As exemplified by the recent election results from Sweden, immigration is one of the most important and heated topics of debate in contemporary Scandinavian society. Immigrants are accused of being unwilling to integrate and adopt Scandinavian cultural values and practices, while the countries themselves are often criticized for not realizing that they have, in fact, become multicultural. By comparison, Jewish immigration to Scandinavia is generally regarded as a success and a strategy for others to emulate. In her presentation, Vibeke Kieding Banik will highlight some key features of Scandinavian Jewish history (with a particular focus on Norway) and argue that the skepticism characterizing the current debate was also present when Jews were allowed to emigrate to Scandinavia, and especially during the arrival of Eastern European Jews in the early 1900s.
Vibeke Kieding Banik, a Norwegian national, received her PhD in history in 2009 from the University of Oslo, where she is currently affiliated as a part time lecturer. She teaches a course entitled "The Holocaust" and supervises and examines undergraduate and postgraduate students. Her research interests include gender studies, modern Jewish history and immigration, integration and identity in Scandinavia. During her Anna Lindh fellowship at The Europe Center, Vibeke will begin work on her new project, “Gendered integration? The Jewish Encounter with Scandinavia, 1900-1940."
Dr. Kieding Banik begins by outlining the historical context of the Jewish experience in Scandinavia. She describes how early Jewish immigrants faced a homogenous, largely Lutheran Scandinavian population with strong anti-Semitic prejudices, with Norway even banning Jewish immigration entirely until 1851, for fear Jews would "overflow" the country. Immigration in all parts of Scandinavia was greatly restricted between 1880 and the beginning of World War I, before and after which time Jews from Eastern Europe arrived in greater numbers, often en route to other destinations.
While by 1918 Jews had full legal rights in Scandinavia, the amount of assimilation of Jews into local society differed between countries. For example, Jews in Denmark demonstrated higher levels of cultural assimilation, and prominence in society, academia, politics and civil society than in Sweden or Norway.
Dr. Kieding Banik goes on to describe the challenges immigrants faced as they attempted to balance assimilation with their Jewish identity; the effects of the Holocaust on Jewish populations in Scandinavia; the response of established Jewish communities to new immigrants; and the differences of experience between present-day Jewish immigrants to Scandinavia and their predecessors.
A discussion session addresses issues such as: the reasons for variety in the Jewish experience between Scandinavian countries; how post-war attitudes changed to facilitate increased Jewish integration; the relationship ofJews to other immigrant groups in Scandinavia; and the level of assistance for immigrant groups in Scandinavia today.