Sweden was once the conqueror of Finland, and even today, almost two hundred years after the end of Swedish rule, the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland is accorded special status.
Language tensions mount in bilingual Finland
Finland’s struggles as a bilingual country can hardly be compared to those in Belgium or Canada, but the tiny Swedish-speaking minority is nonetheless concerned the country’s second official language is at risk.
“Finland tries to teach everyone a lesson about morality but minorities in China are treated better,” blasted Juhan Janhunen, an expert on Asian languages, comparing one of the most egalitarian countries in the world to the Communist regime.
Janhunen is a member of an umbrella lobby group, The Swedish-speaking Association of Finland, that travelled from Helsinki to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, on November 22nd to denounce “Finland’s attempts at Finlandization.”
Finnish and Swedish, which are not related, have been Finland’s two official languages since 1922.
Finnish speakers represent 92 percent of the country’s 5.3 million inhabitants, compared to just 5.6 percent Swedish speakers. Almost all Swedish speakers are bilingual, while up to 40 percent of Finnish speakers more or less understand Swedish.
So Swedes in Finland constitute a persecuted minority, right?
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Swedish speakers in Finland, which was ruled by neighbouring Sweden from 1150 to 1809, retain considerable influence in society — almost every coalition government in modern times has included ministers from the Swedish-speaking Liberal Party.
Three of the country’s presidents have been native Swedish speakers, though the current head of state, Tarja Halonen, speaks it decently but not perfectly.
But the Swedish language’s heyday seems to be over.
The share of Swedish speakers has dropped by a third since 1880, when they represented about 15 percent of the population.
The fall is attributed to many Swedish speakers moving to Sweden, while the emigration of Finnish-speaking Finns to Sweden and the United States had faded by 1900.
Since Swedish holds official language status, bilingual signs are everywhere and almost all government documents must be published in both languages, though the Swedish translation is not always immediately available.
But most speakers say they need Finnish to get by in their daily lives as Swedish has increasingly lost ground.
So the complaint of the Swedish-speaking Finns seems to be that they are not quite as powerful and privileged as they used to be. Kind of like Episcopalians in the USA.
The Finns aren’t buying any of this:
Heikki Tala, the head of the Association for Finnish Culture and Identity, doesn’t see a problem.
“Swedish speakers enjoy privileges like no other linguistic minority in the world,” he said.
“The 500,000 Finns in Sweden have no rights,” he pointed out.
But, since Finland is part of “Europe”, it’s not going to escape these charges unscathed:
Sonia Parayre, an expert at the Council of Europe tasked with monitoring the implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, said Swedish speakers were right to be concerned but noted that Finnish language legislation was among “the most protectionist” in Europe.
“The message to authorities is: okay you have reforms underway, but beware, you have to respect a number of rules on language rights,” she said.
Is the COE sweating Poland over the status of its native Russian-speakers? Just asking.
As I read this, I realized I know almost nothing about the Council of Europe. It’s headquartered in Strasbourg, and is not an arm of the EU.
Looking at its website, it seems to be the enforcement arm of Orthodox Multiculturalism. Among the headline items on the front page are the Africa-Europe Youth Summit (hmm… “youths”), empowering Roma women, the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (shudder — can you imagine the bureaucratic hell that must exist within this body?), and the protection of children’s rights.
Then there’s this:
Terry Davis: ‘‘Disability is a matter of attitude and perception’’
“Some of us may be disabled at some point but the degree of our disability will be determined less by our medical condition and more by the way we are seen and treated by other people. Disability is a matter of attitude and perception” declared Terry Davis on 3 December to mark the International Day of Disabled Persons.
Hmm… I’m feeling a little bit disabled this morning. I think I’ll move to Europe and get me some real benefits.
But back to those pesky Swedes in Finland:
In 2005, Finnish-language author Arto Paasilinna, who wrote The Year of the Hare, told Kaleva magazine he believed “the question will be resolved naturally. The Swedish speakers will die off, taking their language with them.”
This is a nice laissez-faire attitude. But Mr. Paasilinna would do well to remember that all ethnic Europeans are dying off, and will take their all languages with them.
Leaving the vacant premises for the “youths”.
Hat tip: KGS.