The Finnish state broadcaster YLE2 this past Tuesday (30.11.2010) aired a live broadcast of a studio discussion group on “mandatory Swedish”, a topic that flares up now and then in the Finnish media. Swedish was made the 2nd official language of Finland and its status is recognized in the Finnish constitution. In the 70’s the learning of the Swedish language was made compulsory in schools, so the language of 5% of the Finnish population was forced upon the remaining 95%, and the angst over that decision has remained ever since.
The fact remains that there exists two distinct identities in Finland, predictably, based upon the languages of both groups. Such “identity” tension will always remain between the two groups because each side will always act, in what’s deemed to be, in their own self interests. It’s a highly logical, and as I said earlier, a predictable outcome.
Now add to that mix the thought of increased mass numbers of immigrants with a plethora of languages who will be demanding their own rights to use their own languages in Finnish society. But the Finnish-Swedish speakers have a plan, a few of their number (in the live broadcast) announced their party’s intention to grab as many foreigners as possible and steer them into speaking Swedish. They made a case for the Finnish government to get involved and make it possible for immigrants to choose which language to study and to identify themselves with.
One of the Finnish-Swedish participants mentioned the fact that in the late 1800’s, Jews who were allowed to immigrate to Finland by the Russian Czar, learned Swedish, so there’s history on their side of immigrants learning Swedish and integrating into society. But what was left unmentioned, was these Jews spoke Yiddish, a dialect of German and they found it much easier to learn than the host language (at first), and that every Finnish Jew is now fluent in three languages, Finnish, Swedish and English.
It’s just in the coastal areas of Finland and in the island archipelago of Åland that Finnish-Swedes are not learning Finnish, and for the most part, have a completely different identity to that of the Finnish speakers that make up 95& of the country. So now the party of the Swedish speaking minority is actively trying to pull immigrants to its party which explains the the Swedish speaking Minister of Immingration and of Europe, Astrid Thors, actions over the last few years.
This is bound to drive an even deeper wedge between the Swedish speakers and the majority of Finnish speaking Finns. It just highlights the fact that different language groups will do whatever possible in securing their future, which creates in the end, a divided society with competing goals. Hardly a recipe for a cohesive, functioning society. The video of the event (in Finnish) is still available here, for the next 30 some days. KGS
Finn-Swedes as a percentage of the Finnish population
NOTE: If multiculturalism fails miserably to produce a joint identity with people of shared history, how in the hell is it going to work with vast numbers of immigrants coming from the Middle East?
Some Swedish-Speakers ‘Foreigners’ in Own Country
Though not always in the public eye, Finland is home to many Finns who face a linguistic barrier in many aspects of their daily life. Some of the country’s 300,000 Swedish-speakers don’t speak any Finnish at all, leading to an array of difficulties.
Within the Åland Islands, Ostrobothnia and the Turku archipelago, there are pockets where Finnish is hardly spoken and society is wholly Swedish-speaking.
In the autonomous Åland Islands, situated between Finland and Sweden, pupils are not required to study Finnish.
Felix Wrede, originally from the Åland Islands, is finishing his senior high school year in the officially bilingual city of Turku. Although his school is a Swedish one, he has realised he needs more than Swedish to get by in town.
“It’s generally possible to speak Swedish with officials, but in shops you need to speak English or Finnish,” says Wrede.
The level of Swedish-language public services has weakened in recent years. For example, in some central parts of the country, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) sends Finnish-language letters to Swedish-speaking households.
Wrede plans to begin medical studies after high school. He’ll likely study at the University of Helsinki–a bilingual institute. Although he is learning Finnish, he still prefers to patron restaurants and shops that service customers in Swedish.
UPDATE: The Finnish blogger Vasarahammer offers a personal view of the “mandatory Swedish” debate, which is well worth the time to read viewable underneath the fold.
Finnish-Swedes have a distinct identity but there is a difference between those who live in in the Åland islands. They are more “Swedish” than the Finnish Swedes who are sometimes envious of Åland autonomy.
However, the real Swedes in Sweden are so busy building their multi-culti paradise that they no longer have great interest in Swedish-speaking minorities abroad. I’ve actually met a reasonably educated Swede who was surprised to know that there are Swedish language radio stations in Finland.
In the region close to the border between languages in Ostrobothnia (Pohjanmaa), there the parochial Swedish culture is very strong and very much different compared to the one in the south.
I don’t want to take part in the discussion about pakkoruotsi (mandatory Swedish) but originally it was introduced as a deal between Center Party and Swedish People’s party (RKP). Then Minister of Education, Johannes Virolainen, needed the support of RKP in some other issue, so he introduced mandatory Swedish into Finnish schools.
In the pakkoruotsi discussion there are hidden issues that don’t necessarily have much to do with mandatory Swedish in schools. Some Finnish speakers feel bitterness towards the Finnish Swedes but that’s basically due to the following issues:
- Up until the early 20th century, you needed to speak Swedish to get any higher education. Finnish speakers only got this right after a language struggle in the early years of Finnish independence.
- Most of the upper class used to be Swedish speakers (Svenska talande bättre folk)
- Open racism presented by Axel Olof Freudenthal, one of the key founders of the 19th century Swecoman movement (Svekomaanit). Swedish People’s party still presents the Freudenthal medal to distinguished people who have advanced the cause of Swedish language in Finland. Freudenthal was a skilled linguist who studied the Swedish dialects spoken in various parts of Finland.
- Unwillingness of the Swedish speaking municipalities to hand over land to settle the refugees coming from Soviet-occupied Karelia. This issue was reflected in the policy of Finnish Rural Party, the predecessor of Perussuomalaiset party (True Finns).
During wartime, Swedish speakers constituted larger share of the deserters (compared to their relative share of the population) during the Soviet mass offensive in 1944. In Ostrobothnia (Pohjanmaa) the percentage of men killed in the war was lower in Swedish speaking municipalities than in the Finnish speaking ones.
Whether this was due to Ostrobothnian Finnish Swedes’ perceived lack of willingness to defend the country or troop deployment decisions made by the Finnish military leadership does not matter. The mild grudge is still there, even though few will admit it in public.
So basically, Finland’s much boasted bilingualism is just a sham. Politicians of the major parties sing the tune of bilingualism, but the fact remains that Finland is not a bilingual country but a Finnish-speaking country with a Swedish-speaking minority. This fact will probaly not be recognized any time soon, even though the status of Swedish language is gradually being eroded.
I have nothing against Finnish Swedes. I actually like the Swedish-speaking region in the coast of Ostrobothnia. That’s where my sister lives with her family. However, in the capital region the Finnish Swedes have adapted much better and speak two languages, fluently.
They don’t suffer from the same parochialism as Swedish-speaking Ostrobothnians do.
However, I don’t want to take a public stand in the pakkoruotsi discussion. I think the Finnish Swedes should be able to have their own distinct identity, but I am against the mass import of unassimilable foreigners to save the status of Swedish language. I think the Finnish Swedes should protect their language and identity themselves without bullying the majority population and making them pretend that they all love Swedish language and forcing them to study a language that they’ll probably never have any use of.
Personally, I’m happy that I can read and speak Swedish, but I would not like anyone to be forced to study it.
One more thing:
The Finnish-speaking defenders of official bilingualism sometimes sound very much like the defenders of multiculturalism. They praise the Swedish-speaking culture and its achievements. They also like to say how much happier the Finnish Swedes are compared to grumpy ethnic Finns. Hearing this kind of talk sometimes makes me want to puke.
Bilingualism is a state ideology, but it’s much less harmful than multiculturalism, which is on the way of becoming the state ideology. The sole raison d’etre of the Swedish People’s party is to defend to status quo concerning Swedish language. Pakkoruotsi is an important part of this.
The Finnish Swedes are ideologically as diverse as the rest of Finland. In fact, some are very conservative, especially in Ostrobothnia. However, the Swedish People’s party today promotes the same kind of modern liberalism that has caused so much damage in Sweden. This way SPP is actually doing a disservice to the very people it represents. Their desperate attempt to increase the number of Swedish speakers through mass immigration will damage the relationship between Finnish and Swedish speakers.
The so called Kasnäs manifesto outlines the future policy of SPP:
There’s a lot of discussion in the internet about this manifesto. Most of it is probably slightly paranoid stuff. However, the manifesto states clearly that SPP will do its best to promote multiculturalism.
We are a party of cultures and welcome immigration to our country – not because it is easy, but because we want to. Successful integration enables new citizens to become a natural part of society, the labour market, and the political life of Finland.”