Sunday, January 20, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Could Russian Replace Swedish as Second Language in Eastern Finland?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 20 – Six districts in eastern Finland would like to use Russian as the second language of instruction in place of Swedish which few Finns there speak, but Finnish leaders oppose the idea, insisting that Finnish-Swedish bilingualism is important and that Eastern Finland must not become “a language ghetto” of those who don’t know Swedish.

                Although Helsinki turned down the application of the six in February 2011, the issue appears to be heating up again.  On Wednesday, Former Finnish Prime Minister Paavlo Lipponen said that “Eastern Finland must not be made into a language ghetto that isolates those who do not know Swedish ( as cited by

            At the same time, Lipponen said that the authorities should make it easier for Finns to study Russian and other languages but that progress in that regard must not be “at the expense of Swedish,” a state language in Finland since 1922, even though only a small fraction of those outside of the western portions of the country speak it on a regular basis.

            The day after Lipponen spoke, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto visted eastern Finland and stressed the importance of Russian even though he too opposes any diminution in the status of Swedish: “Finland must communicate in all directions, in all 360 degrees” because that will give young people the “maximum” opportunities (

            According to Regnum, a Russian news agency, and the Russky mir portal, 5.4 percent of Finns use Swedish as their native language, most of whom live in the western portions of the country, while 55,000, about one percent of the country, are either Russian speakers of “people with Russian roots” (

            The Russky mir portal adds that “the lack of a large number of Finnish-Russian schools [in Finland] is explained by the fact that Russian-speaking parent prefer to send their children to Finnish schools in order that they will more quickly adapt themselves to the conditions of Finnish society.”

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