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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.
A demonstration against obligatory teaching of Swedish in Finnish-language medium schools took place today outside Parliament in the capital.
According to the organisers, the protest was to alert the electorate in April’s parliamentary election to the issue of language. The demonstration was arranged by the nationalistic organisation Suomalaisuuden liitto, the ”Finnishness Association”. The organisation has in the past called for the eradication of Swedish at all levels in Finnish society, including on the unilingual Åland islands. The organisers have arranged free bus transport to Helsinki for protesters.
Counter-demonstrators in favour of diversity and the Swedish language are also attended. Päivi Storgård, a parliamentary candidate for the Swedish People’s Party in Helsinki, called the counter-demonstration. The association of Swedish-speaking history students at the University of Helsinki is also participated with the aim, according to Hufvudstadsbladet, of ensuring that there were also ”living Swedish-speaking Finns there, not just language radicals and politicians”.
The clearly intolerant and discriminative nature of the demonstration was confirmed when shouts of “Finland for the Finns” were heard from the anti-Swedish protesters, one can only assume that they don’t believe Swedish-speaking Finns belong in Finland.
This must be the first time in history that a demonstration has taken place against education and knowledge.
Video source: Hufvudstadsbladet, hbl.fi
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.
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.
Today, 6 November, is Svenska dagen or ‘Swedish day’, an official flag-day in Finland. The day is to celebrate Finland’s Swedish-speaking culture. Last year was its 100th anniversary.
This year the main Swedish Day celebration is in Jakobstad, but events are occurring around the country in the form of parties which usually feature Swedish language music artists, theatre performances etc. In recent years, a whole Swedish Week has been organised in some cities with an aim of reaching out also to Finnish speakers who are interested in experiencing Swedish language cultural events or just in brushing up their Swedish language skills.
On the occasion of Swedish Day, I thought it would be interesting to tell you about the ‘Song of the Mother tongue’, Modersmålets sång. This is sung as Swedish-speaking events such as school graduation ceremonies and is a kind of unofficial anthem for Swedish-speaking Finns. It was performed for the first time in 1898 and has lyrics that praise the beauty of the ‘mother tongue’ (i.e. the Swedish language) and how it is our greatest inheritance and treasure. The chorus demands that it be heard loudly and freely from shore to shore in the land of the thousand lakes. You can hear it sung by a choir from Åboland via this link (broken link) on the servers of Åbo Akademi University.
UPDATE 6.11. 2010. The audio link on Åbo akademi’s website is no longer available. You can however listen to Modersmålets sång on the archive page’s of Yle, Finland’s national broadcaster via this link.
Finland’s highest circulation newspaper, the Finnish-language Helsingin Sanomat (HS), has published an editorial in which it states that the concerns of Swedish-speaking Finns over their rights are justified.
HS states in its leader that the last few years have seen an increasingly tougher climate for Swedish in Finland, primarily as a result of three reasons; an increase in hateful views on Swedish-speakers and Swedish in Finland on a number of internet-based discussion sites, a new generation of politicians who often no longer speak Swedish fluently and a view amongst many politicians that larger institutional units are as effective as small ones. The paper names Helsinki’s recent forced annexation of a significant part of western Sibbo (Sipoo), the decision to close down the maternity ward at Ekenäs hospital, the reform of court districts, the reform of the police’s administrative districts, the attempt to get bilingual Karleby (Kokkola) to join the unilingual Oulu state administrative district against its city council’s will, and the recent proposal for bilingual schools in Esbo (Espoo) as examples of recent policy decisions that cause harm to Swedish-speakers’ rights. The newspaper states that these decisions show that the right to receive services in one’s mother tongue has been relegated to secondary issue when decisions are made.
HS’ editorial states that Swedish-speaking Finns can be a part of the reason behind the change in attitude towards Swedish in FInland. The leader column states that “Swedish-speaking Finns have had a defensive attitude towards their linguistic rights. This has strengthened an understanding amongst Finnish-speakers that Swedish-speakers want to isolate themselves and are inflexible.”
However, HS goes on to state that is is hard for persons belonging to a linguistic majority (i.e. Finnish-speakers) to understand how things seem for a minority group that are constantly concerned about their cultural identity and rights.
Helsingin Sanomat states that is is time for decision-makers to take the rights of Swedish-speaking Finns seriously. The paper underlines that Swedish-speaking Finns are as Finnish as Finnish-speaking Finns and notes that the cultural roots of Swedish-speakers in Finland go back as far as the start of Finnish history.
Helsingin Sanomat’s leader is a welcome contribution and hopefully will provide a welcome call to Finnish-speaking decision makers and civil society who may not even have noticed how recent actions have effected the Swedish-speaking population. For Finland’s bilingualism to work, it needs champions in Finnish-speaking society and amongst Finnish-speaking politicians. We Swedish-speakers can not make it work on our own.
At the same time, the fact that the issue has become so clearly visible even on the radar of the leader pages of Finland’s most influential newspaper reveals just how serious the language climate is right now. We must hope that there are Finnish-speaking politicians, including those in the government, who have read this article today and have realised that constitutional rights must be upheld in order to ensure our law-based society continues to develop hand in hand with the values of fairness.