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Today is the voting day for municipal elections. Polls are open until 20.00. If you haven’t voted in advance, this is your chance to have your say – but you’ll need to do it at the specific voting station named on your voting card. Results will come out from 20.00. It will be interesting to see if the Centre party’s performance will be poor. The Social Democrats are also going to their first election since their new leader Jutta Urpilainen took office in the summer; what reaction will the party-base make if, as tipped, they also perform badly? According to opinion polls, it’s the National Coalition Kokoomus party who should be looking forward to making the best progress.
In Swedish-speaking Finland, will the Swedish Peoples’ Party SFP manage to hold its ground; in the south, it’s faced with the challenge of demographics: as more Finnish speakers arrive, the proportion of Swedish speakers (and thus likely SFP voters) falls. How will they do in the newly merged municipalities, such as Svenskfinland’s soon to be largest town Raseborg which for the first time will go to the polls united in preparation for the 1 January merger. Will the new Swedish-speaking district of the Centre party led by the highly controversial Peter Albäck succeed in gaining ground anywhere outside his own home municipality of Kronoby? And, will the right-wing populist anti-Swedish True Finns party perform well enough to end up with a higher share of the national vote than the SFP and thus risk taking the only Swedish-speaking seat on the board of the National Association of Municipalities?
More analysis to follow after the results are known!
And, yes, Svenskfinland in English is back in business after a quiet patch (due to generally high work levels and also a 2 week holiday in the sun). Apologies if you’ve e-mailed lately and I haven’t got back to you – I shall do so soon.
Image: Ministry of Justice. Election results for all municipalities will be published as they come in on the Justice Ministry’s elections website.
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!
The film director Klaus Härö has been awarded with 2 prizes at the Italian ´Giffoni´ film festival. The Giffoni event is considered one of the most important film festival for younger audiences, according to the Finnish News Agency FNB’s report.
Härö was awarded for his work ´Den nya människan´ (´The new person´) which is a dark film set in Sweden during the 1950s in the period of Sweden´s forced sterilisation programme. From 1936 all the way up until 1976, Sweden practised this in what is a dark chapter in our neighbouring country’s history. The state targeted persons (mainly women) for sterilisation for several reasons, including racial purity motivations, heridatory disease transmission and social matters (e.g. individuals seen likely to be prone to criminality etc). An investigation by the Swedish government in the year 2000 estimated that between 20 000 and 30 000 people had been forcibly sterilised; most between the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s.
I am pleased that Härö has again been recognised. He is one of the best and most promising Finnish directors, certainly of this generation, in my opinion. His previous film ´Den bästa av mödrar´(´The best of mothers´) was a very moving work telling the, again reality-based, story of a child evacuee sent from Finland to Sweden during the wartime. This film, quite rightly, collected several awards at the time.
Swedish-speaking Finn Klaus Härö has directed and been involved the making of productions in both national languages. He has previously received the Ingmar Bergman Prize, which is significant as winners were chosen by Bergman himself. Härö was born in Borgå (Porvoo) in 1971, and thus we can hopefully look forward to a lot more from him in the future.
UPDATE: Here’s a link to a trailer of Härö’s film ´Den bästa av mödrar´which is called ´Mother of Mine´in English. There is English subtitles which surely means the film is available to buy/rent with them. So, I doubly recommend it to those of you who are interested in seeing a good film which tells a lot about one aspect of Finland´s wartime history. http://www.aideistaparhain.com/large.html
Picture: Klaus Härö appearing on the talk show ´Bettina S’ (Finlands Svenska Television).
I recently discovered an interesting blog called ‘Migrant Tales‘. The author of which is clearly concerned with immigration matters and writes a lot on Finland’s migration politics. Often, in debates on how immigrants should be integrated into Finnish society, one hears the argument “When in Rome, do as the Romans”; in other words, that integration should mean that migrants to Finland so quickly as possibly forget their own background and take on entirely a Finnish lifestyle – essentially abandoning or replacing their own cultural values and taking on ours completely. This argument comes up in comments to Migrant Tales and in many other online and offline debates on immigration and integration policy.
This “When in Rome, do as the Romans attitude” got me thinking today when I heard a story on Yle Radio Västnyland (I’m on holiday at the moment in my wife’s home area near Ekenäs) this morning about the increase in people moving from the capital region to the rural municipality of Ingå. The report was about this high level of Finnish-speakers moving into Ingå causing the municipality’s sole Finnish-language school becoming overcrowded and featured a Kokoomus (National Coalition party) Finnish-speaking member of the Ingå council suggesting that Ingå ought to urgently look to constructing a new, second Finnish-language school in the municipaltiy as many Finnish-speaking families were “making do” with putting their children in Swedish-language Ingå schools to save them from travelling longer distances to the municipality’s one Finnish school.
Now, I wonder what the “When in Rome, do as the Romans” attitude holders would make of this. Surely if Rome were Ingå, and one was to do as the local ‘Romans’, one should be adopting the Swedish-language rather than insisting on Finnish language services. Today’s Ingå is a bilingual municipality with Swedish as the majority language (according to the municipal website, around 57% of the 5 458 residents speak Swedish – 40% have Finnish as their mother tongue.) If one went back to 1950, before any widescale immigration to the municipality had got underway, you would have found that 89,5% of Ingå’s residents spoke Swedish as their mother tongue (according to Folktinget’s statistics). Before the wars of the 40s, you would have found that the municipality was unilingually Swedish-speaking. So, presumably if you held the “When in Rome” attitude, you would be condemning those unthoughtful Finnish-speaking immigrants of today and the latter half of the 20th century for not integrating and insisting on the superceding of their own culture on to the Finland-Swedish. You would be accusing them of failing to act as one should in Rome.
Incidentally, this argument could be applied to many, many more districts – including municipalities that no Finnish speaker would think of as a traditionally Swedish-speaking area today; for instance, the capital region’s Esbo (Espoo) which is today’s second largest city in Finland with around 235 000 residents (mainly due to immigrants from the rest of the country moving to the capital region) was 43% Swedish-speaking still in 1950. Today it is 8,9%. Before the wars and in the first half of the 20th century it was still a very rural, sparsely populated unilingual Swedish municipality. Is this another example where the “When in Rome” attitude holders would see a failure?
Now, I’m not arguing for the application of the “When in Rome, do as the Romans” (i.e. integrate completely or stay away) attitude in official policy. Hopefully my thoughts here help expose such thinking as unrealistic at the very least. I would love to hear from some “When in Rome, do as the Romans” attitude holders as to whether their beliefs also cover their own Finnish-speaking compatriots when they have chosen to move to Swedish-speaking areas and often cause them to dramatically change in cultural and linguistic character.
Almost certainly the biggest celebration of the year in Finland is midsummer. Or rather midsummer eve, which is when the partying is done – although it naturally stretches into midsummer day’s earlier hours in the light night at the height of the summer time. Midsummer’s day is always the Saturday nearest to the longest day. That makes tomorrow’s midsummer eve.
It’s traditional on midsummer to do as on most other Finnish holidays – drink! Happily, midsummer is more than just this. Midsummer is celebrated slightly differently in Swedish-speaking areas than by the Finnish-speaking Finns. The main, most noticeable, difference will be the probable presence of the midsummer pole. This is a tradition that is shared with Sweden. The Finnish speakers light bonfires to celebrate. In some Swedish speaking areas (at least here in the south), there is sometimes a bonfire lit too. Swedish speaking Finns like to dance traditional midsummer dances around the midsummer pole, whilst Finnish speaking tradition is to do so around the fire. It’s probably fair to say that music and especially singing play a greater role in the Swedish-speaking celebrations – and of course, it’s a day where the snaps songs come out in force! The midsummer pole is essentially, just that, a pole of wood. It’s generally said to represent fertility. The design can differ according to where in the country you are. Sometimes it is a representation of a sailing ship’s mast (Swedish-speaking communities often have a close relationship with the water, given their locations). Various things are hang from them depending on the local tradition and they are generally topped by a flag (usually here in Nyland/Uusimaa the blue, white and yellow pendant of Swedish-speaking Nyland). Åland is famous for having the most elaborate poles – often so elaborate that the use of a winch is required to raise them! Fish, especially the pickled herring, is a strong point of the traditional food. Fresh new potatoes (absolutely preferably Finnish if they have arrived) are also a must.
Midsummer’s Day is also the official day of the Finnish flag. One should raise the flag on midsummer eve and not lower it until the following night. It’s the only time when the flag is allowed to fly overnight.
Unfortunately the weather forecast is a bit questionable just now. Let’s hope for a shower free evening tomorrow.
Picture: Midsummer celebrations by Raseborg castle. Raseborg castle (near Ekenäs) is a good place to visit in the summer months. You can find information on visiting the castle and events taking place there at www.raseborg.org (although I’m sorry there is not much information in English).
Finland has a way to go yet until we can truly make a claim to being a multi-cultural society. Compared to the vast majority of western European countries, we have had fair less immigration. A contrast that is notable should you travel to our western neighbour Sweden, where more than one in ten persons where born outside of Sweden.
However, the government is now trying to encourage immigration. Just as in other European countries, this is made all the more necessary to fill jobs that Finnish people do not wish to perform. Finnish migration law and services are gradually being improved and reformed largely due to the efforts and leadership of Astrid Thors (sfp), Finland’s minister of migration.
One of the areas of our country that has shown the greatest success and most welcoming attitude towards immigrants is, interestingly, coastal Österbotten. Particularly the rural monolingual Swedish speaking municipality of Närpes has been recognised as the model to follow for integration. Immigrants have been welcomed into the community in a much more genuine and unanimous way than in many other areas of the country. Some have theorised that Swedish-speaking areas have been more accepting of immigrants because Swedish-speakers understand how it is to be in the position of a minority and are thus more accepting. The Swedish Peoples Party SFP is also very favourable in its views on immigration. There was even a line “Too few immigrants” in the last parliamentary election campaign song.
Now the main Swedish language newspapers in Österbotten (Vasabladet, Österbottens Tidning and Syd-Österbotten) have started publishing a regular update of translated news articles of interest to immigrants under the name GIIÖB. The languages are English, Serbian-Croat, Vietnamese and Russian.
Picture of Astrid Thors: Statsrådet, The Finnish government – Lehtikuva Oy/Ab. Second picture: Map of municipalities of Swedish-speaking Österbotten. The area on the western coast from Kristinestad in the south to Karleby (Kokkola) in the north.
Swedish-speaking Finns are becoming all the more bilingual. That’s according to the latest trend from the Finland-Swedish Barometer survey.
According to researcher Kjell Herberts at the Institute for Finland-Swedish Future Research, one can read this trend by comparing the latest barometer results with surveys done in the past. In 1950, 46% of Swedish-speaking Finns asked said that they had a strong command of both national languages. According to the most recent research, 82% of Swedish-speaking Finns are of the opinion that they have a strong command of Finnish as well as Swedish. (Although it is apparently hard to make a totally accurate comparison, as the questions were asked differently in 1950 as to more recent surveys, and the question does not necessarily imply that one should be fluent in Finnish to give a positive response).
According to Herberts, the situation for Swedish in Finland is made more difficult by those Swedish-speaking Finns who so easily and willingly switch to using Finnish when accessing services. According to Herberts, it is also the case that the more bilingual one becomes, the easier it is to abandon one’s own language. Herberts, however, does not believe that the existence of Swedish in Finland is threatened in at least the short term.
The latest barometer survey also shows that Swedish-speaking young people are significantly less interested in politics than their Finnish-speaking counterparts. 77% of Swedish-speaking youths said that they were either not at all interested or not especially interested in politics.
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.
Svenska kulturfonden, the Swedish cultural fund, celebrated its 100th anniversary yesterday with a large party and celebration at the Finlandia house in Helsinki. 1 000 guests joined the celebration with dancers, choirs, circus artists, rock bands, musicians and many more from around Swedish-speaking Finland providing the entertainment alongside traditional staples such as the singing of Modersmålets sång (Song of the Mother Tongue) and Vårt land (Our Land, Finland’s national anthem – The Swedish language lyrics from a poem by J L Runeberg are in fact the original).
In connection with the event, Kulturfonden awarded a record sum in prizes, grants and scholarships. A total of 15 million euros were given out during the festivities. The stand-up comic André Wickström (who is also well known in Sweden) and the ceramic artist Karin Widnäs were amongst the bigger prize winners, winning 20 000 € each.
After the party, Kulturfonden provided a dinner for 500 invited guests.
Kulturfonden works to support and strengthen the Swedish language in Finland, to develop skills, competence, creativity and solidarity amongst Swedish-speaking Finns. Today, Kulturfonden has financial reserves about double the size of Sweden’s Nobel Foundation and around the same size as the Finnish language equivalent Suomen kulttuurirahasto.
The Swedish Peoples’ Party (Sfp) has set a goal of increasing its number of votes by at least one thousand in the autumn’s municipal elections (when compared to those of 4 years ago).
Sfp is hoping it can offer 1 500 candidates of which half should be women and with an increased number of young people and recent immigrants to Finland than in its previous election campaigns.
According to party chairman Stefan Wallin, this year’s election will be particularly challenging for Sfp as many municipalities are merging creating an unpredictable and new dynamic in many localities.
Some municipalities that are merging with Finnish language dominated neighbours will present a particular challenge for Sfp with the number of Swedish speakers decreasing as a proportion. It will be vital for Sfp to mobilise its electorate to enable Swedish speakers to maintain their representation in municipal councils and governments at the same level.
Sfp has announced that its election theme will be fairness and equality. According to Sfp, individuals must have the right to be treated equally and fairly by all authorities regardless of their background or linguistic group. Municipalities should also be treated fairly by the state, which appears to be a clear reference to the Sibbo drama where the views of Sibbo’s inhabitants were overridden by Helsinki and the central government.
UPDATE Wednesday 16.27
It seems the association for Fair Trade which also uses the term Fairness in its campaigning is unhappy with Sfp’s usage of the same term.
Sfp has designed a campaign logo, a Fairness label/stamp design. Party secretary Ulla Achrén said that Sfp would be a party of fairness, with candidates standing for fairness and for policies of fairness.
Janne Sivonen who is the communications director at Association of the Advancement of Fair Trade in Finland was disappointed at this news, he told Svensk presstjänst: “This is certainly to mislead consumers. The ‘Fair Trade mark’ is a registered trademark in Europe and a guarantee that a product meets international fair trade criteria. Sfp has not asked us for permission to use the slogan. We will be discussing this matter with them.”