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Swedish is Double-Plus-Good!
by Eero Nevalainen
2006-11-07 09:52:55
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It is again the time of the year to show how much we all love Swedish. Flags are flying on the flagpoles. The media are relaying the politicians' rhetorically rather predictable statements on the crucial importance of the language for every man, woman and child.

The representatives of the Swedish-speakers' own one-issue, always in government party, the SFP (Svenska Folkpartiet), sharpen their pencils and write opinion pieces about how much work there still is to be done to truly achieve language equality. They warn that our civilization faces the danger of imminent collapse and Finland's international isolation that would make North Korea look cosmopolitan, should we stray from the one true path of Nordic co-operation and unity.

If we are lucky, the Swedish Embassy will affirm the latter point with motherly, yet ominous chidings that our relations indeed do run the risk of worsening in that case. They would be happy to provide us with a political commissar of their own to make sure things go smoothly and amicably in the future by helping us improve our understanding of Sweden, Swedish and its culture.

According to the common wisdom of Swedish day, it is "attitude problems towards Swedish" that most threaten the harmonious co-existence of our language groups. These attitude problems are most prevalent among the uneducated and uncivilized, the intolerant, the financially less well-off, the rebellion-age teenage schoolboys and otherwise disturbed and undesirable individuals. Over an individual's lifetime, they lead to dropping out of schools and careers, destitution and inability to function in an increasingly international world and Finnish society, whose laws have been wisely written demanding more and more knowledge of Swedish - nobody in their right mind would want to have attitude problems!

Naturally, they must be corrected by society in order to help the individual. The way to do this, of course, is to expand the reach of Swedish in all ways to ensure no-one is left out -- in its most efficient form, preferably encouraging language-bathing children in Swedish before they reach school age, so they would not get the chance to find the situation bothersome in the first place. Only a member of the lunatic fringe would refuse such a wonderful gift from the government!

Unfortunately, I was born too early and in too Finnish-speaking an area of the country, to parents who are too Finnish-speaking, to have any part in this, so I missed out. As I am now damaged for life, I may just as well live with my attitude problems and attempt to gain people's understanding through elucidating on why I feel the way I do. I believe that many Finnish-speakers in this country share my feelings, but are averse to making themselves heard, as opposing the official policy carries a stigma.

The Swedish day slogans are catchy and subtle as well, and require some active countering, which most people are not capable of doing or are not willing to expend the energy on in the ensuing confrontation of views. A normal, peace-loving citizen does not wish to openly take positions which seemingly "are against the minority", "deny the Fenno-Swedes the right to use their own language" or "oppose personal enrichment through knowing languages".

Yet, throughout the last decade a solid two-thirds of the population has consistently polled against the mandatory Swedish education, and Swedish teachers are worried about the bad results and the perception of the language as a forced burden. In spite of this, the parliament near unanimously just passed the new language law, which contains interesting provisions which we will return to shortly. An interesting argument for the passing of the law was that it mostly requires that the content of the old language law must be followed -- in other words, the old law was already dead, which people found unreasonable enough not to respect and follow!

The pro-Swedish argumentation can be broadly divided into two categories: arguments from need, necessity or benefit, and those from identity, history and culture. Let us tackle the need and benefit aspects first, as they are easier to evaluate objectively.

Finland's 5.5% Swedish-speaking minority is, according to my knowledge, the smallest language minority in the world who have had their language blessed as an official language of the country. They are not only the smallest such minority, but certainly also the one with the most extensive rights enshrined in their country's laws.

The most important law of these, the language law, divides municipalities on Finland's mainland (excluding Ahvenanmaa, or Åland) into unilingually Finnish or Swedish and bilingual ones. In bilingual ones, one is entitled to service from the government in one's mother tongue. This sounds rather reasonable at first glance. However, the devil is in the details and implementation. The bilinguality criterion kicks in swiftly: Currently, a municipality becomes bilingual if 8% or 3,000 people of its population are of the minority language. The criterion has been tightened repeatedly throughout history, as the number of Swedish-speakers has dwindled, to maintain the status quo. At the moment, this means that in particular in the large municipalities in Southern Finland, most notably Vantaa, the 3,000 person limit remains broken, while the percentage of Swedish-speakers remains remarkably low.

This means that Finland's large public sector needs to prepare to serve Swedish-speakers in Swedish, even in areas where this occurrence is rare, and even then, probably because of the individual's insistence on Swedish; instead of his actual inability to speak Finnish. Interestingly, according to a common misconception, the language law does not say that everyone must speak Swedish in government jobs in bilingual municipalities -- the amount of speakers of each language must be "sufficient" -- but, in practice, it seems to me the language law is being interpreted as if it did require Swedish of everyone.

At least for the SFP, the language law seems to serve as grounds for pushing for increased Swedish education, so that the entire population would be able to fulfil the law's requirements. If the law genuinely states that services in both languages must be according to real need, I do not understand why Swedish-speakers can't work themselves in government organs in areas where they are living in sufficient numbers. Are crimes, social issues and bad health really so much more common among Swedish-speakers that their own numbers are insufficient to man the necessary services? The logic seems to go that you might find yourself in the situation where the government body you work for does not have sufficient numbers of Swedish-speakers, so you will be then able to stand up and fill in the gap, regardless of your own background.

Probably the most misguided idea that was often argued for on the basis that it is "good to be able to serve Swedish-speakers in their own language" was instituting the requirement of the government officials' language test in the second domestic language as a mandatory part of all higher education in universities. The idea is to go for a blanket coverage, just in case someone among the students will become a government official whose job requires a university degree.

Could someone please then explain to me what sort of a government public service job I might expect to be doing, considering that my education is in Computer Science and I have mostly been studying algorithmics? Sure, Swedish is an easy language and the requirements of this course are rather basic, but this is not the issue. Swedish is simply irrelevant here, and it's bad enough for me, as it places demands on the prior education of everyone in the entire country who might ever want to enter university!

There is no more efficient way to confirm the loyalty of the nation's best and brightest to your policies than forcing them to make a personal investment from early on, and then filtering out the refuseniks, not only from government jobs, but from their entire futures as people with university degrees.

An interesting, possible time bomb results from the combination of the new language law and a few other developments in Finnish society. Finland desperately needs to either reduce the number of its municipalities or increase the co-operation of the existing ones to increase the efficiency of most notably healthcare and social services, which are experiencing lean times as funding goes. Otherwise, the municipalities will have trouble meeting their legal obligations.

Should municipalities merge, the old idea of the language law maintaining the number of Finnish- or Swedish-speaking and bilingual municipalities constant will have to give. We will be increasingly living in bilingual municipalities in a big part of the more densely populated Finland because of the 3000 people limit. Of course, the small Swedish-speaking coastal towns are facing the inverse problem of this prospect -- they are very unwilling to give in to the idea that Finnish would spread, even in principle, to their region.

A similar effect can be observed when municipalities co-operate -- bigger units will have to make accommodations, even simply because the law says so, and language requirements therefore spread further and further, over an area where Swedish-speakers are spread ever more thinly. Language issues have already complicated co-operation around Vaasa, where SFP is "gerrymandering" as much as it can to ensure Swedish-speakers do not lose majority in co-operative organs, and refusing co-operation when it would mean losing power or influence somewhere. This kind of one-party-state politics can only be disastrous to the overall efficiency of the solution, and simply expecting the Finnish-speakers to roll over out of "tolerance" each and every time is unrealistic.

It can also be foreseen that in the future, an increasing number of society's services will be outsourced to private providers. The language law stipulates that those who sell services to the government are subject to the same language requirements as the government's employees themselves. Therefore, this connection nicely spreads the requirements from the public sphere to that of the private. What company wants to exclude itself from government deals? The prospect looms large that a law that was initially supposed to safeguard a minority's dealings with the government will actually end up meaning that in your entire working life, there will be no escape!

What about the effect on Finland's education system and therefore, its future citizens on an individual level? Surely, there are benefits to knowing Swedish, too?

Finnish is, as is Swedish, a small, on a global scale, exotic language. Finnish people certainly need to know foreign languages in order to communicate globally. The key here is understanding that Finnish people, as a group, need to speak as many languages as possible, but it is not reasonable to expect any one single individual to master them all, let alone in some predefined order. This means we need to maximize the variation among individuals' language skills. The narrowness of the scope of the languages Finns know has been major point of concern for a long time, in particular by the people who are actively moving the economy around.

English dominates international discussions today -- it is the generally accepted, rather neutrally perceived new lingua franca. It simply has been adopted as a tool, and the fact that his has come without any substantial feelings of "cultural imperialism" from the USA or the UK is a huge boon to nationalism-torn Europe. English is therefore the one language that has an undisputed place in any curriculum.

The "second domestic language" occupies a very difficult spot in particular for Finnish-speakers, as it is in reality a foreign language for them. It comes right after English, and has more priority than other languages, which typically are German and French. In the economically troubled Eastern part of the country one of these languages should most certainly be Russian these days, as it is direly needed.

In particular in lukio, the more academic level of secondary education, the fact that two languages are already fixed beforehand, forces a person to either become a full-time linguist in order to reach the languages he finds personally interesting, or be satisfied with English and Swedish, which is the case for most non-linguistically talented people who concentrate on the sciences. Catering for a need for both languages and sciences still leaves out the humanities, of which I find particularly History and Philosophy truly important for a well-rounded education.

The typical argument that Swedish just happens to be particularly "generally civilizing" is rather self-serving. An infamous quote from Elisabeth Rehn boldly states that Swedish is mandatory because Mathematics is mandatory too. The more languages one knows, the more it becomes clear that all of them are simply means of communication. Subjective appreciation of one's mother tongue is fine, but to extrapolate that to claiming that it is, from an outsider's perspective, comparable to the universal language of formalized thought, is a sign of an over-inflated ego and not of any capacity to objectively and rationally evaluate the significance of languages.

Regarding our relationship with Sweden, I have no doubt in my mind that even voluntary education of Swedish would produce enough people to maintain those links. Binding the entire population to Scandinavia through forced language choice is questionable foreign policy, as this limits the options of our own population, while the people of Sweden are free to pursue whichever direction they choose. This hurts our competitiveness and gives Sweden leverage in regional issues -- they should need to earn our respect as any other country, and not take it for granted that our school kids are taught in school to "maintain good links to Sweden".

It is instructive to note that Sweden sees it as potentially hurtful for our countries' relationship if our people had the choice, but this special historic and cultural relationship still only goes one way. Sweden's 400,000-strong Finnish-speaking minority is nowhere near the rights they theoretically should have, if the EU directive on the equal treatment of mutual language minorities between neighbouring countries were actually implemented. The EU is full of new partners for Finland, and we should seek to engage them not only on the governmental level, but each individual citizen should be equipped to form personal relationships to people in at least one or two of the countries. Sweden will get their fair share of these people according to how strong our connection truly is.

It is understood that companies that operate in Sweden, Finland and around the Baltic Sea are English-speaking by working language. All of my Nordic friends and I communicate in English, and I would consider it extremely petty behaviour, should one of them all of a sudden start to outright demand that I speak Swedish. Even the traditional bastions of Swedish-speaking Finnish foreign policy, the Nordic political organisations that used to be very important for Finland for image reasons during the Cold War, would switch to using English at the admittance of Baltic members, if not for the resistance of ... Finland.

SFP's bourgeois political alignment seems somewhat questionable in light of all this. Essentially, Finland's official bilinguality can be seen as a form of Socialism: People's time and efforts in language education are bound to fulfil political goals for the sake of "equality" where they would be better spent elsewhere from the point of view of the individual. No wonder SFP's policies have historically found greater resonance among the political left than the right. SFP's relationship and attitude to other social-political programs should also come under scrutiny: recently they voted down, with the government, a motion from the opposition that called for improved personal assistance services for the disabled.

According to the math, each Swedish-speaker apparently needs almost 20 assistants distributed around the country so that "they can be served in their mother tongue", but a disabled person who may not even be able to leave home without assistance, deserves none. On the other hand, if one demands that all groups must be treated with this same level of "assistance" in overcoming obstacles put forth by their incompatible surroundings -- that is, it is pretty much enough that you feel you must be given the right to be treated as you please, despite you being capable of accommodating the situation if you merely wanted to -- all bets are off as to where this slippery slope ends.

These purely pragmatic arguments are, however, the more uninteresting part of the picture, as they are so easily refuted. People aren't stupid, and they will study or have their children study the languages that will benefit them most in the future, or the ones they themselves subjectively value, so you might just as well stop worrying and start loving choice in language education and the resulting linguistic pluralism that meets needs but also provides for variety.

What truly has always inflamed passions in the language discussion in Finland over the years is the question of national identity: what it is, and what are the obligations it places on the individual citizen? What should the role of the officially bilingual state be in arranging matters so, that a certain identity becomes realized in the dealings of not only of citizens with the government, but perhaps even among and within private citizens themselves? When the arguments from national identity and history are brought in, it is easier to understand the willingness to overlook the gaps in the pragmatic arguments, which are, fundamentally, simple excuses.

I do not deny that Swedish has been spoken in Finland for a long, long time. How long exactly is a moot point that is for some reason debated fiercely by fringes on both sides -- let us agree that it is long enough that the exact truth is obscured by ancient history, which should be long enough by any measure. However, so has Finnish: It is one of the oldest continuously spoken languages in Europe, and has actually seen relatively little change over the ages compared to the big languages of Central Europe, that have been perturbed by each other far more. The big issue in the discussion is how much each language group has seen the other's language as part of their own identity: The SFP's case rests on the axiom that Swedish is, on a personal level, a language that is and has been a part of identity for everyone in Finland. Should someone disagree, the SFP simply knows better and that is the end of discussion.

Looking at it realistically, this is a wildly ambitious, yet weak, claim. Should Swedish have been, say, a thousand year ago, a language that was widely spoken by Finnish-speakers throughout the country, Finnish would resemble Swedish more than through than a number of loanwords. It is also likely that we would have a much more distinct Finnish-Swedish, as these Finnish-speakers would have bent the language to suit their own, grammatically very different mother tongue during a time when linguistic "correctness" was not enforced by some central authority, as it is today. Finally, bilinguality in general has been uncommon until the past few centuries throughout the world, as people have had more pressing affairs on their mind -- such as basic survival. We would also have had viable Swedish-speaking populations throughout the country, not just along the coastlines. They are nowhere to be seen.

Insisting that speaking, loving and living Swedish be considered a defining characteristic of every Finnish individual produces results that should be considered as fatal contradictions in any reasonable discussion that seeks to produce a generally agreeable definition of national identity. Consider, for example, my grandfathers and some other more distant male relatives that did not speak a word of Swedish in their lives, and half of which lived in the East, which are not traditional Swedish-speaking areas. The men I have in mind are WW2 veterans, who all fought an uncompromising fight against the Soviet Union, some of them even literally for their very homes. Some of the more fanatical Fenno-Swedes I have debated have actually considered them close to Russians. Was something really so much wrong with them for being who they are and not fitting into some ideal that they probably didn't even actively resist, because it was just irrelevant to their lives?

It is a small miracle that Finnish remains a tongue that it is spoken so strongly in our country despite our history. We have always, until independence, lived under a government that has tended to be indifferent towards Finnish at best. During the time when Sweden was a Nordic superpower, Finnish was officially pretty much nonexistent, so our language had to get by simply through the efforts of private citizens passing the language on to their children. Russia, while for political reasons initially benevolent towards Finnish, turned to active Russification during the waning years of Russian rule. Under these circumstances, one needs to admire the Finns' unwillingness to give up and adapt. Even today, one simply needs to consider that legislation is required to maintain the Swedish identity we're supposed to have, and even SFP politicians freely admit this. Why not take the hint instead?

The period of history that is brought up most regularly in language-policy discussions is the 19th century and the time of national romanticism. During a time when the initial waves of Nationalism swept Europe and all countries were looking into their history for ways to glorify themselves above their neighbours, Finland was freshly split from Sweden and was looking for a new identity as a state abstraction that would tell us apart from Russia, which we historically looked upon with suspicion, and for a reason: under Sweden we had experienced almost constant warfare against it. It is ironic to note that the final resolution of this regional rivalry in Russia's favour finally brought to Finland a period of peace, prosperity and actual development that actually enabled the dedication of resources to pondering the nature of the country we live in.

A recurring argument associated with this time is that we should be ever grateful for our body of national-romantic imagery to their admittedly Swedish-speaking creators. Apparently, according to this idea, Finnish-speakers would have simply been unable to produce art of such quality. If we gracefully ignore the interpretation that there are inherent differences between the ability of language groups, we must conclude that this state of affairs is a product of societal organization. In other words, if the small high-society circles of Finland at the time were completely monopolized by Swedish-speakers through lack of admittance of Finnish-speakers into even basic education, it is no wonder we see such results. Who knows where Finland would be today, if all the capabilities of the nation had been put to use? Fortunately, some enlightened souls -- in particular the originally Swedish-speaking fennomen -- saw this problem. I have the deepest respect for them. Still, it took an edict of the Czar in 1863 to grant Finnish its initial official recognition in society, and the Svecoman movement hindered Finnish-speakers' participation in society all the way to WW2, even battling our right to be educated in Finnish in the University of Helsinki.

Besides, it is not even necessary to appreciate all Finnish patriotic imagery within the framework of some singular, monolithic narrative that everyone must appreciate equally! For example, Runeberg shows a distinct belonging to his own context and language -- sometimes it is hard to decide whether he really wishes to live in a separate Finland, or whether he would prefer to re-join Sweden like so many of his peers. Many of his Finnish-speaking characters are nothing but crude yet idolized caricatures he obviously has no real grasp of on a personal level -- for reference, read "Paavo from Saarijärvi". Runeberg is a child of his times and surroundings, and saw things his own way. He cannot be seen as representative of the entire nation because he came from an isolated subculture that was hastily trying to explain, from their narrow point of view, what had just happened in history. It was a noble effort, but please, let us objectively appreciate him for who he was.

The Swedish-speaking identity, on the other hand, is a concept at least as interesting as the Finnish-speaking one. While actively ignored in discussions today, it is obvious that the Swedish-speakers have always felt something separates them from the rest of the population. During the height of the language strife at the later 19th and early 20th century this separatism even culminated in the racist theories of Svecoman and Nordist

Axel Olof Freudenthal, who became the founder of the modern SFP and their "spiritual father". It was only during the 80's, when the strategy of withdrawal to their own-language institutions obviously started to lead to their extinction, they had to start to push for national "Swedishness" -- the idea that the rest of the country must be made into their own image in order for them to preserve Swedish in Finland.

I can appreciate that Swedish-speakers themselves will have trouble defining themselves due to them living in a predominantly Finnish-speaking country where even most of their own speak Finnish at near native levels. The simplest way to approach this question is to at first realize that the Swedish-speaking minority, in order to be a minority at all, must define themselves as something the majority obviously is not. Whether this difference constitutes something more than just a language -- which would necessarily lead to a dangerous devaluation of their defining characteristic as being nothing but a set of words and a grammar -- is the interesting point.

Here we face a rather frustrating and illogical asymmetry in the way the issue is framed for different audiences and situations. When the bilinguality policy is being sold to Finnish-speakers, the Fenno-Swedes of course are not differentiated by anything else than speaking a different language. In all other respects, they are just as we are -- it's not a big issue, surely!

On the other hand, when the Fenno-Swedish minority needs to be presented as a coherent entity with their own culture that needs protection from being swamped by the majority, especially when making the point to people who are from abroad, we get Ida Asplund being interviewed by Ovi Magazine (30.10.2006). Ida half lives in Sweden and wears a regional dress (something nobody else in this country would actually do in their right mind for a mere interview), and then tells everyone how threatened the special Swedish-speaking culture is.

The definition of whether they constitute an ethnic minority thus shifts conveniently. Most importantly, the EU directive that specifies treatment of ethnic minorities does not officially apply as they are legally not an ethnic minority. If the directive held, our policies would be considered as unfair towards the majority!

A similar asymmetry arises while considering the language issue on the scale of the Nordic countries. This frame of reference is large enough to be useful for the pro-Swedish argument, but still narrow enough to exclude the global, or at least European, picture. Here, the special nature of the Swedish-speaking minority of Finland and the areas they live in is still something to be protected and cherished at any cost, but the

Finnish-speaking minority of the Nordic countries must adapt to the fact that they are in the minority, no matter where they live. They would always do better to strive for the Nordic ideal. In the Nordic context, language-political thought analogous to what Finnish-speakers are supposed to accept without blinking in Finnish-speaking areas of Finland would be considered nonsense in Sweden (despite our supposedly common history) and raise howls of outrage and accusations of ethnic cleansing in Ahvenanmaa.

Through the apparently relative idea of the worthiness of preservation and special nature of different language groups, we may now fully appreciate the difficulties in specifying the interactions of the two languages through government action. Personally, I strongly believe that they should be respected as they are, and that there should not be overt attempts to create something that has never existed before, not even during the times of

Sweden-Finland -- a kind of monolithic homo nordicus that fulfils the criteria of worthiness of the modern Nordist ideologues.

The final straw my opposition typically grasps after all other arguments have failed usually concerns invoking the concept of tolerance. I am a big fan of tolerance, as long as it amounts to "live and let live". That the semantics of "tolerance" have been successfully reframed as meaning being unquestioningly accommodating of SFP's politics and, conversely, seeing criticism of them as being a sign of intolerant nationalism, is a remarkable propaganda coup.

However, it would be a great mistake to assume that the Swedish side of the discussion is being neutrally internationalist and world-embracing while the other side wants to live a life of ignorance alone in the woods. Clearly, it is of utmost importance for the Nordists that everyone in Finland speaks Swedish, regardless of any arguments to the contrary. This is a very ideological position. Their identity seems to outright require that other people do not contradict the reality they want to live in. The other side merely questions whether they really must play along. Who is the one being intolerant? Where is the SFP's famous liberalism?

History serves as a warning to us that if Finland allows our society to exclude those who do not (agree to) speak Swedish, only those who do conform actually get ahead in society, giving rise to the modern-day arguments along the lines of "if you want to be someone here, you must speak Swedish, and therefore, we must help you to do so". We have once broken free of this situation through a great deal of strife, and I do not wish us to return to accepting such a self-fulfilling prophecy voluntarily. I value the right of

Finnish to be an autonomous mother tongue of a civilized people that can take themselves, in their language, as far as they can, without artificially imposed conditions.

As Finnish is a small and obscure language in a small country, this right is even more important, as no-one else will uphold our niche of the world for us. Everyone is entitled to subjectively value their mother tongue -- including Swedish-speakers -- so there should not be a problem with such feelings. It is when one's subjective values begin to extend outside of one's self, things quickly turn into ugly nationalism. Everyone would do well to bear this in mind. There is too much religion in this world already.

The biggest tragedy in Finnish language policy is that the harder the sell, the more people like me feel that they are having their intelligence underestimated. Living together in a state of mutual recognition and respect is preferable, and I, for one, am willing to start at any time.

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Wahls Örar2006-11-06 11:50:07
"Living together in a state of mutual recognition and respect is preferable, and I, for one, am willing to start at any time."

Why did you not start then? Instead of delivering an enormous load of old fennomaniac crap and merely urban legends?

Chris2006-11-06 14:04:07
Do you guys publish articles or opinions? This text is very far from a jounalistic product. You guys at Ovi should have a different section for things like this. You can call it "opinions". You could almost put Ed Dutton there as well, as he did a very mediocre job in his research.

Asa2006-11-06 14:33:52
Ovi publishes both articles and opinions. We are not a newspaper and don't have to respect objectivity, although that is the decision of each individual's own style and approach. We welcome both sides of an argument, so long as it isn't hateful.

This is a controversial topic, which is also interesting for foreigners, such as ourselves, to learn more about the different arguments. We may agree with some opinions from both sides. Either way, we don't allow hateful opinions to be expressed.
The submissions guide is at the top of the page and free for everybody to use, so if you don't like something that has been written you can use the comments, the forum or write your own response.

If you have any other queries: asa@ovimagazine.com

jack2006-11-06 14:35:38
isnt an article a form of opinion? it does have the writer's own bias throughout.

Chris2006-11-06 14:51:45
Asa-> Yes, I see how it can be interesting. But I'm guessing you can't write anything, not even here?

Jack-> In a way all articles are a form of opinions, but usually "real" articles at least strive to some sort of objectivity. Actual objectivity is impossible to achieve. I'm sure Eero thinks he is being objective in a way, but he is - according to me - quite far from it. He imposes very old things on todays world. I think the "article" tells more about him than about Finland of today.

Chris2006-11-06 15:02:48
I forgot a important point. If you chose to have articles and opinions under the same banner it will end up confusing people. People expect the writer of an genuine article to do some sort of reporting that doesn't reflect his/her own opinions (depends on the style of the article of course). If you put opinions like Eeros in with other things it will reflect on the other content. How does the reader know when Ovi Magazine is reporting or letting someone epress their opinion?

Asa2006-11-06 17:43:41
I would say that the majority of article's in Ovi are opinion-based. We promote ourselves as an opinionated magazine because one of aims is to stimulate discussion.
However, as you say, we don't promote ALL discussion; we draw the line at abuse, hate, prejudiced diatribes. We want the opinions to be explained, rather than just 'out-there'.

Jukk2006-11-06 23:45:08
Well, many of your articles about Finland have been biased and clearly dominated by the thoughts of an extreme organization, which goal is to "clean" Finland from minorities speaking other languages than Finnish. Because of the history of the Swedish speaking minority they are an easy target for this group of people. It is very sad how they claim that the Swedish minority is somehow discriminating the Finnish speaking majority. They like to think about the Swedish that they are some kind of wealthy and rich people, when in fact a big part of the Swedish minority in Finland are fishermen, farmers and workers that have lived in the Swedish speaking areas on the coast for at least 800 years. All this is well documented and known facts that none but these people in Finland question. It is a historical misunderstanding, because when Finland was part of Sweden, it was Sweden that sent people to rule the country. This has of course remained in some people's memory and now this group of people apply their anger on the innocent native minority of Swedish speakers.

Thanos2006-11-07 00:48:40
Jukk this “Well, many of your articles about Finland have been biased and clearly dominated by the thoughts of an extreme organization, which goal is to "clean" Finland from minorities speaking other languages than Finnish.” Is a very unfair comment and the only thing I can suggest you is to read who we are because you obviously missed it.

As Asa mentioned in a comment above we are foreigners who live in Finland, we are very aware of the difficulties of the language and we are learning from this conversation and from both sides things we didn’t know and probably never crossed our roads. To hint that we want a ‘clean Finland’ is at least a bad joke and I would suggest you to think again what you wrote.

de facto2006-11-07 03:51:11
Chris is like every finnish swede; all articles against the present state of affairs must be banned.

Cristian2006-11-07 10:02:42
Reading the present article and the one presenting the opposing view (that is, the interview of Ida Asplund), I cannot help noticing the difference in tone and the manner of writing. Despite the fact that the author of the present article claims to hold an objective position (by the way what is objectivity?), he nevertheless fails foul to a very personal and almost passional interpretation of the facts (parents that fought in the WW II, personal angst against something imposed, and the enumeration can continue). As such, why this desire to present personal opinions with an aura of objectivity, when they simply present only one side of the debate?

Mies2006-11-07 10:55:37
Why Finnish is not obligatory subject in Sweden's schools inspite of common history.

Freedom of speech2006-11-07 11:04:29
Finland demands more open and tranparent decision making in EU. At the same time it practices language policy where a minor political party (supported by less than 5% of the population) dictates the country's language policy in ways that are strage to a democratic society. According to several surveys and also academic reseach Finland's language policy is widely opposed by the Finnish citizens. The issue is however traditionally silenced in the Finnish main media. There is a parliament election coming in March 2007 and we need to have this subject into open discussion. We however still live the era of some kind of "Finnlandisierung" in the practices of our media in the language question.

Since the traditional media has not so far given space for critical points of view, these internet discussions and articles are vital. Democratic change in Finland's language policy begins here in the internet - we are unfortunately the "Chinese of the north" in this matter.

There is a magnificent site http://www.pakkoruotsi.net (pakkoruotsi=compulsory Swedish). I do hope we will have at least some briefing of it in English before the election.

sami2006-11-07 12:15:03
what about the saami? dont they have more rights to their language than swedes, since, historically, they have been in finland longer?

Chris2006-11-07 12:56:25
de facto-> Where have i advocated a ban? I think you are jumping to conclusions my friend. And your opinions are very highly biased, but you know that already, right?

Mies-> I'm all for the finnish langage having a better position in Sweden than today, but you are forgetting that Sweden and Finland are two separate states with spearate policies.

Sami-> Yes, the Sami were the first ones in Finland overall according to some sources. So we should all speak sami instead.

de facto2006-11-07 16:15:56
Freedom of speech wrote:
"There is a magnificent site http://www.pakkoruotsi.net (pakkoruotsi=compulsory Swedish). I do hope we will have at least some briefing of it in English before the election."

We will, if you do it:) I won’t do it. I’m the editor of the web site www.pakkoruotsi.net

Any other volunteers? :)

On the other hand, I don't know why it should be in English.

Chris2006-11-07 16:26:20
The editor, eh? That explains a thing or two. :-D

de facto2006-11-07 16:50:15
Yeah, and now Chris is thinking that Pakkoruotsi.net should be banned :-))

Jukk2006-11-08 00:03:53
Thanos, I am sorry, I don't know you. The group I referred to, is a nationalist group of Finnish people that wants to make Finnish the only language in Finland. Their actions are often leaning towards intolerance or racism. This is something that is also mentioned in another article, An Ant verses an Elephant.

Thanos2006-11-08 10:46:13
Jukk, apologies accepted :D

When we hosted this conversation or at least these two articles we were hoping to some answers. You see we are foreigners here and we have often wandered. For us it was a fact that the country has two languages.
The question rose, and here I’m talking only for my self, if it would be easier to learn Swedish than Finnish since according to all the facts all Finns speak both languages. You see as an English and German speaker Swedish is much easier for me (please remember that I’m not 20 years old and learning a new language is not the easiest thing I have to deal with nor I have the necessary time) and I have realize that people who lived here even for thirty years have difficulties with the language.
And I would appreciate if I didn’t get any prejudice answers because Finland is not the only country in this world furthermore in EU with two languages.

Ed Dutton2006-11-08 12:51:20
I should emphasise that Ida Asplund did not dress up in regional costume for my interview with her. It was conducted by email correspondence and the picture was taken from the IFisk website by the editor. At any rate, it now appears to have been removed from my article for some reason.

Otherwise, I think that this is a persuasively written and well-argued piece. To accuse it of shoddy research is rather unreasonable. It is an 'Opinion Piece' and it is not trying to be anything else. You can't possibly expect to it to be of the same standard as a piece of detailed, peer-reviewed, academic research. Opinion pieces are always going to reflect something more than mere logical argument. That is their nature.

However, I would argue that, for an Opinion Piece, it is very logical, it goes into an extraordinary level of detail and has obviously been pain-stakingly researched. It strikes me that simply throwing insults by saying 'it's biased' or 'urban myth' perhaps reflects nothing more than the inability of its critics to rationally counter any of the article's propositions. As such they simply resort to name-calling and a kind of emotional manipulation, the very thing that the writer is criticising in this article.

Dr. E. C. Dutton.

Asa2006-11-08 12:52:17
Photo was removed following Ida's request.

de facto2006-11-08 20:21:19
“- - since according to all the facts all Finns speak both languages.”

From where you have got this kind of information? That’s definitely not true! You should also know Finns are much better in English than in Swedish.

Thanos2006-11-09 00:25:45
De facto, apparently all the official books about Finland and all the state sites and tourist guides say so. Furthermore every single official document I get is in both languages add to that, that in every office I’ve been, taxis, registration, post, municipality, unions etc. I always have been asked how I want our communication to be, in Finnish or in Swedish. Even a few CVs I received mentioning Swedish before English as the extra language knowledge and all of them mention ‘Swedish - perfect’ while ‘English – very good.’ Most of the Finnish people I know they do speak Swedish, at least they tell me so!

Susan2006-11-09 06:18:47
Wow, I find this very interesting as my Grandmother was a Swede-Finn and my relatives that are still in Finland speak Swedish/Finnish.

The arguements I read about Swedish vs. Finnish as the proper language for Finland is just like here in Canada which fights about English vs. French.

Chris2006-11-09 12:07:23
Mr Dutton -> the research I referred to was mainly in the preamble. It stated things that Ms Asplund never had a chance to answer in the text. It set a strange mood for the whole thing, especially for people not familiar with the dispute about what she actually said. But I see that the text has been edited now.

Eero Nevalainen2006-11-11 00:36:01
Wow... just wow.. :-)

Seriously. You guys have not responded to a single point I raised. You're just simply brushing me off as "old-fashioned" and some kind of a "hick" that is out of touch with the modern Finland.

Who says you get to define what Finland must be? Did you ever even consider the point that Finnish-speakers have been people as they are for a long, long time, and that there is not neccessarily anything that states that they must satisfy your criteria of being acceptable? That YOUR language might not be something that must define them?

Makes me even more convinced that the pro-Swedish people never even read what anyone argues about. Their position is the absolute truth that must be accepted as is, without criticism, or you're not worth listening to, because disagreeing "tells more of the person than of the position".

Particularly, Wahls Örar, fennomen did an invaluable service to the Finnish language that you cannot just refuse to acknowledge. They are being treated totally unfairly today by stating that they are people that we should be ashamed of. Moreover, I do not subscribe to the idea that Finland needs to be unilingual; I have no need for such a state of affairs. I merely dislike the idea that Henrik Lax keeps on telling Vasabladet that Finnish is not a European language (this happened a few days ago).

The WW2 veteran point is perfectly valid. Counter it, don't just appeal to me being "emotional".

The idea that these issues were not matters of subjective opinion is bullshit. They are, both ways, and must be treated as such. Our current language policy does not represent some "objective research position".

Eero Nevalainen2006-11-12 11:13:49
Thanos, I wouldn't find it the least bit surprising if official state material is in two languages. That's the nature of an officially bilingual state. Not to mention tourist guides... it would be stupid not to print tourism-related material also in Swedish, alongside other materials.

Makes me wonder who you know and where you live, though, if your experience is that everyone voluntarily asks you whether you want your service to be in Finnish or in Swedish, and if everyone you meet and know indeed does know Swedish. Is this some sort of an alternative reality? :-) Everyone I know -- mostly young people of an academic education -- speak "perfect" English while their Swedish is mostly so-so. I am one of them... and I sincerely *want* to spend the rest of the days of my life I dedicate on languages learning something else than Swedish. Sorry. This is not a hateful statement against the Swedish-speakers, it's just what I personally want.

I get the impression that at least you have never travelled in Finland beyond Helsinki or Turku, which is pretty much the only place where your descriptions might hold. Ever been to Tampere or Jyväskylä, which seem to be major sore spots for SFP folks because people there are not, for their crieteria, sufficiently Swedish?

By all means, learn Swedish if it suits you. You will be, however, missing a lot if you just ignore Finnish. It is, after all, *the* language that makes Finland special in the Nordic Countries. Also, as we all know, a person can never know enough languages, as they just make you richer... *cough* (and sure, it is a typical retort, for a Fenno-Swede, to state that despite this holds in regards to Swedish for Finnish-speakers, Finnish, on the other hand, is and should be, totally useless for everyone, so it should be avoided at all costs...)

To all the rest, after a few days of pondering the comments further, it indeed does bother me that any critical piece gets a certain kind of standard response. All of a sudden, having an "opinion" or a "bias", that is, arguing for some position, becomes a reason to declare the entire piece invalid. It's as if the official position is not an opinion and a subjective personal view. It is the holy truth.

It should be remembered that good opinion pieces keep their facts straight and reasoning credible. I have strived for both, and my text can be critiqued on those grounds. A "biased" text that is simply full of hot air can be safely ignored. All pieces that express a view that you feel is "wrong" aren't like that.

Sure, I like sarcasm and to point out absurdities in the other side's argument, and sometimes this requires powerful, clear-cut examples. Those are means that have been employed to good effect by very notable authors. That I am "passionate" should not be a problem -- a lot of Swedish-speakers are very opinionated and passionate about getting everyone even along the Eastern border to speak Swedish.

I still have not understood why my WW2 veteran point is somehow overtly passionate. They are respected in Finland to a great degree, and it would be hard to deny them a claim to a Finnish identity regardless of their other features. If Thatcher was right in something, it was that "there is no society" -- that is, there are only individuals. My grandparents, like those of most other Finns, are real, actual, counter-examples to the broad generalizations about Swedish as a part of Finnish identity -- that is, in the end, realized only as a part of an individual citizen.

I thought I argued clearly against the idea that these people simply don't matter, so they can be ignored, and those who point to their existence, in particular when Swedish is argued for on historical grounds, are fanatics. Apparently I touched the right spot.

If the historical position is to be denied in the discussion, it must happen on both sides equally. I will not let the Swedish side of this to pull the history card and then accuse me of "personal opinions" when I point out that my own history does not fit in with the version I am supposed to abide by.

When someone does not see any clothes on the emperor, it becomes the personal responsibility of that individual to speak up. It is indeed the form of the debate that pushes me to write even more of these pieces, as they are clearly needed. I would do exactly the same thing, even if this wasn't about language.

We would never simply accept the statement that "the Dalai Lama is just out of touch with modern Tibet", which is something a Chinese official might say. After all, Tibet and China have a long history together and China is modernizing Tibet at a fast pace. Tibetans will need Chinese in the future when they seek jobs in Tibet, or even in China proper. The similarities in argumentation are striking...

Thanos2006-11-12 21:20:32
Eero to start with, just like most of the foreigners who live here I’m a stranger to this language dispute and I mentioned the official documents to state that that’s what I see and I find no harm in a country to be bilingual, on the contrary I find it as an advantage that kids can learn a second language and have the chance to practice it straight away not looking at it as a foreign language.

Regarding your second comment and since we cannot blame it on poor English since as you say, your knowledge in the English language is pretty good - I would like to think that it a result of your young age and inexperience. Comments like “Is this some sort of an alternative reality?” and “get the impression that at least you have never travelled in Finland beyond Helsinki or Turku, which is pretty much the only place where your descriptions might hold. Ever been to Tampere or Jyväskylä” are beyond conversational sarcasm but in the limits of prejudice.

Of course you don’t know me, but you cannot make stereotypes of a foreigner just like that, to your information I have travelled around Finland much more than the average Finn, to my astonishment I found out that I have been to places that when I mentioned them, most of the Finns were at least surprised and I have often written (unfortunately not in Finnish media) about Lapland that I consider a unique experience and a place everybody should visit. Apparently I have travel around a lot using public transportation, trains and buses (mainly because private cars stop you experience meeting people), so I have a first hand experience on how friendly Finns are and how welcome they can make you feel even when your Finnish is poor as mine.

Secondly I don’t judge my friends from their academic education even though I hold two master degrees, one from Cambridge University and one from Sorbonne University. I’m happy to speak a few more languages except my mother tongue and I never considered this knowledge as a waste of time, on the contrary I’m really proud that I can read Eliot, Sartre, Goethe and Lorca on their original language and I wish I could do the same with Väinö Linna which I consider a brilliant writer. Coming back to my Finnish friends, I never asked to see their academic diplomas but I know that they do speak Swedish.

Most of all, among the foreigners I know who live in Finland I’m not an exception; perhaps you should think practicing your English with some of us as well and understand better who we are.

Eero Nevalainen2006-11-13 20:00:48
In pontificating about the general virtues of learning and knowing languages, you commit the error of failing to tell apart the general from the specific. This is most typical of the pro-Swedish position: most of the time, the debate is immediately steered away from the actual issue at hand into a discussion over languages at large, where the opposition is far easier to paint as a barbarian who prefers ignorance over enlightenment.

Here, from "knowing languages is good" it follows, somehow, that a specific language is to be learned above all others. In addition, the arguments for learning this language are not grounded simply in an altruistic concern for the other's well-being -- although of course the rhetoric aims for an appearance of this, there *is* certain nationalist baggage attached. There is a very clear wish to alter demographics towards a more pleasing direction, even at the expense of what the people would actually need in life. I am not accusing you, certainly, of employing such arguments, but they are there if one bothers to debate this with the real thing -- an SFP member.

It is not enough to attempt a refutation through saying that mother tongues aren't special either, and that it is good for people know many languages natively. Certainly, but who decides what these languages are? Also, does it not, still, reduce diversity if these languages, in turn, are fixed beforehand by some authority that simply feels that these people "must" be of certain linguistic makeup? Also, there is the potential for a situation such as in Finland, where the very special nature of the Swedish-speaker is to be protected, but the Finnish-speaker is fair game... I don't think Ahvenanmaa still has allowed for a Finnish-speaking school to be built using private funds, because their islands must be "protected" from the possibility of them getting a Finnish-speaking population.

If we follow your logic, you might try to explain next why, if this is about being progressive, we did not embrace Russification when we had the chance? It would have worked with exactly the same kind of policy and with the same kind of rhetoric to go with it. We would all speak Russian fluently now!

Your argument would not fly anywhere else in the world. Why would Finns be different, or those Finns who point out all the weirdness be worth a summary condemnation (as seems my article was, at least in the first few comments)? The British would have better reason to have French as an official language according to our policy, but just guess if that would happen?

Of course, it should be obvious from all the above that what is being discussed is not so much the language but who we are. This is why the Fenno-Swedes feel so profoundly violated whenever someone breaks it to them that Swedish may not be as widely loved and such a measure of man's progress as they would like it to be; this is also why I recoil at statements that "Swedish is a part of every Finnish *person*'s identity", when my own personal experience shows these kind of ideas to be simply false -- I have enough counter-examples to question whether the Fenno-SWedish position indeed defines Finland and Finns too narrowly to reach a set of people that is convenient to them. These are real people, they certainly must count?

For sure, I don't know you. However, it was a reasonable assumption to make that if your impressions of the language situation in Finland are very far from mine, you probably spend your days living in a pronouncedly more Finnish-Swedish bilingual environment than I do. I have never used Swedish in my daily life, all my family are Finnish-speaking, I have never participated in a conversation with a group of Finnish people where Swedish was used... the language is for me, for all practical purposes, some high-priest Latin. All this, and I am a fairly representative Finn: mother from Ostrobothnia, father from Northern Karelia, living in Nurmijärvi, studied in Helsinki. And no, I don't think there should be laws that say I should make use of it more so I would feel otherwise. To claim anything else is to think backwards.

Trust me, I speak Swedish too, if made to -- because I sat through all the classes (and scored a 296/299 point Laudatur in matriculation examinations, no less). And I would prefer to read Goethe in original as well, but my time in school has been... better spent, it seems. So, now I am actually working on my German -- the language I have genuine interest for -- on my own. I might actually eventually get there as I know I'm able to... most Finns are probably not. And those are the people I have in mind; not the language gurus who don't need any kind of teaching in the first place. They are the ones being most stuck.

The exchange students I've been honing my English skills with have mostly agreed with my thoughts. Maybe it's because we're so young and dumb that we see the bloody obvious more easily ;)

Eero2006-11-13 21:20:15
And by the way, it just struck me we may be talking slightly off each others' definitions of sufficient Swedishness to register on the map as I've mostly used the terms "speaks Swedish" as criterion... for me, it does not suffice that you went to school after the institution of the current Swedish policy (late-70s was it?); it gives you a rudimentary ability anyway, at least for most people. Just "knowing" Swedish is widespread these days simply because of the policy, and I do not dispute that. You "know" what you get poured into you at school.

It still holds that the older members of my family all are non-Swedish-speakers even according to this loose definition. My grandparents don't have a clue, and my parents can't hold a conversation.

My "reality" regarding Finland's language map is construed more in terms of whether the person actually uses the language and has "adopted" it as a part of self sufficiently so that the language is an active part of existence. This is where the SFP's view falls apart, as it is obvious that if their stated goal of getting Swedish into active use by the population was already accomplished, the laws would be unneccessary...

You can go test my theory. As you are well-travelled, you surely have listened to people out on the streets?

A "suomalainen" Finn2006-11-18 00:32:26
I guess he has!

Eero2006-11-18 01:18:23
And if he indeed has, the question where exactly he has been hanging out becomes even more relevant...

JG2007-12-01 05:11:03
This article fortunately does not reflect the majority opinion of the Finnish-speaking population, any more than Ida Asplund's viewpoint represents the majority opinion of we Swedish-speaking Finns.
It's a shame a more balanced option is not also given - not because such views as this should not be allowed to be aired, of course they should! But, when it's done in English in a magazine primarily aimed at foriegners with few other resourses to more balanced sources (in English), it could present a rather misleading image.
Although, what it does show, is that Finland has a strong freedom of the press and expresion - and that even extremist views such as those held by groups like Suomalaisuuden liito are given full airing.

Antisvensson2008-06-21 11:56:25
I read a Finnish article the other day which said that in the past 40 years the negative economical effects are around 2000 billion marks. Also the vast swedish inside organisations sabotage the opportunities for Finns to find jobs in the Swedish speaking regions. To sum it up, the SFP snd all their collegues are just a big underground mafia that shields it self with the cloak of minority to reflect any kind of criticism as hatred and racism towards them. It purely ridiculous that 95% of the people living in the country have to learn a language just because the 5% want to buy their dairy products from a clerck that utterly and copmletely understands them. Since the 70s Finnsih universities and other high education faculties have had the same quota for the Swedish speaking applicants althou the amount of Swedish speaking people has in fact diminished. And in higher educational faculties that have a Swedish speaking headmaster, have a lower standards for the Sp. applicants. And don't make me start talking about the situation of the Ålands Islands. That place is like NK for Finns.

LaRoza2009-03-31 02:52:29
Ignoring the disputes here, I'd like to give an outsider's opinion. I live in the USA and I am a native English speaker. I am learning Hindi, Urdu and Farsi (and can read them, and speak Hindi and Urdu to a degree. I just started Farsi, so I only know basic grammar, which is very simple.)

This whole controversy seems contrived. Language is a fluid thing, not something to be dictated. If people want to speak a language, let them speak it. Provide legal protections for minorities without infringing on the others and society will sort itself out.

In the USA, there are no national language. Some states have declared official languages (mostly for administrative purposes. Translations of documents can always be found though.) and some have more than one official language. It is defined by the languages actively used, not some political, cultural or other criteria. Why does there need to be any government control in language?

If Finnish, Swedish or English have sufficient populations of speakers, it will sort itself out. Here, English is widely used and anyone who wants to get along easily needs to know some of it. Therefore, most people know English to some degree. In some areas of the USA, other languages are common (like the Pennsylvania German, native languages, Spanish, etc) and will be used daily. It does not need to be dictated.

A language which needs government support and backing sounds like a language that can't survive. Language's nature is not so.

If the government were to disappear, what language would the people use?

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