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A strange ring of light was seen over parts of western Finland yesterday, according to a report from Vasabladet (Vbl). I didn’t notice it from here in the countryside of Nyland (Uusimaa), so I don’t know if anyone elsewhere in the country got to see it.
The phenomenon, a ring of light surrounding the sun, is according to Vbl likely to have been a halo effect that can occur in certain weather conditions. Apparently a halo effect can appear when there is very high cloud made up of ice crystals. The ring effect is created as the light passes through the ice.
This is particularly coincidental for anyone (such as myself) who is currently enjoying following the tv drama series ‘Sthlm‘ (i.e. Stockholm) on SVT Europa (the last episode is on Monday 2.6. at 22.00 Finnish time). Every episode beings with a scene of a sighting of a similar light phenomenon over the present day Swedish capital. When this really did occur over Stockholm on 20 April 1535, the citizens of the capital of the kingdom believed it meant disaster was about to follow. Let’s hope that’s not what follows in Vasa.
First picture: Yesterday’s (real) phenomenon over Vasa, from Vasabladet . Second picture: (Presumably computer generated!) image from SVT’s drama series ‘Sthlm’.
The American Navy is to begin searching for the Kaleva today. The Junkers JU52 aircraft belonging to Aero (the predecessor of today’s Finnair) disappeared a little north of the Estonian coast in June 1940 after being shot down by the Soviet airforce. There were nine people on board. The plane had taken off from Tallinn for Helsinki.
At the time, Finland and the Soviet Union were not yet at war. However, the USSR was already planning its occupation of Estonia by blockading it. It’s been reported that a Soviet navy submarine picked up diplomatic post and other wreckage from the surface of the sea after Kaleva was shot down.
According to Yle, one of those on board was the courier of the American Embassy in Helsinki. He had been in Tallinn to collect vital diplomatic post and items from the USA’s embassy in the Estonian capital.
Estonian defence minister Jaak Aaviksoo requested the search effort from his US counterpart, defence minister Robert Gates. The wreckage of Kaleva is believed to be approximately 30 km north of Tallinn.
Our blue and white national flag celebrates its 90th anniversary today. The law determining the Finnish flag as the familiar blue cross on white was made on 29 May 1918. It is said that the blue represents the numerous lakes of our country whilst the white represents the snow in winter that blankets the landscape (an alternative, more controversial view, would say it represents the victory of the whites in the civil war). The cross design represents unity with the other Nordic countries.
My flag is flying high outside my house today, as it is outside homes, apartment blocks and on public buildings throughout the nation. It’s a symbol that represents all Finnish people.
And yet historically, it has been the role of an organisation called Suomalaisuuden liitto (Finskhetsförbundet – Finnish alliance) to give information on Finland’s flag to the public. This organisation is a Finnish extreme right nationalist group that has, in recent years, become yet more extreme. These days, under the chairmanship of the controversial Heikki Tala, the organisation campaigns for the elimination of Swedish in Finland. Even longing for a future where Åland is Finnish speaking. According to Suomalaisuuden liitto, there is a campaign to ‘Swedify’ Finland – apparently this is being carried out by us Swedish speakers with help from Sweden’s government (the suggestion is so self-evidently ludicrous it’s not even worth making further comment upon). In the past, the organisation received a grant from the state to fund its work in promoting our national flag. Finally, after many protests from politicians from both language groups, the parliament voted in 2002 to end this subsidy. This came after a scandal where it turned out Suomalaisuuden liitto was absolutely refusing to give any information on Finland’s flag in Swedish. The move to increasing extremism has been largely because of extreme right wingers taking over positions of power in the organisation. Even former chairman Martti Häikiö said that “the association has ended up in the hands of the mad fundamentalists”. Today, the organisation has slightly over 1000 members.
Why do I make this point? Still, on the morning of Independence Day (6 December) it is Suomalaisuuden liitto who has the honour of organising raising our national symbol, the flag, at Tähtitorninmäki – Observatorieberget in Helsinki. This is usually done in the presence of the President of the Republic. In my opinion it is time for this to end. A more unifying group should be chosen. Finland’s flag is a symbol of the entire Finnish people. To have a group of extremists who are openly intolerant against one group in society organising the raising of a flag that represents everyone is deeply inappropriate and offensive. The President of the Republic’s presence also affirms recognition that this group is somehow appropriate and representative. I think this December, in our 91st year of independence, and 90th with our national flag, it’s time to invite a more unifying group to organise the raising of our flag. Perhaps veterans from the wars, today’s military, representatives from cultural life (maybe from the Finnish, Swedish and Sami language groups together). The options are numerous. But certainly not a group that represents only the views of a very narrow and small xenophobic minority.
The Swedish-language department of Finland’s public service broadcaster, Yle, is again being forced to make cut backs to its offering.
Currently the main editions of the news bulletin programme ‘TV-nytt’ are broadcast at 18.15 and 20.00 (with a shorter 5 minute summary later in the evening on weekdays). The 15 minute long 18.15 broadcast has been established in that time slot since 1996. The 20 minute main 20.00 edition has existed since FST (Finland’s Swedish Television) received its own channel when digital tv started (previously FST existed as slots on Yle’s TV1 and TV2).
The latest cost cutting exercise means that the separate main 18.15 and 20.00 will be scrapped in favour of only one programme to be broadcast at 19.30. It will last 25 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of sport news. This is the same time as Channel 4 (Nelonen, a commercial channel) transmits its main evening news. There will also be a 5 minute bulletin at the crazy time of 17.25 which coincides with the Swedish language flagship hour long 17.00 radio news edition of Aktuellt on Radio Vega. The late evening edition of Tv-nytt will be extended to 10 minutes.
There is also talk of the Swedish language news department having to share the Finnish language news studio. This would be possible with these new proposed times (during which Yle doesn’t have any scheduled Finnish language news transmissions.) If this should go ahead, one must wonder what would happen in the instance of a crisis where TV-Nytt needs to stay on the air to cover a major event. Plus, it will inevitably lead to a watering down of the Swedish language news’ own identity on screen. The Finnish language news department is not going to tailor its studio to meet any specific needs of TV-Nytt. TV-nytt only just got a new studio, about 6 months ago.
The twice weekly in-depth current affairs analysis programme ‘Obs’ is also threatened by these cut backs; there is talk it will either lose one edition per week or disappear entirely. Apparently Yle’s excuse is that with a 25 minute long main edition of TV-nytt, there will be plenty of time for analysis already during that programme. This seems to be rather naive – not everyone wants to sit through indepth analysis during the main news. And with a loss of two bulletins which did have a slightly different feel (the 18.15 concentrates a little more on local events around Swedish speaking Finland), how will they fit it all in to the 19.30 if they are going to have to stuff in the in-depth stuff there too.
It seems the staff of TV-Nytt and Yle’s Swedish department are less than happy with the changes. According to Vasabladet, TV-Nytt’s news director Gunilla Löfstedt-Söderholm said she was concerned that the programme would lose viewers because of this as it’s not the same people who watch the 18.15 and 20.00 bulletins. “This is a sad decision. TV-Nytt has been transmitted around 18.00 since the 1960s. Establishing new habits amongst viewers takes many years”.
The savings also threaten Swedish Yle’s international correspondents. Although according to the director of the whole of Swedish Yle, Annika Nyberg-Frankenhaeuser, they will be retained. Personnel cutbacks are likely to hit part time employees.
All of this is very sad news. Especially coming so soon after Radio X3M (Yle’s Swedish language pop music/youth radio station) was saved from threatened closure after large scale public protests. Also, digitalisation promised us more domestically produced programming in Swedish with the greater amount of time available to broadcast through FST having its own channel. Now it seems that this promise is to be broken.
Pictures: Copyright Rundradion Ab. First:TV-Nytt studio with Gunilla Löfstedt-Söderström at the desk. From Svenska Yle’s webpages. Second: from programme ‘Obs’.
So was the title of Björn Månsson’s interesting leader article in this morning’s Hufvudstadsbladet.
Revisiting the issue of a separate European parliament seat to represent Åland (as Åland politicians are demanding) or for the wider group of all Swedish-speaking Finns (as Henrik Lax and some others have raised), the leader article unveils some interesting facts which make the demand not so unreasonable as it might have previously seemed.
Månsson draws the reader to the attention of the case of the German-speaking minority in Belgium. Like Åland, they have their own parliament and effective autonomy in their own region. The German minority in Belgium are around 73 000 people – rather more than Åland (around 27 000) but small compared to the total number of around 300 000 Swedish-speaking Finns. Yet, the German-speaking Belgians are guaranteed their own place in the European parliament. And that’s despite their proportion of the entire Belgian population being only 0,7 %. Swedish-speaking Finns make up around 6 % of Finland’s population; Ålanders account for about 0,5 %. Looking at those statistics, it’s harder to argue against a specific Swedish-speaking mandate.
Månsson goes on to highlight the case of the German-speaking minority in Italy, the residents of South Tirol. They also have, practically, a safe seat in the European parliament. What’s especially interesting here is that this German minority is around 290 000 in number – i.e. more or less exactly the same in number as the Swedish-speaking Finns. Yet, looking at them as a proportion of Italy’s entire population, they comprise just 0,5 % – a percentage that is equivalent to Åland’s share of Finland’s people. Surely then, Åland’s demands for its own seat in the EU parliament are entirely reasonable.
Perhaps it’s not as easy as that. Månsson points out that it’s much easier for Italy to give away one seat to a minority as due to Italy’s large overall population it gets an entire 78 places in the EU parliament. But for Finland, with only 13 European parliament mandates, giving one mandate away to a district of just 0,5% of the people would seem highly inequitable.
So, perhaps Finland should ask the EU for an extra seat to be given to Åland. According to Hufvudstadsbladet, that seems an unlikely option. The EU has thrown that option out of the window for fear of opening a Pandora’s box where all of Europe’s autonomous areas demand their own individual seat. So, perhaps the second option is to give a mandate to the entire Swedish-speaking population. According to Månsson, that could be secured by introducing a requirement for one of Finland’s MEPs to have Swedish as their mother tongue.
For me, a Swedish speaking mandate sounds impracticable. If we were to use the suggestion in this Hbl leader, how would we make sure that the electorate vote in one MEP with Swedish as their mother tongue? If the first 13 people elected all have Finnish as their mother tongue, do you deprive number 13 of his or her seat and install the most popular Swedish-speaker even if they got a lot less votes than any in the top 13? Surely that would cause an outcry – not least in some quarters of the Finnish language press. It would also be impossible to create a geographic voting district – Finnish and Swedish speakers live side by side. Svenskfinland is not a clear cut geographic entity.
In any case, even if there were to be a Swedish-speaking seat created, would the people of Åland be satisfied? As Månsson writes, probably not. There are many people on Åland who don’t even consider themselves Swedish-speaking Finns (finlandssvenskar). For them, they are Ålanders (ålänningar) – and that is a status apart. For them, it’s only direct representation for Åland – and Åland alone – that will do.
This year’s Stafettkarneval has began at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. The athletics competition is contested by teams representing Swedish-speaking schools across Finland. It is organised by Svenska Finlands Skolidrottsförbund -School Athletics Association of Swedish Finland (SFSI).
The event was first held in 1961, being the idea of Carl-Olof Holmén who had taken part as part of the University of Deleware’s team in the 1960 Penn Relay in USA. This event was to inspire Holmén who was enthused by this experience and thus established a similar event for Swedish speaking Finland once he became the chairman of SFSI later in that same year.
In the first competition in 1961 at Djurgården’s sportfield, 601 runners took part. Already that made it the largest ever school sports competition in Swedish speaking Finland. By the following year, there were already over 1000 competitions. By its third, the competitor count passed 1 500. The event had grown so much, that by only its fourth year it moved venues to the Olympic Stadium. This has been the home of Stafettkarnevalen ever since – with the exception of during four years where the event took place in Vasa or Karleby due to renovation work at the Olympic Stadium.
The number of competitors has continued to rise. In recent years, Stafettkarnevalen has become the biggest annual school athletics competition in the whole of Europe, with more than 10 000 entrants.
The 100 000 euro costs of staging the competition are met by sponsors. All officials and management teams are unpaid.
2008′s event sees a record number of starters – 10 228. The President of the Republic, Tarja Halonen, will attend day 2 of the event tomorrow.
You can follow the competition live via Radio X3M and a television highlights programme will be transmitted on FST5 on Tuesday at 21.00. All the results are also available via the competition’s official website: www.stafettkarnevalen.fi/resultat
The Swedish Assembly of Finland, Folktinget, has officially reported the Finance Ministry to the Parliament’s Justice ombudsman. The reason for this is that the Finance Ministry requested the official opinion only in Finnish of 11 municipalities who have Swedish as their majority language. The opinions were requested regarding the proposal to close the Magistrate districts of Raseborg and Åboland.
Despite enquiries by the municipalities concerned, the ministry failed to send the documents in Swedish.
Folktinget considers that the Finance Ministry has broken the Language Act. According to the law, state authorities should communicate to a municipality using the municipality’s majority language.
The chair of Folktinget, Ulla-Maj Wideroos said “The Finance Ministry has broken the Language Act and furthermore done so in a matter that has great significance for the Swedish-speaking population. We can not accept such infringements of the law. It can not be accepted that authorities ignore the Language Act.”
The Finance Ministry’s documents were requesting official opinions of municipalities on the ministry’s proposal to close Raseborg magistrate and Åboland magistrate, both of which have Swedish as their majority language. According to the ministry’s proposal, the magistrate activities of these areas would be incorporated into respectively Esbo (Espoo) magistrate and Åbo (Turku) city and district magistrates – both of which would have Finnish as the majority language.
Thursday’s editions of Jakobstads Tidning and Österbottningen will be the last ever issues of each daily newspaper. Jakobstads Tidning has been published from Jakobstad (Pietarsaari) for the last 110 years. Österbottningen, Karleby’s (Kokkola) newspaper, has 125 years of history behind it. From Friday, the new merged newspaper Österbottens Tidning will come out for the first time as a replacement.
Staff of the two newspapers’ production team spent today putting together the last editions of their independent newspapers. Jakobstads Tidning will print a special 52 page edition tomorrow; its last edition coincides with its 110th anniversary edition.
Staff of both newspapers gathered outside their offices in Jakobstad and Karleby at the end of their working day and symbolically lowered the flags bearing their newspaper’s logo. They then raised the new flag of Österbottens Tidning, the first edition of which they will be working on from tomorrow. They then celebrated with champagne.
So, Svenskfinland and specifically northern Österbotten loses two of its daily newspapers from the end of tomorrow. But gains a new voice on Friday.
In other media news, the European Union’s competition directorate yesterday gave its approval for Finland’s subsidies to minority language newspapers. The Finnish state gives grants of support to fund Swedish language news agency services and newspapers with small circulations. Money is also given to activities in the Sami language. Folktinget (The Swedish assembly of Finland) and the Sami Assembly are the bodies that propose to the Communications Ministry which publications should receive state subsidies.
The image is copyright Jakobstads Tidning. It shows JT staff witnessing chief editor Henrik Othman lower Jakobstads Tidning’s flag for the last time.
The planned court reform which threatens the independence of small courts worries both their personnel and municipalities, according to a report from Radio Vega’s local channel in Åboland. At the forefront of concerns, is the risk of poorer services and the inability to speak one’s mother tongue.
The Swedish-speaking staff at the court district of Pargas which serves Åboland are concerned that the working language, which is largely Swedish currently, will be Finnish after the reform. According to them, this is something that would complicate their daily lives. In the case that Finnish becomes the working language, the step to the client being unable to receive services in Swedish to the degree they can today is not long.
According to chief judge Erkki Hämäläinen at Åbo (Turku) court district (to which Pargas will be merged according to the reform plans), there is no reason for concern. He considers it pleasant that the Swedish speakers speak their mother tongue and believes that they can do this also in the future. He also believes that the fact Swedish will be heard in the corridors will be of benefit to those staff that have Finnish as their mother tongue.
According to Radio Åboland, it’s not just the court staff that are concerned over the reform – municipalities are also. With them, it is also the position of the Swedish language that causes concern. According to Pargas’ municipal director Folke Öhman, it is vital that municipalities guarantee that Swedish services continue at the current good level in the future. According to Öhman, it seems that these days everything is decided in advance and that reform has become an end in itself.
Chief judge Erkki Hämäläinen at Åbo court regards the criticisms as unjustifiable and does not believe in the municipalities’ concerns that the status of Swedish will worsen with the planned reform.
New mothers in Finland are given the option of receiving a ‘maternity box’ by the National Insurance Fund (FPA, Kela) containing various items of use when caring for a new baby. The contents is updated regularly and a few weeks ago, the 2008 ‘version’ was released.
The release of the new box has provoked some unexpectedly strong reactions amongst a small minority of Finnish speakers. According to an editorial article printed on Wednesday 14.5. in the Finnish-language newspaper Keskipohjanmaa (published in Kokkola/Karleby) the new box contains pro-Sfp (Swedish peoples’ party) propaganda.
Presumably this wild and bizarre (and false) accusation by the article’s writer, a Jouni Nikula, comes from the fact that the latest maternity box includes, amongst its various leaflets, a bilingual brochure called Ge ditt barn en gåva – Anna lapsellesi lahja (‘Give your child a gift’). The leaflet, which is actually produced by Folktinget – The Swedish Assembly of Finland, and not Sfp or any other political party, is about bilingualism. It offers advice and support for parents who wish to bring up their child to speak both Finnish and Swedish.
How on earth anyone could find the inclusion of this leaflet a threat or dangerous is beyond me. Surely everyone should appreciate the benefits of being able to speak more than one language. Anyone that is offended by a leaflet in more than one language (and I suspect this particular offence was caused by the other language being Swedish) must surely be suffering from at least some form of mild xenophobia. Or are there really some Finnish-speakers in roles of newspaper editorial writers (in bilingual towns!) who, in 2008, find the existence of Swedish-speaking Finns or even bilingual Finns something not to be desired?
The picture is from the website of the National Insurance Fund. It shows the contents of the 2008 maternity box. For those that are interested, you can find pictures (and description) of the entire contents on the website of the National Insurance Fund: http://www.fpa.fi/in/internet/svenska.nsf/NET/010403100821MP [SV]