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Finnish politician defends status of Swedish speakers

YLE NewsEye on the Arctic

Contrary to claims of Finland’s Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson (Swed), researchers say that by 2050 there will be as many Russian speakers as there are Swedish speakers in Finland. The number of Russian speakers has doubled since the start of the new millennium.

Henriksson says that Russian speakers’ position in Finland cannot be compared to that of Swedish speakers. The Swedish People’s Party Minister added that she saw no reason to grant Russian the status of an official language – as is enjoyed by Swedish – in Finland.

Henriksson believes that the number of Russian speakers will not match that of Finnish-Swedes at least for a hundred years.

However, the Minister’s views are challenged by Markku Kangaspuro, Director of Aleksanteri Institute that specializes in Russian-related research.

“The number of Russians living here has grown in the last two decades. If current trends continue, there could be about as many as there are Swedish speakers by 2050, some 250,000 of them, which is a significant portion of the Finnish population,” Kangaspuro says.

The Institute Director notes that the 60,000 Russian speakers presently residing in Finland are still a rather marginal group politically speaking, and that they are hardly represented at all in Finnish decision-making.

Henriksson: no need to amend language legislation

The Minister of Justice sees Russian migration to Finland as a positive trend in general, and emphasizes the responsibility of municipalities with many Russian speakers. Henriksson suggests that municipalities organize education and training in the Russian language, adding that this would not require any changes to present legislation.

“I don’t see any need to amend our language legislation, which works fine. Swedish has always been a language spoken in Finland, and Swedish speakers have always lived in Finland. This is an entirely different situation compared to people who move here from other countries”, Henriksson asserts.

Currently most Russian speakers are concentrated in the capital region of Finland. According to Helsinki City statistics, the biggest numbers are found in Mellunkylä (2,250), followed by Vuosaari (1,880). With some 4.5 percent, Vironlahti has the most Russian speakers relative to total population.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.