September 2000

Row erupts over teaching Finnish in Sweden

A dispute has arisen over the diminishing number of courses in Finnish at Sweden’s universities. The Finnish ambassador to Stockholm, Heikki Talvitie recently gave up diplomatic courtesy by complaining bitterly about the decision to put an end to teaching Finnish at the University of Lund. In an interview in the regional daily, Turun Sanomat (14 September 2000), he said that ultimately the issue is about human rights.

Talvitie said that Swedish authorities should understand that the language issue is turning into a dispute between the two countries.

“The language issue has to do with a European minority. The Swedes cannot avoid the worst possibility that the dispute will be taken up as a human rights issue in the Council of Europe. Sweden has after all signed the relevant conventions which it has to follow.”

According to an article in the national daily, Helsingin Sanomat (17 September 2000), the University of Lund is planning to close the Institute of Finno-Ugric Studies. Even before Lund, the universities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Upsala had been downsizing their Finnish studies.

The paper reports that in the view of the University of Lund Hungarian, Estonian and Finnish don’t have the same strategic importance as, for instance, Arabic. The writer wonders how Finns living in Sweden react to this. After all, they have worked in Sweden for decades contributing to the wealth of the country.

According to the Swedish way of thinking, Hungarian, Estonian and Finnish belong to the Cold War world, whilst the new global world needs new tools. The columnist in Helsingin Sanomat sees this as a very short-sighted way of thinking when one takes into account that Finns in Sweden form the largest minority in the country. There are 440 000 Finns in Sweden.

The columnist writes that the negative attitude of Swedish Social Democrats towards Finnish has been a well-known fact for decades. Finns have been used as labour force in factories but gaining better rights for Finns than other immigrants has been very difficult.

In spite of this history, Carl Bildt’s right-wing government did decide in 1994 that the Finnish language had a special status in Sweden and that this should be taken into account in all fields of public life. “Today, there is hardly anything left of that decision”, the writer complains. The column also draws attention to the fact that Finnish became an official language in Sweden last April.

See also:

Finns become official minority in Sweden

3 April 2000

Who's afraid of Finnish? by Hannele Branch

January 1999

The language situation in Finland by Kenneth McRae

June 1998

Realities of a bilingual culture

April 1998



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