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On 1 January 2009, much of the western parts of the municipality of Sibbo (Sipoo) was forcibly incorporated in the city of Helsinki. This was against the wishes of the vast majority of Sibbo’s inhabitants, of both language groups. In a referendum, 93,3% voted against being incorporated in Helsinki, with only 5% in favour. Still, the central government voted in favour of Helsinki’s forced annexation of the western areas of the centuries old municipality, with only both ministers from the Swedish People’s Party and one lone Centre minister voting against – in accordance with the people’s will – in cabinet.
Today, 8 February 2012, the government finally released its long awaited proposal for the redrawing of Finland’s municipal boundaries. The government proposes cutting the number of municipalities in mainland Finland from today’s 320 to around 70. The municipal level of government in Finland is responsible for the delivery of many services, including healthcare and schools. It must be said that a reform is necessary: the economic situation in many rural, depopulating, ageing districts is very bad, affecting their ability to offer high quality services. Many small districts are compelled to form municipal joint organs with their neighbouring municipalities in order to provide services such as healthcare, with these being managed by less democratically accountable joint committees rather than the individual municipal councils that are directly and transparently elected by municipal residents. But, the government’s proposal appears rushed and ill thought out and plays little attention to linguistic rights and historical identities.
The government today proposes that Sibbo as a municipality is abolished, either subsumed into a super metropolis of a greater Helsinki or ripped into two and split between two neighbouring unilingually Finnish municipalities. Let’s not forget, that Sibbo was until 2003 a majority Swedish-speaking municipality. It was unilingually Swedish until 1953 and its demographics have only rapidly changed in recent decades due to mass internal migration from the Finnish-speaking interior to locations nearer the capital. Still today it has a strong Swedish minority. In an instance, the bureaucratic municipality reform risks sweeping away centuries of history and diminishing the rights of those Swedish-speakers that live in Sibbo.
But it is not just in Sibbo that linguistic rights are threatened with this reform. One proposal suggests that the northern portion of the bilingual municipality of Sjundeå is hived off and “unilingualised” as it is incorporated with its unilingual northern Finnish neighbours; at an instant, the rights of Swedish-speakers to services in their own language would be removed. In Österbotten, at least five majority Swedish-speaking municipalities would suddenly find themselves in new structures were Swedish was the language of only a third of the population.
Finland has two national languages. For Swedish to live in all domains, there must be administrative structures at all levels that operate using Swedish, including municipalities were the language of administration is Swedish. This would reduce these to barely more than a handful. And even outside of language considerations, this reform places local decision-making further away from the individual citizen.
A better idea would be for the government to consider the model in other countries, such as Sweden, where there are both elected counties and municipalities. The larger county level of government could be responsible for such things as the delivery of healthcare and public transportation, services that are more economically efficiently delivered by a larger body with a larger population base. In such a system, municipalities could remain as smaller units than the huge, faceless, unhistorical entities proposed by the government today. Local identities could remain intact meaning that people would remain engaged with local democracy due to living in districts they identified with.
Pictured: An old sign on the western border of Sibbo. Is the municipality about to go the same way as the region of Östra Nyland that was abolished already on 1st January 2011?
The True Finns parliament member Teuvo Hakkarainen has told the evening tabloid newspaper Ilta-Sanomat that he would like to see all minorities moved to the Åland islands, the autonomous unilingual Swedish-speaking province between mainland Finland and Sweden.
In a telephone conversation with the newspaper, he noted that the Swedish People’s Party often criticise the True Finns for not showing consideration to minority groups. He said he’s like to see homosexuals and Somalis moved to Åland so that we could see “how such a model society could be developed. There Somalis could cry from their minarets and we can follow the developments from here”.
It will be interesting to see how his remarks are received by the party leadership. True Finns’ party chairman Timo Soini recently declared that his party “hates nobody” and has previously had to distance himself from the more obviously extreme comments from his party members. Can he really allow a person who believes in forced resettlement and the creation of ghettos to represent his party in Parliament? Another test of the truth in Soini’s repeated claims that his party is against discrimination and intolerance.
One of the jobs of the new(ish) government is to preside over the reform of Finland’s municipal map. This is important: municipalities deliver around two thirds of the official services used by citizens, with the central authorities of the Finnish state responsible for the other third. Basic services such as social and health care, schooling, libraries, adult education, transport infrastructure and waste removal are amongst those provided at the municipal level. At the start of this year there were 336 municipalities in Finland. Of these, 30 were bilingual (12 with a Swedish-speaking majority, 18 with a Finnish-speaking majority), 3 municipalities in mainland Finland are unilingually Swedish (there are an additional 16 unilingually Swedish municipalities on the autonomous Åland islands). 287 municipalities are unilingually Finnish-speaking. Mainland Finland’s smallest municipality is Suomenniemi in South Karelia with a mere 804 residents, Helsinki is the largest with almost 590 000 inhabitants.
The reform’s aim is to make the provision of service more efficient. Many municipalities are struggling financially, especially under the burden of providing healthcare in society in which people live all the longer. The government has determined new larger municipalities should be formed based on natural “commuting” areas. It is likely that this will be required to be sufficiently larger in population than many existing municipalities and debate is raging across the land in various districts on which municipalities would make the best partners for merger. It is vital that the will of the inhabitants and language is also considered when this takes place. We have already seen ill-prepared reforms of the police and court districts in which ‘unnatural’ districts were created in disregard to existing regional ties, for instance the Swedish-majority province of Österbotten was divided artificially in the police district reform, with the effect of enforcing Finnish-majority districts on it. We have also seen the way the will of inhabitants (both Finnish and Swedish-speaking) of Sibbo/Sipoo were ignored when Helsinki decided it wished to annex the western part of the municipality. Sibbo is now suffering as with the loss of income and inhabitants Helsinki’s forced annexation caused, it is now unlikely that Sibbo will survive the new municipal reforms as an independent entity: indeed, it may even be split up, with bits of it being merged with three different municipalities – truly historical butchery.
It is time now for Swedish and bilingual municipalities to organise themselves so that where mergers are necessary, they consider the best solution for minting Swedish as a living language of administration in Finland, so that Swedish-speaking Finns can also access good quality services in their mother tongue in the future. There is a serious danger that traditional local rivalry between municipalities or head in the sand attitudes based on the misguided dream that this will all blow over will inhibit sensible solutions to be found, and municipalities will be forced into merging with less suitable partners by the central government.
Still, I can not help but think the whole basis of this reform is misguided and rushed. We should be thinking of a more sensible way of managing the services that are currently delivered by municipalities. In an age of expensive medical treatment, is it really sensible for the smallest level of government to have responsibility for the delivery of healthcare? Could we not look to other countries for a better model. For instance, Sweden still has two levels of local government: counties and municipalities. It is the larger counties that are responsible for the delivery of the larger scale services that can not efficiently be delivered at municipal level: for instance, healthcare and public transport. This would work well in Finland. Imagine a newly beefed up county council for the whole of Uusimaa/Nyland, it would easily be able to offer healthcare – and a more integrated public transport system. Municipalities could retain their local identities and still be responsible for a wide range of services such as schooling. There would be no need for most municipalities to have to consider abandoning years of history and local identity by entering into hastily arranged forced marriages.
23.52 100% of votes are counted in the election for Finland’s 200-seat parliament.
Kokoomus, the National Coalition party (moderate conservative) 20,4%, 44 seats
Social Democratic Party 19,1%, 42 seats
True Finns 19,0%, 39 seats
Centre 15,8%, 35 seats
Left Alliance 8,1%, 14 seats
Greens 7,2%, 10 seats
Swedish People’s Party 4,3%, 9 seats
Christian Democrats 4,0%, 6 seats
Other (Åland’s parliament member), 1 seat
Turnout was 70,4%.
- The big news of the night is that the True Finns have performed at the top end of expectations, winning over 19% of votes. A record-breaking 15 percent increase on their performance in the last election. Timo Soini’s populists will certainly be invited to government formation negotiations. Will they even be in government?
- The conservative National Coalition Kokoomus are the largest party in parliament for the first time in history. Party chair Jyrki Katainen is likely to be Finland’s new prime minister.
- The Social Democratic Party has come second. Will it enter government together with Kokoomus?
- The Centre Party have had a terrible election. The party of Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi have lost over seven percent of the electoral share compared to 2007.
- The Swedish People’s Party has had a good night. In an election with a high turnout, something that usually negatively effects SFP, the party has managed to retain all of its mandates. Apart from the True Finns, SFP is the only party not to have lost seats in parliament.
That is the end of this live blog, thank you for reading it. You can find full results in English from the Ministry of Justice’s results service here.
23.49 Counting in Nyland/Uusimaa electoral district is complete, the largest and last district to finalise counting. Timo Soini, chair of True Finns, beats Alexander Stubb (Kokoomus) by around 2000 votes to be the vote king in Nyland (and the entire country). SFP manages to hold onto its three mandates – the sitting SFP parliamentarians have been returned.
23.44 It looks like Astrid Thors will take SFP’s seat in Helsingfors/Helsinki. Interviewed on Yle, she says that the other government parties have acted wrongly in their lack of meeting populist immigration critics head-on. Thors has had to bear the brunt of much populist hatred due to her position as Migration Minister. She reminds us that there are 80% of the country who do not want to have the True Finns politics.
23.23 Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb tops Kokoomus’ candidates in Nyland/Uusimaa, beating his party chairman and leading candidate for Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen.
23.19 Only 100 votes between Astrid Thors and Jörn Donner in the battle for SFP’s mandate in the capital city. Too close to call.
23.03 Is this the sixth or seventh election in a row that the Centre party has gone backwards in support asks Professor Göran Djupsund in Yle’s coverage.
22.59 Can the True Finns really sit in government together with Kokoomus? True Finns made a big issue of EU support to Portugal in their campaign. They were strongly against giving Finnish tax-payers money to another country that “had not taken care of its economy”. Kokoomus’ chairman, current Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen, has advocated Finnish support for the EU crisis package to member states in economic trouble. Can either party really make the U-turn required for them to be able to govern together?
22.55 A cartoon in Vasabladet shows an SFP ladybird (the party’s logo) thanking the True Finns and the Finnishness Association for the help in the election campaign. It seems that the strong anti-Swedish feeling that the True Finns have blown up has motivated Swedish-speakers to vote for SFP.
22.52 SFP’s chairman Stefan Wallin is addressing his party’s election night party. He notes that SFP, together with True Finns, is the only party to not have lost any seats in parliament. This is a good result for SFP. Turnout is higher than normal in the country as a whole, normally bad news for SFP. Swedish-speakers tend to be more active voters, but this advantage has been rubbed out in this poll – but SFP have still manage to hold all their seats.
22.44 Voting is finished in Vasa electoral district. SFP retains 4 seats. Centre big losers in this area. Lars-Erik Gästgivars is SFP’s new member of parliament in Vasa (Håkan Nordman is retiring from parliament).
22.40 The True Finns chairman Timo Soini has arrived to massive cheering at his party’s election party. He says they’ve made political history.
Timo Soini responds to a question on whether he will be in government by answering that he will be taking a sauna with Jyrki Katainen. He hopes to sit in government. Yle points out that this election has been bad for gender equality. The True Finns are a very male-dominated party and are taking around 40 seats.
22.13 Maria Wetterstand, joint leader of Sweden’s Green party, is being interviewed on Yle. She is married to Finnish Green MP Ville Niinistö. She says that she thinks Finland has handled the True Finns very badly. According to Wetterstand, the other parties should acted cowardly. Only the Greens and SFp have spoken clearly against True Finns, the others have adopted much of their immigrant-critical populist rhetoric.
22.08 Swedish People’s Party will almost certainly win four seats in the Vasa electoral district. Ulla-Maj Wideroos of SFP says that it can be so that the True Finns and SFP are the only victors in this election. She notes that the True Finns are very long from SFP’s values and that Timo Soini’s values don’t belong in her idea of what Finland is. If True Finns enter government, will this mean SFP will leave government after decades?
22.07 81% of the votes are now counted. Kokoomus in lead with 20%, True Finns 19,4%, SDP 19%, Centre 15,9%, Left Alliance 8,2%, Greens 7,2%, SFP 4,3%, Christian Democrats 4,1%, Pirate Party 0,5%, Others 1,5%
22.03 A quick flick of the channels from Finnish television to Swedish Television (SVT) for the start of the main evening news bulletin in our western neighbour. The populist True Finns success is the main story. Nearly 20% of the votes to True Finns. This is not a good day for Finland’s international reputation. The Swedish media is finding it hard to understand how the True Finns can do so well in a country with so few immigrants.
21.58 First time turnout has been above 70% since 1995. The True Finns have at least increased interest in the democratic process.
21.48 If the True Finns are this election’s big winners, the Centre party and the Greens must be the big losers. Where have Green voters turned to? Whilst it’s feasible that many Centre voters have turned to the True Finns, it seems unlikely that liberal Green party voters would choose Timo Soini’s party. Indeed, the Greens were the only party to say they would not govern together with the True Finns. Could they voters have turned to the SDP?
21.46 Åland is the first electoral district to complete its counting in full. Not surprising as it is the smallest and interest in voting in the election is low there. The sole member from Åland Elisabeth Nauclér has been reelected.
21.33 Yle’s analyst notes that should Kokoomus, True Finns and SDP (who are all predicted to gain almost the same number of seats in parliament) form a government they’d have a strong majority without needing any smaller parties. Questionable whether smaller parties such as the Greens and SFP would want to dirty their hands with governing alongside Timo Soini’s populists.
21.28 Finnish radio and tv Yle’s prognosis has just been released.
True Finns and Kokoomus tie for first place with 19,8 percent of the vote each! SDP in third with 18,5. Prime minister’s Centre party 16,4 percent and practically certain to be in opposition. Left Alliance 7,9, Greens 7,3, SFP 4,2, Christian Democrats 4,0. A MAJOR upset. In the past, Yle’s prediction have been very accurate. Let’s hope it is not this time. It looks like True Finns will be in government if this is true. A horrendous blow for Finland’s reputation.
21.19 Prime Minister Kiviniemi has just told television that Centre is likely to go into opposition. When asked if it would be her first choice to go into opposition so that the party could lick its wounds, she seemed to agree it would be the best course of action. Could we see a Kokoomus-SDP government?
21.07 Just now, it looks like the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) may win an extra seat – if this occurred SFP would be the only party other than the True Finns to go forward in this election.
21.06 Four large parties of almost the same size. A very unusual situation in politics when one thinks of other countries.
21.05 Caution on the results to date. Many, many advanced votes in the country’s biggest electoral district, Nyland/Uusimaa, are not even counted yet. Likely to be many votes for Kokoomus amongst these. They are strong in Nyland.
21.00 47% of votes counted. There’s only 0,4 % (!) between the four largest parties!
20.55 Situation just now (percent) Kokoomus (conservatives) 19,2, SDP 19,0, True Finns 18,7, Centre 18,5, Left Alliance 8,2, Greens 6,0, Christian Democrats 4,3, Swedish People’s Party 4,2
20.29 Europe and Migration Minister Astrid Thors is currently around 300 votes ahead of fellow SFP candidate Jörn Donner in Helsingfors/Helsinki electoral district. SFP in a terrible position in Vasa electoral district, as things are now, they’d lose 2 seats in Österbotten, but they may be many votes cast today yet to be counted.
20.17 True Finns leader Timo Soini is the current “vote king”, having the highest number of individual votes. The extreme right winger Jussi Hallo-aho is in 5th place, also a True Finn.
20.12 Centre party’s chair, prime minister Mari Kiviniemi has just told YLE’s Swedish-tv channel that if this is the final result, Centre will go into opposition! A slip of the tongue in a second language?
20.10 Finland’s likely next prime minister, Kokoomus leader Jyrki Katainen speaking to TV. You can see first results on the caption.
20.03 The Finnish people have voted, polling stations are closed. Advanced voting results come in. Looks like a disaster for the Centre party with 17,3%, down 5,8%. They usually do will in advanced voting. The True Finns have 18,6% of the vote in advanced voting, third place. As expected, Kokoomus are in the lead with 20.2%, but the SDP are close behind on 19,5%. SFP are behind slightly over 1 per cent on the last election, but Swedish-speakings generally vote on the election day, and those results will come in as they are counted. ALL parties, except the True Finns, are behind on the last election.
19.52 Whilst advanced voting results will come in at 20.00, after poll’s close, we will have to wait until around 21.00 for a firm idea of how the next parliament will look. At that time, the Finnish national broadcaster Yle will release its first election prognosis. This is usually a highly reliable guide to the final result.
19.45 Just fifteen minutes until polling stations close and those first results are announced. Voting is expected to have been high today. The weather was good and people are invigorated by what was an exciting campaign. Hopefully turn out will pass 70% this time. The last two elections have seen shamefully low turnouts: only 67,9% of the electorate voted in 2007. By way of comparison, almost 85% of Swedes voted in their latest parliamentary election in September.
19.01 The polls close in just under one hour. Counting of votes cast in advance has already started and the results of advanced voting will be released immediately after the polls close at 20.00. Some news reports earlier in the day suggested that it might not be possible to count them all in time as there are so many advanced votes to count. Over 30% of the electorate chose to vote in advance this year. Residents of rural municipalities are usually those that cast their vote in advance in greatest numbers, so expect the first results to put the Centre party in the lead. The Centre party, with its roots in the agrarian movement, has its strongholds in the more sparsely populated countryside. Swedish-speaking Finns often leave voting to the day itself, so expect a relatively poor showing for the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) amongst the first returns. The first results should show if the opinion polls are right on the True Finns – will they emerge with more than 15% of the vote?
18.50 Welcome to this live blog of Finland’s 2011 parliamentary election. I obviously can’t provide a comprehensive results service, but I’ll be providing some snippets of what’s happening as the results come in. Naturally, with a focus on Swedish-speaking Finland. All times are Finnish time, we’re three hours ahead of GMT – and one hour ahead of central Europe.
The Justice Ministry’s election results service can be found online here. It will be updated with the latest results as they come in from municipalities and electoral districts across the country.
Kokoomus’ party chairman and finance minister Jyrki Katainen, likely to be Finland’s next Prime Minister if the opinion polls are correct.
Saturday is the final day of campaigning for the political parties and candidates contesting this year’s parliamentary election. Voting will take place tomorrow between 9.00 – 20.00 at polling stations across the country. Although, over 30 percent of the electorate have already voted during the advanced voting period. On election day, voting must be done at the polling station nearest one’s home.
The rise of the True Finns
This campaign has been in many ways the most interesting and exciting for many years. Sadly, largely for unfortunate reasons. It has seen the emergence of the populist nationalist True Finns party of Timo Soini. The party is anti-immigrant and anti-Swedish language. It is against the European Union and the euro, a populist stance to take and an easy vote-winner at a time in which EU financial support is required by several member states in economic crisis. During the course of the last few months, opinion polls have showed that Soini’s gang could take as much as 18-20% of the vote, although they have fallen back slightly in recent days. The True Finns will likely come out of tomorrow’s poll nearly as large as the three big parties, Centre, the national coalition Kokoomus, and the Social Democrats. For a party that won only 4% in the last election in 2007, this must be considered a great success. Sadly, Soini’s True Finns will be the big winners tomorrow. But, I am sceptical as to whether all those voting for the True Finns are actually racists. I suspect many will cast their vote for the True Finns as a mark of mistrust against the established political movements, a protest vote. We have seen party election finance scandals in most of the traditional parties during the last four years. Many who have said they will vote True Finns when asked by opinion pollsters may actually change their mind when faced with the list of candidates at the polling booth. Timo Soini is almost the sole known voice of the party, and he can’t stand in every constituency. Whilst he may even top the poll in the Uusimaa (Nyland) electoral district, voters in other parts of the country will be face with a True Finns candidate list of unknowns. They may just decide to vote for someone they know from another party. Should the True Finns win big, will they enter government? I see it as unlikely. Their beliefs are simply too different from the other likely government parties. Sure, we’ve had coalitions between the conservatives of Kokoomus and Social Democrats before – but they both agreed on fundamental issues such as our European Union membership. The True Finns do not. And, Soini may have a battle on his hands to avoid his party splitting or falling apart during the next parliament. Already there are tensions between the two main blocs within the party; hard-right nationalist members of the racist Suomen Sisu organisation and those members of the former Rural Party. One must also remember that most of the True Finns candidates have little to no political experience. They may find parliament rather boring once they get there.
Turnout in this election is likely to be higher than in the last two due to the less predictable nature of the outcome. The Swedish People’s Party (SFP) has traditionally benefited from a lower turnout, as Swedish-speaking Finns vote in disproportionately higher numbers. This advantage may be rubbed out this time. Although, on the other hand, perhaps even more Swedish-speakers will vote – and vote for SFP rather than other parties – because of the threat of the anti-Swedish True Finns and because of the recently worsened language climate in general.
In the Nyland (Uusimaa) electoral district, SFP should be able to hold onto its three mandates. But, they may well change hands. They party will have difficulty increasing its presence in an electoral district that has seen ever increasing immigration from the Finnish Finland. Kokoomus’ charismatic foreign minister Alexander Stubb may also win a significant number of Swedish-speakers’ votes. He has been campaigning also in Swedish with full page advertisements in Hufvudstadsbladet. The SDP will be hoping that at least Maarit Feldt-Ranta wins reelection, she is likely to do so. This is the country’s largest electoral district, and Timo Soini is on the True Finns’ list. It will be interesting to see whether he manages to top the poll in the district. He faces a strong challenge from the likes of Jyrki Katainen (leader of Kokoomus) and Stubb. Indeed, it will also be interesting to see if the popular Stubb manages to gain more votes than his party chairman.
In Helsingfors (Helsinki), SFP will hold onto its existing seat. It’s unlikely to increase to two mandates. It is possible that Jörn Donner will win more votes than current Europe and Migration Minister Astrid Thors and thus push her out of the next parliament. Donner is likely to appeal also to Finnish-speaking voters in the capital. However, Thors – who has been widely attacked by anti-immigration populists in many parties – may also win support from Finnish-speaking liberals who are appalled at the current populist tone the immigration debate. The SDP’s Jacob Söderman is retiring from parliament and his Swedish-speaking voters will be up for grabs.
In Egentliga Finland (Varsinais-Suomi, Finland Proper), SFP leader Stefan Wallin will almost certainly hold onto his seat.
In Vasa electoral district, SFP will be looking to hold onto its four mandates. It almost certainly shall. However, the popular Vasa politician Håkan Nordman is retiring and he commanded many votes also from Finnish-speakers in his hometown. So, there are lots of votes ‘going spare’ to be won. The Christian Democrats’ Bjarne Kallis is also retiring, and it’s likely that many of his Swedish-speaking voters will abandon the Christian Democrats for another party. SFP may benefit from this. The Swedish-speaking arm of the Social Democrats (FSD) has also campaigned hard in this election. They will be hoping that their chairman, Steven Frostdahl, will win a seat. He may well do. The Social Democrat vote will be helped in the Vasa electoral district by the fact that party chair Jutta Urpilainen is on the candidate list in the region. The Centre party has in recent years tried to establish a Swedish-speaking district, however it has been largely discredited by the erratic actions of its chairman Peter Albäck. Centre is unlikely to pick up more than a handful of votes from Swedish-speaking residents of Österbotten.
SFP is also, for the first time, standing candidates in Lappland and Uleåborg (Oulu). The chairman of the Sami Assembly is standing on the SFP list in Lappland. It will be interesting to see how many votes he manages to gather. It is however extremely unlikely that SFP will win a seat in either district. The party is merely preparing to go national in advance of the new election law coming into force, which is likely to have a 3% minimum threshold for parliamentary representation. As the threshold will be based on the nationwide share of the vote, every vote will be important for smaller parties in the future.
Meanwhile on Åland, the election is likely to be met with weak interest and a low voter turnout. Åland has its own political parties and most decisions are taken locally in this autonomous province. People there will be more interested in elections for Åland’s own parliament later this year. The sitting candidate, Elisabeth Nauclér, who represents the non-socialist parties on Åland, should easily win reelection. She sits together with SFP members in parliament as part of the so-called Swedish Parliamentary Group.
Come back tomorrow from 20.00 Finnish time (17.00 GMT), when I hope to provide a live blog of the results.
With the forthcoming parliamentary election on 17 April, the increasingly numbers of populistic attacks on the Swedish language, Swedish-speakers, and immigrants, a number of music artists have been brought together by Folktinget (the Swedish Assembly of Finland) in a song for tolerance and openness. Famous names including Geir Rönning, Krista Siegfrieds, André Linman, Elin Blom, Paradise Oskar (who will represent Finland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest) are amongst those who have contributed to the song entitled Vår tid – vårt land.
The song will be released on 11 April and Folktinget hopes that it will be spread widely also via social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The results late last year from the Pisa-survey of global school standards again placed Finland high-up in the international rankings. Finland’s pupils came third in reading, fifth in mathematics and second in nature sciences. But, Swedish-language schools performed less well than those teaching in the medium of Finnish. If Svenskfinland were ranked on its own, its pupils would have come in at eighth, eleventh and ninth place for the respective subjects tested. Just why are Swedish-speaking school pupils performing less well in tests?
Much discussion on this matter took place in the immediate aftermath of the publication of Pisa last autumn. Commentators speculated mainly that it was due to the linguistic situation in many Swedish-speaking schools. Swedish-speaking schools contain a hugely disproportionate number of bilingual students, some of whom (especially in the capital region) may in fact have a better command of Finnish than Swedish (especially the case if they’ve perhaps a Finnish-speaking mother, but Swedish-speaking father) when they start school at seven. However, a large article in this morning’s (27/1) Hufvudstadsbladet questions that easy conclusion.
For a start, pupils in Nyland (Uusimaa) and Åboland out-perfomed students in Österbotten and Åland. If the poorer results by Swedish-speaking students were down to their often mixed language environment, one might expect the highly Swedish-speaking Österbotten and unilingually Swedish Åland to out-perform the far more bilingual Nyland. Instead, Michael Uljens from Åbo akademi’s pedagogical faculty in Vasa suggests that the regional differences are perhaps down to pupils’ ambition. In Österbotten and on Åland, university education in Sweden is often considered as an alternative for those that don’t command the Finnish language, and it is far easier to get into Sweden’s higher education institutes without the highest grades than those in Finland.
But the major issue posed by this morning’s newspaper article regards the standard of teachers in Swedish-speaking schools. Heidi Harju-Luukkainen has analysed the Pisa-results from Swedish-speaking schools. She notes that Finland as a whole performs well in Pisa-surveys because it has extremely few pupils in the lowest ability group used to generate the country-by-country comparisons. Finland does not have geniuses growing on trees, but the vast majority of students perform consistently well. But, in Swedish-speaking schools there are a higher number of pupils in the lower group which drags down their Pisa-averages. Harju-Luukkainen suggests this could be down to the difference in quality of special teachers used in Swedish-speaking schools. In Finnish-speaking schools, these are very good and thus at risk pupils receive high quality support enabling them to reach an adequate level. On the Swedish-side, there is a shortage of such teachers. Three of the six faculty members at Åbo akademi responsible for instructing Swedish-speaking special teachers are senior research students (doktorander*). Finnish-speaking university departments on the other hand can afford to turn away all but doctors when seeking employees. For its part, Åbo akademi in Vasa denies that it offers a poor education for special teachers. Additionally, there are less applicants and thus less competition to become special teachers on the Swedish side. That may mean that Finnish-speaking universities get better candidates training to be special teachers in the first place, a positive once they’re qualified.
So what can be done about this? Some suggest that the fact that Swedish-speaking teachers are only educated in Vasa (in Österbotten) puts off prospective candidates from Nyland, who do not wish to travel so far for their university studies. Some have suggested that teachers should also be educated in Helsingfors (Helsinki) to counter this problem. However, Åbo akademi’s pedagogical faculty in Vasa denies that geography is a problem and warns against splitting the education of teachers in two. Half of the students at Åbo akademi’s teaching unit in Vasa are not from Österbotten.
On a positive note, the problems should not be overstated. Even if the Swedish-speaking pupils are taken alone, they signficantly outperformed students in the other Nordic countries and are still amongst the top in the world. Whilst not counted by Pisa, Hufvudstadsbladet’s article also points out that Swedish-speaking pupils are happier and more involved at school than Finnish-speaking students are. Additionally, integration is better in Finland’s Swedish-language schools.
* There is a difference between Finland and much of the English-speaking world when it comes to academic levels. A doktorand is generally someone who has defended a PhD thesis or is in the process of doing so, and would doubtless be called a doctoral student or even doctor in most English-speaking countries. However, in Finland the rank of doktor (doctor) is higher that this. I am not an education expert, so this may be an unclear and false explanation – but you get the idea, the Finnish-speaking universities generally have staff that are higher qualified.
One assertion that one often hears about Swedish-speaking Finns is that we are dying out, caught in a relentless downwards spiral of decline, and that somehow inevitably we will eventually disappear. Whilst times may feel increasingly hard for the Swedish language in Finland, such assertions are false.
In fact, according to the latest statistics the population of Swedish-speakers in Finland is increasing. Today we are slightly more than 290 000 and according to a population prognosis, we will pass 300 000 in around 15 years time. This is clear from an article in Hufvudstadsbladet. The newspaper spoke with Fjalar Finnäs who has recently produced a statistical report on the situation of Swedish-speaking Finns. Finnäs is a professor of demography at Åbo akademi university.
Until 2005, it was true that we were in decline but today more Swedish-speakers are being born than are dying. The reason for the previous decline was that so many Swedish-speaking Finns emigrated to Sweden during the 1950s and 1960s. It’s well known that many Finns moved to Sweden during this period, but it is often overlooked that Swedish-speakers were massively over-represented amongst them. Some estimates state that as many as 25% of all the Finns that moved to Sweden during this period were Swedish-speaking (a much higher proportion than amongst Finland’s population).
Another reason why the population is today increasing is an increasing tendency amongst mixed language group couples to register their children as Swedish-speaking rather than Finnish-speaking.
As a proportion of the population, Swedish-speaking Finns have decreased to around 5,4% of the population. The number of Finnish-speaking Finns has also decreased as a percentage of Finland’s total population as the number of speakers of other languages has increased.
Swedish-speakers on average live longer, get divorced less often, have lower unemployment and retire early on sickness pensions less often than the Finnish-speaking population. This also helps the demographic situation of Swedish-speaking Finns.