Finland's Language War Nationalists Seek End to Mandatory Swedish Lessons

Members of the True Finns party and of Finland's ruling conservatives want to abolish compulsory Swedish tuition in schools. It is part of a growing right-wing campaign to assert a Finnish national identity at the expense of the Swedish minority.

The leader of the far-right True Finns, Timo Soini.

The leader of the far-right True Finns, Timo Soini.

Ever since the Finnish Republic was founded over a century ago, its Swedish minority, which accounts for some 5 percent of the population, has been regarded as a firm part of Finnish society.

But now, members of the nationalist True Finns party, along with the country's ruling conservatives, are seeking to put an end to laws making the learning of Swedish in public schools obligatory. Finnish nationalists have gathered 50,000 signatures for a petition seeking to end mandatory Swedish lessons. That means that the Finnish parliament will have to debate the issue.

The constitution states that Finland is a bilingual country and permits Swedish to be used as an official language, meaning that Finland Swedes can communicate with government authorities in their own language.

Prominent Swedes include former President Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, who led Finland through the Winter War against the Soviet Union, the composer Jean Sibelius and Nokia founder Fredrik Idestam. The minority has its own party, the Swedish People's Party of Finland.

Fight for a Pure Finnish Identity

In a survey, 97 of the 200 MPs said they favored voluntary Swedish lessons in future, with 96 saying they wanted Swedish to remain a compulsory subject.

The fight for a pure Finnish identity is being waged mainly by the youth organisations of the far-right True Finns party and the conservative ruling party of Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen.

Europe Minister Alexander Stubb criticized "language fundamentalists on both sides" and said Swedish was an important part of Finland's cultural legacy. Before its independence, Finland was part of Sweden for some 500 years.

The atmostphere has become so heated that prominent Swedish authors and politicians have been getting death threats and hate mail.



Discuss this issue with other readers!
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Budapest 08/26/2013
1. Ordinary Finnish emigrant
Finnish Swedes are very proud of their heritage as old noble ruling class in Finland, and towards Finns they are very racist and discriminative. Finnish swedes have their own educational facilities, kindergardens and services, those are not open to Finnish kids, and even if they are officially open you are not welcome and Finnish swedes make it very clear towards you, racism towards Finns is very bad especially in south-western Finland. Their impact on our politics is much more than typical democracy would allow. Just like in South Afrika, all the blacks had to study Afrikaans in schools in order to be able to serve their white minority, Finns have to study swedish in our schools in order to apply for goverment jobs, or to receive higher education in Finland at all. To us Finns this has created a glass ceiling in society and made sure that Finnish swedes stay on top of the wealth and get the best places in goverment jobs, schools, and universities. It has direct impact on Finnish distribution of wealth, health, longelivety, happiness and opportunities. Only other example of this kind of politics comes from South-africa, and it was called apartheid. What i am really amazed of, is that European Union does not intervene and end this!
danm 08/26/2013
2. Why not?
What is wrong with an independent and sovereign nation, Finland, making laws regarding its own citizens without German paternalism getting in the way? It is an undue burden to make 95% of the population learn Swedish as a second language. It's just not practical and quite frankly it's insulting that you feel the need to tell Finns how to run their own country.
japanreader 08/27/2013
3. Practicalities
I've only visited Finland once, but it seems that linguistically they are at a great disadvantage with such a unique language. To go into any specialty at all, a second and a third language are necessary for Finns. Learning Swedish opens the door to all of Scandinavian culture, not just Sweden, but Denmark, Norway and Iceland also. It's usefulness is very difficult to debate.
flo 08/27/2013
4. Re:Ordinary Finnish emigrant
Come on - you must be dreaming... or have not been back to Finland in recent years... The swedish-imposed "glass-ceiling" is long gone in Finland. Now I would say it is a penalty to be a finnish-swede, and as a finnish-swede you cannot get by without speaking finnish nowadays. Old wealth might still be with the minority but all new wealth and economic dynamism is definitely with the finnish majority. For the rest - it is just Timo Soini trying to win a few votes on the cheap, since he has nothing constructive to propose.
Jaded Primate 08/27/2013
That the True Finns support this measure should not distract from the fact that it is still a very valid complaint to have that a whole country needs to learn the language of a 5% minority just so that minority can do groceries without having to speak Finnish. As a consequence of the obligatory Swedish language requirement Finnish speaking students are at a disadvantage since higher education often requires Swedish language skills and regardless of what politicians would like to decide Swedish is simply not their native language. Also, rather than having to learn Swedish, they could focus on actually important languages like English, German or Russian.
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