Monday, April 3, 2017

Finlandssvenskar Paper III

And here is the third paper on the "Finland-Swedes."

The modern identity of the Swedish ethno-linguistic minority in Finland developed through divisive nationalistic tension. It did not, however, become a conflict known for widespread violence, mass atrocities, or loss of life. This can be partially credited to a lack of sufficient historic myths or prejudices to incite or justify violence, as well as long-standing coexistence of the two groups within the geographical whole of the territory that now forms the Finnish state. Nevertheless, strong rhetoric, suspicion, and tensions existed on both sides, contributing to a sustained and lingering clash. In order to successfully ensure that the dispute did not usher in bloodshed or loss of civilian life, measured and careful agreements had to be established, creating an environment of peace and effective representation. The government introduced measures that ultimately have caused the conflict to dissipate in the context of a modern, tolerant Finland. The measures which have had the most lasting and effective impact to healing the conflict are the nearly immediate official bilingualism of the modern Finnish state, the instatement of strongly enforced bilingual schooling and representation in the country’s educational system, and the development of a Finland-Swedish identity as distinct from Sweden.
Some level of quarreling between Finland’s two largest ethno-linguistic communities was ultimately inevitable. The awakening of the Finns’ distinct national identity, coupled with their immense demographic advantage, was bound to cause discomfort among the previously dominant Swedish demographic, and was mirrored by reactionary politicized extremes in the form of the Fennoman and Svecoman movements, even prior to independence. While Finland remained a grand duchy under the control of the still-intact tsarist Russian Empire, “a rescript on the language question in response to the petitions and requests of the ‘Finnish population of the Grand Duchy’” was filed in the summer of 1863. This rescript was in some ways considered a setback by those campaigning for greater linguistic recognition and use of Finnish, as the rescript specifically named Swedish as the sole official language of Finland at an overall federal level, with official use of Finnish being confined to the regions of the country where it was spoken natively by a majority of the population. The time frame of the rescript’s implementation was deemed to be too long, and it was widely believed that the Senate, which held the task of preparing the necessary legislation to implement it, would seek to delay and hinder this progression. Nevertheless, this early introduction of legislation advocating for the recognition of both languages on some sort of official level, to be used in public documents and institutions, was considered an unprecedented step that had lasting, influential consequences. This particular rescript was ultimately was unsuccessful, as the emperor rejected the proclamation of Finnish as an official language on the grounds that an outdated Swedish law of 1743 forbiding the use of “foreign languages” in courts of law. The legal measure which finally granted official administrative recongition of Finnish as a language came at the end of 1883, making it equal with Swedish in courts of law, but leaving higher courts with the possibility of deciding which language to use as was relevant to them and the people involved in their cases.
The early recognition of the two languages being on equal footing in the eyes of the government proved invaluable to the prevention of future conflict. Additional changes in the playing field soon followed, as Swedish soon ceased to be used in regions of the country such as Savo in the east, where Finnish was universal. Finnish was the sole language of plenary sessions after 1905, and by 1907 was the dominant language of the unicameral legislature. The fact that all of these changes and shifts in power between the two opposing linguistic sides were already underway well before independence in 1917 allowed for the state to be set upon a foundation of mutual recognition and relative respect. Even as tensions developed over Finnish desires for self-determination and Swedish fears of assimilation, the fact that independent Finland was built on a policy of bilingualism created a sense of security that made taking up arms unecessary.
A feature of the preestablished bilingual policy that was particularly important was its enforcement in educational environments specifically in addition to government ones. Renowned in the twenty-first century for its educational system, Finland has demonstrated great governmental committment and strongly vested cultural importance towards high-quality education of all its citizens. In the days that greater Finnish recognition, research, and official use was being undertaken prior to independence, one of the greatest changes and issues dealt with was that of introducing Finnish language schooling. Up until the Industrial Age, much of the Finnish population was quite poor and agriculturally based, with education usually being something limited to the upper echelons of the society, which in those days primarily spoke Swedish. As such, Swedish was the primary educational language as well as the administrative one for much of Finland’s history. Beginning in reforms of the elementary educational system in the 1850s, there were attempts made to downgrade or even eliminate the teaching of Finnish altogether, leading to a Fennoman pushback to this deliberate obstacle to their goals. As the bureaucracy and press were largely unmoved by this struggle, the Fennomans appealed to the masses to raise funds for the construction and opening of a Finnish-language secondary school in Helsinki, which opened its doors in 1873. The exemplary creation of this institution led to more and more privately funded schools being established all around the country, with Finnish language schools even being present in areas with overwhelming Swedish-speaking majorities, such as Kokkola (Gamlakarleby in Swedish) in the western region of Ostrobothnia. While a mere quarter of the country’s secondary-school level students attended a Finnish-language institute in the year 1870, this rose to over half by the end of the century, further evidenced by the fact that for the very first time, a majority of incoming students enrolling in universities were alumni of such schools. “A a survey of ten major Finnish towns in 1920 revealed that almost a third of the inhabitants considered themselves bilingual. The langauge conflict may have generated much heat in the columns of journals and newspapers, but it did not divide communities or cause the kind of violent tensions experienced in many other corners of Europe.” Through the increasing implementation of bilingual policies in the blossoming nation’s instructional institutions at levels of both secondary and higher education, a precedent for greater and longer-lasting bilingual cooperation could then be established. Once again, the fact that this greater cooperation was implemented for the younger generation before the major politicized movements sought to divide them against each other helped to prevent violence in the end. However reactionary and schismatic the rhetoric that their fiercely Fennoman or Svecoman elders might uphold, the students being educated at this time came of age with a novel perception of the two languages as being on equal intellectual footing, as they belonged to the first generation for whom they were treated as such in education. This equalized status of the two languages in the mind of the successive generation allowed for the possibility of violence to dissipate further as they became politically active and vocal.
A second factor helped ensure that the language differences did not lead to violence: the development of a Finland Swedish identity as distinct from Sweden itself. In the Middle Ages, when Sweden first took over Finland, it also established colonial control in a number of other areas in the region. Its empire stretched from the eastern shores of Norway to Karelia from east to west and from the Arctic Circle to several cities in northern Germany at its greatest extent, making it the largest and furthest reaching regional power in northern Europe and the Baltics in its heyday. This great territorial expansion meant that considerable communities of Swedes were established across this territory. Many countries, notably Estonia, retain Swedish minorities that have gained distinct cultural identities and political recognition and representation within their host states, though none to the degree of dual cooperative integration as Finland in a modern context. In numerous areas where they were once present in considerable numbers, such as Estonia, Swedes have largely opted to return to their ancestral country, due in particular in this case to pressure from the tsarist Russian Empire which viewed Sweden, and by extension Swedes as a whole, as political enemies. In contrast, Finland’s much larger and more firmly established Swedish community almost universally opted to stay, due largely to the ultimate success of the bilingual cooperation policies carried out by the government.
Consequently, as the minority remained in the country, the advancement of a distinct Finland-Swedish identity gained both a political and cultural ilk. From a political standpoint, definitive desire not to be annexed by Sweden began when the neighboring kingdom declined to annex the Åland Islands during the Åland crisis to quell the overwhelmingly Swedish-speaking Ålanders’ worries concerning assimilation. The Swedish government was disinterested in asserting itself in the conflict in an aggresively political matter, given that with several decades of Russian rule and rapid progression of distinct local identities, it no longer held any significant administrative sway left over from the former colonial age. There was also a prevailing sense that the fairly inconsequential, unindustrialized archipelago was not worth involvement in a nation experiencing a high prevalence of divisive nationalistic rhetoric. Conversely to the Islands, the areas on the Finnish mainland which are home to Swedish-speaking majorities have not been considered for annexation by Sweden, or even for regional autonomy. The Swedish government’s unresponsiveness and seeming disinterest to direct involvement on the behalf of its linguistic kinsmen in Finland has led to a mutual disinterest, as the day-to-day logistical undertakings of Stockholm have at this point become far removed from those of Mariehamn and Vasa. Consequently, the Finland-Swedes have become far more disposed to cooperating with (and potentially seeking varying degrees of autonomy from) Helsinki since the Åland crisis.
Beyond political distancing from the motherland, the Finland-Swedes have come to take great pride in their well-developed, distinct cultural identity. Linguistically, the Swedish spoken by the Finland-Swedes is quite mutually understandable with the standardized language, especially due to the Swedish Department of the Institute for Languages in Finland’s official aim of keeping the language as close to Sweden’s standard as possible (this is due to the sheer incomprehensibility of Finnish loanwords to those unfamiliar with Finno-Ugric languages). However, the dialects are indeed distinct, with some archaic dialects in the historically Swedish stronghold region of Ostrobothnia being nearly unintelligible to Swedish speakers of other dialects. In spite of the Institute for Languages’ best efforts, the vernacular tends to incorporate a great many loanwords from Finnish, especially among young people in mostly Finnish-speaking areas, giving the local dialect a distinct fused nature, blending the two languages and identities. The community has also adopted an unofficial but widely recognized flag for itself, consisting of a golden Nordic cross against a solid red background. The relatively simple design fuses symbolism from both Finland and Sweden, using red and yellow that mirror the Finnish coat of arms, while also being nearly identical to the flag of the Swedish province of Scania. It is often flown together with Finland’s national flag, consisting of a blue Nordic cross on a solid white background.
Finland-Swedish culture is further defined by the community’s unique literature and folklore. They have historically included high degrees of maritime themes, largely due to the fact that the most monolingually Swedish regions of Finland consist of southern islands, namely the Åland archipelago, and the eastern coastal region directly facing Sweden itself. These themes are typical in the folklore of many other linguistically Germanic Nordic nations, giving the Finland-Swedes a much more tangible kindred heritage with these other nations as compared to their ancestrally and linguistically separate Finnish neighbors. The community’s literary output has a rich legacy - from the works of such Finland-Swedish authors as Edith Södergran, Gunner Björling, and Elmer Diktonius, who all wrote in the modernist style, the Finland-Swedish modernists of the early 20th century were greatly influential to the development of Scandinavian modernism as a whole in literature.
A final element of the distinct Finland-Swedish identity comes in the very terminology that they use to refer to themselves. Even in their own demonym, they have come to favor a label that acknowledges the language they speak, while still fashioning themselves as distinct from the inhabitants of Sweden proper. When referring to all Finnish nationals as a whole, the Swedish-speaking Finns use the term finländare, rather than the usual Swedish word finnar, as the latter carries ethnically, and therefore by extension linguistically, Finnish connotations only. Finländare is used as a more inclusive label denoting a sense of belonging to the Finnish nation that transcends ethnic identity. To refer to their own community, the Swedish speakers use the term finlandssvensk, which has no direct English equivalent, meaning “Finland-Swede” in literal translation. The linguistic care which has been afforded to crafting terminology to inclusively encompass and label the Swedish-speaking minority has been another means through which its distinct identity has developed. All in all, their desire to be represented and recognized as Swedes and Swedish speakers living within Finland as a culturally distinct domestic offshoot, rather than Swedes in a foreign land, has allowed greater conflict mediation and resolution to take place.
Nowadays, the conflict between Finnish speakers and Swedish speakers in Finland as it existed in the time of the language strife has largely dissipated into irrelevance. Further legislation has been passed to ensure optimal self-determination and represtentation, notably by the 2003 Language Act. This was a measure to further regulate the official bilingualism of individual Finnish municipalities. It states that if the Finnish or Swedish minority, depending on the demographic nature of the municipality, increases further than 3,000 people or 8% of the overall population, then the municipality becomes officially bilingual by default. Conversely, if the minority falls to fewer than 3,000 people or below the 6% threshold of the population, it automatically becomes monolingual, unless citizens vote to retain the bilingual status. Bilingualism has expanded to uphold both langauges as compulsory educational subjects, called äidinkieli or modersmål (“mother tongue”) and toinen kotimainen kieli or andra inhemska språket (“other domestic language”). These two subjects are required throughout Finland’s compulsory education lasting until the age of 16. Graduates of polytechnic institute sand universities are required to pass exams demonstrating a certain level of proficiency in their “other domestic language” as well as their mother tongue. Consequently, modern Finland has become a country that is firmly and proudly bilingual.
Depending on the demographic nature of individual regions or municipalities, many citizens exhibit functional bilingualism, insofar as Swedish speakers are more likely to be fluent in Finnish than vice versa, given the practical matters of living in a state where Finnish speakers make up 92% of the population. Some residual tensions still remain over the fact that the Swedish-speaking provinces on the Finnish mainland do not have fixed territorial protection as administrative units comparable to that of German speakers in Belgium and northern Italy. However, as the vast majority of Swedish speakers, particularly in regions where they form the demographic majority, report being able to use their native language in nearly every aspect of their everyday life, these tensions result in virtually no tangible conflict. Finland’s bilingual status is deep-seated, and has been constructed to great success for both of the country’s prominent communities.

The tensions that caused the language strife, though divisive and controversial in the society of the newly independent state, never led to any sort of outright violence or war, and this was because of the institutionalized frameworks that were created to cater amply to both communities. The early instatement of both Finnish and Swedish as official languages, their long-standing use in education and government, and development of unique Finland Swedish identity ultimately put all fears of assimilation and continued colonialism to rest.
One of my favorite Swedish songs.

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