On the accessibility of public services in Swedish in Finland

As confirmed by a comment to my previous article, Nordic workers moving to Finland also encounter problems whenever dealing with the bureaucracy. More specifically, getting service in the Swedish language apparently is becoming more and more difficult, in some Finnish municipalities, despite the fact that Finnish and Swedish both have an official language status in Finland.

This matches the findings of a committee where I was recently nominated. Among our team, we have a Free Software specialist from Åland. While the Åland archipelago legally remains a part of Finland for historical reasons, in practice, its inhabitants have always related more closely to Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia than to Finland. As such, our ålander encountered a much bigger cultural shock when he moved to Helsinki than when he previously moved to Reykjavik to live with his Icelandic wife.

Interestingly, most people think of EU versus non-EU nationals, when they think of immigrant integration issues and yet, EU nationals are not any more Finnish than non-EU nationals. This sort of opinion gets even more laughable, whenever average Finns presume that anyone from a Nordic country moving to Finland would have no difficulty whatsoever in settling down, simply because they relocate from a country that also happens to be of Lutheran protestant background and a political ally of Finland. This simply isn't true. As another comment in the same article suggests, there are integration issues with e.g. Swedes living in Norway and vice-versa. As such, I don't see how anyone could believe that Finland would be free of similar problems. Perhaps this is yet another case of Finns believing a bit too hard that their country is so great that they could not possibly experience the same issues that their neighbors have?


Sam Hardwick said...

I'm not sure I get your point - are you saying Finland is especially unwelcoming to Swedish-speaking people? I know the official bilinguality doesn't work perfectly, but most EU countries don't have it at all.

I don't know where you get the idea that Finns believe their country is uniquely easy to assimilate into, but I don't think it's such a stretch to say that a Swede would have an easier time than, say, a Turk.

ulrik said...

I did absolutely not suggest there are integration issues when norwegians and swedes switch places, since I wouldn't know. I happen to have that binationality (which I often think of as the least binational binationality you can have), and I see lots of places where norway and sweden are really well integrated. On a cultural level there just aren't many differences. The contrast to the Sweden/Swedish/Finland/Finnish case is that Norwegian and Swedish are close to mutually intelligble.

Integration issues often have with formal issues to do rather than cultural issues. There I don't have much to say since I'm still not working (studying) anywhere. But sweden is notoriously hard on non-swedes in that the organised society raises barriers to outsiders quickly.. A swede is in certain registers and lots and lots of services go via these, everyone is there so mostly you don't think about what happens with the people who don't have a Swedish personal number or are not in those registers. Finland might or might not be in the same category, being a Scandinavian-cultured very organised society.

Martin-Éric said...

In Finland, it's not just about whether foreigners have a Finnish national ID number to refer to that proves they are already in the system, since most people have one and can be granted a national ID card on that basis.

Rather, the problem is that bureaucrats automatically assume that if someone isn't a Finnish or EU national, then they probably don't have the right to benefits or services granted by the public sector. The burden is on the foreigner to prove otherwise and, in practice, pointing a bureaucrat to a specific paragraph in a specific Law isn't enough; the bureaucrat will ignore anything a foreigner might say and wait until a Finn confirms that the Law indeed says what the foreigner said it does.

Even in cases when someone is an EU national, bureaucrats often prove recalcitrant to doing what the Law says, such as when being asked by a Nordic national to be served in Swedish.

Martin-Éric said...

Finns think that anyone coming from a Nordic country would be be a drop-in fit for the Finnish society and yet, in practice, this is quite far from the truth. For one thing, Finns inherently hate Swedes, because of a particularly harsh rule they once endured back when they were subjects of the Swedish Crown. They also envy the positive vibes that Swedes radiate on the international level and the average Swede's physical beauty. As such, even though, politically, Finland is more aligned with Sweden than with Russia, the amount of xenophobia expressed against Swedes is greater than the one expressed against Russians.

Peter said...


thanks Martin-Eric for standing up for Swedish in Finland.

Currently Finland lives in status of juridical nihilism when it comes its constitution, the language act. Swedish as administrative language has been subjected to severe eradication in the couple past years. Yet, Finland is keen to play the "most advanced minority right's country"-card in the internation arena.

Finland-Swedes do not have any territorial protection for their language as do the most national minorities in Europe, all we have is the hoax law guaranteeing equal status for Swedish language. In paper.

The most disturbing features of Finnish society towards its minorities is not the systematic violation of basic rights, though, but the violence directed towards minorities.

This year alone the mainstream media has aleady reported about two indidents in Åbo where two young swedish-speaking females have been assaulted by Finnish men followed by anti-swedish slurs. One of the assaulted females called the emergency number where the operators refused to hear her in Swedish. The counsil of Europe (2007) has addressed Finland about the online related violence directed towards Finland-Swedes and the physical abuse against Russian schoolchildren.

Pakkoruotsi.net said...

"getting service in the Swedish language apparently is becoming more and more difficult, in some Finnish municipalities, despite the fact that Finnish and Swedish both have an official language status in Finland."

Maybe Swedish-speaking Finns haven’t told you all about Finland’s language policy. You could say that language policy in Finland is based on an idea that there are 50% Swedish speaking Finns. Swedish speaking Finns think the situation is equality. It’s not equality or democracy.
- There are 5% Swedish speaking Finns.
- Swedish speaking Finns lives on the coast area of Finland. Most of the municipalities of Finland are 100% Finnish speaking municipalities.
- Swedish-speaking Finns don’t want services in Swedish in municipalities. They want services all over the Finland (in the government).
- Despite of that, pakkoruotsi, mandatory Swedish, concerns all Finnish-speaking Finns.
- A question: You can't get any services in Finnish in Åland. In spite of that, you think people from Åland should get services in Swedish in mainland Finland?
- One reason why you can't get services in Swedish is because there are so few Swedish-speaking employees in the public sector. This is because Swedish-speaking Finns go so easily to the Universities. The situation is almost racist towards Finnish speaking Finns.
- The second reason is that services in Swedish and in Finnish are not separated.
- The third reason is pakkoruotsi, mandatory Swedish, which concerns also almost all the government’s public servants. Finnish-speaking Finns don’t take language legislation seriously because it’s so undemocratic towards Finnish-speaking Finns.

I don’t know much about Canada, but I think language situation (French-speaking population) and the language policy in Canada is very different from Finland.


There aren’t mandatory French in schools in Canada, are there? (Except in schools of Ontario from grade 4 to 8, and of course in Quebec). So tell me, how services in French are organised in Canada. After that we can discuss how services in Swedish could get better in Finland.
After that we can discuss, how services in the Swedish language would become better in Finnish municipalities.

Best regards,
info (at) pakkoruotsi.net

Martin-Éric said...

You seem to be under the impression that I haven't done my homeworks. I have, while you haven't. If you did, you'd know that the situation in Canada is identical to Finland: anglophones have to learn French and francophones have to learn English. That it's essentially pointless to enforce the language policy in parts of the country that don't traditionally speak one language or the other is a separate issue. So, yeah, why don't you go and do your homeworks and then we can talk about whether the policy is as unfair as you think it is. Hint: it's worse than you think it is and not for the reasons you implied.

Peter said...


are you familiar with the work of Candanian bi-lingual scholar Kenneth Mcrae, 1999, "Multilingual societies, case Finland". It's an excellent account of Finnish language policy.

According to Kenneth McRae Finland-Swedes were satisfied with too little in 1922 (the birth of the language act). He considers the lack of territorial protection for Swedish as something that creates instability for the future of Swedish culture in Finland. Finnization of the whole country is seen as ideologically wishfull among the Finns. Furthermore he scolded Finland-Swedes for their overly non-confrontational post WW2 policies.

Compulsory Swedish was introduced in the 70's to strengten Finnish ties with the Scandinavia and the rest of the western world. At that time Finland was de facto Soviet satellite. Internet did not exist and a country subjected Ural-altai language/culture and was pretty alone in Europe, where it wanted to identify itself.

These Finnish fanatics are often under the ingfluence that Finland-Swedes are doing exactly as well as the language act say. This is ofcourse the myth. There's hardly any country in Europe which violates it's constitution as much and systematically as do Finland. At the top of everything the old cliches relating to the wealth of Swedes in Finland are lingering. People often confuse the material wealth of the minority with cultural integrity.