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.
But not special enough. In the face of their declining numbers, the Swedes in Finland are not happy about their situation, and they are complaining to — what else? — the Council of Europe:
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.
47 member states in EU? http://www.coe.int/
It is difficult to imagine a less discriminated minority than the Finnish-Swedes. This guy, Juha Janhunen, is making a complete fool of himself.
Yes, Blegium broke up into three entities. Didn’t you hear?
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.”
I will have to correct you here, Baron. It doesn’t make sense to say that Sweden was the conqueror of Finland. The Swedish population along the Finnish coast are native population. To say that they are conquerors is the same mistake as to say that the Sami people far up north in Sweden are the native people of Sweden. In both cases these are native people living in different ends of the same land mass (and the fact that the way the Samis look and live reminds us of red Indians doesn’t make them more “native”). Before in history water connected stronger than land. It was natural for the same people to live at both sides of a water passage, such as the Bothnian Sea, Kattegat or the Aegean Sea.
The Swedes did indeed become the rulers over the Finns. But there was no country in the first place. Also in this respect, conquering is a misplaced word; colonization is more like it. The original name of the Finnish capital city is Helsingfors, because it was founded by the Swedes. All administration used to be in the Swedish language, because it was built by the Swedes. Finns were less civilized in those days. (However, today I would say it’s the other way around.)
Two hundred years ago Russia conquered Finland and some parts of Sweden. Finland is still keeping parts of Sweden, most notably the island Åland.
Juha Janhunen however is a nuthead, and his comments can safely be ignored. But surely there’s a lot of Finlandization going on across the Bothian Sea right now. Probably the end result (give it half a century) will be that yet another mainland will be ethnically homogenized. This is the trend of the Modern Times. If the people, who by the whims of history have become a minority in another country, will stay or not will depend on how big the cultural/language discrepancy is. The former Danes of southern Sweden stayed. The Greeks of the west coast of present day Turkey (the cradle of Western philosophy) they left. In the case of the Finland-Swedes it seems to be a little of both.
I concede your point. I should have said something like, “The Swedes once ruled over the territory of what later became known as Finland.”
I’m reserving judgement on this one until I hear from my fellow hillbilly, Huckleberry Finn.
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Risto A. said…
Although I agree that there were no ‘nation’ before swedes uphere thousand years ago, it nevertheless doesn’t portrait an accurate view of the ‘cultural’ situation.
Check out these maps:
On the next maps we see Goths starting to take over and rest of the story.
By just looking the maps, it would be fair to say, that gothic influence took over, established the foundations of civilization in sweden and started to conquer.
As a sidenote, Finns were swedes arms and fists at their wars, known as Hakkapeliitat:
Finnsh identity has allways been strong. Granted, not a particularily civil one, but nevertheless a strong one.
Like King Arthur said, that “much is hidden O’ Tim” applies to finland. In sweden, still today, schoolbooks portraits finland as a thirdgrade starwing marvin nation were kids 1. likes sports, 2. fights alot, 3.drinks way too much and 4.die a miserable death. These are hardly supported by any studies around (such as PISA-survey), unless they have been tweaked with a high dose of preconseption, bias and other such false beliefs. Differences in alcholol consumption etc. are within marginal error. Add to this that the statistics here are extremely accurate here what can’t be said on most european countries.
What comes to the language issue, I’ll just say that castesystems have been long gone here, but reality of this hasn’t yet reached our dear minority nor the elite who have been on their knees for so long that they really don’t know how to stand up. This is not an offense, but a favour. Freedom works. Caste systems doesnt. Freedom benefits all parties and in fact, if swedish would not be compulsory in our schools our kids would master it in no time. Swede is easy language, but to say no to it is saying no to ‘any’ cultural enforcing methods. Once again dear fellows, freedom works.
I think I read somewhere the language Finnish is most closely related to (although they aren’t that close) is Korean.
I imagine people travelling along the ice cap.
Sorry Baron, I’ll keep that in mind.
“I think I read somewhere the language Finnish is most closely related to (although they aren’t that close) is Korean.
I imagine people travelling along the ice cap.”
LMIO! (laugh my intestines out)
That was a good one.
Still prefer swedish mongolian theory.
Hate to brake this news for you, but we were here when the ice melted thousands of years ago. Not going anywhere else and we keep on tending to our own business as usuall. – Building boats and other nice thingies (how many Volvo’s would fit in one of our boats.. hmm, it must be many).
It would quite unfair to start argue who was most civilized during that time, because me thinks that everyone had egual share of dry hay in their mouths and who killed the bear got laid and was the man.
“I’m reserving judgement on this one until I hear from my fellow hillbilly, Huckleberry Finn.”
I must say that Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer swears they will keep mum about this and they wish they may drop dead in they tracks if they ever tell and rot.
Janhunen is just the king’s cameleopard, or the royal nonesuch 😉
“The 500,000 Finns in Sweden have no rights,” he pointed out.
What a load of BS. The Fins here in Sweden has every right that indigenious Swedes has and then some. For example: They have the right to (hemspråksundervisning) Homeland language training. Finnish is an official language here, which means that all official paperwork has to be translated to Finnish (beside Mienkieli, Sami and Romani). Remember here that we now more native arabic speaking people in the country than Finns.
What the Finnish nationalists want’s to do is to abolish the Swedish language as an official language in Finland, much to the dismay of the Swedish population in the southwest and at Åland.
It would really be fine with me. But what will the Swedish speaking Finns think?
As a finn, I’d say that finns in sweden are solely responsible for their own backside. Swedes shouldn’t have any responsibility whatsoever to grant finns any additional “rights” over there, exept those what swedes wish to grant by their own choice. Finns are in no position to claim anything.
This point of view applies to swedes here in finland.
This is nothing but a fair play, simple and functional. It is not a “human right” for minorities to make demands for the rest of the people. If it is a “human right” eventually 100% of the population belongs to some minoroty group. May it be fats, lazies, idiots, women, gays, muslims, religious cult of two bar mates etc.. – if there is a possibility for making unearned money, you can bet that it is exploited to the full. Unfortunately swedes here in finland are a bad example, everything comes “too late and is too little” for them. Regardless of the efforts done. Example, swedes are 4% minority, our national TV station YLE spends more than 25% of its annual budget to swedish section. – not enough.
Guotas, pamperings etc for minorities, ‘because’ they are minority are straight from monty python and generates only a bunch of thieves out from segment of population that could be efficient and productive without this nonsense.
Now, I am not saying that disabled people or sick should be thrown to the gutter here. – Common sense provided with rational logic and facts works.
Hrm… this reminds me a bit of the fight in Austria. There is a Slovenian “minority” in the southern province of Corinthia (where Jörg Haider is governor). Now, the Treaty of 1955 requires Austria to accept this minority and aid their “cultural identity”, which means we have to put up town signs and other road signs in those areas in German and Slovenian.
Now, I’m against that, because these people are either Austrian or Slovenian. They’ve been living here for generations. They are completely assimilated. They are, as a matter of fact, by birth and by passport Austrians. So I believe that the requirements of this treaty are just stupid and only a waste of money. If those people are Slovenians, well, then they can go to Slovenia, it’s just on the other side of the border. Cultural identity is a weak argument. Once I move to Japan I can demand the same thing, obviously, since I’d be a minority. Totally absurd.
And no offense to the Swedes in Finland, but well… you’re not Swedes, you’re Fins. By birth and by passport. You may speak Swedish, but I’d say your nationality says different. That poses the question: What are you? Swedes or Fins? My answer would be: Fins.
This is an interesting question. There are a lot of Swedish-speaking Finns who say they are Finns who just happen to speak Swedish, but there are also some Swedish-speaking Finns who think they are Swedes who just happen to live in Finland. I personally consider this to be an irrelevant issue because the cultural “difference” between the Finns and the Swedes is non-existent, and it’s stupid to waste time creating cultural “onflicts” between the Finns and the Swedes at a time when tens of millions of Muslims are already here in Europe, and perhaps hundreds of millions more will be arriving or will be born in Europe during the next 50 years.
That being said, I must mention the fact that the unfair government-given privileges to Swedish-speaking Finns are akin to multiculti policies and American Affirmative action policies. The privileges of Swedish-speaking Finns (quotas at universities, huge overrepresentation within public TV and radio funding etc.) are a dangerous precedent that makes it easier for immigrants to demand similar special treatment.
There are already tax-funded public radio broadcasts in Somali and Arabic, tax-funded teachers of Islam in public schools, tax-funded teachers of Arabic, Somali, Turkish etc.