New lift for Sweden’s minority languages

The Swedish government has promised to do more to preserve and promote the country’s official minority languages.

Since 2000, Finnish, all Sami dialects, Torne Valley Finnish (meänkieli), Romani, and Yiddish have had special status as national minority languages in Sweden.

But integration minister Nyamko Sabuni wants the government to do more to ensure that threatened languages, including several Sami dialects, don’t die out in Sweden.

“The future of national minority languages is uncertain, and for some of the languages, the situation is dire,” she said in a statement.

“A collective strategy is needed in order to meet the needs of the national minorities, increase awareness of these national minorities, and to ensure Sweden does a better job of living up to its human rights commitments.”

In a referral presented to the Council on Legislation (Lagrådet) on Thursday, the government proposes a new law for national minorities and their languages, as well as changes to the Sami parliament law and the laws governing social services.

The government plans to set aside an additional 70 million kronor ($8.7 million) after 2010 to reform national minority policies, a substantial increase from the current 10 million kronor funding level.

Sabuni explained that people who want to use Finnish or Sami when in contact with the five major state agencies should have the right to do so and be made aware of that right.

Sabuni also wants the agencies to make an effort to hire employees who are fluent in the languages.

“Regardless of where in the country you live, you should, when contacting these agencies, be able to communicate in Finnish or Sami,” she told Sveriges Radio (SR).

The agencies covered by the demand include the Tax Agency (Skatteverket), the Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan), the equality and discrimination ombudsmen (JO and DO), as well as the Office of the Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern).

Sabuni added however that other agencies would also be urged to at least have employees who can speak Finnish, Sami, and Torne Valley Finnish.

Sabuni also wants to increase the pressure on municipalities to ensure that children of national minorities have a chance to learn and use their own languages.

Local authorities also need to do more to inform the minorities about their rights and give them opportunities to participate in the political process, added Sabuni.

Part of the problem, she said, is that municipalities often confuse national minorities with ethnic minorities.

“They think that national minorities and ethnic minorities, that is to say – other immigrant groups, are the exact same thing and they’re not. While, for example, five children are need for ethnic minority [language instruction], only one child is needed for national minorities,” she told SR.