers and factory workers previously dedicated to the WW II effort. The investment in universities ended up benefiting not only Americans, but millions of immigrants who came to study. Most of them returned to their home countries, but many stayed and settled as qualified immigrants.
This “assimilation or rejection” of immigrants followed a similar process also in Canada, the UK and Australia, although it is more clearly seen in the US, while the other Contest Cultures have shown a better track record of integrating immigrants. The US still sports “Little Italy’s” and “Chinatowns” of several other cultures as enclaves of foreign societies in many American cities, plus the notion of “hyphenated Americans” to identify those who are not totally American, but rather Asian-American, African-American, etc.
This has supported the notion of “a multi-cultural society”, as a mosaic society in which many different cultures co-exist, each with a separate identity, in contrast to, for instance, the Brazilian society (a Social Pyramid) where one finds a “blended culture” where immigrants have mixed and shaped an integrated new culture, rather than maintained segregated ghettos.
This striking difference might be linked to a significant difference in the scores of Hofstede’s so-called “Fifth Dimension.” This dimension was first identified by Michael Harris Bond (13) through a research study designed by students of Psychology in China and named Confucian Dynamism. It referred to three complementary aspects, mentioned as polarities from the lowest to the highest scores: short-term versus long-term orientation; strict discipline versus flexibility; and normativism versus relativism in the application of norms (both formal and informal ones).
The initial label was soon abandoned in pursuit of one that would be more intuitive to Western audiences. Long-Term Pragmatism (LTP) was used, later changed to Long-Term Orientation (LTO). However, the name has been challenged because the dimension does not refer only to time, but perhaps more intensely to how social norms are applied in different situations. A low score describes cultures in which social norms are regarded more strictly and a greater emphasis is applied towards observing such norms. Those who fail to do so are strongly criticized. On the opposite end we see cultures in which many truths co-exist, and the application of social norms is highly dependent on the situation. Everything is relative as it depends very much on the people involved, their perceived degree of authority, their relationships with each other and with the beholders, and the consequences that may occur from the application of said social norms.
In my professional work as a consultant, I have referred to this dimension as Flexibility, which I considered a more appropriate label compared to LTO. Some recent discussions with colleagues have led me to believe that perhaps using the label “Relativism” might be more adequate. The discussion is still open regarding the label.
In the United States, the so-called Normativism of social norms has reinforced the confrontation between those who observe them and those who do not. This has led to the “politically correct” movement of the 1980s and later to the “cancel culture” that ostracizes those who violate social norms as defined by progressives. The non-observation of social norms, whether they are conservative or progressive, is not tolerated; there is little room left for flexibility. This has helped to maintain immigrants segregated unless they completely convert to observing local social norms.
By contrast, Brazil scores high in the Fifth dimension. There is definitely greater flexibility and relativism in comparison to the United States and other Contest Cultures. Brazilian culture is flexible and relativist to a fault. This has also been a factor in integrating immigrants into the blend that Brazil has become over time.
As global mobility increased and birth rates decreased in Contest Cultures, immigration became an economic necessity to keep GDP growth going. However, this increase in migrant flow sparked a backlash from the established culture against the newcomers. True to its confrontational nature, Contest Cultures have emphasized “the clash of civilizations” and the so-named “culture wars” in political campaigns since the late 1960’s. This has sometimes been framed as a conflict between urban and rural, or as conservative versus progressive, but it is also about being more open towards immigration and cross-cultural integration, versus being less receptive to it.
This has been more dramatically demonstrated in the United States, where, as David Brooks has said “America, long a white-dominated nation, is becoming a much more diverse country, a change that has millions of white Americans in a panic” (14). Similar patterns, arguably less intense, may be observed in other Contest Cultures. The outcome of these clashes remains to be seen, since in such societies the expectation tends to be that there must be winners and losers, rather than consensus or compromise. In the long run, by the end of the 21st Century, we may see that the demographics have changed so much, that the very fabric of Contest Cultures might no longer be described as such; perhaps a new category of culture will emerge.
Well-oiled Machine Cultures
These cultures are dominated by the need for order, obtained through the disciplined execution of carefully designed planning. Immigration is tolerated as a means to an end: organized economic growth and the pursuit of excellence.
As long as immigrants follow procedures and achieve the expected performance according to the rules, they are accepted. Yes, there is segregation and ghettos abound. However, perhaps because of the lingering shame and guilt caused by Nazism and the Holocaust, discrimination is minimized and subdued when compared to America. It is not expressed as openly as one can observe in the United States, and there is also a clear rational argument in favor of immigration to fulfill the need for labor, notably in Germany.
Therefore, the dominantly rational mindset of Well-oiled Machine Cultures tends to sweep the culture clashes under the rug and try to ignore the Asian and African elephants in the room. (Did you know that there are Turkish elephants? Well, in Germany there are!).
At the same time, resistance to immigration has grown in recent years with the rise of social media outlets that enable the semi-anonymous expression of discriminatory opinions. Yet this trend is mitigated by the evident economic need to provide labor for jobs that would remain unfulfilled without significant numbers of immigrants.
Normativism and discipline as measured by the Fifth Dimension are prevalent in WOM cultures. They are well-known for not accepting exceptions to social norms.
True to their underlying values, Well-oiled Machine Cultures seek a form of structuring that would allow for maintaining order in a multicultural society. They show less open confrontation and conflict when compared to Contest Cultures, all with the purpose of not disturbing the peace. The long-term changes in demographics may cause an impact on culture, but it is likely that this will continue to be overridden by a need to maintain order and subdue the open expression of conflict, since the incoming immigrants tend to be mostly from Social Pyramid Cultures that emphasize the avoidance of open confrontation.
In these cultures, there tends to be greater tolerance of diversity and an attitude of seeking ways of negotiating a peaceful co-existence and more integration rather than assimilation. Yes, there are some sections of society that openly express an “assimilate our values or leave” opinion, but they have so far been represented by a clear minority of voters.
The underlying values of recognizing differences and allowing universal expression, while simultaneously seeking consensus in quite pragmatic forms, have allowed greater integration. Discrimination and segregation do exist in these societies, but they are much more subtle than what one can see in Contest Cultures. Confrontation occurs as the initial portion of a process towards achieving consensus, rather than determining winners and losers. This makes a difference in terms of the ability to co-exist in peace.
The role of Hofstede’s Fifth Dimension (Relativism) is also apparent especially in the Netherlands, in that it scores slightly higher, therefore more flexible, than its neighbors. Exceptions depending on situations do exist in Network Cultures, certainly more than in WOM cultures, though they are still found much less often than in Brazil or in China, by comparison.
Therefore, one can also see that Network Cultures, notably the Netherlands, allow themselves to be influenced, even though it might happen without people being clearly aware of it. It is peculiar, for instance, to see how foreign visitors to the Netherlands are often taken to “enjoy a typical Dutch meal at a restaurant,” only to find themselves at an Indonesian establishment. It seems that the combination of high Individualism, low Power Distance and low Masculinity has enabled a less conflicted (by comparison) integration process than in Contest Culture. Concrete efforts have been made by policymakers to integrate immigrants into Network Cultures. The likely outcome, in the long run, is that this will result in a culture that maintains the underlying values of respecting and tolerating differences while seeking practical ways of living together. On the surface we may see differences in terms of rituals, heroes and symbols, which are likely to become more diverse than in the recent past and present; yet the persisting underlying values will probably allow scholars to continue to describe Network Cultures as such, well into the 22nd Century.
Solar System Cultures
Immigration into Solar System Cultures is subject to the typical tensions of those societies between high Power Distance and simultaneously high Individualism. Immigrants coming from hierarchical cultures can immediately recognize and easily adapt to the authority-respecting attitudes found in France, Spain and Italy, for instance. However, that feeling of familiarity is quickly thrown off when Collectivists encounter Individualism. The direct communication and free expression of dissident opinions regardless of group harmony can be confusing.
A feeling of cognitive dissonance may ensue, especially considering that Solar System Cultures score low in the Fifth Dimension. Therefore, they support quite normative attitudes often enforced by incumbents of positions of authority. Yet there is freedom to express dissenting opinions that could potentially challenge those authority figures. This tension that is a defining characteristic of Solar System Cultures can be quite confusing for immigrants and newcomers arriving from abroad.
In terms of immigration issues, Poland has a different status from its peers, since it has been a net exporter of labor for several decades. France, on the other hand, has for decades received many immigrants from its former colonies in Africa and Asia, as has Belgium, and Spain regarding its colonies in Latin America. The rejection of “foreign tribes” coming into France has been somewhat mitigated by the strict separation of Religion and State, a cornerstone of French governance that contrasts with Spain and Italy, for instance, dating from the French Revolution and the very birth of Enlightenment ideals before that.
Traditional Family Cultures
These are mostly Asian cultures that have been historically net exporters of population. They basically do not have “an immigration problem” in the sense of the previously listed types of culture, but rather the opposite: they have “brain drain” issues because often it is the better qualified and most entrepreneurial among their population who decide to migrate in search of better conditions to thrive as professionals. They are not threatened by “the invasion of foreign tribes”, but rather they try to reduce the exportation of qualified people that might result in harming their own economic development.
And their migrant populations face adaptation issues, rejection and discrimination when they arrive abroad, no matter how well-performing and qualified they might be. Their challenge is to balance how much of their identity will they be required to forsake in order to convert to the values of the host country, and how much will they be allowed to keep.
The home culture values of immigrants play an important role in the assimilation-rejection-integration dynamic. Those coming from low-scoring cultures in the Fifth Dimension tend to show more difficulty in adapting, since they were brought up to be less flexible and less relativistic. If their home cultures are more flexible and relativistic, they will usually find it easier to adapt.
Immigrants arriving from collectivistic societies (most African, Asian, Latin American and Eastern European cultures) into individualistic cultures in Australia, North America and Northern Europe may find the locals colder and more aloof than what they were used to; yet they usually are more capable of adapting since they were brought up to be more aware of the psychological atmosphere of groups and communities that they join, and to adapt accordingly. They might not like what they find, initially; but they are culturally well-equipped to “read between the lines” and deal with different social norms. Their adaptation will depend more on their flexibility (how to react) than on their awareness of the social environment in the host culture.
Social Pyramid Cultures
These form the majority of the existing cultures on the planet, though not the majority of the planet’s population since the latter figures are tilted towards Traditional Family Cultures by China and India. They include most countries from Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America, and also some Asian nations such as Iran, Pakistan, Thailand and South Korea.
Most Social Pyramid Cultures have always been net exporters of their population. Even Brazil, known as “a nation of immigrants”, somewhat like the United States, has recently become a net exporter, thanks to a deteriorating economy and the greater ease in traveling to the US and Europe, whether settling down abroad legally or as undocumented aliens. Official figures mention 4.2 million Brazilians living abroad, but the estimated figures of undocumented migrants are 50% more, so that the total hovers around just above 6 million, or 3% of the population residing in the country.
Historically, Brazil was a net receiver of immigrants, mostly coming from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In the past twenty years, this has changed: immigration from other South American nations has increased, while immigrants from Europe are now very few. The drivers of immigration everywhere have always been about people seeking a better life. When poverty was significant in countries like Ireland, Spain and Italy, people from these countries moved to North and South America seeking better opportunities. Similarly, people from Syria and Lebanon, India and Pakistan, and many other nations with economic difficulties turned to the New World to restart their lives. In the 21st Century, immigration flows have changed according to the economic changes in the world. Nowadays there are fewer immigrants from Ireland, Spain and Italy; and the latter two have been on the receiving end of flows coming from Africa and the Middle East.
In cultural terms, it is easier to adapt when you move from a Social Pyramid Culture to another of the same type. Even though there are always significant differences between countries of the same category, people can manage them more easily than when they need to move to a host culture belonging to a different category.
On the receiving end there is always “the threat of foreign tribes invading us” and bringing different customs that might be perceived as a threat to the host country’s identity. Challenges to national identity tend to elicit very emotional responses, often exaggerated and sometimes even violent. In 2023 most Brazilians are proud of having millions of Japanese descendants living in an integrated way all over the country. Few of these proud Brazilians are aware of the fact that their very own grandparents may have been among the crowds who threw stones at the first Japanese immigrants who disembarked in Santos in 1908. There were protests on the streets against the immigrants, who were perceived as privileged because they were entitled to a small plot of land to farm, while many natives were homeless and unemployed. Still, as time went by, Brazilian Collectivism and Relativism enabled the integration of the Japanese and of all immigrants, in spite of initial displays of discrimination, prejudice and racism.
All Social Pyramid Cultures have racism, prejudice and discrimination. After all, Collectivism is also described as “Groupism”, in the sense of linking your identity to certain groups that you belong to, and conflicts among groups tend to be frequent in such societies. However, Power Distance seems to be often a bigger issue than actually race or religion. The social elite discriminates against the lower classes based on economic status more than anything. Yes, there is racism and religion-based prejudice. But in egalitarian cultures race and religion tend to play a more prominent role in regard to prejudice, since Power Distance is less of an issue (or not an issue at all). In Social Pyramid Cultures, Power Distance tends to take the forefront of social conflicts, and this applies also to immigration.
Therefore, immigrants who are rich and/or qualified enjoy a higher social status and are more easily accepted. Those who have less wealth and qualifications are more often discriminated against, regardless of race and religion.
The Japanese culture does not fit into any of Huib Wursten’s culture clusters but rather has a unique combination of values that sets it apart, notably very high scores in Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance.
Japan has always been a net exporter of population, basically because it has a scarcity of territory compared to its number of inhabitants. The problem in Japan has not been immigration, but rather the need to send people away in order to provide them with better conditions to live. There is also the matter of evasion of talent: if you have an overpopulation problem, it would be preferable to keep your most qualified workers and send off those with fewer qualifications. However, most often than not, this is an individual’s decision and not one that can necessarily be easily influenced by government policies.
Japan does not get a lot of immigrants because it basically does not need any. There are small expat communities of qualified professionals linked to multinational companies, but that’s it. There is an outgoing flow of people seeking opportunities abroad, especially in sectors where there is segmented unemployment. Coming from a culture that highly values performance, dedication and the avoidance of uncertainty, usually helps the Japanese to find jobs and professional occupations where they can be accepted.
Immigrants as more effective contributors to society
Historically speaking, immigrants have always contributed quite positively to their host countries’ economies. Research conducted by Management Systems International (15) has also demonstrated that people who leave their hometown have twice as much probability of success as entrepreneurs than people who open a business without ever leaving the place where they were born and raised. It is logical to assume that having the courage and resilience to move abroad can only increase this success probability even more.
The issue, of course, will always be the degree of acceptance by the host culture, and the degree of adaptation capability (and willingness) of the immigrants. Knowing more about cultural characteristics will help policymakers and all parties involved to better navigate the issues of tribalism that tend to erupt when different tribes need to share the same territories.
Immigrant integration cannot be forced, and policymakers should not try. However, they should also not ignore the issues and wash their hands as modern versions of Pontius Pilate. Immigration must be managed through education and promoted (not forced) socialization. In the long term, immigration works. But it can happen with less attrition when it is managed intelligently.
BIO: Fernando Lanzer Pereira de Souza, BA
Dutch, born in Brazil, Fernando graduated as a Psychologist and has enjoyed a career alternating between positions as a Chief HR Officer and as an independent management consultant.
He is the author of the books “Take Off Your Glasses” (2012), “The Meaning Tree” (2015), “Bedtime Stories for Corporate Executives” (2015), “Trust Me” (with Reynold Chandansingh, 2016), “Leading Across Cultures in Practice (2017), and “Organizational Culture and Climate” (2018), in addition to many published articles.
Heidegger, Martin – Being and Time – Harper & Row, New York, 1962.
Harari, Yuvel Noah – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Harper, New York, 2015.
Finuras, Paulo – Human Affairs: Evolution and Behavior – Sílabo, Lisbon, 2021.
Nelson, Jimmy – Before They Pass Away – teNeues, 2013.
Blainey, Geoffrey – A Short History of the World – Ivan R. Dee, London, 2003.
Blainey, Geoffrey – op. cit.
Odnanrev, Reznal – Concepts of Culture – White paper presented at the 14th Global Forum on Executive Development, Shanghai,
Cultural congruency and conformity in two types of Diaspora
Dr. Luc Zwaenepoel
Abstract: This essay is researching transnational cultural processes by having two types of diaspora: the Congolese community in Brussels and the Hasidic Jewish community in Antwerp. Research is done by the key terms in migration culture: congruence, conformity, adaptation, and acculturation. In the Congolese context in urban Belgium, the cultural identity is hybrid, transnational with multi-scalarity and diasporic citizenship. The Jewish Hasidic community and diaspora have a cultural identity based on strict religious laws that makes it difficult to adapt to the Belgian and European cultures.
The context: The natural demographic movement of emigration and immigration is not new and is part of changes in important world demographic data and the national economic planning of services and goods.
Essential types of migrants are guest migrants, seasonal migrant workers, labor migrants, family reunion migrants, climate refugees, war refugees, and Persons of Concern for UNHCR (refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons) a group under international protection (UN, EU) and the international students.
The general public is often not making a difference between migrants and refugees, between economic migrants and labor migrants, and between climate refugees and displaced persons by conflict. All are seen as immigrants or transit immigrants.
In his essay, the term “migrant” will be used in the text.
The migration culture and the psychology of immigrants and emigrants are often mistaken and not seen as windows of opportunity for the National Economy to solve the shortage in labor and health service providers because of an ageing population.
Emigration is the movement of skilled and less skilled labor and their families to countries with more economic and social opportunities. As was seen before, with the Dutch/Belgian emigrants to Canada, the USA (the Red Star Line), the Guest workers to Northern Europe in the golden sixties and the surviving Jewish population who stayed in Western Europe.
Immigration is the other side of emigration and has the same demand and supply, push and pull principles in place.
Countries in Western Europe favored immigration (even with State aid) when the economy was booming in the sixties and national full employment was reached. Many Maghreb Africans, Turks, and Greeks have been called in to contribute to the economic welfare of Western economies. Some went back, and others stayed in the new countries and “integrated”.
This paper researches several themes that are widely discussed as more migrants reach the shores of “Fortress Europe” and international funds are available to Sub-Saharan border states to keep African migrants in Africa.
The cultural beliefs and social patterns that influence people to move. (12,20)
Cultures of Migration combines anthropological and geographical sensibilities, as well as sociological and economic models, to explore the household-level decision-making and risk-taking processes to leave the home country.
Even in countries where risk-taking and long-term vision are low, following Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, one can see that migrants are forced to leave their home country or send their young ones over the borders to Europe. The main reason for a high-risk take is the perception of the aggravation of their environment, economic misfortune, war and terror. But also, in the category of climate migrants is the impact of climate changes on rain-fed agriculture an indicator of more migration in Southwards.
African migrants do have strong links with their ancestral land, the tribal community and the extended family. To leave all these behind is also fed by the wrong perception of life and the economy in the West. Access to social media and Western movies intensifies the idea that a better life in another place is a possibility for better health care, education and social security. Often the departure of a young family member is sponsored by the family and by the community as a safety line for sending overseas remittances. Another aspect is the fact of having relatives in a faraway country that can lead to future family reunification.
Migrants are strong-willed people and high-risk takers, even willing to end up in the Mediterranean Sea as one of the many Africans that never reached” Fortress Europe”.
On the side of the receiving European countries, there is also the belief that all migrants are coming to steal their jobs and that migrants are a threat to change their race ratio. In reality, European countries with existing natural borders and hindrances to entry and a strict migration policy, are one of the least continents for migrant entrance per population per capita.
Countries like Lebanon, Turkey, and Uganda do have much more migrants of all sorts on their territory.
The cultural aspects in this situation are that countries with high risk-taking and with long-term visions are not taking the risk to receive more migrants (EU quotas) and have a short-term vision on the demographic indicators and the real needs to maintain the quality of their productive economies by allowing more migrants in Europe. Long-term planning without an extensive international dimension leads to shortages in labor for health centers and education personnel.
This is after the Corona period seen in the HoReCa sector, where companies are offering more fringe benefits to attract and keep workers.
Another important aspect is the language and the understanding of socio-cultural arrangements in the future host country. This is less of a problem for fluent French or English speakers. The language is only a part of the cultural and social patterns in the host countries. For some migrants that part of the equation is not fully understood. Often elderly migrants in a family reunification arrangement, speaking only their mother tongue, are lost in their new society and dependent on the assistance of the grandchildren going to school and speaking the language of the country.
The wrong assessment of social beliefs and new patterns leaves many older migrants close to depression and are the cause of mental illness that is not treated.
Understanding the demographic dividend of the African continent versus the demographic deficit of the Western countries (13,14)
The map of world demographics shows exactly the shift of population migration from so-called countries in development towards developed countries. The Club of Rome, a club of wise men, already indicated that the “population bomb” will have dire consequences on the environment, food production, health and conflict. They calculated in 72 that the world population is going to have exponential growth, at present, we are 7.888 billion in 2023.
Many scientists think Earth has a maximum carrying capacity of 9 billion to 10 billion people.
The limits of economic growth and the population increase will be seen in the twenty-first century. The Club of Rome’s main focus is on global problems associated with population and economic growth. It espouses a neo-Malthusian agenda of limiting population growth and promoting sustainable economic development to address perceived problems of environmental degradation. (13)
What is the Malthusian theory? (14)
Malthusianism (1798) is the theory that population growth is potentially exponential, according to the Malthusian growth model, while the growth of the food supply or other resources is linear, which eventually reduces living standards to the point of triggering a population decline.
What can be learned from these theories and predictions on the state of the world that were made in 1972 by the Club of Rome? In the frame of this essay, it is evident that the Club was right after 50 years that the population and the unlimited economic growth had an impact on the environment and the quality of life.
Concerning the very old Malthusian theory, the reality is that the population growth and the production of food supply in the world have been significantly changed over the year by new techniques ( family planning, agricultural techniques and planning), global extensive transport means and communication lines
The three correctors of Malthus on population growth were: war, sickness and disaster.
Malthusian population theory suggests that a reduction in the population pressure on existing resources through emigration could trigger a rise in birth and survival rates in the sending population.
in 1798 in Thomas Robert Malthus’s piece, An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus believed that the population could be controlled to balance the food supply through positive checks and preventative checks. These checks led to the Malthusian catastrophe.
The population theories about World population growth have been dated but it explains partly the phenomenon of immigration worldwide and especially from Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe. European demographic deficit is not caused by natural elements, catastrophes or warlike situations, changes are because of the high increase in the quality of life, the change in family structures, the decrease in children born per family, in new contraception, more women with a professional career and the rising costs of raising a kid towards adulthood. The Replacement-level fertility of a population is based on a Total fertility level of about 2.1 children per woman. This value represents the average number of children a woman would need to have to reproduce herself by bearing a daughter who survives to childbearing age. In most European countries this ratio is less than 2.
On the African side is the population growth still high because of the need for future labour in subsistence agriculture and the social care for ageing parents.
Population corrections in Africa are still in place like war, conflict, drought, natural disasters and climate change.
The demographic dividend of Africa:
The demographic dividend is the economic growth brought on by a change in the structure of a country’s population, usually a result of a fall in fertility and mortality rates. The demographic dividend comes as there’s an increase in the working population’s productivity, which boosts per capita income.
Demographic deficit (Europe) is generally the reduction in wealth due to the ageing of the population and in the financial context, the increase in the budget deficit due to the ageing of the population.
The push and pull factors of immigration are largely due to the perception of cultural processes (type of work, mentality, religion, and social arrangements) as in Europe. Also, the need to build up a better life for the individual and the family is important. Another push factor is the change in climate as rain-fed agriculture is largely depending on clear cycles of rain seasons. Young Africans, inspired by access to larger information, media and social tools, are pulled by often not realistic images of wealth, easy work conditions and the absence of conflict and war.
The demographic transition of immigration of course does have important changes in the social fabric of European cities and villages but also leads to some clashes of cultures and different social arrangements (turf and race).
The African migrant or newcomer is not always welcome, seeing the many obstacles to arrival and the high risk of losing his own life. However, the European attitude is biased on the one hand giving high amounts of international funding to Maghreb countries to keep migrants in Africa. On the other hand, allowing migrants with high skills to work in sectors that are craving for new personnel is the case for nurses, elderly caretakers, ICT and workers that can fulfill tasks that Europeans are not interested to do anymore.
This double take on immigration by Europe is calling for problems in having a clear perception of integrating new migrants into our societies.
The cultural aspect of this societal change in the last decennia and the upcoming years has been already fully debated. All kinds of discussions led to solution-seeking proposals: like creating diaspora hubs (“quartier Matonge for DRC and the Great Lake countries in Brussels), integration and language courses and curriculum, and increasing multicultural events to showcase exotic cultures.
The Hofstede approach is therefore based on the full understanding of the national cultural values (6D) and finding common ground by explaining the fundamental differences.
The described push and pull factors to explain immigration has two cultural components that for Africans are not common in their national culture: the high risk-taking and the long-term view.
Cultural identity and cultural bereavement ((3,12,20)
Upon the arrival of the migrant main questions are: How to adapt in the short term: to the language, the social arrangements, the administrative rules, the housing, the food, the education, and the medical care?
Problems of loss, cultural bereavement and disillusion after arrival lead to depression and feelings of loss.
Loss of the family structure and the loss of power and authority in the extended family structure. (Ubuntu context) (11,17,28)
Ubuntu is not only “I am because We are” and also “We are because I am. ”
Ubuntu is based on Orunmila (Odu Ifa verses) and stresses that Ubuntu means the “dance of being”. Its holistic humanistic vision is “Me and us” but also “We and the others”. (17)
This is visible in the Bantu philosophy of the Congolese living in the diaspora in Europe and the US. It facilitates adaptation and avoids acculturalization.
Cultural identity and cultural bereavement can be seen in the diaspora communities in different cities of Europe. This research will examine two diaspora communities existing already a long time in Brussels, Belgium: The Congolese Community around Brussels and the Hassidic Jewish community in Antwerp, Belgium.
Congolese Diaspora in Brussels (Belgium) ((4,6,7,8)
The Congolese migrant is over the years an important community in Belgium as well as the migrants from Rwanda and Burundi. This was a natural movement after the Independence as we see also the same migration patterns from West Africa to France in the sixties.
The Congolese community in Belgium is important and very well organized. They have a reference point in the center of Brussels called Matonge after the name of a famous quartier in Kinshasa. Matonge is the window on all that is Congolese culture and small business (food, hairdressers, colored clothing, handicrafts and music.)
The cultural identity of Congolese migrants living already long term in Brussels is still very African as a strong link exists with the homeland, the tribal village of the ancestors and the sending of remittances to elders and family.
Most Congolese have double nationality and had an education and schooling following the Belgian curricula. They often speak different languages and the French language and Lingala is the lingua franca.
The difference in cultural dimension between Belgian and Congolese culture (9,1
The most important difference is Individualism versus collectivism (22,23)
Most Africans have a cultural shock when they are confronted with the individual approach, the small family unit, the lack of cohesion in the big cities, the cold shoulder in case of difficulties and the nonexistence of an extended family, only visible during marriage and funerals.
The Congolese community is based on solidarity, tribal recognition and respect for the elderly. (Ubuntu)
After years of living in Belgium, the migrant gets used to the Belgian externalities of their culture. They have acquired several do’s and not do’s to integrate and conform, but their cultural values still exist and only change after a long time. Two Congolese in New York will be even more Congolese when they are abroad.
But how are Congolese youth as the third generation coping with Cultural identity? (3)
Some findings from a large international study of the acculturation and adaptation of immigrant youth (aged 13 to 18 years) who are settled in 13 societies (N= 5,366), as well as a sample of national youth (N= 2,631). The study was guided by three core questions: How do immigrant youth deal with the process of acculturation? How well do they adapt? What is their cultural identity?
There were substantial relationships between how youth acculturate and how well they adapt: those with an integration profile had the best psychological and sociocultural adaptation outcomes, while those with a diffuse profile had the worst; in between, those with an ethnic profile had moderately good psychological adaptation but poorer sociocultural adaptation, while those with a national profile had moderately poor psychological adaptation and slightly negative sociocultural adaptation. Implications for the settlement of immigrant youth are clear: youth should be encouraged to retain both a sense of their heritage and cultural identity while establishing close ties with the larger national society. (3)
Our focus here is on a particular ethnic group in Belgium, namely the Congolese diasporic ‘community’. Its particular atypical history of migration and the presence of a large number of residents of Congolese origin in Brussels bring out a series of processes of hybrid identity formation that are underrepresented in the literature on European urban transnational immigration. The Congolese diaspora offers a uniquely important and extraordinarily rich group who have formed a particular transnational, but locally embedded, ‘hybrid’ identity, shaped exactly by their particular histories, geographical trajectories, scaled networking, and urban embedding. Moreover, the rapid growth of a population of Congolese descent was marked by the transformation of a neighborhood in Brussels (Matonge) into a distinct, globally localized ‘African’ community, a transformation that coincided with the acceleration of globalization.
The estimate is that the Congolese diaspora in Belgium totals more than 80,000 individuals. Congolese immigration is atypical, particularly as most migrated through personal choice and not as a result of active migration policies from the Belgian state or of special post-colonial arrangements. (4,6,7,8)
Transnationalism and hybrid cultural identity (19)
Transnationalism’ is defined as:
“…[t]he processes by which immigrants forge and sustain multi-stranded relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement. We call these processes transnationalism to emphasize that many immigrants today build social fields that cross geographic, cultural and political borders. Immigrants who develop and maintain multiple relationships – familial, economic, social, organizational, religious and political – that span borders we call trans migrants.”
Source: Matonge mural by Cheri Samba https://bdmurales.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/cheri-samba-porte-de-namur-porte-de-lamour/
Cultural duality in the second generation of migrant children ((3,4,6,7)
Young generations originating from the Congolese community adapt easily to the cultural duality of being Congolese and being Belgian/European. This is facilitated by having access to the Belgian education curricula and multilingual skills in a Belgian urban context.
Conclusions for the Congolese Diaspora in Belgium (12,18,20)
Cultural congruency and conformity
The Congolese community being part of the long history and the colonial past makes cultural congruity and conformity with the Belgian society and values easier. The older and the new arrivals encounter some problems in adaptation but are assisted by the Congolese community with a strong sense of solidarity.
Cultural congruity: The finding of common ground between cultural values concerning differences and religious attitudes. This is the case in Brussels, where the Congolese community is assimilated and adapted. The fact that the Congolese community is merely from a Christian background facilitates congruity. This is not always the case with migrant communities of different religions like Islam from the Maghreb or Arab countries. (See: multicultural mural Matonge)
Cultural assimilation or the process of groups of different heritages becoming part of the existing national cultural dimensions and acquiring basic habits, attitudes and modes of life of an embracing culture.
In the third generation of the Congolese community, assimilation is strong as most have been going through the Belgian school system and often have only Belgian nationality.
Amalgamation is perhaps the word for the cultural process it refers to a blending of cultures rather than acculturation. The blending of the two cultures is possible in the multicultural urban context of Brussels and less in the rural areas. A good example is the existence of the “quartier” Matonge as the center of Congolese culture in Center Brussels (see Mural)
The process of integration, naturalization (15,16,18)
Because of the hybrid cultural identity of the Congolese community, the process of integration is more feasible without losing the side of their tribal origins. This is the case of the third generation of Congolese youth, who easily assimilate into the Belgian context. Congolese ” migrants” have a strong place in Belgian society, in politics, in church, the administration, the police force and in the educational system. A good example is the Belgian National football team (called the Red Devils). Half of the team are African Belgians of the third or fourth generation. This is also the case for the National Football Team of France as most players are naturalized and have double nationality.
Ethnic, cultural diversity: the Hasidic community in Antwerp, Belgium (21,25)
A second case to illustrate cultural congruity and assimilation is the Hasidic and Jewish communities living in Antwerp, Belgium. In this essay, we will not go into detail to describe the differences between Hasidism, orthodox and non-orthodox communities. The Hasidic community lives already since the 15th century in Antwerp as it was a famous place for the diamond trade in Europe(1). Nowadays taken over by Indian and other centers for the international diamond trade. Almost 20000 Hasidim are living with their families in Antwerp center, in what is called the Jewish part of the city near the Central station. The Hasidic religion is based on strict observance of the laws (613) and has a strong sense of hierarchic community life with all institutions and rules in place. There are of course in Antwerp non-orthodox Jews, not living in communities and more integrated in the Belgian society.
Yiddish is spoken by most orthodox Jews, making Antwerp one of the few Yiddish-speaking centers in the world. For years, Yiddish was the language used in the diamond trade. But most Jews speak French, Hebrew and in less order Dutch. The main curriculum in school is lessons in Dutch, except for issues related to their religion.
The Hasidic community in Antwerp has a strong sense of community belonging. A good example is the existence of the “Eruv.”
As in other cities with large Jewish communities, Antwerp is surrounded by a wire called “eruv” (Eiroew in Dutch).
The diaspora of Hasidim is a community based on strict observance of the religion, worship, observance of the laws, sabbath, study of the Thora, and ritual cleaning.
The community is led by a dynasty of famous rabbis and is strictly hierarchical. The family unit is led by the husband and is patriarchic in all household decision-making.
Contraception and marriage with a non-orthodox are not allowed which makes traditional families very large.
Hasidic women represent a unique face of Judaism. As Hasidim—ultra-Orthodox Jews belonging to sectarian communities, worshipping and working as followers of specific rebbes—women are set apart from assimilated, mainstream Jews.
The Hasidic ideal is to live a hallowed life in which even the most mundane action is sanctified. Hasidim lives in tightly knit communities (known as “courts”) that are spiritually centered around a dynastic leader known as a rebbe, who combines political and religious authority.
The cultural identity of the Hasidic culture in Antwerp (22,23,24)
In the USA New York Jews have a strong political lobby in politics or social organizations, but that is not the case In Belgium. In the melting pot of New York are different communities often opposite in social life and beliefs and is coexistence a difficult battle focusing on turf and race. So are the differences between the Hasidic culture and the Porto Ricans often a problem as the Jewish community is defending their turf and their race. Arranged marriages in the Hasidic community can only be with Hasidic religious partners.
The Hasidim in Antwerp is faced with a double dilemma to live his life in the culture of orthodox Jewry on the other hand to try to be integrated and assimilated with Belgian and European culture as can be seen in the picture below. (21,25)
“Faced with a European model that provides little place for strongly affirmed identities and that the recent demographic shifts have made stricter than ever, they have to make a life choice. They can subscribe to this model and become cultural Jews only. This will allow them full membership in European societies, but it comes at the cost of their own Jewishness. Indeed, as we have shown, an identity based solely on culture has little chance of being sustainable. By accepting the reduction of their Jewish identity to its cultural dimension, the integrated Jews, voluntarily or not, are willing to put it at risk for integration’s sake. They accept being not Jews, but Europeans”. Source: Jonathan Tobin’s article in Commentary “The end of European Jewry” and the in-depth study about European Jewry challenges: “European Jewry – Signals and Noise.”
“The real question, therefore, concerns the possibility of an alternative model that will allow European Jews to remain proud and serious Jews while engaging towards a broader society. The need to build environments that will allow European Jews to “act Jewishly for non-Jewish causes” and follow the ancestral universal biblical commandment of TIKKUN OLAM (see figure)
Example of Israel’s cultural dimensions by Hofstede:
Hasidim orthodox cultural values differ from Israel’s national values; there is a higher power distance (religious, hierarchy, patriarchism), masculinity is higher and long-term orientation is limited because of the strict observance of 161 rules.
Conclusions for the Hassidic community in Antwerp:
The Hasidic community can live and enjoy its cultural identity and is respected by the Belgian authorities and community. The main reason is the history of the Shoa in Belgium and the Netherlands (Anna Frank). Secondly, the freedom of religion and language are strong arguments in the Belgian context.
Some strict observation of the religious rules like the role of women and the fact that a man cannot touch the hand of another woman is seen in a “Woke” and feministic society as dated. However, this rule is also existing in Muslim traditions as well as the rule for women to be covered.
Cultural congruency and conformity
Hasidic communities are trying to conform to mimic cultural elements: individualism, risk-taking, and social values while respecting their cultural values in the extended familial environment. Cultural congruency with Belgian cultural values is not fully possible because of their religion. However, there is a need for adaptation by the host country and efforts are made on both sides to respect each other cultural identity.
As can be seen in the picture the cultural identity of Hasidim has many layers originating in religion, the long complex and dramatic history of the Jews in Europe and the dilemma of strong adaptation to a European context.
Cultural congruity: The finding of common ground between cultural values concerning differences and religious attitudes. This is the case in Antwerp, where organized consultations with the local authorities are a long-standing process and have proven successful.
Cultural assimilation or the process of groups of different heritages becoming part of the existing national cultural dimensions and acquiring basic habits, attitudes and modes of life of an embracing culture. This is partly the case as some attitudes and habits are prescribed by religious laws and also practiced in other religions.
Amalgamation is perhaps the word for the cultural process it refers to a blending of cultures, rather than acculturation. The blending of the two cultures is not possible for religious reasons.
The picture of the mural Matonge shows the idea of the Congolese artist of how multiculturalism is seen in the Congolese part of Brussels. However, it does not show the cultural processes of the newcomer migrant in Belgium.
The two diasporas examined in this essay along the key words: congruency, conformity, amalgamation, adaptation, assimilation, transnationalism, and integration.
The Congolese community in Brussels has a transnational hybrid cultural identity that is multiscaled. The identity is based on the tribal, African cultural values with transnational adaptation to life in Belgium and Europe. This is facilitated by the Ubuntu Philosophy: “the dance of being We and the others.”
The Hasidim community is a different case, where cultural values are based on religion and strict religious laws. The Jewish culture based on identity, solely on religion and culture has little chance of being sustainable. “By accepting the reduction of their Jewish identity to its cultural dimension, the integrated Jews, voluntarily or not, are willing to put it at risk for integration’s sake. They accept being not Jews, but Europeans”. (3)
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The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books, 1972, 205 pp., $6.50 (cloth) $2.75 (paper) L.C. 73-187907
Portes, A., Guarnizo, L. E., & Landolt, P. (1999). The study of transnationalism: Pitfalls and promise of an emergent research field. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 22(2), 217– 237. doi:1080/014198799329468
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Oluwole Sophie Bosede; Socrates and Orunmila; Editions Ten Have;2017
Eva Swyngedouw & Erik Swyngedouw(2009) The Congolese diaspora in Brussels and hybrid identity formation: multi-scalarity and diasporic citizenship, Urban Research & Practice, 2:1, 68-90, DOI: 1080/17535060902727074
Peter F. Titzmann, Andrew J. Fuligni; Immigrants’ adaptation to different cultural settings: A contextual perspective on acculturation; Introduction for the special section on immigration;International Journal of Psychology; 10 November 2015
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Bio Dr. Luc Zwaenepoel
He is a Drs in Development economics, PhD Development management and a Master’s in Family Sciences and Sexology. He lived and worked for 40 years on the African continent, the Indian Ocean and the Far East. His international work in economic development brought him in contact with a better understanding of African organizations and communities, with a great interest in the Bantu philosophy and the Ubuntu approach. He worked as a social demographer in the Institut de Formation et de Recherche Démographique (IFORD) and was a programme manager of the KFW/IGAD migration fund for the Horn of Africa.
As a novelist, he wrote a book: “Sartre in the Congo” 2020, a magical realism story, against the background of the first genocide in Kongo and Rwanda. Luc_zwaenepoel@hotmail.com
The Interplay of Culture in Migration Patterns: A Swedish Perspective
By Philip Sjögren
The global refugee crisis that commenced in 2015 witnessed an influx of Syrian refugees into European territories. While Germany received a noteworthy commendation for accepting approximately 1 million refugees, constituting 1.25% of its population, Sweden too exhibited a remarkable stance. Sweden accepted 160,000 refugees, which corresponds to 1.6% of its population. The precedent of such generosity can be traced back to earlier global conflicts such as the Yugoslav War in the early 1990s when Sweden harboured 100,000 refugees. A prominent example was also in 2007 when the city of Södertälje welcomed more Iraqi refugees than the entirety of the United States did in the same year.
Sweden’s population in 2022, standing at 10.5 million, consists of over 2 million foreign-born residents. That puts Sweden at the highest levels in Europe for the share of the foreign-born population. This is the direct result of Sweden’s longstanding policy of promoting immigration.
This demographic transformation is predominantly credited to immigration from neighboring countries, especially Finland, which was the major source of immigrants until 2016. Post-2016, Syrian immigrants have outnumbered all other demographics.
However, in a striking “paradigm shift” the current right-wing Swedish government, which assumed power in 2022, has aimed to limit Sweden’s acceptance of asylum seekers to the lowest level in the EU and to reduce the quota for refugees from the previous 5,000 per year to 900. This change in policy is not exclusive to the right-wing government, as the preceding Social Democratic government also introduced more restrictive measures in late 2015.
This paper looks at what elements of Sweden’s migration policy can be explained culturally. It postulates that the liberal policies before 2015 can be explained by low masculinity, low uncertainty avoidance, and high indulgence, referring to Hofstede’s 6D model. However, the current shift might be primarily reactionary, influenced by the significant societal impact of mass immigration more than any cultural dimensions.
The ensuing sections will delineate the history of migration in Sweden and then analyse the contemporary policy transformation. The hypothesis presented posits that the current policy is a consequence of the increasing polarity between viable government alternatives leaning either right (against immigration) or left (pro-immigration). Thus, the radical policy shift may be more the result of a global trend of governmental polarization than a deeply entrenched cultural phenomenon.
Section I: Swedish Migration History: Transition from Emigration to Immigration
Section II: Escalating opposition to immigration
Section III: Impact of Culture on Swedish Migration Policy: An Analysis Based on Hofstede’s 6D Model
Section IV: Conclusion: The Interplay of Culture and Political Influence on Swedish Immigration Policy
Swedish Migration History: Transition from Emigration to Immigration
Net migration to Sweden by year in absolute numbers
1850-1929 – The Era of Net Emigration
Between 1850 and 1929 approximately 1.2 million Swedes, nearly 20% of the population, emigrated. Most left for North America. The primary drivers for this mass exodus were partly religious aspirations and for some probably the spirit of adventure. But for the majority, it was poverty. Industrialization was late in Sweden and the economy was still heavily reliant on agriculture. A series of bad crops and famines in the 1850:s and 1860:s pushed many to leave the country. These emigrants’ letters back home from North America probably created a pull-factor. Swedish folklore tells us how the emigrants became farmers, mainly in Minnesota as many town names indicate: Borgholm, Karlstad, Lindstrom, Malung, Mora, Scandia, Ronneby, Upsala, Viking and Stockholm to name but a few. But in fact most emigrants actually moved to the large cities, of which Chicago was the main one. In 1900, “The Windy City” of Illinois accommodated up to 100,000 Swedish-born inhabitants, comparable to Gothenburg at the time, the second-largest city in Sweden. Emigration continued to dominate through the 1920s with an interruption during World War I.
1930-1942 – A Period of Uncomfortable Shift
While Sweden managed to remain neutral during World War I, its industry sustained an export-led expansion in the 1920s that had begun in the late 1800s. In the 1930s, a combination of economic and social progress in Sweden and increasingly difficult migration conditions led to a small but notable net migration into Sweden for the first time in modern history. The immigrants were primarily Europeans.
Sweden’s shift in migration patterns became apparent when Nazi policies led to an increase of Jewish migrants asking for, but being denied, the right to stay. However, when Swedish authorities attempted to send them back to Germany, these German citizens were denied entry. This led Sweden and Switzerland to threaten Germany to halt visa-free travel between the countries. The German response was to introduce the infamous ‘J’ marking on Jewish citizens’ passports, which tragically was (ab)used by multiple countries, including Sweden.
Amid these tense times, the divides within Sweden deepened. When the authorities contemplated allowing 10 (!) Jewish doctors entered the country in 1939, and a meeting was held among the students of Uppsala. Approximately 60% of the nearly 1,000 participating students voted against their entry, citing reasons ranging from labor market arguments to pure racism. Still, a few Jewish Children were allowed entry, but without their parents. In total, some 500 children were saved this way, whereas their parents mostly died in the camps.
The Russian attack on Finland in November 1939 marked a turning point in Sweden’s migration history. The country declared itself non-neutral but not co-belligerent, i.e. it was explicitly on the Finnish side but would not engage in fighting. In practical terms, this meant sending arms and allowing Swedes to join the Finnish military but not sending any troops. It also resulted in 70,000 Finnish children being hosted in Swedish families during the war, many of whom eventually chose to stay.
The occupations in 1940 of Denmark and Norway further complicated the situation. In the beginning, it was unclear who was allowed to stay in Sweden or not. While non-Jewish Norwegians were allowed entry to Sweden, Norwegian Jews crossing the border depended on the goodwill of the local migration officer and sometimes even of that of the individual decisions of the border guards they happened to meet. At the same time, German troops and hardware were allowed to transition to and from Norway on Swedish railroads. The coalition government was deeply split on the topic of transiting German troops, with the Social Democratic Prime Minister eventually siding with the right-wing members of his government tilting the majority that way.
1943 – The shift in attitude
The major mental shift about migration can probably be dated quite exactly: November 1942. That was when the Germans started deporting Norwegian Jews to concentration camps. The deportations were well reported in Swedish media and the public opinion reacted strongly. Consequently, the authorities changed tack and suddenly all refugees from Norway and Demark were allowed in. In early October 1943, when the Nazis attempted to deport the roughly 8,000 Jews of Denmark, almost all of them (and their non-Jewish families) were shipped to Sweden in small boats over a span of ten nights.
This shift continued with the operations of the “white busses.” These were initiated by a Latvian refugee, Gilel Storch, who, after numerous attempts, managed to secure an agreement with Himmler thanks to the unlikely help of Felix Kersten, Himmler’s part-Swedish masseur (!). This led to red-cross-marked white buses going to several Concentration Camps to transport inmates to Sweden. The figurehead of that effort was Prince Bernadotte, later the first negotiator between Palestinians and Israelis (and killed in Palestine in 1948). The white busses were first meant to take Scandinavian inmates only but eventually took some 19,000 of which many were non-Scandinavians (see note.)
The end of the war also meant a large influx of refugees from Eastern Europe. Among the 30,000 civilians who often came in tiny boats across the Baltic were German and Baltic soldiers who had fought with the Germans against the Soviet Union. In June 1945, the Soviet Union requested they be returned. Eventually, Sweden sent some 3,000 Baltic and German soldiers to the Soviet Union. Again, media coverage created a strong opinion in favor of the refugees. Most civilians were allowed to stay.
Post-World War II
Sweden’s economy was largely unscathed by the war. Swedish products such as steel, telephones, timber, paper, roller bearings, and trucks were again being exported around the globe. But labor was in shortage. Workers from neighboring countries, especially Finland, were welcomed throughout the 1950:s. A free labor market between Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland) was created in 1954. But companies also sent recruiters further away to attract labor, with workers coming from Italy and Yugoslavia.
The foreign-born population increased from 100,000 in 1945 to 538,000 in 1970.
1970-2016: Transition from Labour Migration to Political Refugees
In the wake of the oil crisis in the 1970s, labor migration ground to a halt. But a new source of migration was increasing – political refugees. Throughout the 1970s, these political refugees originated from Chile, Greece, Turkey, and Argentina.
Global politics were increasingly visible among Swedish immigrants. In the 1980s they arrived from Poland (due to the communist regime’s attempts to crush Solidarity) and Iran ( i.a., due to the Iran-Iraq war which led young men to flee Iran to avoid being drafted). By the 1990s, Yugoslavia, and mainly Bosnia, had become a major hot spot, with a large number of refugees. Then came Iraq in the 2000s and Syria from 2011 onwards, reaching a peak in 2015-2016.
These consecutive waves of migrants are reflected in Sweden’s current population; as of 2022, foreign-born individuals constitute 20%.
Section II – Escalating Opposition to Immigration
In the 1930:s, opposing voices were raised about immigration. However, from 1945 to 1990, they remained relatively subdued. Some argue that anti-immigration sentiment was suppressed, though the author contends that it was more likely a confluence of circumstances that led to the apparent silence. First, the anti-immigration faction was substantially ‘on the losing side’ in WWII, so there was most probably a sentiment to distance oneself from that side’s policies. Second, the post-war labor shortage and robust economic development mitigated potential conflicts.
However, beginning in the early 1970s, societal tension started brewing. The multiple crises of the period, rising unemployment, and a growing foreign-born population gradually amplified resistance to immigration. By the early 1990s, this opposition had grown loud enough to enable a communal party, the Sjöbo Party, to rise to power in the commune on an explicitly anti-immigrant platform. They peaked at 33% of the local votes in 1994. Although the party was local, media coverage was national and negative voices on immigration grew louder and louder.
In 1991, a national party, New Democracy, was founded and made it all the way to the national parliament (the Riksdag) the same year with almost 7% of the national vote. They were jovial, playful and attracted a lot of people who did not fit the “traditional” mood. They soon imploded due to individual disagreements among their parliamentarians and leaders. With their eviction from Parliament in 1994, there was again a fairly broad political consensus about politics. But a seed of disagreement had been planted in the debate. Those opposing immigration still found it hard to be listened to, but the debate grew.
This resistance became even more pronounced in the early 2000:s when the Sweden Democrats (SD) started rebranding themselves to become electable. As described in the white paper commissioned by the party itself in 2018, the party was founded by a group of neo-nazis in 1988. When the current party leader, Jimmie Åkesson, took the reins in 2005, he also started a cleansing process of its most overtly extreme members that is ongoing to this day. The 2022 election saw SD become the second-largest party after the Social Democrats, with rhetoric comparable to many extreme right-wing parties across Europe and beyond.
The 2022 parliamentary election resulted in a political landscape demanding collaboration between starkly contrasting parties to achieve a majority. (note.)
Following lengthy negotiations, the Moderaterna (traditional right), Kristdemokraterna (Christian Democrates, right), Liberalerna (liberal, center right) and the SD (extreme right) signed an agreement. This allowed the creation of a right-wing government without the Sweden Democrats but with their support in Parliament in exchange for a promise to implement a lot of their policies, with migration being a significant point of contention.
Regarding migration, the agreement stipulates:
Legislation on asylum to be restricted to be no more generous that the minimum obligations defined in EU legislation,
Fight against the “shadow society” – in short, people with no right to stay in the country are to leave the country,
Increase the number of individuals returning to their country of origin and of actions supporting such returns,
Increased requirements on migrants with low qualifications and improved conditions for highly qualified individuals,
Increased efforts to revoke attributed residence permits,
Tightening of the conditions for family reunification immigration,
Increasing demands on immigrants to integrate into Swedish society (e.g.- as a pre-condition to obtaining the nationality).
Early in 2023, the government is trying to accelerate work along the agreed objectives. For example, on May 29, 2023, it announced the introduction of tests for individuals seeking to obtain the Swedish nationality. The test will consist of two parts: Understanding of the Swedish Language and knowledge of Swedish society.
Section III – Impact of Culture on Swedish Migration Policy: An Analysis Based on Hofstede’s 6D Model
Which of the policies described above, if any, can be explained by cultural characteristics?
Hofstede’s 6D model of cultural dimensions describes Sweden as an extremely feminine, very uncertainty-tolerant, and very indulgent society. This characterization implies a societal tendency to prioritize the welfare of others, to seek consensus, to support the disadvantaged and the underdogs, to embrace changes without exhaustive planning, to exhibit limited apprehension towards foreign influences, and to maintain a general optimism regarding the present and the future alike. It is interesting to note that Sweden is quite extreme in several of Hofstede’s dimensions, which is confirmed in the World Value Survey. The Nordic countries are quite similar, but Sweden is, on most dimensions, more to the edges than Norway, Denmark and Finland.
How does this translate into the politics of migration?
In the early post-war years, migration was mainly waves of refugees. At first glance, Sweden letting some 50,000+ refugees enter the country can be said to be in line with caring for the disadvantaged. But large flows of refugees were moving across Europe into other countries with very different cultural characteristics and allowed to stay there. So, without much more analysis, the author would claim that this stage is certainly not cultural but more a coincidence.
In the following period, between 1950 and 1970, the driving force was predominantly practical: to increase the supply of labor. Of course, culture certainly impacted how it was done: there was probably less planning and less paperwork than other more uncertainty-avoiding countries would have opted for in the same situation. But the policies were largely a result of global forces rather than of local culture.
However, from the 1970s onwards, with politically motivated immigration, the narrative largely shifted towards extending assistance to those in need, somewhat coupled with arguments that a small, export-dependent nation like Sweden would derive benefit from an expanding and diversified population.
To the author, only the period 1970-2016 seems to have a clear cultural dimension. Helping refugees from various civil and international wars, having very little planning for how to receive or integrate the refugees and arguing to one’s own population to extend compassion for the suffering. Two more examples of this were:
In 2004 when the Baltic Republics and several East European countries were going to join the EU, most EU countries put in place temporary restrictions on labour movements: not Sweden.
In 2015, when the Syrian refugees arrived in large numbers, the right-wing Swedish Prime Minister, Reinfeldt, had a speech reminiscent of Angela Merkel’s famous s “Wir schaffen das” in which he urged the Swedes to “Open their hearts” to the refugees.
What about the ongoing Paradigm Shift, as the current government likes to label its policies? Can that be said to be cultural?
If anything, the current policies are contrary to what characterizes Swedish culture. They are neither compassionate, nor pragmatic, nor easy-going.
The ongoing paradigm shift is more likely the effect of a long-simmering and increasing frustration by parts of the population with the previous policies. The arguments are like those voiced in many other countries in Europe or North America.
Another point to argue that it is not cultural is that the Nordic countries are culturally quite similar. Yet immigration policies have differed greatly between the extremes with large differences in outcome: as mentioned, Sweden has 20% foreign-born whereas Finland has 7%. If culture were a decisive factor, they would have been more similar.
Although the policies have been quite consistent, there have been significant internal disparities regarding immigration attitudes. Regionally, the regions of Skåne and Blekinge, that were Danish until mid-1600s, have consistently exhibited more skepticism towards immigration. Local parties with explicit anti-immigrant agendas have a long-standing presence in these areas, and the current far-right party, the Sweden Democrats, has its roots in these two regions. Conversely, areas around Gothenburg and Stockholm have been consistently more welcoming to immigration.
And what would the policies have been if the Social Democrats had remained in power in 2022? As mentioned above, in 2015 the then Social Democratic Government changed tack on immigration. From a Merkel-like policy of ”Wir Schaffen das!” to a policy meant to align Sweden with the lowest immigration levels within the EU. If the earlier policies were aligned with the Swedish cultural profile, the shift certainly is not.
Contemporary incidents have also shaped the policies. Overall crime rates have been on a downward trend in Sweden for a long time, but fatal gang-related shootings have spiked significantly in the past 2-3 years, reaching unprecedented levels. Since the culprits are often from immigrant-dense suburbs, they have likely exacerbated public resentment towards immigration.
A counterforce may be that Sweden just like most European countries has a severe shortage of labor, both in qualified professions and unqualified. Businesses are urging the government not to impose too restrictive measures.
IV – Conclusion: In the case of Sweden, culture does not explain migration policies
Sweden’s migration is summarised as:
1850-1930: Emigration mainly driven by economic factors, not culture.
1930-1943: The shift is driven by the world economy and global politics, not culture.
1943-1970: The import of Labour was driven by the expansion of the economy and need for labor, not culture (except that more restrained and uncertainty-avoiding cultures might have opted for replacing labor with technology).
1980-2016: The large-scale politically driven immigration, partly explained by culture and the desire to help the less well-off.
2016-onward: The adoption of more restrictive policies to curb immigration, yet businesses having a very hard time finding the labor they need. Not in line with Swedish culture.
As indicated, only one period has anything like a cultural explanation – the 1980-2016 period.
Finally, the author finds that looking for cultural explanations for migration patterns might be overstating the importance of culture and understating the importance of economics and politics.
A reflection is that the impact of culture on migration is interesting to research. A Study by Mounir Karadja (Uppsala Universtiy) and Erik Prawitz (IFN) concluded that among emigrants from Sweden to North America in the 19 Century, there were an overrepresentation of people with individualist preferences. It also finds that the “communes” (the smallest administrative units) from where most migrants left had a stronger growth of Trade Unions and left-voting citizens. This implies that the more individualistic Swedes had a higher tendency to leave the country, resulting in more collectivist individuals remaining in the country.
In the same way, it is evident that the influx of 20% of new inhabitants to Sweden will impact its culture. Of course, it is impossible to foresee how, except that since Sweden is the most feminine culture in the world, as well as quite uncertainty tolerating and indulgent, it would not be surprising if these dimensions were to become less prominent over time.
Bio Philip Sjögren
Having studied at the Stockholm School of Economics, Philip Sjögren started his career as a is a diplomat in the Swedish Foreign Service. In 1995 he became a Management Consultant. First working on strategies with McKinsey and Company, and since 2000 working for various smaller consultancies in the areas of management development, corporate culture and national cultures. He is currently a partner with Stardust Consulting in Sweden.
His extensive consulting experience has enabled him to engage professionally in 40 countries. Philip is a native French and Swedish speaker, and is also fluent in English, German, and Spanish.
Exit, Voice and Political Change: Evidence from Swedish Mass Migration to the United States, Journal of Political Economy (Karadja and Prawitz 2018).
 This number was claimed by Bernadotte himself. The action was later criticized as not in line with Red Cross ideals.
 Social Democrats (center left to left, in uninterrupted Government 1936-1976, as well as 1981-1988, 1991-2008, 2014-2022), Sweden Democrats (extreme right), Moderaterna (traditional right, historically the major right-wing party), Vänsterpartiet (literally the “left” Party, former Communists), Center Party (right of center, traditionally more agrarian, currently very liberal), Kristdemokraterna (increasingly right wing), Miljöpartiet (the green party) and Liberalerna (center right, traditionally urban).The
Synopsis: Using the autobiographical narrative and participatory observation, this essay explores the symptoms of thinking enslaved by errors, illusions, and prejudices under and after communism.
Also, from a comprehensive reflexive perspective, the connections between geopolitical developments, the psychocultural profile of Romanian society and the phenomenon of captive thinking are explored.
Thus, at the meeting of the participatory observation with the comprehensive reflection, the reflections of the participant observer were born, an observer always aware of the precarious condition of the prisoner of captive thinking.
Keywords: culture, geopolitics, captive thinking, Romanian society, involved observer
The communist regime collapsed in Romania, but our thinking seems to have sometimes remained captive to the myths and prejudices of the communist era.
At the same time, maintained by large sections of the population, the new syndrome of captive thinking poisons communication networks with its subcultural skids.
Of course, the reactions to the old and the new syndrome of captive thinking depend on each person’s life experience, cultural background and family environment, but in this complicated puzzle, there are always factors, variables and, above all, imponderables which human judgment is not always able to discern and evaluate them.
Perceived as a syndrome, captive thinking hides in us and among us, its symptoms betraying its presence in our limits and errors, in illusions and prejudices, gestures and preferences.
More current than ever, “Captive Thinking”, the book dedicated by Czesław Miłosz to the perversion of thinking under the dictatorship of the communist ideocracy deserves to be (re)read carefully even today.
Because some of the concepts in this paper are unfamiliar to a general public a special glossary is included. You’ll find it at the end before the references.
“Czesław Miłosz in Bucharest” or how an involved observer perceives the phenomenon of captive thinking
Invited by the distinguished professor Constantin Geambașu, the Romanian translater of “Captive Thinking”, I had the honor to give a speech at the International Colloquium dedicated to the centenary of the birth of the great Polish poet, prose writer, essayist.
The materials of this colloquium were published in 2012 by the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures in Bucharest and the Association of Slavists in Romania in the volume entitled, “Czesław Miłosz in Bucharest”, (Carpinschi, 2012, pp. 49-61).
In those sunny October days I had the opportunity to talk with renowned researchers of the life and work of Czesław Miłosz about the phenomenon of captive thinking in today’s world and, above all, about the experiences of each of us in its vicinity.
This all the more so that, the avatars of captive thinking transcend the age differences, gender, ethnicity, religios or race, and the symptoms of captive thinking appear in various forms, more serious or less serious, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes untimely, not only in non-democratic political regimes and conservative societies.
Reflecting on my own experiences in the difficult and frustrating circumstances of the captive thinking, my attention gradually shifted its center of interest from the theoretical and bookish research of the phenomenon of captive thinking to the exploration of its symptoms on a personal level and in the society to which I belong.
The decades lived under communism and after communism sum up numerous life experiences, but also the tribulations of thinking in a society with a composite psychocultural profile and a complicated history in an unfavorable geopolitical framework.
In front of the mind’s eye, all these are projected in a sequence of images that make up a narrative course sprinkled with numerous happenings and personal experiences.
I realized, thus, that the best position for researching the phenomenon of captive thinking is that of the involved observer, who can combine the observations of the objective researcher with the experiences of the participant.
Thinking about my own experiences in such difficult and frustrating circumstances I wondered how I refind myself — as an observer involved with a composite personal psycho-cultural profile (Polish-Catholic in paternal lineage, Greek-Orthodox in maternal lineage) — in the psycho-cultural matrix of the Romanian people in the midst of which I was born, grew up and I lived.
Far from solving the problems of this composite psycho-cultural identity, I believe that psychosociological researches and empirical observations of an honest and well-intentioned citizen reveal:
1) the emotional, educational, and moral links between the personal/family psycho-cultural profile and the national psycho-cultural profile;
2) the emotional, educational, and moral links between the surface psycho-cultural profile (how we are), the deep psycho-cultural profile (how we could be) and the institutional culture in which we formed and evolve (socio-institutional environment).
But in order to explore the symptoms of personal and collective thinking fallen over time into the captivity of errors and manipulations, I should resort to an exercise of bringing into the horizon of memories many scenes and events that happened long ago.
Just as in cinematography and television we can achieve the effect of proximity or distancing with the help of a tool called transfocator, in real life we can achieve the same effect of proximity or distancing through the variable focus of perception and attention.
I call the ability to variable focus of perception and attention, mental transfocating.
The transfocating effect facilitates the involved observer the transposition into various captive thinking manifestation situations.
Thus, the phenomenon of captive thinking can be personalized and felt through its symptoms. And that’s how it all started for me!
Doing the mental exercise of transfocating, of bringing memories from a distant past into the horizon of consciousness, many images from my childhood years under Soviet occupation began to cross my mind, because the terrible times of the Sovietization of Eastern Europe had begun to encompass these lands.
Terrible times had arrived over Romanian society …
Terrible times had arrived over Romanian society and the veil of captive thinking darkened the minds of many of us.
Fragments of memories flash before my mind’s eye: “Govorit Moskva !” (Speak Moscow !), the solemn announcement in Russian, several times a day, when the news bulletins from Radio Moscow were broadcast in Romanian; the atmosphere strongly charged with emotion against the grave background of symphonic music at the funeral of the supreme leader of the Soviet Union, Generalissimo Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin; the menacing raids of the militia in the bright light of the searchlights that furrowed the night sky on the Danube’s shore; the imposing image of the Soviet officer who together with his family was living on the street of my childhood; the acronyms TARS — the Romanian-Soviet Air Transport – written on the bus that regularly made the race between the city center and the airport and ARLUS, the Romanian Association for strengthening ties with the Soviet Union.
As for the news bulletins, the first information always were referring to the activity and important political meetings of the Soviet leaders, to the superiority of Soviet communism in relation to the decadence of American imperialism and the crisis of the capitalist countries, to the successes of the working people in the big factories and collective farms, to the achievements of science, art, sports in the Soviet Union.
I remember I was watching the films and reading the war novels in which the victories of the Red Army in the great war for the defense of the homeland were glorified.
I also remember “Tamara’s Station” lesson from the first grade Reading textbook. My colleagues and I couldn’t help but be impressed by the kindness of Comrade Stalin who, although so busy with state affairs, was reading late at night in his office in Kremlin the letter of little Tamara, a little girl about our age, who asked him to stop the train in her village to get to school more easily. Of course, my colleagues and I were overjoyed when, at the end of the reading, we found out that, thanks to the intervention of Comrade Stalin, the train now stops at Tamara station.
I also remember that at special communist education classes in the Pioneers organization, readings were organized from the works of the “classic” of Stalinist pedagogy, Anton Semyonovich Makarenko. Next, we watched propaganda films in which we saw Soviet youth re-educated in labor camps, lined up and enthusiastically singing hymns of praise to the great leader, Generalissimo Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin.
Thus, through repetition and stereotyping, the image of the Soviet man and his world, the best man in the best world of all worlds, began to take shape in our childish minds.
Educated according to the principles of Soviet pedagogy, we – the generations born immediately after the establishment of the communist regime in Romania – lived the innocence of childhood and the first years of school in the whirlwind of an ideologically-propagandistic directed cognitive war, with the objective of conquering and enslaving our minds in formation through specific means.
Impressed by the Pioneer ritual, in the piercing sound of trumpets and the rhythmic beating of drums, organized in ideological-political training camps, lined up to go to patriotic work, constantly monitored, we were thus deprived of free time for the formation of personality and the cultivation of the autonomous spirit.
Systematically applied, this political-pedagogical strategy of “brainwashing” in training had no other purpose, as I would realize later, than the ideologizing of the young generation, the atomization of the person into an amorphous mass of dogmatic executors of communist party policy.
But, I perceived the first signs of captive thinking towards the end of high school and the beginning of college, especially in the classes on Scientific Socialism, when I faced the fears and impotence of expressing my own opinions in public.
From the memories of a philosophy student during communism
My first physical encounter with captive thinking took place in the restrictive atmosphere of the scientific socialism course and seminars, where there prevailed citation and mechanical repetition of stereotyped phrases from party documents and the endless speeches of the general secretary.
I cannot forget the teacher’s surprise and concern when, in a seminar, I referenced the Western bibliography in the field of political science. The systemic analysis of political life in the vision of David Easton, the comparative politics configured by Gabriel Almond, the models of political communication and cyber control foreshadowed by Karl Deutsch, for example, were considered by some lecturers of the scientific socialism course as something strange and dangerous.
And yet, the countering of the Marxist-Leninist ideology, on a personal level, was possible through a critical examination favored in our faculty by the courses and seminars of formal logic and mathematical logic, epistemology and the history of philosophy.
Or, as a slightly older colleague from Constanța bitterly was joking — a former sailor who had made several cruises through Mediterranean ports — “at least we, after swallowing the expired cans of communist propaganda, can detoxify with a sip of the rum on which it says: Libertas philosophiae !”.
In this order of ideas, a significant episode from one of the scientific socialism seminars comes to mind. I still remember today the silence that fell in the seminar room when an older colleague asked if the withdrawal of Soviet troops from our country in 1958 was a reward given to the Romanian party and state leadership for their collaboration during the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution of 1956.
We looked down, the assistant appreciated the question as a challenge and a departure from the seminar topic. Obviously, at that time we did not have the correct and complete information about the Hungarian anti-communist revolution in the fall of 1956 and about the complicity of the Romanian political leadership in the arrest of the Hungarian reformist communist leader Imre Nagy, who would later be summarily tried in Budapest and executed.
I also had no way of knowing whether our older colleague’s question was spontaneous or, as the assistant believed, a challenge.
However, neither I, nor my colleagues subsequently heard that anything significant had happened concerning taking some disciplinary measures after the episode at the seminar. But I was left, again, with a bitter taste generated by the fear and mistrust that crept into my soul through the courses and texts strongly ideologized by scientific socialism.
What could we be feeling, for example, reading the first lines of the Preface of the book entitled, “Materialism and Empiriocriticism? Critical notes on a reactionary philosophy”?
“‘Materialism and empiriocriticism’ is the main philosophical work of V. I. Lenin. Its historical significance lies in the fact that in its content V. I. Lenin further developed Marxist philosophy, answered the fundamental philosophical problems facing the party at that time, and philosophically generalized the new conquests of the natural sciences.
In this work, Lenin subjected reactionary bourgeois idealist philosophy and philosophical revisionism to a comprehensive critique.
The work ‘Materialism and Empiriocriticism’ is a model of Bolshevik partisanship in the fight against the enemies of Marxism, a fight in which revolutionary passion organically combines with scientific rigor.
Creatively developing the teaching of K. Marx and F. Engels, V. I. Lenin elaborated in all aspects, according to the new historical conditions, all the constituent parts of Marxism, including dialectical and historical materialism.
Every work of Lenin, even if it is not devoted to strictly philosophical problems, represents a model of applying the materialist dialectic — the most profound and multilateral theory of development — to the analysis of the historical situation and the economic and political phenomena of social life” (Lenin, 1963, p. VII).
Mechanically repeated in the courses of Marxist philosophy and scientific socialism, formulations like the above were unable to provide an understanding of the world from the perspective of personal reflexive experience.
Received as a given, something that had to be taken up and repeated as such, the Marxist-Leninist ‘catechism’ could not make us relive the reflexive experience of the researcher in the act of thinking.
Piled in dogmatic texts permeated by a strong cult of personality and a virulent anti-democratic and anti-Western message, the courses on scientific socialism had no way of encouraging critical exegesis, nor reflexive experiences within the horizon of self-awareness.
Worse, forced to mechanically reproduce such stereotyped formulations and postcard clichés, a good part of the students, and not only from philosophy, but also from other faculties, as well as numerous party members and trade unionists regimented in the system of ideological education, risked becoming passive listeners and docile performers, or often duplicitous and opportunistic characters.
Subjected to such rigors of forced ideologization, some of the philosophy students were looking for ways out. But how to get out of the dogmatic captivity of the Marxist-Leninist propagandistic discourse?
Some of us sought little refuges in less ideologically controllable cultural spaces: the history of philosophy, logic and epistemology, and psychology.
Fortunately, I had the chance to listen at the University of Iași a few professors trained during the interwar period.
I cannot forget the elegance and sophistication of Professor Ernest Stere’s lectures in the History of Ancient Philosophy course, the depth and clarity of Professor Petre Botezatu’s presentations in the Logic course, or the moving forays into great literature by Professor Vasile Pavelcu in the Psychology course.
Survivors of the communist terror, these were the teachers who, for me and some of my colleagues, opened our horizons of philosophy, taught us the principles of logic and correct thinking, familiarized us with the universe of foreign languages, guided us to the professional realms I aspired to.
But above all, they taught us to value the value of dialogue in the flow of free and critical thought.
To all this something important should be added. The reintroduction of sociology, against the background of a relative and brief ideological relaxation initiated for tactical-pragmatic reasons by the communist party, opened to students from the universities of Bucharest, Iași and Cluj in the second half of the 1960s a theoretical possibility of countering the Marxist-Leninist ideology.
“An oxygen balloon”! The reintroduction of sociology in communist Romanian universities.
After two decades since its brutal elimination from university programs, sociology — decreed along with cybernetics and genetics during the Stalinist period as “reactionary bourgeois pseudoscience”–, was returning to Romanian universities.
The tradition of sociological education at the University of Iasi was an illustrious one. Starting from 1897, the year of the first sociology course taught by Professor Constantin Leonardescu, prominent personalities of Romanian culture had followed each other here: Dimitrie Gusti, Petre Andrei, Ștefan Zeletin, Alexandru Claudian. Our expectations as philosophy students were high. After the mainly ideological courses on scientific socialism we were curious and impatient to hear a course on sociology. The idea was forming in our minds that such a course should open up a new perspective on social life. In the meantime, we found out that the lectures of the General Sociology course would be given by Professor Iosif Natansohn.
And here, the long-awaited day of the first lecture has arrived. In the amphitheater where we were going to listen to the General Sociology course, a distinguished gentleman appeared, small in stature, with glasses and a beard. It was Professor Iosif Natansohn.
He began to speak to us in a low tone that gradually grew stronger and more passionate about the constitution and evolution of sociology as a science; the object and method of sociology in relation to philosophy, psychology, history, ethnology, anthropology; the development of sociology in the context of the capitalist modernization of Romania.
At the same time, we were beginning to familiarize ourselves with the names of great personalities of sociology, from A. Comte, E. Durkheim, M. Mauss, M. Weber, G. Simmel to H. Spencer, G. H. Mead, T. Parsons or R. Merton.
I was hearing for the first time, then, a discourse on social thinking that was different from the canonical, declarative and repetitive verbiage we were used to. I listened more and more enthralled to the inaugural lecture, aware of Professor Natansohn’s effort to familiarize us with the distinction between partisan-ideological discourse and objective-scientific endeavor. I realized then that we live in an important moment: the reappearance of sociology in the Romanian university environment as a chance to the emancipation of social thinking from the dogmatic captivity of scientific socialism.
Later, during the semester, Professor Natansohn introduced us to the mysteries of social reality by talking about the specifics, criteria and signs of the social; the social fact; forms of sociability; status, role and social integration; social structures and stratifications; classes and social groups.
To all these were added lectures on social morphology, urban-rural geographic sociology, social demography, sociology of underdeveloped regions, politics in social life, typology of political regimes, sociology of human action, the system of social controls, culture and civilization.
Thus, at the end of the semester, I realized that Professor Iosif Natansohn was teaching us to direct our attention to the research of the social universe with the help of a new conceptual apparatus for us, but so operational and efficient. He also taught us to see society differently than through the prism of the theses and slogans of the Marxist-Leninist ideology and, moreover, to relate to social reality through the free act of critical and constructive thinking.
I also auditioned for another course by Professor Natansohn which — at the time I had no way of knowing — was going to prepare me for my future specialization. It is about the history of political doctrines.
In that course, I approached some of the classical works of ancient and modern political philosophy, from Plato and Aristotle through Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Burke and Constant.
I was then concerned with several major themes: the human condition and the constitution of the polis; the mixed constitution as a synthesis of monarchy (consulate), aristocracy (senate), democracy (people’s assembly/vox populi) in the age of the Republic in ancient Rome; the cyclical theory of political evolution (anacyclosis); freedom, equality and social justice; political order and the meaning of history, etc.
In these formative circumstances, my choice to make a bachelor’s thesis in the field of political philosophy was not at all accidental. Thus, under the guidance of Professor Iosif Natansohn, I developed a work on Polybios, a political philosopher and after a few more years, at the meeting of the paradigm of functionalist structuralism with the informational-cybernetic dynamics of political systems, I completed a doctoral thesis focused on the topic of sociology and political leadership.
After the passage of so many years, I remember with emotion that period of postgraduate specialization. Consistent, open, intellectually and humanly engaging, the conversations with the professor and the man Iosif Natansohn proved to be of great help throughout my professional development before and after the fall of the communist regime.
But, then when I think about the intellectual legacy that Professor Iosif Natansohn left us, I mean that controversial book, meaningfully titled, “The Sociology in Impasse ?” (Natasohn, 1972).
Densely, written in the first person in a conversational, sometimes polemical tone, this book is a testimony of the searches of a democratic intellectual who lived the experience of the horrors of the dictatorship, and not only the communist dictatorship, but also the fascist dictatorship of the national legionary state (1940 – 1941), followed by the military dictatorship of General Ion Antonescu (1941-1944). I remember that, from the first reading,
I was struck by the title. The query in the title regarding the situation of sociology, a science with such a problematic and tumultuous destiny in the communist regime, led me to think, even then, of a charade with a subliminal message.
What can you think, basically, when from the first lines of the Preface, we read the following: “If decades ago the sociological book was a rare event in vast regions of the globe, today its presence is as natural as possible on all meridians and at all parallels.
The word ‘magic’ of sociology is often associated with other words in various combinations, in the form of a noun and an adjective, enriching the dictionaries and ‘level’ discussions.
Let’s take for example the word contestation. By association with sociology, either a sociology of contestation, or a contestatory sociology, or a sociological contestation, or finally, even the contestation of sociology, can appear.
Such combinations may not impress those who hear them for the first time, but we are sure that the sociology of error, the sociology of failure, the sociology of deviance, or the sociology of imposture shocked and scandalized those who heard them for the first time.
A similar reaction caused the title of this attempt !” (Ibidem, p. 5). Indeed, only one year after the publication of the July Theses — the document of the Executive Committee of the Romanian Communist Party through which Nicolae Ceaușescu launched the 17 “proposals for measures to improve the political-ideological activity, Marxist-Leninist education of party members, of all working people” — the appearance of a book interrogatively titled, “The Sociology in Impasse ?” could shock and scandalize.
Maoist in orientation, the Theses of July (1971) marked the end of the short and relative ideological relaxation initiated by the Declaration of April (1964) of the Central Committee of the Romanian Workers’ Party and, at the same time, the beginning of the harsh attack against cultural autonomy by returning to the restrictions of socialist realism.
This was the beginning of the mini-cultural revolution in communist Romania that would culminate in the dictate of ideology in the social and human sciences, respectively, the abolition in 1977 of the sociology departments at the Universities of Bucharest, Iași and Cluj that had been established only a few years before.
Professional and aesthetic competence were to be replaced by ideological restrictions, professionals were to be replaced by activists and agitators, and culture was again to become a tool of political propaganda.
When, in these ideological-political circumstances, Professor Iosif Natansohn combined the words sociology and contestation, enumerating in a dizzying sequence a series of emergencies such as sociology of contestation, contestatory sociology, sociological contestation, sociology contestation, alongside the sociology of error, the sociology of failure, the sociology of deviance, the sociology of imposture, he knew very well what was at stake in what he said.
The conflict between the researcher’s objectivity and the ideological partiality imposed by the propaganda and repression of the dictatorial regime fed the drama of thinking in the fight against his own captivity not only in the case of Professor Natansohn, but also in the case of other honest representatives of social thinking from all totalitarian regimes.
This was the “drama of sociology” experienced by the generation of our teachers, our generation and that of our students.
For me, half a century ago and today, Professor Natansohn’s attitude was a calculated one, precisely because the critical, contesting potential of sociology had been announced. On the horizon of a sociology of contestation, the imminent interventions of the sociology of error, the sociology of failure, the sociology of deviance, the sociology of imposture were already visible.
Against the background of the dysfunctions of the dictatorial regime and the social crisis of communism that we were witnessing, the bomb of contestation had already been detonated. And, as if to confirm the impact of the sociology of contestation, Professor Iosif Natansohn made the gesture of publicly contesting Ceausist national communism when he chose, together with his distinguished family, freedom of thinking and expression in other lands. As for me, I stayed here continuing my journey on the never-ending path of clearing my thinking.
Captive Thinking is not only a book, “captive thinking” is a metaphor-warning!
In the mid-1970s, the philosophy and sociology departments of the University of Iași benefited from the visit of Professor Jean-William Lapierre, a renowned researcher in the field of political philosophy and sociology of power.
Distinguished intellectual, progressive spirit, the French professor then had the generosity to share with us his rich professional and life experience. Of course, we were impressed by his erudite and profound lectures on the systemic analysis of political life, the subtle dynamics of pre-state forms of power and social innovation in the tribal communities of the Nile Valley, or the maladies and contractions of Western democracies.
Among the works of the French professor, I was familiar with “L’analyse des systèmes politiques”, which I had used in the elaboration of my doctoral thesis. But, more important is the fact that in several private meetings, in addition to the invaluable suggestions regarding my doctoral thesis, Professor Jean-William Lapierre — the combatant in the anti-Nazi Resistance, the personality invested with responsibilities in the democratic construction of the Fifth French Republic — talked about civic resistance during the dictatorship.
As a “case study”, Professor Lapierre presented Czesław Miłosz, the dissident Polish writer who had published in the early 1950s at the Parisian publishing house Gallimard a book with a title as attractive as it was strange: “La pensée captive. Essai sur les logocraties populaires”.
Professor Lapierre’s words sounded, then, somehow from a distance and yet close to a young Ph.D. student living in the communist age of the captive mind. In fact, the name of Czesław Miłosz would be known in Romania only after receiving the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980.
A disturbing testimony of an intellectual who, trying to defend his moral identity, refuses to abdicate and serve the “New Faith” coming from Moscow, “The Captive Thinking” is also a superb lesson in awareness and decoding of the mechanisms of capturing thinking and “enslavement of the intellect”.
Appreciated by Karl Jaspers in the Preface to the original edition as “a document and at the same time a first-rate interpretation”, proving “a sense of justice refusing any alibi”, Captive Thinking appeared to the German philosopher as the authentic revelation of the Polish variant of enslavement of the spirit through the instruments of communist totalitarianism and, at the same time, a warning to the sophistry and subterfuges of thinking that has abandoned its moral condition. (Jaspers / Miłosz, 1953/1988, p. 9, p. 13).
However, I realized since then that the Polish writer’s essay, rich in reflections and autobiographical references, should be seen not only as a superb lesson in awareness and decoding of the mechanisms of domination and insecurity, disinformation and manipulation from the period of Stalinist communism.
Moreover, “The Captive Thinking” is not only a book! “Captive thinking” is a metaphor-warning, and “beyond the captive thinking” a call to all those who, feeling the gravity of this phenomenon, realize the risks of (in)voluntary enslavement and the increase of (inter)personal insecurity.
The testimonies of intellectuals who were once captivated by the idealized and anti-plutocratic message of a romantic and cosmopolitan political left but who, disappointed by the distortion of principles and moral values during the Stalinist dictatorship, had the courage to publicly recognize their own mistakes and disillusionments began to become then, in the early 1970s, a theme familiar to some of us.
The political adventure of intellectuals, artists, poets, and musicians, sincere and valuable, well-intentioned, but often naive, captivated by deceptive and insecure ideological-political myths was painfully felt in the souls of some of us.
The confession of Czesław Miłosz was included — along with those of André Gide, Leszek Kołakovski, Arthur Koestler, or the Romanian Panait Istrate — in the spiritual family of those idealists who, sympathizing or adhering to an ideal of justice in their youth, experienced the disappointment caused of the distortion of principles and moral values through Stalinist ideological and propagandistic manipulation.
Under these circumstances, the theme of captive thinking accompanied me for a long time, shaping the leitmotif of my thoughts during the late communism era and long after.
Not coincidentally, many years later, in a probably too optimistic essay titled, Emancipation of “captive thinking” or the exit from totalitarianism, I wrote the following: “Czesław Miłosz opted. After delusions and hesitations, at the beginning of the consolidation of communism in his country, when the communist realities brutally belied their own values and principles, Miłosz chose freedom. He self-analyzed the meanderings of his thinking, with exemplary intellectual and moral power he publicly confessed his mistake and thus saved his soul” (Carpinschi, 1995, p. 131).
More sad and burdensome seems to me, however, the fate of those who, indoctrinated in the spirit of Marxist ideology but cultivated, at the same time, at the great sources of universal thinking, aware of the aberrations of communism, we did not have the courage and strength to publicly denouncing the errors and horrors of communism thus freeing our souls from the burden of cowardice. The numerous paths of individual evolutions, from duplicity more or less guilty to marginalization more or less assumed, only certify, once more, the precarious condition of the prisoner of captive thinking.
The communist regime has collapsed for over three decades in Romania, but we are witnessing the persistence of some symptoms of captive thinking with ideological roots and stereotypes coming from communism and, at the same time, we are witnessing what I would call the new syndrome of the captive thinking.
We experience the feeling that history is repeating itself and that certain customs, preoccupations and habits reminiscent of communist-era practices persist, more or less disguised, in the language and behavior of some of us today.
At the same time, maintained in broad categories of the population, the new syndrome of the captive thinking extends beyond the natural limits of each of us to the subcultural slippages of some social communication networks.
Felt as a syndrome, captive thinking lurks within us and among us, its individual and collective symptoms accompanying us from youth to old age in various guises and tendencies. This is, in fact, the permanent warning of the concept-metaphor “captive thinking”!
Since we are talking about a permanent warning, a series of questions return to my mind: how does the phenomenon of captive thinking manifest itself in the Romanian sociocultural environment? What links exist between geopolitical developments, the Romanian sociocultural environment and the phenomenon of captive thinking?
But, above all, how do I, as an involved observer, perceive the tribulations of my own thinking and the psycho-cultural profile of my compatriots against the historical background of the geopolitical transformations in the Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic space?
In these circumstances, from the need to protect myself from the propaganda bombardment, the avalanche of fake news and my own mistakes and naiveties, I felt the need to activate the sensors of critical thinking and intuitive perception, but also that one to turn to the psycho-sociological research.
The verification of personal experiences lived throughout life in Romanian society with the help of psycho-socio-cognitive intercultural research could prove a way forward because the psychological traits of individuals and communities can be refound in their socio-cultural environment, i.e. in language, values, ideas, norms, institutions, beliefs, customs, thus configuring the psycho-cultural profile of the society. At the same time, a series of features of the psycho-cultural profile of a society can be refound in the psychological features of its individuals and collectivities.
The drama of captive thinking and the Carpatho-Danubian-Pontic space. A historical-geopolitical sketch.
The following historical-geopolitical sketch could be configured in the mental horizon of an observer involved in today’s Romania. The late appearance, only in the middle of the 14th century, of the first state formations in the Carpatho-Danubian-Pontic space put these small and fragile political formations led by the voivodes or the reigns in a situation of confrontation with the stronger medieval monarchies from Hungary and Poland that appeared hundreds of years ago before.
These historical-geopolitical circumstances explain the fall over the following centuries of the newly established medieval states of Moldova and Wallachia (Muntenia) under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, the entry of Transylvania under the occupation and administration of the Austrian Empire and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the occupation by the Russian Empire of Modova beyond the Prut.
As a consequence, the multi-secular absence in the Carpatho-Danubian-Pontic space of a consolidated and unitary medieval state led to the late coagulation of the modern Romanian national state (1859/1918) and to a modest industrial-technological and economic development of Romanian society.
Despite social disparities, corruption, and the petty politics of private and group interests, the state consolidation and relative economic progress of the 1880s–1914 (la Belle Époque) and the short interwar period (1918–1939) are probably the most successful periods in modern Romania.
And because the Romanians of the interwar era began to dream too beautifully after the disaster caused by the Second World War terrible other waves in a sinister succession followed: the Soviet occupation and the communist dictatorship for almost half a century; the difficult and confusing post-communist transition; finally, the institutionally fragile and behaviorally ambiguous democracy over which the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and the Russian-Ukrainian war in Romania’s immediate neighborhood have overlapped.
Unfolded at high speed, this historical course shows us that the unfavorable geopolitical developments in the Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic space favored the historical delay, the composite and vulnerable psycho-cultural profile of the population, the permanent deficit of institutional culture and, implicitly, the phenomenon of captive thinking in modern Romanian society.
The contemplation of this historical-geopolitical sketch leads me to the following observations:
1) Placed geopolitically at the crossroads of the winds, the Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic space is the matrix of some contradictory sociocultural processes: Romanian language, the folklore and modern culture, on the one hand, the deficit of institutional culture and the phenomenon of captive thinking, on the other.
2) At the same time, the Carpatho-Danubian-Pontic space has been a ground for fertile ethnocultural encounters. Craftsmen, merchants, scholars German, Austrians, Hungarians, Italians, Poles, Ukrainians, Turks, Tatars, Jews, Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians, and Macedonians contributed throughout history to the organization and enrichment of the sociocultural life of the native Romanian population. Unfortunately, the communist regime and the last decades of socioeconomic stagnation have led to a massive decrease of the Romanian population and all cohabiting ethnic groups (Ghețău, Contributors.ro 04/03/2023).
3) Felt today through a number of characteristic features — the illusion of sovereignty in a world of increasing global interdependencies; the propaganda of extremist and xenophobic nationalism actually serving foreign interests to one’s own nation; the temptation of conspiracy thinking and forced scenarios; vulnerability to fake news, etc. — the phenomenon of captive thinking on an individual and collective level is the result of historical delay, deficit of institutional culture, depopulation through emigration, reduction of intercultural contributions in the current Romanian society.
The diversity of manifestations of captive thinking reveals the harmful impact of this phenomenon on the cultural-institutional environment in Romania.
A closer look at the transition from the belief in the Marxist-Leninist utopia, more or less rigged during communism, to the routine of indifference, incompetence and disengagement today shows us that the phenomenon of captive thinking occurred against the psycho-cultural background of Romanian society dominated by generalized mistrust, the lack of tolerance and cooperation.
Referring in a cognitive-experimental monograph to the psychology of Romanians, Professor Daniel David pointed out in this vein: “I think that the psycho-cultural profile of Romanians is dominated by mistrust of people, which makes us less tolerant and cooperative with others for the common good (our cooperation is mostly one of survival, not success). The lack of cooperation does not allow us to use our intellectual and creative potential, which generates performances below its level. This leads to the exaggeration of the positive (…) as well as the exaggeration of the negative (…). Probably this psycho-cultural profile was born against the backdrop of chronic insecurity/insecurity throughout history” (David, 2015, p. 319). Coming from the depths of the ethnogenesis of the Romanian people, mistrust and duplicity have left deep traces in the psycho-cultural profile of the current population of Romania.
In fact, a similar conclusion was reached through research carried out in the years 2001-2002 by specialists from the Universities of Bucharest, Iași and Cluj under the coordination of professor Adrian-Paul Iliescu.
Verified through field research and case studies, the project’s hypothesis supported the following: “Romania’s main handicap is not technological or cognitive backwardness, but institutional backwardness (…). Compared to other post-communist societies, Romania has a tradition of institutional ineffectiveness and institutional retarde. The local political culture is in many aspects unfavorable to the institutional solution of problems (it encourages personalized solutions, the recourse to deviant solutions, short-circuiting institutional routes, etc.). The resulting social context is, paradoxically, favorable to the perpetuation of behavioral deviance (…). Institutional backwardness encourages conic mindset deficiencies, and mindset deficiencies exacerbate institutional dysfunctions” (Iliescu, 2002, p. 7).
We move, therefore, in a vicious circle with deep geopolitical and ethnocultural roots and haunting historical reverberations. The fact that for over a century and a half we, as a people of modern Romania, have not been able to capitalize on the potential of the deep psychological profile – although the intellectual potential of the Romanians is at the level of any developed people in the Western World – remains a challenge not honored by the policies of the Romanian socio-institutional environment and after the fall of the communist regime. But why does the socio-institutional environment fail to value the deep psycho-cultural profile of Romanians?
Why does politics fail to value the psycho-cultural fund of Romanians?
To answer this question, I should outline a mental image as truthful as possible of the psycho-cultural profile of Romanians and to understand why the socio-institutional environment has so far failed to put value on the deep psycho-cultural profile of the Romanian population.
Using a globally representative database and well-calibrated samples on countries and national cultures, Geert Hofstede has identified with the help of statistical techniques and factor analysis a set of referential value dimensions that allowed understanding cultural diversity and performing the optimization of cultural management in a number of states, companies, organizations and international institutions.
According to this research framework, we can say that the Romanian population is characterized by a high score on the indicator Power distance. This means that, in the absence of a developed civic sense and an organized civil society, the Romanian population is inclined towards centralization of power, acceptance of inequities and preference for populist autocrats apparently benevolent. We live in a society that favors the concentration of power and the (re)allocation of resources through informal, unprincipled relationships and not through the functional distribution and territorial decentralization of the institutions of political power and administration; a society that does not encourage the control of social behavior by meritorious awarding of rewards; a society in which the unwritten rules of the group are more important than the laws and legal norms of society; a society with a high degree of gender and age discrimination, with prejudices and bad treatments of the elderly and women. In such a type of society, with a deep level of collectivism, autonomous and creative individual initiatives are perceived rather as a threat to collective peace and security. In terms of avoiding uncertainties, the Romanian population presents a high level of avoidance of changes perceived most often not as opportunities for development, but as uncertainties full of dangers.
Capitalizing on the contributions of Geert Hofstede and his collaborators, Professor Huib Wursten proposed, in turn, the model of the 7 mental images of national culture, perceived as a guide to leadership and management in a globalized world. This model shows that a comprehensive and meaningful understanding of national cultures cannot be achieved simply by comparing the six cultural dimensions separately, country by country. “Whole is more than the sum of parts !”, the Dutch teacher reminds us. A comprehensive understanding of one national culture or another can be achieved by grouping countries based on the combination of their value-quantified cultural dimensions. Combining the cultural dimensions of Power Distance (PDI), Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV), Masculinity versus Femininity, (MAS), and Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI), Huib Wursten identified 7 groups of behavioral patterns that he called “7 mental images” because each group provides a “picture” of how organizational modes that polarize nation building appear in people’s minds.
Each mental image represents a group of countries that have certain common characteristics by which people manage their actions in their cultural environment. Leadership and decision-making, meeting behavior, delegation patterns, control, conflict resolution, etc. it is among the characteristic features that allow the 7 different modes of political behavior to be outlined. Briefly described, they are as follows:
”1) Contest (‘winner takes all’). Competitive cultures with a small Power Distance (PDI), high Individualism (IDV), high Masculinity (MAS), and fairly weak Uncertainty Avoidance. Examples include Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US;
2) Network (consensus). Highly Individualist (IDV) and feminine cultures with a small Power Distance (PDI), where everyone is involved in the decision-making process. Examples are Scandinavia and the Netherlands;
3) Well-Oiled Machine (order). Individualistic societies with a small Power Distance (PDI) and strong Uncertainty Avoidance have carefully balanced procedures and rules, but not much hierarchy. Examples are Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary and German-speaking Switzerland;
4) Pyramid (loyalty, hierarchy, and implicit order) Collectivist (low IDV) cultures with a large Power Distance (PDI) and strong Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI). Examples are Brazil, Colombia, Greece, Portugal, Arabian countries, Russia, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand:
5) Solar System(hierarchy and standardized job descriptions). This culture cluster is like the Pyramid, but more individualistic (IDV). Examples are Belgium, France, Northern Italy, Spain and French-speaking Switzerland;
6) Family (loyalty and hierarchy). Collectivist (low IDV) cultures with a large Power Distance (PDI), where we can observe powerful in-groups and paternalistic leaders. Examples are China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore;
7) Japan, the Seventh Mental Image (dynamic equilibrium). Japan is the only country in this ‘cluster’ due to the unique combination of dimensions not found in any of the before mentioned Six Mental Images. Japan has a mid-Power Distance (PDI), a mid-Individualism (IDV), a very strong Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) and a high Masculinity (MAS) score” (Wursten, 2019, p. 24).
Referring now to the application of the model of the seven mental images in the case of Romania, I would say that, with a low level at a series of indices such as – distance from power, individual autonomy, pragmatic confrontation of uncertainty, functional distribution of power, meritorious awarding of rewards – the psycho-cultural profile of Romanian society could be configured in the mental image of a bureaucratic pyramid in an insufficiently developed society.
It is particularly serious that some negative features of the psycho-cultural profile, including the phenomenon of captive thinking, maintain numerous dysfunctions in the cultural-institutional environment, thus diminishing the chances of capitalizing on the intellectual potential of the Romanian people.
The deep psycho-cultural profile and the intellectual potential of the Romanian people remain, to a large extent, insufficiently exploited due to the harmful impact of captive thinking on the cultural-institutional environment in legislative, organizational, administrative, and educational terms.
More precisely, the harmful impact of the phenomenon of captive thinking is manifested by the increased share of counterselection of cadres and low professional expertise at all levels of the political system — parliamentary, governmental, central administrative and local — and, implicitly, in many sectors of social life.
The overlap and accumulation of these factors over such a long period have left deep traces not only in the behavior of people over generations but also in the functioning of society and institutions. Pretending to be something else or presenting yourself as someone else than you really are, claiming non-existent merits, and hiding or embellishing your political past, for example, that of communist servitude, marks many personal destinies and political careers in post-communist Romania.
Driven by duplicitous behavior, numerous deputies, senators, mayors, county, municipal and communal councilors switched over the last thirty years to all parties, whether they were crypto-communist, pseudo-socialist, nationalist-populist, vaguely liberal or allegedly ecological.
In these circumstances, ideological-political affiliation has become today only a false label, obviously duplicitous. Hence, the low trust in people and institutions, the deficiencies of cooperation for the common benefit and in civic solidarity, the tendency to distort reality by exaggerating the positive features (the high emotionality typical of the superiority complex), but also the negative features (the skepticism and cynicism typical of the inferiority complex).
In our daily discourse, we often oscillate from displaying an exaggerated national pride (Romanian protochronism, an expression of a superiority complex) to attributing all the faults of Romanians (the inferiority complex). Moreover, I could say that displaying a superiority complex is the reverse expression of an inferiority complex. How could we get out of this vicious circle of inferiority complexes transformed into superiority complexes?
Instead of conclusions:
We live in a world of copy-paste and generalized propagandistic spectacle. In order to get out of the vicious circle of captive thinking and institutional backwardness, a guiding rule would be, let’s not mechanically copy cultural forms from outside. “Thinking that you can transfer best practices from one culture to another culture blindly is naive, Huib Wursten warned us. Forcing people to do things against the basic values of their culture is counterproductive” (Wursten, 2019, p. 79).
“Bottomless forms” are an old disease of Romanian society, so drilling into the deep layers of its psycho-cultural profile remains the way to discover and capitalize on its cultural identity. But to succeed in such an enterprise, we should first turn to identifying the faces and exploring the symptoms of captive thinking in the spectacle society of which we ourselves are consumers. Passers-by hurrying through life, do we still have the time to reflect on the phenomenon of captive thinking in its various manifestations?
And if we allow ourselves this respite, how could we transform the phenomenon of captive thinking perceived as information about certain cognitive, emotional, and volitional dysfunctions at an individual or collective level, into a syndrome felt through its symptoms as a traumatic personal experience? More precisely, how did the phenomenon of captive thinking that I began to be aware of during my high school and student years become internalized into a frustrating personal syndrome, aggravated by the lack of courage to counter him publicly during the communist dictatorship? Here are some questions that will guide my next steps on the never-ending path of clearing my mind.
– Anacyclosis /Ανακύκλωση (gr)/ Recycling (en). The social cycle theories are among the earliest theories in philosophy of history and political philosophy. Unlike the theory of social evolutionism, which views the evolution of society and human history as progressing in some new, unique direction(s), the social cycle theory argues that events and stages of society and history generally repeat themselves in cycles.
– Captive thinking. The thinking caught in the captivity of errors, prejudices, ideological propaganda. Concept-metaphor inspired by the title of the book-manifesto of the famous Polish anti-communist writer Czesław Miłosz, laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1980).
– Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic space. The space between the Carpathian Mountains, the Danube River and the Black Sea (Pontus Euxinus) where the Romanian people live.
– Ceausist national communism. Communist, nationalist, xenophobic ideological current and political practice promoted in Romania by the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu between 1965 and 1989.
– Contestatory sociology. Sociological current inspired by the Western New Left in the 1960s, 1970s against the background of criticism of the Vietnam War and the capitalist Establishment. The Western New Left was received with mistrust and hostility by the nationalist communist authorities in Ceausist Romania.
– Materialism and Empiriocriticism is a polemical work by Vladimir Lenin in which he criticizes Empiriocriticism as an idealistic philosophy of knowledge. Materialism and Empiriocriticism is a seminal work of dialectical materialism, a part of the curriculum called “Marxist–Leninist Philosophy”. It was an obligatory subject of study in all institutions of higher education in the Soviet Union, and communist satellite countries. Materialism is the philosophy that matter is all that exists. It is a branch of naturalism that denies the existence of spiritual and supernatural entities. Lenin thinks that human perceptions correctly and accurately reflect an objective external world. That is why he considers the theory of materialism to be a theory that reflects reality as such, reality understood as objective, material.
– Historical materialism is the materialist-dialectical conception on society and the general laws of historical evolution elaborated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The fundamental problem of Marxist philosophy, the relationship between existence and consciousness, takes on within historical materialism the particular form of the relationship between social existence and social consciousness . “It is not the consciousness of people that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness” is the fundamental thesis of historical materialism. According to historical materialism, the determining aspect of social life is the mode of production of material goods. The forces of production and the relations of production make up together the mode of production which determine the processes of social, political and spiritual life. The system of production relations constitutes the economic structure, the basis of a determined society, on which rises a corresponding legal and political superstructure and to which certain forms of social consciousness correspond. This allowed the presentation of the evolution of society as a “natural-historical” process, i.e. governed, like nature, by-laws without the knowledge of which there can be no question of any social science. The historical process is the succession of social formations, the replacement of an inferior formation with another superior one, determined by the internal dialectic of the mode of production and of the entire socio-economic formation. With the change of the economic base, the change of the entire superstructure occurs, more or less quickly. Concluding, historical materialism is the Marxist theory and method for studying the process of emergence, development and decline of socio-economic formations. Showing the objective nature of the structure of society and its dynamics, historical materialism constitutes, together with dialectical materialism, the theoretical foundation of scientific socialism.
– Historical “retarde” with the meaning of “historical delay”
– Institutional “retarde” with the meaning of “institutional delay”
– Protochronism. Current of ideas, opposed to synchronism, which often asserts, unjustifiably, the Romanian anticipation of some universal artistic and scientific creations. It was promoted, mainly, during the period of Ceausist nationalism (1965-1989), but also in the following period by xenophobic extremist nationalist parties (Greater Romania is one of them).
– Reflexive experiences. Experiencing states of self-reflexive thought. A method specific to the phenomenology of self-consciousness (Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty etc).
– Scientific Socialism is, along with dialectical materialism and historical materialism, one of the three constitutive parts of Marxism. Self-titled scientific, socialism is the social-political theory (doctrine) concerning the structure and dynamics of the processes of transition from the capitalist system to the communist system by applying the “general laws of the revolution and the construction of socialism” and of the principles of the organization and management of the socialist society. The strategy and tactics of the revolutionary struggle of the working class, the political ideology of the working class, the science of socialist construction are based on them. According to the followers of scientific socialism, a decisive role in the transformation of socialism from utopia to science was played by the creation of historical materialism. The union of scientific socialism with the labor movement led to the transformation of the working class into a conscious revolutionary class led by the Communist Party, a vanguard political party.
– Transfocating, the action of transfocating. (Zoom, the act of zooming). Used metaphorically in this essay, the term “mental transfocating” refers to the variable focus of perception and attention.
– Transfocating tool or transfocator. A lens with continuously variable focal length, used in cinematography or television to achieve the effect of quickly moving closer or further away from the subject.
– Carpinschi, A. (1995). Deschidere și sens în gândirea politică (Openness and meaning in political thinking). Iași: European Institute Publishing House. p. 131.
– Carpinschi, A. (2012). „Mintea captivă” și failibilitatea umană (”Captive mind” and human fallibility in the volume: Czesław Miłosz la București (Czesław Miłosz in Bucharest). Publishing House of the University of Bucharest. pp. 49-61.
– David, D. (2015). Psihologia poporului român. Profilul psihologic al românilor întro monografie cognitiv-experimentală (The psychology of the Romanian people. The psychological profile of Romanians in a cognitive-experimental monograph). Iași: Polirom.
– Ghețău, V. (2023). Ultimele rezultate provizorii ale recensământului. Structura etnică a populației (Latest provisional census results. The ethnic structure of the population). Contributors.ro 04/03/2023.
– Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture′s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations. 2 nd Edition. Sage Publications.
– Hofstede, G, Hofstede, G.J., Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations. Software of the Mind. Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival. 3 rd Edition.Mc Graw Hill.
– Iliescu, A.-P. (coord., 2002). Mentalități și instituții. Carențe de mentalitate și înapoiere instituțională în România modernă. (Mentalities and Institutions. Deficiencies of mentality and institutional backwardness in modern Romania). București. Ars Docendi Publishing House.
– Lenin, V. I. (1963). Materialism și empiriocriticism. Însemnări critice despre o filozofie reacționară(Materialism and empiriocriticism. Critical Notes on a Reactionar. Philosophy). In Lenin, Opere Complete (Complete works), vol.18. Bucharest: Political Publishing House, p. VII.