This is the conclusion of sociologist Thomas Rosenberg from Lovisa on why some of the Finnish-speaking population are irritated by their Swedish-speaking compatriots.
His remarks come in the wake of the story of an 18-year old Swedish-speaking woman being assaulted at a restaurant in Åbo/Turku by a Finnish-speaking man because she was speaking Swedish.
According to Rosenberg, such a case is nothing new. “I don’t even know how many times I myself have been forced to flee from a pub because I was speaking Swedish – but it’s many”, he told the new Swedish-speaking youth website Peppar.fi. “During the 1970s and 1980s, the aggression against us Swedish-speaking Finns was strong, perhaps stronger even than today.”
Few researchers are prepared to – or dare to – comment on the subject of aggression towards Swedish-speakers by Finnish-speakers, reports Peppar.fi.
Thomas Rosenberg suggests that the reasons behind the increase in anti-Swedish feelings amongst Finnish-speakers may be down to the fact that there has been an increase in Finnish chauvinism in recent times at the same time as populism has grown. According to Rosenberg, this is partly because Europe has become more international and all the more immigrants have arrived. This has caused a kickback reaction. Rosenberg says that we know from the past that negative attitudes towards other cultures have always been strong in Finland, “we are a young nation. What we see now is a strong will to defend Finnishness. It is somewhat comic that this aggression is often directed towards us Swedish-speakers instead of towards immigrants”.
On being asked what Swedish-speakers can do to counteract this aggression, Rosenberg replied that “it is hard because the Finnish-speakers have a picture of us as being happy, positive and pleasant people. This image that they have created of us creates envy. We are not really freed from the stamp of being “bättre talande folket”* just because we are so damned happy and integrated and social competent and cocktail-knowledgeable and succeed so well. We appear to seem as governors of the poor Finnish-speakers in their image. That can be irritating for them. The stamp of us being the elite remains.”
Rosenberg suggests that Swedish-speakers lower their demands in order to improve relations. He suggests that a regional dimension is bought to the fore and suggests that we should abandon the concept of “forcing” people to learn Swedish throughout the entire country.
“I belong to the those that spoke in favour of abandoning compulsory Swedish language lessons in Finnish-speaking schools. We paid a high price for ‘compulsory Swedish’ because it was so unpopular. In the coastal areas [where the majority of Swedish-speakers live], people absolutely ought to study the minority’s language, but I think it is politically unwise to do this in the whole country. We should think in regional terms and restrict Swedish in Finland to the coastal areas – but there we ought to get stronger rights”
On being asked whether he was speaking about a ‘reserve’, Rosenberg answered yes. “Svenskfinland [Swedish-speaking Finland] is already a reserve to a great extent. We ought to reach a historic compromise and wind down the demand for a bilingual Finland and give up ‘compulsory Swedish’, just so long as we do not need to beg an apology for speaking Swedish in Svenskfinland.
Rosenberg hopes that reaching such a compromise would be possible. “Swedish is currently continually being undermined as an official language. There is just an long series of loses, and it is certainly the fault of politicians. We have too long lived with the belief that we have a good language law – but it reflects an early twentieth century reality that we no longer live in. I do believe that in the long run, the historically dependant prejudice based on us being ‘occupants’ will disappear. But we’re not there yet”.
* Svenskatalande bättre folk – “Swedish-speaking better people”. A common stereotype held of the Swedish-speaking Finns, usually with a derogatory meaning. Based on an untrue image that the Swedish-speakers are all rich and perhaps snobbishly assume that they are a ‘better people’ than the Finnish-speakers.
This article is based heavily on Peppar.fi’s article, which can be found here [SV]. Thus, any errors and the woodenness of the translation are entirely my fault!