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Sweden’s largest selling daily newspaper, Stockholm’s Dagens Nyheter, has published a debate article by Gunnar Wetterberg in which he argues for the five Nordic countries uniting to form a federal state.
Wetterberg argues that together Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland would have a combined population of over 25 million and a GNP that would make the new nation the world’s tenth biggest economy, coming before both Brazil and Russia. With such might, a new ‘Kalmar Union’ could find itself included in the top tier of international decision making.
At the start, decisions would be made in a European Council style manner, i.e. unanimity or at least no objections between the national governments would be required. However, eventually there would be a bicameral parliament with a lower house elected proportionally (from pan-Nordic party lists) and a senate in which a constituent country’s size would not be as determining for the distribution of seats (i.e. in the style of the USA’s Senate where each state, regardless of population, has 2 members).
Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II would be the Queen of the federal state, the obvious choice for symbolic reasons according to Wetterberg. (Margrethe I reigned over the Kalmar Union and thus ensures that the contemporary Danish queen really would be the second Margrethe in all of the new state). Wetterberg suggests if this is too problematic, the head of state could rotate between the five lands in the style Malaysia’s seven sultans. I wonder what we Finns and the Icelanders would think to the reinstitution of a monarchy? Hardly democratic.
Wetterberg envisages that cooperation and common laws would be increased over time, but each state would continue to have considerable autonomy, along the model of the present Nordic autonomous territories (such as Åland and Greenland).
On the linguistic front, all school children would learn another language of the federal state from the first year of school. Official documents would all be published in two languages: Finnish and one of the Scandinavian languages. Wetterberg states that the Scandinavian languages would include Icelandic as an option, even if this would be difficult to understand for many from the beginning. This seems, at best, optimistic if not down right insane. As a Swedish-speaker, I certainly can not read Icelandic.
It is perhaps fair to comment that only a Swede could write such an article. Sweden has not had its existence called into question for centuries. The Swedes have not fought a war in 200 years (since they lost what is now Finland to Russia). They can therefore perhaps not understand that the Norwegians, the Icelanders and the Finns value our nationhood as something more special. It is something new. Something that has within living memory not been an automatic right. Finland fought for her survival in 1918 and the 1940s and spent most of the second half of the twentieth century under the constant shadow of the Soviet Union. One might say that Finland only achieved real and full freedom with the fall of the USSR, for only then could Finland truly control its entire destiny itself. To suggest that the Finns, Norwegians and Icelanders would give this up so soon is something I doubt would be sellable to the populations. Although, at least in a Nordic superstate, the Finnish-speaking Finns might see the value of the Swedish language and Swedish-speaking Finns might have it easier to maintain their rights.
The municipalities of Pernå, Strömfors (Ruotsinpyhtää) and Lijendal will merge with the town of Lovisa from 1 January 2010. The new enlarged Lovisa will have a population of ca 15 700 and a Swedish-speaking population of 44% (39% in the current Lovisa town). The merger means the loss of the last Swedish-speaking majority municipalities east of Helsinki (or east of Ingå to be more precise, which is now Finland’s most “eastern” Swedish-speaking majority municipality) and the last Swedish-speaking majority municipalities in Östra Nyland (Itä-Uusimaa); both Pernå and Lijendal have a majority of Swedish-speakers.
Voters in the new Lovisa voted already on Sunday for their new municipal council which will replace the four existing separate bodies. The new council will assemble for the first time in November. Svenska folkpartiet, the Swedish People’s Party (SFP), won the most votes and seats. SFP won 40,6% of the vote and will thus get 25 places. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) won 22,8% of the vote and 14 seats. The National Coalition Party Kokoomus/Samlingspartiet got a vote share of 14,1% equating to 8 places.
The populist right-wing True Finns, the Greens and the Centre Party will each have 3 seats in the new council receiving 5,8%, 5,3% and 5,1% of the vote respectively. The Left Alliance becomes a new face in the politics of the municipalities winning its first seat with 2,3% of votes. The ‘Non-Alligned in the New Lovisa’ and the Christian Democrats also both pick up one seat each with 2,1% and 1,6% respectively.
The municipal election in the new Lovisa marked the first electoral outing for the Finnish Pirate Party (see previous entry on the PP). They failed to find any sympathy amongst voters getting just 17 votes (0,2%) and no seats – the only party that stood not to win a place.
The main story of the night was the extremely slow processing and announcing of the results, despite a turnout of only 62,3%. The final preliminary result was not announced until gone half past eleven, over three and half hours after voting booths closed. Borgåbladet reports that several voices at the National Coalition party’s election night called the organisation of the vote count “a scandal” and that action must follow as a result of its poor handling. The Lovisa-based newspaper Östra Nyland reports that the vote reporting was so scandalously slow because the Central Elections Committee in Lovisa had only arranged for one computer and one person to manage the reporting of the votes.
Although SFP won the most votes and seats, it does not have an overall majority. Some voices in the local Social Democratic group have said that they would like to see all the other parties form a coalition to keep SFP out from power in the new Lovisa. However, the SDP is split on this matter and the Kokoomus’ local leader has already announced his preferred alliance would be with SFP and the Greens. It also seems highly unlikely that non-SFP parties, which cover a large spectrum of political views, could come to an agreement to keep SFP out. So, SFP is likely to have the strongest hand in the coming negotiations over how to structure the running of the new Lovisa.
The election results can be seen as a disappointment for the SDP and Kokoomus in comparison with their expectations. It has been a marginal success for the True Finns who received more votes than Centre. SFP’s share of the vote is roughly as expected, if not a very slight disappointment. SFP may have lost some votes in Liljendal and Pernå to parties that have not previously contested municipal elections in those municipalities. In other words, some voters had more choice than in the past.
Pictured: Town Hall on Lovisa’s main square, built in 1862.
Finland’s highest circulation newspaper, the Finnish-language Helsingin Sanomat (HS), has published an editorial in which it states that the concerns of Swedish-speaking Finns over their rights are justified.
HS states in its leader that the last few years have seen an increasingly tougher climate for Swedish in Finland, primarily as a result of three reasons; an increase in hateful views on Swedish-speakers and Swedish in Finland on a number of internet-based discussion sites, a new generation of politicians who often no longer speak Swedish fluently and a view amongst many politicians that larger institutional units are as effective as small ones. The paper names Helsinki’s recent forced annexation of a significant part of western Sibbo (Sipoo), the decision to close down the maternity ward at Ekenäs hospital, the reform of court districts, the reform of the police’s administrative districts, the attempt to get bilingual Karleby (Kokkola) to join the unilingual Oulu state administrative district against its city council’s will, and the recent proposal for bilingual schools in Esbo (Espoo) as examples of recent policy decisions that cause harm to Swedish-speakers’ rights. The newspaper states that these decisions show that the right to receive services in one’s mother tongue has been relegated to secondary issue when decisions are made.
HS’ editorial states that Swedish-speaking Finns can be a part of the reason behind the change in attitude towards Swedish in FInland. The leader column states that “Swedish-speaking Finns have had a defensive attitude towards their linguistic rights. This has strengthened an understanding amongst Finnish-speakers that Swedish-speakers want to isolate themselves and are inflexible.”
However, HS goes on to state that is is hard for persons belonging to a linguistic majority (i.e. Finnish-speakers) to understand how things seem for a minority group that are constantly concerned about their cultural identity and rights.
Helsingin Sanomat states that is is time for decision-makers to take the rights of Swedish-speaking Finns seriously. The paper underlines that Swedish-speaking Finns are as Finnish as Finnish-speaking Finns and notes that the cultural roots of Swedish-speakers in Finland go back as far as the start of Finnish history.
Helsingin Sanomat’s leader is a welcome contribution and hopefully will provide a welcome call to Finnish-speaking decision makers and civil society who may not even have noticed how recent actions have effected the Swedish-speaking population. For Finland’s bilingualism to work, it needs champions in Finnish-speaking society and amongst Finnish-speaking politicians. We Swedish-speakers can not make it work on our own.
At the same time, the fact that the issue has become so clearly visible even on the radar of the leader pages of Finland’s most influential newspaper reveals just how serious the language climate is right now. We must hope that there are Finnish-speaking politicians, including those in the government, who have read this article today and have realised that constitutional rights must be upheld in order to ensure our law-based society continues to develop hand in hand with the values of fairness.
An opinion survey ordered by the Swedish-speaking think tank ‘Magma’ has concluded that Swedish-speaking Finns are significantly more positive in their attitudes towards immigration than the Finnish-speaking population.
In January 2009, around 40% of Finnish-speakers questioned in an opinion poll answered that they had the same or partly the same opinion on the statement “an increase in the number of foreigners brings with it useful international influences”. When Magma’s survey asked Swedish-speakers the same question in September this year, 75% of respondents gave this answer.
It is interesting to speculate why Swedish-speakers are, on average, more positive towards immigrant groups. One theory is that Swedish-speakers, as a minority group, find it easier to empathise with other people who find themselves in a similar minority situation. After all, many Swedish-speakers have to make compromises when it comes to their language and habits in order to live their life in an increasingly Finnish-language dominated environment. This experience may cause Swedish-speakers to be more sympathetic towards the demands that ‘trying to fit in’ brings for immigrants. Some people also argue that the average Swedish-speaker is, on average, more international in his or her outlook than the the average Finnish-speaker. Swedish-speakers have often nurtured contacts with the outside world, especially the other Nordic countries, with a greater vivacity. Another argument is that there is a greater degree of community involvement amongst Swedish-speakers who have a more developed “association culture”. This may foster a greater degree of what is known in Swedish as medmänsklighet, roughly “solidarity with your fellow man” or “brotherliness”, amongst those living in Svenskfinland. Of course, all such theories come with their controversies, the stark difference in attitudes is, whatever the reason for them, highly interesting.
The youth organisation of the right-wing nationalist True Finns party held its autumn conference in Vasa over this weekend. One of the resolutions that conference delegates agreed upon was a demand that Swedish be abandoned as an official language of the country. According to the True Finns’ youth wing, a disproportionately high amount of taxation revenue is used to offer services in Swedish in comparison with how small an area Swedish is spoken in.
This intolerant attitude is perhaps to be expected from the True Finns and thus comes as no great surprise. It would be too much to expect them to ask, if Swedish is so awful, why so many Finnish-speaking Finns have moved to Swedish-speaking areas in the last half a century? However, the True Finn’s historical revisionist attitude (Swedish has been an established language in the parts of Finland that it is found for at least as long, and sometimes longer, than Finnish) prompts an interesting point – what would Finland be like if there had never been any Swedish-speaking Finns?
Well, Finland’s cultural scene would look very different. Some of the most famous and internationally renowned artists would never have existed. There would be no Moomintrolls, no Topelius and no Sibelius – and so, ironically, no Finlandia – which some anti-Swedish language activists periodically demand to be instated as the national anthem in place of the Runeberg’s Vårt land/Maamme Suomi. Indeed, the national poet Runeberg, who wrote in Swedish, would never have written his epic poem, Fänrik Ståls sänger, which has been heavily used to rouse national sentiment on many an occasion, for instance during the Winter War (it is from this work that the lyrics for the national anthem were taken).
Would Finland still be Finland now? Or would it have become Russified after a massive defeat in a Winter War without the leadership of Mannerheim? Indeed, would we have even gone so long as that before becoming a part of the Soviet Union. Who knows, without Mannerheim commanding the whites, maybe the reds already succeeded in fostering a socialist revolution as they won the civil war in 1918?
The Finnish economy would certainly look very different if Finland had never had any Swedish-speaking Finns. They’d likely be no Fazer, no Stockmann, no Ahlström, no Fiskars, no Abloy (today Assa Abloy), no Viking Line, no Kone. You’d probably not be able to get hold of a Nokia mobile phone, Nokia’s electronics department was set up by a Swedish-speaking Finn, Björn Westerlund.
Of course, if I wanted to really court controversy, I could argue that there would be no written Finnish language. The first work in written Finnish was Mikael Agricola’s translation of the Bible. Agricola was a Swedish-speaking priest from Pernå. Agricola is often hailed as the father of the Finnish language. Its mainstream breakthrough as a language of culture came at the hands of the (Swedish-speaking) romantic nationalist Elias Lönnrot. It was Lönnrot who compiled the Kalevala, the Finnish language’s national epic, a work quite fundamental in shaping many of the beliefs of what it means to be Finnish and that spurred the national awakening. Would no Lönnrot have meant no independence from Russia?
In short, without the Swedish-speaking Finns, Finland would not be the Finland we know it today.
And in post script, I should make it clear that without the Finnish-speaking Finns it would likewise not be the country it is today. Both language groups have helped build this country into what it is. Both fought for this country as Finnish patriots. Finland is the native home of all Finnish people, regardless of whether they speak Swedish or Finnish as their mother tongue. We should not forget our common past nor abandon our common destiny.