Monday, April 3, 2017

Finlandssvenskar Paper II

Hello all!
Here is paper number 2 of the ones I wrote about Finland's Swedish-speaking minority. Enjoy!

Having declared its independence from the fallen Russian Empire on December 6, 1917, Finland took true control of its own self-determination for the first time in over seven hundred years. The fervor motivating the movements which fueled this independence came primarily from an increased awareness and development of the unique nature of Finnish ethnic identity. The distinct ethno-linguistic origins of the Finns, from those of the Slavic and Nordic nations surrounding them, were cited as reason for this. Pride and interest in Finnish folk history and traditions grew immensely at this time, and many elite, who, as a legacy of the Swedish colonial area, spoke Swedish as a first language, Fennicized their names and switched to Finnish as their language of everyday use. But not all Swedish speakers were so keen to change their ways. Many of them feared the loss of their culture in this new nation in which they found themselves so demographically outnumbered. Though it never turned particularly violent, these concerns were the basis of the contention which lead to Finland’s kieli riita, or språkstriden, meaning “language strife.” Subsequently, the foundation of the Svecoman movement as an answer to the Fennoman one, the height of the language strife, and straining of relations with Sweden as a result of domestic issues faced by the Swedish-speaking community in Finland led to the height of these tensions.
The Fennoman movement was one founded out of a desire for the recognition of Finland’s unique ethno-linguistic identity and distinct history from its ruling powers of Sweden and Russia. Though its aims were numerous, it sought in particular to elevate Finnish from a status of dismissal as a “peasant’s tongue” to being considered fit for administrative and official use. At the time of independence, Finnish and Swedish speakers comprised about 85 and 15 percent of the country’s population respectively. With the government of the independent state now mainly controlled by self-defined Fennomans, many of the Swedish-speaking minority felt that their culture was under threat of assimilation by the strong majority. As such, the Svecoman movement was born, as a political answer to that of the Fennomans, around 1810 with the intent of protecting the use of Swedish and the interests of its speakers, seeing as it had come to be increasingly replaced by Finnish in public administration, courts, and schools. Its founder, philologist and Swedish nationalist Axel Olof Freudenhal, purported that Finland harbored two peoples (even going as far as to call them “races”) - the Finnish and Swedish speakers - with different cultures and languages. He opposed the drastic overhaul of the administrative language from Swedish to Finnish, defending the historical use of Swedish in this position, and expressed interest in granting Swedish-speakers political autonomy from Finland’s nationalistic awakening, due to his racist beliefs of Swedish “superiority.” Though few shared the explicitly pejorative and racist nature of his rhetoric, similar concerns were shared by many in the Swedish-speaking upper echelons of the local society, who feared losing the privileged position they held as a legacy of the colonial past in addition to cultural assimilation by the Finns who had always far outnumbered them.
The movement additionally fostered a previously absent sense of unity between the elite Swedish-speakers - descendents of this administrative bourgeoisie from the Swedish colonial era - and comparatively poor Swedish-speaking country dwellers. Swedish-speakers in Finland have typically formed a strong majority along the southern and western coasts around the cities of Helsinki and Vaasa, though they have always been scattered in sparser quantities around the country. This newfound camaraderie was highly effective in bringing all the Swedish-speakers together as a unified ethnolinguistic whole, and this unified nature of the community is one of this conflict’s continued legacies. Finally, the Svecoman movement also highlighted a number of directly contrasting distinctions between the Finnish and Swedish speakers in the context of their politicized movements. Fennomans were generally more corporatist and liberal, and Svecomans more individualistic and conservative. Tsarist Russia also were more permissive towards the formation of the Fennomans as a political movement, as they felt more equipped to quash Finnish independence movements rather than contend with potential Svecoman demands for reunification with Sweden, their old enemy. This allowed the Fennoman movement to grow significantly stronger and address its nationalistic aspiration and interests under Russian rule far more openly, granting them a headstart that the Svecomans were denied. As Russian control weakened and was finally cast off altogether, the Svecoman movement too was allowed to pursue a political path, leading to the creation of the Swedish People’s Party of Finland, which to this day is the primary group representing the interests of the Swedish-speaking community in the government.
The conflicts of interest between the Fennoman and Svecoman movements following independence gave rise to the nonviolent, but long and tense “language strife.” The strife is defined as taking place from the late 19th century well into the 1920s and 1930s, as the conflicting movements slowly negotiated and settled what would be the status of the two main national tongues. Many radical Fennomans wished to fashion Finnish the sole official language of the country, whereas hardline Svecomans in turn argued for political autonomy in regions where Swedish speakers were the majority. Both positions were ultimately overturned in the 1919 Constitution and 1923 Language Act by the majorities of both parties who wished to make effective and easy concession rather than exacebate conflict. These treaties stipulated that the country would be officially bilingual, that public authorities would cater to the needs of both groups equally, citizens would have the right to use their own language with the authorities, and that municipalities had the right to declare themselves as unilingual on a local administrative level if their inhabitants were in great majority of either group. Nonetheless, tensions continued.
An example of these tensions could be found at the University of Helsinki. Though not the only major institute of higher education at the time, it held a special sort of symbolic value in the national conscience as the center of the country’s intellectual life, and the typical institution of higher education for its elite. A law approved by the eduskunta, the Finnish parliament, in 1923 attempted to set forth a policy of proportionate education in both languages based on the number of students who spoke them. This was a compromise that left none satisfied, as Swedish faculty felt under threat, while staunch Finnish nationalists were angered that students had to continue listening to lectures in Swedish, as they felt this perpetuated the historical superiority of Swedish from the colonial era. This dispute was not fully resolved until 1937, when it was decided that although Finnish would be the administrative language of the university, faculty and students would both have the right to use their respective mother tongues in publications, exams, and coursework. The strife played out in particular in institutions of higher education after the country became nominally bilingual in 1863, as the two rival movements fought to preserve their own interests of gaining greater linguistic power. Though additional concerns followed, this early official bilingualism played a large role in ensuring the conflict did not turn violent, ensuring that even as both groups felt compelled to defend their linguistic self-determination vis-à-vis the other, they both were assured with recognition of this determination at an official level.  
Concerns regarding demographic shifts in the population also played a prominent role, as Svecomans found themselves proportionately far outnumbered, especially given the numbers of Swedish speakers who had adopted Finnish as their primary language in tandem with Fennoman political inclinations, and 400,000 Finnic-speaking Karelian refugees who fled across the border when Karelia was ceded to the Soviet Union in 1940, following the Winter War’s resolution. This influx meant that the country took on an even stronger majority of ethnically and linguistically Finnic groups, worrying hardline Svecomans even further about the perceived threats to the continued existence of their language in Finland.
Beyond the language strife, other struggles aggravating the conflict included the Civil War and the Åland Crisis. The Finnish Civil War took place from January to May 1918, starting mere weeks after independence, in the transitionary phase between Russian-dominated Grand Duchy to sovereign state. It was fought between the so-called “Reds,” led by the Social Democratic Party, and the predominantly conservative, non-socialist senate, or the so-called “Whites.” The conflict resulted in White victory, and around 39,000 casualties. There was harsh contention as to what form of government should be instituted, with Whites arguing for the creation of a Finnish monarchy, and Reds advocating for the creation of a Finnish republic with full democracy and popular representation. This played into the conflict by the White monarchists wishing to base their desired new governmental system for Finland off of Sweden’s, futhering the Fennoman wariness against the colonial past. Divisions furthered with the Åland Crisis. This concerned the political status awarded to the Åland Islands, an archipelago almost universally Swedish-speaking which came under Finnish administration following independence. Sensing what was perceived to be growing pro-Finnishness and anti-Swedishness in Finland, and seeing as over 90% of the islands were ethnic Swedes, in contrast to just 15% of mainlanders, many feared for their safety due fears of forced assimilation into Finnish culture. Initially there were enthusiastic calls from most Ålanders for annexation by Sweden, but as the Swedish government was wary of asserting itself in any aggressive manner in a conflict over a fairly inconsequential archipelago in the midst of strong nationalistic tensions, it was not receptive to these desires. Following the resolution of the Civil War, the issue was even brought before the League of Nations, which ultimately ruled that it made more geographical sense for the archipelago to remain part of Finland, as deep sea separated it from Sweden, making it theoretically more difficult for Sweden to administer politically. As a concession, however, the Finnish government granted the Åland Islands extensive autonomy to ensure the protection of Swedish language and culture. These conflicts perpetuated the division and tension between Fennomans and Svecomans as politicized faces of the Finnish and Swedish-speaking communities, as relations with Sweden itself became strained due to contentions along ethnic lines and concerns for the safety and cultural survival of its linguistic kinsmen.
A theoretical element applicable to the case of the Swedish-speaking Finns would be that of ancient hatreds, or more appropriately a lack thereof. Such issues as “ancient hatreds, manipulative leaders, economic rivalry, and so on” are considered key elements to defining the motivations and undertakings of ethnic conflict as justified. Although aggressive rhetoric was very much present in the language strife in particular, the historical context of a deeply opposed and hateful interethnic prejudice was simply not there. Hardline leaders such as Axel Olof Freudenhal on the Svecoman side, who went as far as to call the Finns an “inferior race,” attempting to assign them an Asiatic identity that was therefore inherently lesser than the Swedish race, in keeping with racist stereotypes and beliefs of the time, wished to incite such extreme disparagement so as to ensure not only Swedish self-determination, but continued control. However, in spite of linguistic concerns and tensions, this ultimately proved unsuccessful. The contentions between the Finns and Finnish-speaking Swedes were simply not ancient and deep-rooted enough to yield any serviceable motivation for sustained violent conflict. This can be attributed in part to the development of the Finnish identity as a popular fascination with their own cultural heritage above all else, with little need to define or carve out which territory they belonged to. An additional factor which can be held accountable for the continued non-violent nature of this conflict would be the laissez-faire attitude traditionally espoused by the Swedish government in its rule of Finland, and the consequential coexistence of the two ethnic groups throughout much of this historical timeframe. Although there was still sensitivity in the years after Finnish independence regarding a desire for Finns to finally have their voices heard and culture legitimized as these had previously not been, the permissiveness that the Swedes had shown the Finns in being allowed to speak their language and practice their culture as a colony meant that there was a sense of established mutual respect. For Sweden’s entire six hundred year rule of the country, Swedes had lived in Finland, administrative bourgeoisie and poor farmers alike. This historical tolerance and coexistence meant that violent and oppressive rhetoric failed, even at times when it was introduced into the conflict.

While transitioning from former Swedish and Russian domination to a stable and successful figure on the European political stage, the Finnish state came to a major crossroads in the face of the issues raised by its ethnic tensions. Without ever leading to outright civil war, movements with secessionist aspirations, or intense violence to any major scale, the issues raised by the Swedish-speaking community contentiously called into question the nature of Finnish nationalism and its implications for the nation’s future. The language strife in particular was the most noteworthy and highly contested element of the tensions at hand. The rise of the Svecoman movement, arguments over educational linguistic use during the peak of the language strife, and diplomatic friction with Sweden due to the Finnish Civil War and Åland Islands crisis were the issues contributing the most to the fears and distancing displayed by more conservative and hardline members of the Swedish linguistic minority. And in spite of all these strains between the country’s two largest population, their long-standing harmonious existence prevented them from ever causing real violence.

One of my favorite Finnish songs.

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