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Debate in media and online on status of Swedish language remains polarised
Public debate on the Swedish-speaking minority living in Finland appears to focus almost exclusively on the single vexed issue of mandatory Swedish in Finnish schools, says political scientist Pasi Saukkonen, who was asked by the Magma think-tank what it is in the Swedish-language culture that many Finns find so annoying.
Saukkonen found that online debates often end up concentrating solely on the issue of compulsory Swedish at school.
The study examined various online discussion boards, including that of the Helsingin Sanomat website. Also examined were articles written in the media, and political literature.
Saukkonen found that public debate is very polarized. The status of Swedish is either defended or opposed with great passion.
There are many different concerns, but the opposing sides often tend to talk past each other. Whereas some voice opposition to mandatory Swedish instruction, others express concern about the disappearance of public services in Swedish.
“Judging from the language debate, we can conclude that Finnish-speakers and Swedish-speakers live in completely different worlds”, Saukkonen says.
Those who oppose the special status of Swedish often lash out at institutions.
In addition to mandatory teaching of Swedish at schools, they frequently criticize the Swedish-speaking semi-autonomous Åland Islands, the Swedish People’s Party, and other old bastions of Swedish culture in Finland.
“They are seen to maintain a system that is not considered good”, Saukkonen ponders.
Attracting considerable venom is the Swedish People’s Party, whose very name is seen by some to be un-Finnish.
The Swedish-speaking population itself raises less annoyance. Saukkonen says that one possible reason for this could be that many Finnish-speaking Finns do not know any Swedish-speakers.
Prejudices nevertheless emerge occasionally. Some consider Swedish-speakers to have an upper-class air of superiority, or to be unpatriotic.
“There is a nationalist way of thinking, in which Swedish-speakers are seen to be less Finnish”, Saukkonen says.
There is finger pointing on the other side of the debate as well.
Those criticizing the status of Swedish are often labelled as racists, as populists, as lacking linguistic skills, or as simply stupid.
Pasi Saukkonen sees fear for the future to be behind the concern.
“The Swedish-speakers are quite reasonably concerned about how well their linguistic rights will be implemented. That is why some of them take a very strong stand on mandatory Swedish, for instance."