Direct initiative to demote Swedish language at schools stands slim chance of approval

by , under Enrique

What are we to think about a direct initiative that got over 50,000 signatures today to demote Finland’s second official language to elective status at schools? While this initiative stands a slim chance of passing in parliament, it shows how intolerance has raised its head in Finland recently.

Even if those that are lobbying against Finland’s 290,977-strong Swedish-language minority claim that by eliminating mandatory Swedish will help people learn more “useful” languages like Russian, the whole campaign is nothing more than a red herring.

Finland has lots of polyglots despite the fact that Swedish is mandatory at schools.

Kuvankaappaus 2013-8-11 kello 23.13.41
Swedish as a mother tongue is spoken by 5.36% of the population, according to the Population Register Center.

Vapaa kielivalinta, which has spearheaded the initiative together with Suomalaisuuden liitto, the youth associations of the Perussuomalaiset and National Coalition Party, claims the goal of the anti-Swedish-langauge initiative is:

    • freedom of choice of languages in schools
    • reduction of unnecessary language demands in public service
    • national action for these issues.

Even if those that are endorsing this effort claim with a poker face that it will further tolerance, it will actually do the opposite. At least three of the associations promoting the initiative have very strong anti-cultural diversity stands.

Suomalsiuuden liitto, for example, has played a key role in undermining cultural diversity in Finland from the onset of independence. The chairman of Vapaa kielivalinta, Ilmari Rostila, is a Tampere city councilman for the anti-immigration Perussuomalaiset party.

If the initiative passed in parliament, we may well ask what is the next matter that we’ll try to dismantle of our cultural diversity, which has been on the defensive for quite some time.

If Swedish is the second official language of this country, why is it being treated with such contempt?

Because there are groups that are bent on destroying as much of our cultural diversity as a nation as possible.

  1. Joonas

    I would say none of the direct initiative will ever pass in the parliament – even the neutral marriage proposal which will be a tragedy. The direct initiatives are just an illusion that we could change things in this country.

    I do understand that some people might find it “risky” to let students choose what language they want to study, but I do think it is more important to Finns study bigger diversity of languages. It doesn’t mean that nobody would study Swedish, I’m certain many still would choose it and would have much higher motivation to study it as well. Even companies are already complaining that Finns do not have enough knowledge of many major languages.

    How many languages one person can learn fluently, if you already have to know Finnish, Swedish and English? Some people are more gifted with languages, but for the majority three languages are quite a lot.

  2. Yossie

    Even if the initiative doesnt pass in parliament, it forces politicians to discuss about the matter. This will reveal how hollow the reasons for mandatory second language is.

    Finland would benefit immensily for freedom of choice in language skills

  3. Jssk

    Enrique, not even every fennoswede support mandatory swedish. I dont see how this is an attack against them or the swedish language. This is simply an initiative to free ourselfves from this burden that is mandatory swedish.

    Why have you never mentioned a word about the discrimination against finns in some areas? For example the development director of Raasepori was fired recently on discriminatory basis.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Jssk, nobody, at least I, don’t believe all the baloney that Vapaa Kielivalinta, Suomalaisuuden liitto, youth associations of the PS and National Coalition Party are spearheading. The whole campaign is nothing more than a hostile attack against a minority like the Swedish-speaking Finns. After these groups get rid of mandatory Swedish, which group will be their next target? It never ends.

      Read my lips: The campaign is an effort to kill Finland’s cultural diversity. It is done by people who want to keep Finland white (and Finnish speaking).

  4. Joonas

    Read my lips: The campaign is an effort to kill Finland’s cultural diversity. It is done by people who want to keep Finland white (and Finnish speaking).

    Wouldn’t it be the opposite? Wider selection of languages would help us to understand and communicate with people from different cultures. This campaign doesn’t try to remove language studies from schools, but instead bring more language options for students.

    Finland is getting more international day by day and narrowing our language studies to three different languages is not wise – especially when two of those languages are minority languages (Finnish and Swedish).

    • Mark

      Joonas

      This campaign doesn’t try to remove language studies from schools, but instead bring more language options for students.

      The thing about Swedish though is that if you give people a basis for the language at school, there is plenty of Swedish in the environment to keep developing it later. School is only a start for any of the languages you study, and it really is what you decide to do afterwards with your language learning that really makes the difference or opens up the possibilities. Indeed, you can start learning a new language at any time. Most of the youngsters I know in Finland have already a reasonably good grasp of English just from playing games and doing internet and IT stuff, at least the boys. In fact, it is sometimes girls that don’t have those interests that will find English perhaps difficult to grasp. But, similar to Swedish, these are languages to which kids in Finland are heavily exposed to, and so it’s not like you are squeezing that language learning into a total vacuum.

      This idea that language learning, particularly of English, is utterly dependent on having more ‘choice’ at school level is just not true. And you have to weigh the educational priorities alongside the national priorities of supporting both language groups in Finland equally. Given how so many countries have so many problems of separatism and tensions because of minorities, it seems rather short-sighted to complain about the ‘effort’ involved in giving Swedish equal status, when the possibilities for separation, segregation, conflict and further nationalisation if we go down this kind of nationalistic path are clearly there for all to see.

  5. Joonas

    Joonas

    The thing about Swedish though is that if you give people a basis for the language at school, there is plenty of Swedish in the environment to keep developing it later

    But, similar to Swedish, these are languages to which kids in Finland are heavily exposed to, and so it’s not like you are squeezing that language learning into a total vacuum.

    It really depends in which part of Finland you are living. Russian language is becoming more common language in Eastern Finland, mostly due the tourist from Russia. Swedish is more used in some of the cities in West coast of Finland. In capital area you are exposed to English, Swedish, German, Russian, and Somali languages.

    School is only a start for any of the languages you study, and it really is what you decide to do afterwards with your language learning that really makes the difference or opens up the possibilities. Indeed, you can start learning a new language at any time.

    Wouldn’t it be more efficient to let the student to choose what language he/she wants to study in the first place? When I was a kid (I think it was the third or forth grade), we already have the possibility to choose from three different languages (English, German, French) and then on seventh grade we started studying mandatory Swedish. Why can’t we have same kind of choices than we had for our first language? The kids in that age can already tell what language they prefer to study and what might be useful in the future.

    And you have to weigh the educational priorities alongside the national priorities of supporting both language groups in Finland equally.

    I have to disagree with this statement. Even if mandatory Swedish is changed to voluntary, it probably would not have major effect to Swedish-speaking population in Finland. The services are still offered in Swedish and many people would still choose Swedish as their first- or second foreign language.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      –It really depends in which part of Finland you are living. Russian language is becoming more common language in Eastern Finland, mostly due the tourist from Russia.

      Even if lots of Russian tourists visit Finland, I wouldn’t say there’s a tendency to learn Russian. One of the matters that is undermining the latter is our negative attitudes of Russians. Like the initiative to demote the role of Swedish at schools or learning a new language like Russians, the issue is the same: our attitudes and if we see outsiders as a threat or something positive. The atmosphere in Finland is at present very negative towards immigrants and cultural diversity.

    • Yossie

      Enrique

      If russians have a bad reputation, they should look into the mirror. If you go invading a country and stole their land for good, yeah, that will create you a bad reputation for a generation or two.

      Having said that, things are changing nowdays and russians are mostly seen as tourists and shoppers that bring money to Finland in eastern Finland.

  6. Joonas

    –It really depends in which part of Finland you are living. Russian language is becoming more common language in Eastern Finland, mostly due the tourist from Russia.

    Even if lots of Russian tourists visit Finland, I wouldn’t say there’s a tendency to learn Russian.

    You might be right, but at least people could no longer use “pakkoruotsi” word if they could choose the language. Most likely some people will complain anyway when they have to study languages, but at least then you could tell them “You chose to study this language”. And the language doesn’t have to be necessary Swedish or Russian.