Vanhanen to Swedish-speaking minority: “Your grievance against the Finnish mainstream isn’t justified”

Sitting on airplanes is a time to catch up on news. Not much on architecture this time or even planning.

Instead there was some concern in Huvfudstadsbladet (Finland’s Swedish-speaking daily, “Capital city paper”) about a sense that the status of Swedish-speakers in this country is under veiled threat. Veiled? Well, perhaps in the polite language of The Usual’s leader from Sunday under the headline “Swedish speakers’ concerns over their rights are totally justified” to which HBL was referring. Well, the prime minister promptly, predictably and sadly judged that these concerns are not justified.


We Finns are all, Vanhanen says, one nation, speaking two languages but united in all other things. Perhaps, I muse, things like our common fight against the onslaught of the seagulls, or equally plausibly our inalienable right to consider our innovativeness somehow unique.

Getting back to the question of the mainstream and the other streams, there are the Sami who live in the Arctic parts of the country whose language is also recognised as a Finnish language [sic] and who are increasingly able to be educated in their own language. One official blurb puts it thus:

Lisäksi laissa on turvattu saamelaisten sekä romaanien ja muiden ryhmien oikeus ylläpitää ja kehittää omaa kieltään ja kulttuuriaan. Saamelaisilla on oikeus lain mukaan käyttää saamen kieltä tietyissä viranomaisissa.

[In addition the law secures the rights of the Sami, Roma and other groups to sustain and develop their own language and culture. Sami also have the legal right to use the Sami language in certain dealings with the authorities.]

This is something people have fought hard for. In Lapland, anecdotally at least (and from online research), bringing back the Sami language has substantially improved the psychological well-being of pupils in Utsjoki, Finland’s most northern municipality. Not that far from there, in Tornio, language politics of another kind once put Finnish-speaking children under severe strain. The moving 2003 film Elina (Invisible Elina, in the Finnish) by director Klaus Häro (with no less of a star than Bibi Andersson playing the harsh school teacher) captures not just the injustices perpetrated by adults against children but those of majority language-speakers against minorities.

It makes me wish more of us were minorities. It seems to me that many minority groups are multilingual and that in many cases this begets both tolerance and lasting contributions to mainstream culture. On which note, I wish I read Swedish well enough to contemplate reading Kjell Westö in the original.

For more on this story, see Svenskfinland’s extensive comment.

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One response to “Vanhanen to Swedish-speaking minority: “Your grievance against the Finnish mainstream isn’t justified”

  1. Pingback: Centre pursuing a hidden agenda against Swedish « Svenskfinland in English

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