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Swedish language under threat in Finland: report

Rebecca Martin · 13 Apr 2011, 15:11

Published: 13 Apr 2011 15:11 GMT+02:00

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In an upcoming report on minority languages the Council of Europe states that Swedish as an official language in Finland is under threat due to officials’ poor Swedish skills and deficiencies in the mandatory Swedish tuition in schools.

Kimmo Sasi of the Finnish Constitutional Law Committee is not surprised by the Council’s findings. He thinks that the matter must be taken seriously.

“We will look into it and try to come up with solutions for the ministry of education on how to deal with these issues,” Sasi told Yle.

The Finnish language laws from 2003 specify that the official languages of Finland are Finnish and Swedish. Both languages have the same legal status and authorities in bilingual municipalities must offer their services in either language.

The Council has on many occasions pointed to the difficulty in using the Swedish language in Finland, despite the right to be served in Swedish is stipulated in the Finnish constitution.

Recently the Finnish parliamentary ombudsman ruled that there should be clearer guidelines at health centres as to what information and medical records should be made available in the patient’s mother tongue.

Although the medical records will be allowed to remain kept in Finnish, it must be possible for a Swedish-speaking patient to get access to a Swedish translation.

This followed a demand from the Swedish Assembly in Finland (Folktinget) in 2009 that all medical records of Swedish speakers should be kept in Swedish.

Swedish is a compulsory subject in Finnish schools today, a fact that has been criticised from many sides over the years.

More recently the right wing party True Finns (Sannfinländarna) have been demanding the abolishment of obligatory Swedish in Finnish schools.

The Council of Europe is now recommending that Finland improves the level of Swedish classes in school and ensures services in Swedish for Swedish-speakers.

Story continues below…

According to Sasi, the Constitutional Committee will do what they can to give the matter the deserved attention.

“It might not lead to any definite measures but at least it will increase the pressure to do something about it,” Sasi told YLE.

Finland was a part of Sweden until 1809 when the area was lost to Russia.

The country has been an independent nation since 1917.

Rebecca Martin (rebecca.martin@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

16:34 April 13, 2011 by StockholmSam
Well then, let's retaliate by ignoring the Finnish language here in Sweden! That will show them!
17:31 April 13, 2011 by MarSi
Why Swedish should remain as an official language if there is less than 10% of all population, who are Swedes? I never understood it, no matter of all historic events (Finns being ruled by Swedes)
17:40 April 13, 2011 by Nemesis
The Swedish invaded Finland and imposed there language.

The Finns are within there rights to ignore the language of an imperial colonising invader.
17:50 April 13, 2011 by MarSi
Nemesis, exactly, I can't understand, why they have been so patient all this time...probably because Swedish minority in Finland still has a certain political and economical power, their lobby can get it through
19:05 April 13, 2011 by NickO.
If you're looking for reasoning try to consider that it's their only linguistic link to the rest of Scandinavia.

English is fine but they will lose a very important tool in the inter Scandinavian trade relationship and will increasingly over time be treated more like outsiders (non-Scandinavians) if both parties are forced to communicate in English.
19:32 April 13, 2011 by MarSi
Linguistic link sounds like a very lame excuse to me. English is and will be just fine for Finns and Swedes just like for all others English is fine.
19:58 April 13, 2011 by Tanskalainen
It is the will of Jumala.
20:31 April 13, 2011 by StockholmSam
Sorry Nick O., but your argument holds no water. Anyone involved in international business speaks fluent English, otherwise they would not be in that field. And if Swedish is so important for Sweden's international trade, then how in the world is Sweden trading with the rest of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas? Answer: Swedish is of no importance to Sweden's international trade relationships, even those with Finland.

I also do not see Finland being penalized in the "Scandinavian culture arena," either. I know too many Swedes who don't really understand a word the Danes are saying and yet there is no cultural isolation there due to language.
20:35 April 13, 2011 by Frank Lee
Obviously, it'sgood to learn anything, but learning comes at a cost--in terms of time as well as money. I'm guessing those Finnish speakers might be better served by spending their time studying math or chemistry or biology instead of the minor language of a former colonial power.
21:36 April 13, 2011 by Dr. Dillner

I usually do not agree with you, but I am fully in accord with your view on this; keep Finnish in Finland and Swedish in Sweden. This trying shove bilingualism down the public's throat would gag anyone.
22:00 April 13, 2011 by apelsin000
You guys may think abandoning Swedish's official status in Finland is a good thing for the Finns, but actually, knowing that there are still 10% Swedish speakers and the Ålanders, i think it may cost quite a problem in the long term.
22:26 April 13, 2011 by MarSi

And what is going to happen to them? Population less than 10%. Let Ålanders have a special status and speak their Swedish but don't force it on Finns if they don't want it anymore. Simple as that.
22:30 April 13, 2011 by sidra
what about Russian then? high time for Finns to realize that Swedish invasion was over in 1809 and was followed by the Russians.
22:51 April 13, 2011 by star10
The Finnish music is gonna deteriorate if they abandon the melodic Swedish. And they will lose some of their tongue muscles which they developed while making stresses like jätte bra.
22:55 April 13, 2011 by Ivan Juric
Russian? vile sounding language especially in expression.
23:44 April 13, 2011 by Enjoyourlife
swedish as an official language in Finland doesnot make sense! Finnish is not an official languge in sweden. Another languge would be fine for finns. Study a languge that you can use of out scandi. The 10% swedish speakers can come back to sweden.
00:37 April 14, 2011 by Tanskalainen
Anyone speaking ruotsi in Finland should get a big falukorv where the sun doesn't shine.
01:21 April 14, 2011 by swedejane
So a small country with an obscure language is going to stop speaking another obscure language from a neighboring small country....and the problem is?
07:30 April 14, 2011 by Zhorka
Finns suffered a lot under Swedish rule. Not only Swedish official status should be abandoned, but it should in fact be totally banned on Suomi's territory. On the other hand, Sweden must declare Finnish as the official language (not just as a minority language) as a proof of repentance of the past misdeeds.
10:11 April 14, 2011 by planet.sweden
As usual there's some quite breathtaking ignorance on display in this forum.

In fact research has found archeological evidence of a continuous Swedish presence in Finland dating from pre-historic times, alongside Estonian and Finnish communities, and predating by thousands of years any entity called 'Finland'. The Finnish people themselves originally herald from the Urals in mid Russia.

As such the ancient Swedish speaking communities living Finland have just as much right to speak their own language in Finland as do the Finns. This fact is not altered one jot by the far later 'Swedish Era' in Finland, nor by the Russian occupation of the territory in 1809. Those occupations were just part of the usual imperial ebb and flow of borders across Europe during the 16-20th centuries, and certainly no excuse for the condoning of discrimination today by Swede hating immigrant half-wits living in Stockholm who experienced none of it.

The Swedish language is under threat in Finland and the Finns do discriminate against Swedish speakers. It wasn't so long ago that they used to break out into a sing song of "In Finland we speak Finnish" whenever they heard Swedish speakers chatting on a bus. It's time for the Finnish government to be held account on this issue. Doubtless the Swedish government in Stockholm hasn't got the balls for the job which leaves the EU. Here's hoping.
10:27 April 14, 2011 by MarSi

what matters is TODAY. Finns are having rights to choose if they want to carry on with their "servant mentality" towards Swedes or they want to stop it. Swedes living in Finland will be just fine. If they can't learn Finnish, they can always return to the Motherland
10:59 April 14, 2011 by Streja
Return to the Motherland? They already live in their motherland: Finland.

Perhaps Nemesis thinks we should deport all those English people back to England who speak English in Ireland.
11:31 April 14, 2011 by MarSi

It's not about that. It's about Finns to be able to decide what they want in their country. Swedes are minority in Finland and if Finns want, they can decide that they don't want Swedish as an official language anymore. Otherwise really, why not making all minority languages as official ones too?
11:39 April 14, 2011 by johnny1939
Finnish should be the official language and the language taught in the schools. Huvudstadsbladet should change to finish. Furthermore, I do not think that Finland should be considered a part of Scandinavia any more w/ the exemption of Aland and its islands where they always have been speaking Swedish. When the åländers want to do business and shopping the mostly go to Stockholm anyway. The Finns and their language are not Scandinavians. I think Finnish is closely related to Hungarian or so I have heard for years. I like the Finns I like to add but right is right and 1809 is a long time ago.
13:20 April 14, 2011 by pjtaipale

>Well then, let's retaliate by ignoring the Finnish language here in Sweden!

>That will show them!

Not sure if you are just being sarcastic, but that is what Sweden did do for a long time. And more than that: in the Finnish (or meänkieli)-speaking Northern Sweden, there was a rather active policy to force people to convert to speak Swedish. No official services in Finnish; schoolchildren were actually punished for speaking Finnish on the school yard, etc.

Now that is mostly past, fortunately, with the position of minority languages in Sweden better defined.

The hot topic regarding Swedish in Finland is not really the constitutional position (not very many people want to have changes to that) but the mandatory teaching of Swedish to everyone in school.

This thing (often called tvångsvenska) is in fact a very new thing: it was introduced with the elementary school system (grundskolan) in 1970's. Before that, only a minority of children had to learn Swedish in school.

The mandatory Swedish has certainly been an aggravating factor that has deteriorated the relationship of the Finnish-speaking majority with the Swedish-speaking minority.

At the same time, the demographic change of language groups has been substantial. The Swedish-speaking population in Finland, by year / population / percentage:

1880 / 294 900 / 14,3 %

1900 / 349 700 / 12,9 %

1940 / 354 000 / 9,6 %

1970 / 303 400 / 6,6 %

2000 / 291 700 / 5,7 %

2008 / 289 951 / 5,4 %

So, in 130 years, the proportion of Swedish-speakers has dropped to a third, with the absolute numbers turning downwards since mid-1900's as well. This change won't go without an impact. In the 1930's there was still an intense debate about the right to give and receive university teaching in Finnish: whether it can continue to be all in Swedish, or whether faculty actually needs to give lessons also in the majority language. Now it has reversed, the debate concentrating on whether some of the privileges for Swedish-language education (e.g. quotas to lawyer training) are justified. And the actual issue is that still 30 years ago, it was normal to have bilingual Finnish/Swedish service in just about any shop or cafe in Helsinki. Now, that has changed to bilingual Finnish/English. It's the actual usefulness of Swedish in Finland that has changed.

An added flavor is the tendency that some politicians of the Swedish Party in FInland (Svenska folkpartiet) are seen as trying to recruit immigrants (from Balkans, Africa and Middle East) to Swedish-speaking areas, with the hope that they pick Swedish as the first host country language, and therefore reverse the demographic decline of Swedish-speakers mentioned above. That's not a very popular idea among the Finnish-speaking population.
13:52 April 14, 2011 by Åskar

Finland is already not part of Scandinavia.
14:22 April 14, 2011 by johnny1939
@åskar It is considered a part of scandinavia all over the world. But I agree w/ you it is not. Iceland should not be either although the language has the same background. I can sort of figure it out reading it but I really don't understand a word of it when spoken.
16:27 April 14, 2011 by foordranata
The force-feeders of swedish are nothing but a bunch of leaches tapped into the bloodsystem of all Scandinavian countries.

There has never been a more rasistic movement in existance in here.
17:05 April 14, 2011 by Åskar

And many people outside the USA call Southerners "yanks". Claims that Finland is part of Scandinavia to somebody from these parts of the World will probably result a blank stare or a laugh

And yes. Iceland is not part of Scandinavia either.

To get matters straight:

Scandinavia = Denmark (although not situated on the Scandinavian peninsula), Norway and Sweden.

The Nordic countries = Scandinavia plus Finland and Iceland.
18:00 April 14, 2011 by Finnish guy
Swedish speaking Finns are about 6 percent of Finnish population. It is ridiculous that the large majority of Finnish speaking Finns are forced to study so much Swedish. And it is also not fair that Swedish speakers are favored and Finnish speakers discriminated.

In Sweden about 5 percent of population speak Finnish. How would you feel if all people in Sweden were required to learn Finnish, you couldn't get university degree or get any job in public sector without passing Finnish exam -- and persons who speak Finnish as mother tongue had much larger quotas in universities than their proportion in the population (and because of that, they would have much lower required grades to enter universities, compared to Swedish speakers)? Just swap Finnish and Swedish and you have the current situation in Finland.
18:17 April 14, 2011 by Tanskalainen
@Finnish guy Thank You. You have put the situation in clear perspective. As a Dane married to a Finn my wife and I constantly compare notes on the squirmy Swedes.
18:18 April 14, 2011 by Finnish guy
I have feeling that the Council of Europe report is heavily influenced by Swedish speaking Finns and their lackeys as it also contains quite ridiculous things like: "Finnish students shouldn't start learning English at such early age, because it may interfere in learning Swedish." In reality almost no Finnish speaker needs Swedish skills after school, but majority needs English skills and it would be much more useful to improve English skills and not to sabotage English skills in order to learn useless Swedish.

I do not want to offend Swedish speakers, but the reality is that in Finland Swedish is almost as useless language skill as is Swahili (or Finnish) in Sweden. Large majority of population is opposed this forced Swedish in schools and even most of the candidates in elections oppose it, but because of corruption of Finnish politics, we have had this failed system for about 40 years. And most students don't ever become fluent Swedish speakers (because there is so little motivation and because even the little Swedish you learn at school, is quickly forgotten because you almost never hear or speak it), although so many hours are wasted trying to ram it through their throats.
18:46 April 14, 2011 by Tanskalainen
@Finnish guy You are 100% right again of course but when all is said and done my wife and I still love the daylights out of Sweden.
19:04 April 14, 2011 by MarSi
Finnish guy,

thx for sharing, how Finns feel about it. When I lived in Finland (just 2 months), I noticed it's quite a sensitive question and not all Finns can admit, how they feel about Swedish language, even though they obviously become nervous, when speaking about the issue.
19:21 April 14, 2011 by Finnish guy
I would like to emphasize that most Finns like Sweden as a country and don't have negative feelings even against Swedish language, but we do have negative feelings against force feeding Swedish language at Finnish school system. And this force feeding of Swedish language can also cause negative feelings against Swedish speaking Finns.

One another strange thing in Finnish politics is that the Swedish language party (Svenska folkpartiet i Finland) has been in governmental position since 1979 with one or two seats in the government and has collaborated with the right as well as the left wing in the Finnish parliament even though it gets only few percents of all votes. It seems that the votes people give, just have influence on other parties in government. And I have no doubt that money that the filthy rich Swedish cultural funds give to politicians, plays at least some part in this strange phenomenon.

And quite many leading Finnish speaking politicians are members of all kinds of Swedish language and cultural associations (like Svenska Nu which also receives funding from Sweden and Magma) and receive also medals for their work for Swedish language. For example, former prime minister, Paavo Lipponen, has received Axel Olof Freudenthal medal and he is also the chairman of Svenska Nu. And Kimmo Sasi who was mentioned in this news, is a vice chairman of Svenska Finlands folkting.
22:42 April 14, 2011 by fatandhappy
This board is full of idiots. In truth there has been Swedish spoken in areas of Finland for as long or longer than Finnish has been spoken. Why should they be seen as foreigners in their own country?

As to the compulsory Swedish, that part I understand, but disagree with the majority of Finns.

Why would Finnish politicians being associated with their Swedish-speaking countrymen be a bad thing? I thought Sweden stood for supporting minorities and fellow citizens of different backgrounds, it is a shame there are so many morons on the local that think otherwise.
03:04 April 15, 2011 by bira
I agree with Finnish Guy on this one. Growing up I can remember Finnish becoming a bigger and bigger part in Swedish society with required radio and TV programming, etc. and social institutions having to be bilingual (I'm talking more than 20 years ago now). However, we were never required to learn Finnish in school and I really see no reason why Finns should be required to learn Swedish. However, blaming Swedes for the situation makes no sense at this point, Finland is autonomous and not controlled by Sweden. They have their own politicians that are perpetuating the status quo.
05:07 April 15, 2011 by foordranata
Oh well..

I´ve seen migrants from Somalia, Niger, Algeria, Brittish, Russian...

They all learned the language of the country they moved into, got integrated and went on with their lifes.

5 euros to the one who knows who did not?

(They been here for centuries, they still don´t get it. Contemplate on that...)
10:49 April 15, 2011 by glamshek
I think Swedish language should be given more importance in Finland
13:31 April 15, 2011 by foordranata

You´re free to say so. You are also free to finance this out of your own wallet.

No special status above others for any minority language. It is just wrong.
14:40 April 15, 2011 by unionisten
So the Finns who speak swedish as their native tounge shouldnt be allowed to speak it?

or how do you mean now?

Finland has 2 native languages Swedish and Finnish and thats just how it has been for ages.
15:21 April 15, 2011 by foordranata

You asked me?

Well ok:

I got no problem with Finns who are native swedish speakers. They´re just like anybody.

It´s the small group of bigots I´m worried about. They´re telling lies and pumping money out of the system just to keep the debate going.

In other words: We are feeding a Troll. A big one, in Scandinavian scale.

Just don´t demand swedish of me :)

You´ll see that the sun will shine more bright tomorrow and we´ll be like happy little hobbits all of us.
15:30 April 15, 2011 by bo13do
it's freeee!!!


try it !
15:43 April 15, 2011 by unionisten
hi No i didnt really ask you but i didnt mind your answer?

I was just asking the Troll Nemesis.

I have friends on both sides of the language barrier in finland
16:07 April 15, 2011 by foordranata

There never was a barrier to begin with.

What you see on a map is an illusion.
16:18 April 15, 2011 by Tanskalainen
Scandinavians are the cleanest most efficient people on earth, we should all enjoy each other. Especially between the sheets.
16:38 April 15, 2011 by foordranata

Shall we include the Russians in this "Scandinavian approach?"

What do you think, Tanskalainen?
19:43 April 15, 2011 by Tanskalainen
@foordranata I like Russians, in fact I converted to Orthodoxy but Russia is not exactly a clean place. Have you been there? The Russians are unique, they do things no one else does (like sunbathing in in litter strewn gravel) which is one of reasons I like them. Some Russian women are hot but for every pretty one there are three that look like Mona Sahlin.
19:54 April 15, 2011 by foordranata

I´ve been there. You can smell you´re in there with you eyes closed.

Russia is a beautiful place and the people are me & you. The people used to be a BIT mislead...
23:30 April 15, 2011 by wxman
I agree with others here. This is no different than if Mexico complained that English is being taught in American schools. Find something else to worry about, like your Islamic invasion.
12:56 April 16, 2011 by foordranata

I am struggling with your comment.

Let me explain:

I have not met a Swedish born citicen who actually would like to force he´s language on me.

This thing exists within the Finnish society. One minority just wants to rule over everything. This is absolutely wrong.

So if the Swedish society has it´s quirks, we have them also...
15:17 April 16, 2011 by wenddiver
wendish proverb-

Druhi kraj, druhe wasnje. In English-Another country, another custom.

Hsyz so psy kusaja, wjelkam so spodoba. Or in English- When dogs bite each other, wolves are happy.
20:05 April 16, 2011 by foordranata
At this point i would like to thank Rebecca Martin & the Local for bringing this subject up.

It is not a secret that all people have been a little racist toward each other. One of the last fortresses of this past era is this force-feeding of swedish language.

Think about it: Be born a no swedish speaker while the whole cociety around you is built on this bilangual strangeness.

If the EU will somehow manage to get this force-feeding a legal mandate on EU level, I will promise here & now that it will get ugly. No man should take this crap.
16:04 April 18, 2011 by burlison
Finland no longer needs Swedish. The nation wouldn't have had successful diplomatic and business entre into Europe and the world beyond during its formative years after independence. One of Finland's competitive advantages today is a superlative education system. A Finnish gymnasium student from Kitee, near the Russian border will have spent thousands of classroom hours learning a language THEY WILL NEVER USE.

There are post-colonial arguments about Swedish language education that are rabbling rousing noise - Teaching Swedish to people who don't use it in a country where it costs 10X more than what it costs China/India to educate a college graduate is unsustainable. That's it.
20:14 April 19, 2011 by taneli
in Finland every person is required to study Swedish in every school level beginning from grade 7. You will need Swedish if you're ever dreaming of having a public sector job. Swedish is listed as a second national language even though only a small fraction of our population lists themselves as swedish speaking people. It's a hinderance and even prevents fitting more usable languages; such as German, Russian, and French into our timetables.

This absurd policy is run by Swedish People's Party of Finland (SFP), which is a lobby for Swedish speaking people here.

SFP lies in the media that they only look after the friendships between finnish- and swedish speaking people and supervise swedish-finnish rights to run errands in bureaus and to be served in stores in their own language.

In reality in order to ensure the stature of Swedish it is enough when swedish-finnish people speak the language and services in Swedish are maintained at the coast. The illusion of bilingualism created by SFP is completely wrong, because bilingualism only exists here if finns are forced to learn Swedish. Utterances defending mandatory Swedish often begin with stating that Sweden used to rule Finland 200 years ago - as if it could be rationalized that Swedish is part of our general knowledge.

According to opinion polls over half of our nation wants to get rid of mandatory Swedish, but because every party not including True Finns has more than one infiltrated SFP representative, the language selection theme will remain tossed aside for years and no real progress can be made.

No less than 15% of all tv channel expenses is used on a Swedish FST5 channel, even though it's ratings are at rock bottom. Moreover, YLE (A national broadcasting company under the subordinance of our Parliament) uses irrational amouts of private money on Swedish programs. Swedish-Finnish folks are also offered 2 radio channels of their own, Radio X3M and YLE Radio Vega.

It is up to the Swedish speaking people to ensure the stability of their heritage in Finland. In a democratic country it can't be left as the majority's responsibility! Finland should officially be made a monolingual place, where Swedish would have it's minority status along with Sami, Romani and sign language - renewing language or school-legislations doesn't need changing the Constitution, a referendum will do.
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