On Friday, Finnish MPs threw out a citizens’ initiative calling for an end to a national Swedish-language instruction requirement in schools by 134 votes to 48.
The liberal-centrist Swedish People’s Party of Finland (SFP), which aims to represent the interests of the Swedish speakers, rejoiced at the result.
“The numbers are superb, perhaps even a little bit better than we had predicted beforehand,” SFP MP Stefan Wallin told Finnish broadcaster Yle.
“It shows a devastating support for the obligatory school Swedish,” he added.
However, a joint motion by the ruling liberal-conservative National Coalition Party and the main opposition Centre Party to allow Russian to be taught instead of Swedish in eastern Finland won narrow approval by a vote of 93 to 89.
“This is a bold decision and it is welcomed at the eastern border,” Matias Valoaho, principal and chief of culture in Tohmajärvi near Russia, commented.
“People come and go, Russians shop in the stores and own property. The school should provide you with the tools to survive in your surroundings. Apart from the language you should remember the culture, “ he told Swedo-Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet on Friday.
Sweden ruled Finland for centuries until 1809. It is home to a 5.3 percent minority Swedish-speaking population, who live mostly in populated areas along the coast. Swedish has been mandatory as a second language in schools since the 1970s. And researcher Janne Väistö of Åbo Academy thinks increased Russian military activity in the east will convince the Finns to turn towards Sweden.
“When Finland feels threatened, when the eastern border feels unsafe, we turn towards the Nordic countries and Sweden. When the threat decreases we feel brave and turn directly to Europe, and to Russia,” he told Hufvudstadsbladet last month.
“It’s therefore more than likely that the top political debate will more and more emphasize the ties to Sweden. In the debate about ‘mandatory Swedish’ the SFP has thus acquired very good arguments.”
Members of both camps took to social media to voice their opinions after the parliament debate.
Councillor of Finnish town Nykarleby and SFP parliamentary candidate Elli Flen wrote on Twitter: "Thank you, parliament, for your clear support of school Swedish! Can we focus on solving problems now?"
Tack riksdagen för tydligt stöd för skolsvenskan! Kan vi fokusera på att lösa problem nu? #elli2015
— Elli Flen (@elliflen) March 6, 2015
But the chairman of the nationalist right-wing Finns Party's youth wing, which strongly supported the citizens' initiative, tweeted: "The citizens' initiative collapsed. There went many of the MPs' election pledges."
Kansalaisaloite kaatui. Sinne meni monien kansanedustajien vaalilupaukset. #pakkoruotsi
— Sebastian Tynkkynen (@SebastianTyne) March 6, 2015