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Swedish-speaking Finns one step closer to minority status

Updated onsdag 3 maj 2017 kl 17.28
Published onsdag 3 maj 2017 kl 09.50
Swedish-Finn activist: A majority of Swedes haven't got a clue
(4:01 min)
Portrait Barbro Allardt Ljunggren, former head of the Organization for Swedish Finns in Sweden
Barbro Allardt Ljunggren has fought for over 20 years to have the Swedish-speaking Finns recognised as a national minority. Credit: Mikko Mäkitalo/Sverigesradio Sisuradio

Swedish-speaking people from Finland have fought for decades to be recognised as a national minority in Sweden. On Wednesday, the Swedish parliament voted in favour of investigating the matter.

One of those who have long campaigned for the Swedish-speaking Finns to be recognised as a national minority is Barbro Allardt Ljunggren, the previous chairperson of the Organization for Swedish Finns in Sweden.

It feels great. We have been pushing for this for over 20 years," 

She told Radio Sweden that most Swedes don't have a clue about the Swedish-speaking Finns.

"We need to explain to people why we have a Swedish mother-tongue, when we come from Finland, and this is the main reason for us to try to achieve the status," said Barbro Allardt Ljunggren.

Part of the issue, which has been a sore point for Swedish-speaking Finns in Sweden for many years, is that the Finnish-speaking Finns were recognised as a national minority - together with the Samis, the Jews, the Roma and the Tornedalians - in 1999. An estimated three quarters of the Finns in Sweden have Finnish as their mother tongue, but the Swedish-speaking Finns were not recognised alongside them.

"It is strange that the Swedish society has decided to separate the people who come from Finland originally by language, by giving one of the groups - the Finnish-speakers - this status, but really treating us, the Swedish-speaking Finns - as immigrants," 

Barbro Allardt Ljunggren says that, even though they speak Swedish as their mother tongue, they do feel distinct in culture, food, traditions, history and literature from the Swedish majority. If they gain the status as a national minority, it will become compulsory for Swedish school children to learn also about the history of the Swedish-speaking Finns for example.

Over the years, there have been many private members bills in parliament to try to push this issue forward, but they have always been voted down. The argument in the past has been that in order to constitute a national minority, the group ought to have its own language. And though the Swedish spoken by the Swedish-Finns differs from the Swedish spoken by the majority in Sweden - a bit like American English compared to British english, according to Barbro Allardt Ljunggren - this has not been seen as sufficiently distinct.

But those who argue in favour of recognition point out that there is not language criteria in the European framework convention on protecting national minorities.

Now the political support for the idea seems to have increased compared to only 2015 when the government last rejected the idea. Out of the eight parties in parliament, only one voted against launching an investigation into the matter. The Sweden Democrats instead tabled an amendment, where they stated that they regard the Swedish-speaking Finns as part of the Swedish nation, and not as a national minority.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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