Politicians from the local and national level are all wading into the argument, with local level politicians developing policy for their local communities that they think will help alleviate the problem while some national politicians have been getting media attention through making reactionary comments.
From an outsiders perspective these reactions seem to lack the degree of thoughtfulness associated with how Norway usually considers issues.
There are some who do not support begging and do not give money to beggars. This is not because they are from a certain ethnicity but rather because they are begging and it is 21st century Norway.
Due to exclusion, poverty, intransience, patriarchy and contempt rather than as a cultural practice
This is 2012 and society still accepts begging as an acceptable form of expression. WHY? It seems like ‘societal racism’ that certain people are accepted as beggars. It is as if they are not good enough to have any other expectation placed upon them. Because of expectations people have of the beggar and who they are, society accepts this behavior giving the impression of compliance. This is part of ‘Labelling’ as discussed by sociologists Rob White & Fiona Haines in ‘Crime & Criminology’ (2005), which in simplistic terms says that once society stigmatizes certain people they start to then believe it, act it out, justify it and make it their own. Maybe, instead of accepting this in Norway, begging could be challenged as behavior brought about due to exclusion, poverty, intransience, patriarchy and contempt rather than as a cultural practice. Through programmes aimed at aiding people out of poverty Norway could become a leader in changing attitudes and life situations.
Those that beg have obviously been able to travel and move into this country because of policies that Norway has had to agreecomply with under EU rules. This means then, that once in this country these people, like all other people living here, are under the same protection of this government as well as its laws. This means that they should not be falling into the necessity of having to beg for their survival – doesn’t it?
New language and learning new skills necessary
According to reports from within Norway where the people begging are asked about their experiences and why they beg, their responses indicate that they come here in order to try and do better for themselves but that they are noticing more hostility both from the public and from the police. Most in fact express that they are coming here on their own initiative desperately hoping to be able to take better care of themselves and their families through modest gains. This translates into a mindset that believes that richer people will give more money. Let us not forget that these are some of Europe’s poorest people. The reports done through the Church City Mission and Salvation Army, indicate that contrary to popular belief and some media articles, the majority are family groups and not part of the human slave trade. This is not to say that some people are not involved with that but society should not just assume that most are. Their education levels may be lacking basic fundamentals so what if, actually, the only way they know how to make money is to beg for it, but the plan is that at least here in Norway they can get their children into a decent education system. This works if, there are children going to schools and staying there, learning another language and being introduced to the tenet of educational excellence. What does not work is, if this is the case, why are Norwegian authorities allowing these parents to fend for themselves in this way. Shouldn’t the parents be at school learning a new language, learning new skills and then being put onto a more even footing with other immigrants coming into this country?
Begging is not busking
There have been some reports that new rules may just make musicians out of beggars. Well, busking never was and never will be begging. One is a summer expression that can bring joy and fun to a day’s outing and indicates, in many cases, developing abilities in various types of street art. In fact, many buskers are professional performers who are taking their summer break by entertaining the masses. The public know when someone is just hitting any key on an accordion or shaking a tambourine incessantly. Begging is an activity based upon submission and subservience and makes the submissive party reliant upon the public to take pity or feel guilt for their apparent good fortune so that there is a donation of money.
Norway is in an enviable position of being a country lauded throughout the world for its fantastic social policies and outputs as a nation. The reason it has these is due to decisions made back in the 50’s by the forefathers of this land. Prior to that time Norway was steeped in poverty but miraculously, after the discovery of oil, absolute poverty has virtually disappeared and its current social indicators are seen and applauded as some of the best in the developed world. This country has ranked highly in the OECD for child mortality, morbidity, domestic and social violence, gender equality, crime and health outputs for decades. It is only just recently that one hears people talking about having to be more careful on the streets at night, lock up their homes, properties and cars when they go out.
Why is this?
It is not just because of the arrival of certain groups of immigrants. It can also be because people are starting to see discrepancies between what they are used to and what is ‘natural’ here. Then, if they are not able to work or move into society they become even poorer, in relative terms, than they were previously and unfortunately this may lead to criminal acts being committed. According to White and Habibis, ‘Crime & Society’ (2005), ‘the lack of economic resources in itself is not the cause of crime. It is the sense of relative deprivation that is linked to crime..’ therefore a country where there is increasing economic disparity between the top and lowest earners may experience, within that society, an increase in crime. Crime rates have traditionally been low in Norway because relative social inequality between its people has not been seen or felt.
The reason Norway has not experienced the effects of social deprivation to the same degree as other countries, for decades, is attributable to the provisions made after the discovery of oil. That was to bring in a universal social policy to ensure that no one in this country would suffer in poverty ever again. If you earn much you are taxed much, if you need help you receive help, genders are treated more equally here than in most countries in the world and policy is directed at ensuring that both men and women are educated to the highest level possible and also given opportunities at similar rates. It is not perfect but it was one of the most successful strategies for a society to bring about cohesiveness, unity, wealth and opportunity. More importantly, it has worked!
Crime will come to be seen as perpetrated by ‘others’
The country has become richer and richer and is seen as the mecca for Europeans with its strong currency, high standard of living and fantastic life style founded on a bed-rock of trust, security and nationalism.
Norway is acclaimed internationally as the country that has a heart and a carefully controlled chest full of money. One of the problems with this outcome though, is that after a few generations people who are doing well, succeeding and have the trappings of wealth may start to think that they deserve this; they have earned it themselves and that those who do not seem to be the ‘same’ deserve their poverty, have not worked hard enough, or paid the price as it were. Jeffrey Sachs (previous Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan) said, ‘Every society that was once poor has been castigated for being lazy and unworthy until its citizens became rich at which point their new wealth was ‘explained’ by their industriousness’.
Norway is impressive with the dedication it has to keeping this country wealthy and successful and with how the politicians work at the National level, overall. There is much to teach the World.
But, maybe the people of Norway have some serious discussions to have. If it goes the neo-liberal individualistic route then this country will end up like the rest of the Western World where laws and society become punitive, exclusionary and start to see ‘them’, ‘us’ and ‘outsiders’. Crime will come to be seen as perpetrated by ‘others’ rather than it being seen as a social ill caused by increasing social deprivation and it will increase and keep increasing. This will add stress to the country, promote anger and hatred so Norway’s other amazing statistics will start to fall as well.
What about the ‘Beggars’
If Norway wants to continue leading the world, then as a community, society needs to figure out how to make people feel included, and ensure that everyone coming into this country is working a meaningful day’s work so no one coming here should want or need to beg on the streets.
People must feel appreciated, valued and each of us living here should be grateful for the largess that this country has to offer. There should be laws for everyone that governs entry into Norway, so that each must prove they are capable of earning, at the least, the minimum wage. This minimum wage should continue to reflect what it costs to survive in a country meaning that all immigrants are able to participate in life activities here. There should not be any acceptance of poverty in this country. The forefathers found it reprehensible and unacceptable because it does not add anything to a nation or to a person’s development in life to suffer in poverty. That must continue to be the reason for no poverty. If someone is a beggar then hazard a guess that they are living in poverty.
Poverty, hardship and deprivation are some of the pre-cursors to crime
Any person found begging could be sensitively questioned and offered assistance by the social service providers of the area. There need not be any acceptance of ghetto style living quarters in this country. Nor should there be any acceptance of bullying, aggression or arrogance from Norway’s law enforcers or politicians. Their reactions can lead people to legitimize the treatment of ‘others’ differently to the treatment of ‘their’ people (Max Weber on ‘Power’). This is the start of a dangerous downward spiral into public hooliganism and exclusion which can have serious consequences for the whole of society.
If it is good enough to adopt Foreign Policy Agreements that allow free movement of people then the responsibility of that should be the care and provision for them when required.
Poverty, hardship and deprivation are some of the pre-cursors to crime not just a person’s ethnicity. As a nation Norway can discuss ways to include, accept and honour difference. People have rights and they also have responsibilities. It was Dominique Moisi in ‘The Geopolitics of Emotion’ who succinctly said –
‘Fear, Hope and Humiliation are closely linked with the notion of confidence; which is the defining factor in how nations and people address the challenges they face as well as how they relate to one another’.
The laws must be obvious
Go to a new country by all means but do so in order to up-skill, improve and enjoy life. Accept people of new cultures into your country, open your arms to them and honour international agreements but be prepared to ensure their care until such a time as they are able to stand on their own in their new country.
Those who are here illegally or here to do mischief will quickly become apparent and they can be dealt with through the normal democratic legal justice system. They must be dealt with in this way and it must be seen as a consequence for breaking the law. The laws must be obvious, the practice must be transparent and it must always follow democratic common law procedures (Lord Chief Justice Tom Bingham – The Rule of Law, 2010).
And again from Moisi – ‘Quests for identity by peoples uncertain of who they are, their place in the world, and their prospects for a meaningful future have replaced ideology as the motor of history, with the consequence that emotions matter more than ever in a world where media are playing the role of a sounding board and a magnifying glass’.
Politicians in Norway need to lead this discourse responsibly and not jump on electioneering bandwagons in the hope of securing extra votes from the threatened and fearful. Rather, ask questions until as a nation there is an arrival at answers that keeps Norway an International Leader. This is what politicians do in the Parliament and this is what they can choose to do with their public.
R.H Tawney said,
‘To criticize inequality and to desire equality is not, as it is sometimes suggested, to cherish the romantic illusion that men are equal in character and intelligence. It is to hold that, while their natural endowments differ profoundly, it is the mark of a civilized society to aim at eliminating such inequalities as have their source, not in individual difference, but in social organization.’