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The Swedish People’s Party (SFP) is to stand candidates in April’s parliamentary election in the Lappland electoral district for the first time. Usually, SFP only offers candidates in the electoral districts of Helsingfors (Helsinki), Nyland (Uusimaa, southern Finland), Egentliga Finland (Finland Proper, i.e. Åboland) and Österbotten, i.e. where the vast bulk of Swedish-speaking Finns live. This year the party is also going to the polls in Uleåborg (Oulu) and for the first time in Lappland. Uleåborg is home to a small ‘language island’ of Swedish-speakers.
In Lappland, SFP’s 5-candidate list will feature Klemetti Näkkäläjärvi (pictured), the present chairman of the Sami Parliament - the assembly representing the indigenous population of Lappland. Näkkäläjärvi told Finnish radio that he wanted to stand for parliament to further the status of the Sami language and Sami culture. According to a press release from SFP, Näkkäläjärvi understands the the need to maintain the ability to access services in one’s mother tongue and the needs of minority cultures.
This news reminds me of the time some years ago that then SFP parliament member Eva Biaudet rose the issue of Sami rights during a debate in the Finnish parliament. A parliamentarian from one of the Finnish-speaking parties (Centre if I remember correctly) asked her afterwards why she was bothering to ask such questions on such matters when SFP was never going to win any votes from the Sami population. She said then that as a member of a minority group she sympathised and understood their plight.
Svenskfinland in English has been taking a little (okay, long) break of late. I have simply had too much to do with work and, if I am honest, I lost the urge to blog. But had I been blogging away as usual during the last six months or so, I fear that this blog would not have made happy reading.
The language climate in Finland is becoming ever less tolerant and the position of Swedish risks being so seriously maligned that a future in which it is possible to access public services in one’s mother tongue seems ever more bleak.
Amongst things that have happened in the last few months include the ongoing saga of the orientation of the city of Karleby (Kokkola) in Österbotten. Despite various bodies stating that for linguistic reasons it should be included in the Österbotten region with its state services located in Vasa, the Centre party (led by very vocal support from new Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi) continues to call for its incorporation into the district led by the unilingual Finnish-speaking city of Oulu/Uleåborg. The question seems to have become a matter of stubbornness amongst Centre party members who do not want to back-down even in the face of the Constitution which would seem to make any northern orientation illegal because of the linguistic consequences.
Maternity services at Ekenäs hospital in Western Nyland have closed down despite massive protests by local inhabitants and many, mainly Swedish-speaking, politicians. The municipality of Raseborg, where the hospital is located, has a majority of Swedish-speaking Finns and the hospital was the last in a Swedish-speaking majority area in southern Finland to offer maternity services. Residents of Raseborg will now be forced to travel to hospital in Lojo or Esbo to give birth, where Swedish-speaking service is often hard to obtain. Ludicrously, some Finnish-speaking members of the hospital board covering much of southern Finland suggested that Raseborg residents could travel to Borgå hospital if they wanted to be sure of Swedish service when they give birth – a journey of 153 km taking around 2 hours by car – hardly feasible for a mother entering labour!
The debate surrounding Swedish-language instruction in Finnish-speaking schools heated up during the last six months with debate on its future even making the main headlines in the Finnish-language media. The debate – even in the mainstream media outlets such as Yleisradio and Helsingin Sanomat - continues to use the pejorative term pakkoruotsi to describe the teaching of Swedish, meaning roughly ‘forced/compulsory Swedish’ – strangely one never hears of ‘forced mathematics’ or ‘forced biology’ classes. The debate gained prominence largely because the National Coalition Kokoomus party’s congress voted against the party leadership’s direction on a measure calling for the abandonment of Swedish as a compulsory school subject for Finnish-speakers. The Confederation of Finnish Industry (EK) also called for its abolishment. According to EK, schools ought to offer a broader range of languages instead of compulsory Swedish. This seems to suggest that the teaching of Swedish is an impediment to the learning of other languages, which is of course very strange logic indeed. Learning Swedish is naturally of no hindrance to also learning Russian, German, French, Chinese or any other language. Finland’s bilingualism ought to be a plus for Finnish industry’s competitiveness, especially when Finland is a Nordic country. EK’s reasoning was dealt a further blow when a survey showed that 80% of companies in the finance sector regarded the knowledge of Swedish as a decisive factor when choosing how to employ.
In a move that has the potential to cause the loss of life, reports of a 112 emergency call centre failing to be able to speak Swedish to a unilingual Swedish-speaking caller from Sibbo have again been in the media in recent weeks. Fortunately, the call was not concerning a life-threatening medical condition and the caller was eventually able to pass her phone to a neighbour who spoke good Finnish – but the example shows that authorities are not living up to their legal obligations in even the most serious areas of service-provision. What would have happened if it was a serious condition and an ambulance was not dispatched in time to save a life? Emergency messages to the public that are broadcast on television screens as text have also failed to appear in Swedish in two incidents recently, once concerning a severe fire in the largely Swedish-speaking town of Hangö.
In film-related news, Swedish subtitles have also been missing from many cinema film showings of late with cinema films blaming it on digitalisation. Apparently modern technology means that it’s not possible to do what was quite achievable before – namely to show subtitles in two languages at the same time. A debate has also blown up in the Swedish-speaking press surrounding the new Moomintroll film. The film will premier in Finnish and English with the Swedish-language version to follow only a few weeks later. Given that the Moomintrolls are probably the most famous Swedish-speaking Finns, concern has been raised that this is a sign of ever increasing Finnish-language cultural imperialism in Finland. An attempt to deny that the Swedish language is part of Finland’s culture – even with the now world-famous Moomintrolls, a Swedish-speaking creation.
It is not all bad news, the increasing indifference and lack of understanding for Swedish has raised concern even amongst prominent Finnish-speaking politicians. Elder statesmen Martti Ahtisaari (former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner) and Paavo Lipponen (former Prime Minister) have spoken in favour of Swedish. President Tarja Halonen has also expressed her concern for recent developments.
Pictured: Protesters against the closure of the maternity ward in Ekenäs on the steps of Parliament in Helsingfors/Helsinki.
The controversial radio presenter Kirsi Virtanen’s programme of 29 July has been reported to the Mass Media regulator.
In her programme of 29 July which was broadcast on the Finnish language channel Ylen Radio 1, Virtanen took up the theme of immigrants and immigration. The programme has caused a lot of debate and discussion in Swedish-speaking media in Finland as in the programme Virtanen stated that people from “foreign countries” are living in Eastern Helsinki, such as Somalians, Russians, Estonians, Turks – and Swedes.
She went on to state that it was ridiculous to criticise immigrants as having bad skills in Finnish so long as there are native Finns who don’t speak Finnish and don’t even want to teach their children Finnish. She said it was “hurtful” that there were Finns who didn’t learn Finnish and stated that Swedish-speaking parents who placed their children in Swedish-language day care should be “ashamed”.
Of course, Virtanen’s logic is aside from discriminative, factually inept. Finland has two national languages, Finnish and Swedish. Swedish is as much a language of Finland as the Finnish language, so it is quite right and proper that there are Finns to be found that speak Swedish and not Finnish, just as the opposite is also found (albeit in far greater numbers). It would be strange to think that two Swedish-speaking parents would choose to speak a language other than their native tongue to their children, even if they are both proficient in Finnish. And if their Finnish is not completely correct, it could be plain dangerous for the child’s future communication skills if they sought to teach it a language they themselves don’t master.
It would also do Virtanen no harm to note that the proportion of Swedish-speaking Finns who are proficient in Finnish is far, far higher than the proportion of Finnish-speaking Finns who are proficient in Swedish. She might also note that almost without exception, every Swedish-speaking Finn visiting an entirely Finnish-speaking place would seek service in Finnish (i.e. speak it in a shop etc), whereas Finnish-speaking Finns almost always speak Finnish wherever they are, even in places where Swedish is the absolute majority (or only) language.
Of course, I am sure Virtanen would say that those Finnish-speaking Finns who have, during the last decades, moved en masse to previously entirely Swedish-speaking areas should be ashamed for imposing their language on the local, native population? No, perhaps not. As, it seems to only be Swedish-speakers in Finland that are allowed to be disciminated against in the media without any action ever being taken. What absolutely is shameful is that this was broadcast on Yle and thus funded by the general public, Swedish-speaking Finns included.
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”.
It would be fair to assume that the answer to this question is yes. At least if you base your conclusion on product packaging and many signs in Finland. All the more often, the Swedish version of text on product wrappers and on signs is less visible and often even less comprehensive than that of the Finnish version. More rarely, it’s simply badly or wrongly translated. So, it’s an often heard joke amongst Swedish speakers that a person has to have good eyesight to be Swedish-speaking.
The capital of our country, Helsingfors as we call it in Swedish, Helsinki in Finnish, is in fact Finland’s largest Swedish-speaking municipality if one goes by the raw number of Swedish-speaking Finns living there. There are roughly 30 000 Swedish-speakers in our capital, although it’s overall large population means that today these account for only slightly over 6% of the entire residents. But from its foundation by King Gustav Vasa in 1550 all the way until around the turn of the twentieth century, Swedish-speakers were in the majority. During the twentieth century, virtually the whole of Nyland (Uusimaa), but especially the capital, saw massive internal migration as thousands of Finnish-speakers from the interior of the country flocked to the more affluent south. Whilst they undoubtedly gave much to our nation’s economic progress, they had the side effect of irrevocably changing the language situation in many historically Swedish environs – a process that continues even today.
In today’s Helsinki, few Swedish-speaking Helsinki residents (at least those below around 60) bother to start conversations in Swedish in shops, businesses and often even with the authorities (who are legally obliged to offer services in both national languages). The frustration with being met by someone who does not understand or does not want to understand is just all too common. Yet, even in an ever more monolingual capital, there are still spaces that are exceptions to this rule. Places such as in branches of Aktia (a bank), certain known Swedish-speaking cafeteria hangouts and other traditionally Swedish-speaking-owned businesses and of course Stockmann are still thought, by many, to be places where one can naturally speak Swedish without causing oneself too many problems.
It has therefore caused a minor controversy – at least within the pages of Hufvudstadsbladet (slang: Husis) – that Stockmann (slang: Stokis) has, for the first time that at least anyone can remember, placed advertising signs outside its main central Helsinki department store in which the Swedish-text is not afforded equal coverage with the Finnish version. That the adverts also use the Finnish slang word ‘Stocka’ instead of the Swedish slang ‘Stokis’ even in the Swedish text just adds insult to injury. Stockmann’s marketing director brushes off criticism of both these matters saying that they had to make the Swedish text smaller as otherwise the advert’s picture would not have fit on the banner.
The title picture is taken a while back inside the then-newly opened extension of S-market in Borgå. The Finnish text directs the shopper towards the sugar (‘sokerit’). The Swedish shopper is sent to buy socks (‘sockor’, Swedish for sugar is ‘socker’). Source: Borgåbladet