Tervetuloa tekemään kanssamme
uutta kielipolitiikkaa ja
The Basques battle the Spanish. The Flemish tussle with the Walloons. The Québécois scuffle with the rest of Canada.
But Finland, a country with an unshakable sense of fair play, offers a counterbalance to that sort of acrimony. If anything, Finland bends over backward, with little dissent and at great cost, to make its 260,000 Swedish speakers feel comfortable.
In fact, no sooner did Finland win its independence from Russia in 1917 than it ensured in its Constitution that Swedish speakers, who still controlled much of Finland, would be granted equal rights culturally, educationally and socially.
It was a gesture of comity and pragmatism that overlooked the fact that for five centuries Sweden had controlled Finland and scorned the Finnish language, which the Swedes deemed mysterious and second class.
A result of that constitutional mandate, few would disagree, is that Finland is home to the world's most pampered minority, the endangered Swedish-speaking Finn. Even as their numbers and influence dwindle - from a high of 14 percent of the population in 1880 to 5 percent today - their rights continue to flourish.
"We have it very good here," concedes Henrik Creutz, a Swedish-speaking Finn and a board member of the Swedish People's Party, who is quick to note that almost all Swedish speakers also speak Finnish, most of them very well. "There are lots of language minorities in Europe, but they don't have a lot of power."
Finland has two official languages, Swedish and Finnish. One takes precedence over the other, depending on how many of the people in a given community speak Finnish or Swedish as their mother tongue. Most of the country's 432 communities are Finnish-majority; only about 4 percent are considered Swedish only.
Another 10 percent of communities are bilingual, 21 of them with a Finnish-language majority and 23 with a Swedish-language majority, like Ekenas, a coastal jewel of 14,500 residents.
Wander the streets, cafes, marinas, schools, health centers and government buildings of Ekenas, and the chitchat is all Swedish (actually a dialect of Swedish). More than 80 percent of the residents speak Swedish. And, as in all other bilingual communities, Swedish speakers have their own schools, day care centers, health care centers, local government councils, newspapers and television. Signs are written in Swedish at the top, Finnish below.
Swedish speakers have their own political party in the government and a host of cultural institutions.
In courthouses, women's shelters, nursing homes and government offices in any bilingual community, Swedish speakers, by law, must be served in Swedish if they request it. All documents and brochures must be translated into Swedish. When the time comes to fulfill their military duties, Swedish speakers usually serve in a Swedish-language detachment - although, to avoid a tumble into farce, military commands are given in Finnish.
Finland even has quotas for Swedish speakers at the university level, despite the fact that Swedish speakers tend to be wealthier (in fact, Swedish speakers control many of the major industries) and healthier than Finnish speakers. For example, of the 230 law students at the University of Helsinki, at least 18 must be Swedish speakers.
On this point, at least, some Finnish speakers begin to grumble. While the idea of peeling back the rights of Swedish speakers is almost unthinkable, a growing number of Finns are beginning to complain about other parts of the language law.
Heikki Tala, the chairman of the Finnish Alliance, which is fighting to make Finnish the sole official language, characterizes the status quo as a vestige of a bygone era, when Finland was considered the country bumpkin of Scandinavia.
"There is still a feeling that Swedish speakers are the civilized ones and we are the peasants," Mr. Tala said.
Most upsetting to Finns is the fact that they are required to take Swedish in school. Last spring, irate Finnish-speaking students struck a first blow at the requirement when the government, despite aggressive lobbying from powerful Swedish speakers, agreed to drop Swedish from the university entrance exam.
"It is an extremely big step, a breakthrough for us," Mr. Tala said.
Riitta Uosukainen, a former speaker of the Finnish Parliament, argues that some of today's laws go overboard. "People in Finland don't want to take rights away from Swedish speakers," she said. "It's in our Constitution. We are proud of it. But Finnish speakers don't want to be told that they must learn Swedish. Finnish people also have rights."
The Swedish speakers concede that keeping the bilingual system alive is exhausting, especially because there are so few of them. The population is shrinking mostly because of mixed marriages between Finnish and Swedish speakers.
But the system is worth protecting, they say.
"I am a bad Swedish-Finn," said Jorn Donner, a former member of the European Parliament. "But even I insist on the fact that I can write and speak in my language."