Chris Montgomery Yleinen

Being international

This has been a most international week. Finland just won an international ice hockey tournament played in Central Europe and including teams from North America. The day the final was played was also the day of the second largest elections in history, the EU elections, involving as they did people from 28 countries with a combined population of 500 million. (The largest were the indian elections held, coincidentally, only last week. They may not have been international but they were certainly multiethnic, involving people speaking a bewildering array of languages and with the most diverse religious beliefs.)  And then there is the World Village Festival in Helsinki, coinciding with the international market in Kerava.

     Sport, at its best, combines the national with the international: national teams battling it out it with other national teams in a (relatively) safe environment where nobody gets (badly) hurt. Food, culture and politics can also bring people together in positive ways. At times feelings ran high during the elections, but there was no violence. And it would be hard to imagine trouble at the World Village Festival.

     At times it might feel pleasant to shut the rest of the world out, to eat Karelian pies, drink Finnish lager, go to the sauna and listen to Matti and Teppo. We need at least some of these shared likes, things that are part of our culture, things we are completely familiar with. But historically, culture tends to be diverse rather than homogeneous. A typical European country centuries ago was very diverse. People in one part of the country could hardly understand people from another part, because they spoke such different dialects. There were multilingual countries such as the Hapsburg Empire and the Russian Empire (of which only 40 per cent of the population were Russian during the nineteenth century.) In the eighteenth century only twenty per cent of the French population spoke French as their native tongue. A country might have been divided on religious lines, too, such as the German states or Britain, which included Catholic Ireland until 1923. There were minorities such as the Jews and Romanies, just as there still are, and there were cities where numerous languages were spoken (in Turku, for example, Swedish, Finnish, Latin and German were all in widespread use during the Middle Ages).

     The events of the New Testament took place in a diverse part of the world: the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Educated Jews spoke Greek, the occupying army and officials spoke Latin and the common people Aramaic. Many spoke more than one of those languages: they had to. The baby Jesus received gifts from three Persians and spent some years in Egypt, the adult Jesus met Canaanites and Samarians, and the apostle Philip converted an Ethiopian. Numerous nationalities were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.

     Multiculturality has tended to be the norm. It should be possible to enjoy the best of both worlds: to proudly enjoy one’s one culture while also appreciating other cultures. There is no choice here to make. You can have your cake and eat it, too.

Chris Montgomery

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