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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.
A few diverse thoughts on the election campaign as it goes into its final week.
Astrid Thors has a sense of humour
Being the government minister responsible for immigration can’t be an easy job in a time when populists are on the rise. Migration Minister Astrid Thors of the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) has faced a tough time in the media and often hateful threats against her from hardline anti-immigration campaigners. Indeed, due to this she requires a body guard when out in public. But an article in yesterday’s Hufvudstadsbladet shows that Thors has not lost her sense of humour during this often tough four year parliamentary term. On Friday, as she campaigned for votes at SFP’s election hut next to Stockmann in central Helsingfors/Helsinki, she wore a flowery hat, mocking the Finnish language’s nickname of “flower-hatted aunt” referring to persons who are pro-immigration.
Whilst Hufvudstadsbladet‘s reporter was at the scene, one man did walk by Thors and shouted aggressively, “Kick out the niggers from Finland!” Straight after this, one of the few candidates with an immigrant background from the national Coalition party Kokoomus, Fatbardhe Hetemaj, approached Thors from Kokoomus’ neighbouring election hut to admire her hat. At the same time, Kokoomus parliament member for Helsinki Ben Zyskowicz stood with an election brochure and attempted to hand it to an older lady with her grandchildren, to which the elder lady replied in Swedish, “I am not voting for you and I vote in Nyland/Uusimaa electoral district anyway”. To which Zyskowicz replied that she should then vote for Alexander Stubb, Finland’s foreign minister who is standing as a Kokoomus candidate in Nyland. The elderly lady instead determinedly approached Astrid Thors.
Indeed, it can’t be easy to be an immigrant or Swedish-speaking candidate or supporter for Kokoomus. The party contains elements that are extremely hostile to both. The party’s youth wing has voted for scrapping the Swedish-language as a part of the compulsory school curriculum in Finnish schools. Whilst the youth wing’s chairman Wille Rydman, who is a candidate in the parliamentary election in Helsinki, has expressed anti-immigrant views that can be considered on a par with the populist True Finns. He has in the past even expressed support for the views of the hardline racist candidate of the True Finns Jussi Hallo-aho. Swedish-speakers and immigrants considering voting for Kokoomus candidates such as Stubb should be aware who else might benefit from their vote.
As for Astrid Thors, her strongest challenge in this election probably comes from Jörn Donner. The veteran politician, author, film director and journalist is also standing as an SFP candidate in the capital. SFP strategists hope that Donner could attract a large enough number of votes to ensure that party would win two mandates in Helsinki. This however seems unlikely, and if Donner were too win more votes than Thors, he could knock her out of parliament.
True Finns – Sann’finländarna’
Saturday was a flag day in honour of the Finnish language. The Finnish flag flew outside our house as it did from the flag poles of our neighbours, who are predominantly also Swedish-speaking Finns due to the area in which I live. We are one nation with two languages and it is right that we mark this fact. Yet, it made me think, I wonder how many True Finns supporters and candidates fly the Finnish flag on the 6 November each year, a flag day marking the Swedish language and culture in Finland. It made me wonder whether we should really be translating Perussuomalaiset to Sannfinländarna in Swedish. This will make little sense to the English-speaker, so allow me to explain. The Swedish-language, unlike English and for the most part Finnish, makes a distinction between finne and finländare. Both would be translated as ‘Finn’ in English, whereas in Swedish the former refers to a Finnish-speaking Finn and the latter to any Finn regardless of language group. Finlandssvensk refers to a Swedish-speaking Finn. The translation “Sannfinländarna” thus means “[the] True Finns” in the sense of all Finns regardless of language group. Yet, the party is clearly against anyone who is not a Finnish-speaking non-immigrant. It doesn’t like immigrants or Swedish-speakers. It might be more accurate to translate its name as Sannfinnarna in future. Let’s not pretend it is an inclusive party.
Voters disenfranchised in Berlin
One of the perhaps most troubling stories in the last couple of days was reported by Radio Vega’s Aktuellt news bulletin this morning. Yesterday was the last day for Finnish citizens living abroad to cast their vote at Finland’s diplomatic posts. However, this was made impossible for around 30 persons trying to vote at the Finnish embassy in Berlin. The embassy ran out of ballot papers thus effectively disenfranchising those effected unless they happen to be able to travel to Finland to vote here. Aktuellt‘s reporter in Berlin spoke with an official from the Berlin embassy who noted that they had noticed that they were low on ballot papers earlier in the week and had ordered 150 more from the consulates in Hamburg and Stuttgart. However, when the reporter asked why it wasn’t possible to order more from Finland when there are several flights a day between the Finnish and German capitals, the official was dumbstruck and could not supply an answer. Let’s hope that this serious break-down in the mechanics of democracy is an isolated incident.
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!
An 18-year-old woman was assaulted on Wednesday evening by a pair of Finnish-speakers because she was speaking Swedish. The incident happened in at restaurant Amarillo in Åbo-Turku.
According to news reports, the Finnish-speaking pair of a man and a woman first asked the 18-year-old woman to leave the restaurant. When she refused to leave, they pulled her by her hair.
The man escaped, however the woman was taken in for questioning by the police. The 18-year-old victim has repoted the incident as a crime to the police.
According to the police, such incidents are very unusual and this is an individual occurance. However, the chairman of the student union at Åbo Akademi, Finland’s largest Swedish-speaking university which is based in the city, said that he is aware of violence occuring against people just because they speak Swedish. He told the internet newspaper Peppar.fi, “If one is in town or in a pub in the evening, one often makes sure to speak Swedish quietly. It’s simply a matter of one’s own self preservation instict”.
Two Swedish-speaking girls employed by the Soldier’s Home at the naval base in Obbnäs (Upinniemi in Finnish) in Kyrkslätt (Kirkkonummi) municipality received orders from their manager not to speak Swedish between themselves, according to a report in this morning’s Hufvudstadsbladet.
The paper reports that the incident occurred during the middle of June this year. One of the girls no longer works at the Soldier’s Home but the other is still there. Both are teenage upper-secondary school students.
According to the girls, they received on several occasions an order not to speak Swedish to each other in front of customers, which they regarded as embarassing. Both think it is tedious that as two Swedish-speaking Finns they should be forced to speak Finnish with each other. With customers, they always spoke Finnish.
The older colleague who made the instructions insists that she did it in a separate room away from customers. According to her, it’s not polite to speak Swedish and Finnish-speakers can become upset if they hear it. That Swedish is one of the country’s official languages is of no regard, according to her.
The head of the Solidier’s Home in Obbnäs, Raili Pursi, told Hufvudstadsbladet that the older colleague has now herself received instructions that she may not make demands regarding the Swedish language in the future. He told the paper, “Naturally, Swedish-speaking employees may speak their native language. Anything else is unacceptable.”
Soldier’s Homes are places run by the independent association ´Sotilaskotiliitto-Soldathemsförbundet ry/rf´ which is not a part of the defence forces. They are placed at military bases and are places for soldiers to spend their leisure time at, with cafeteria and games facilities etc.
Image: The Soldier’s Home in Dragsvik – where it is definitely allowed to speak Swedish, both between the staff and to the customers!