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Sweden: Finnish Language Rights Extended

(Jan. 11, 2013) Finnish speakers in eight additional districts in <?Sweden will have the option of using their native language in retirement homes and pre-schools, following the adoption of a proposal on the subject by Swedish legislators late last month. The action came two years after Sweden included Finnish as one of the four minority languages in the country. The other minority languages are Sami, Romani, and Yiddish. That 2010 decision was a result of Sweden's ratification of two European Union conventions designed to protect and promote minorities and their languages. (Finnish Language Rights Expanded in Sweden, ICE NEWS (Jan. 6, 2013); Ann Törnkvist, Sweden Extends Finnish-Language Rights, THE LOCAL (Dec. 28, 2012).)

The new districts are Borlänge, Enköping, Finspång, Luleå, Motala, Sandviken, Uddevalla and Örebro. Finnish-language government services will now be offered in 40 Swedish districts. (Finnish Language Rights Expanded in Sweden, supra.) Approximately 5.5% of the country’s people speak Finnish as a primary language or come from a Finnish family; it therefore is a matter of potential interest to half a million people. Finns have lived in parts of what is now Sweden since medieval times; the two countries did not separate until 1809. (Törnkvist, supra.)

The national government will compensate local authorities for the costs of providing public services in an additional language. (Id.)

Recent figures show that over 5.5% of Sweden’s population speaks Finnish or originated from a Finnish family. Although there is a need for services in Finnish, particularly for older Finnish speakers, the right to request government services in Finnish is not dependent on any demonstrable need. According to Stockholm County Administrative Board spokesperson Katarina Popvic, aging citizens may “lose their Swedish even though they’ve lived here for many, many years, so in these cases we are talking about a very acute need” for use of Finnish for communication. (Id.) She also made it clear that “[t]hese laws are rights-based, not needs-based, so even if you speak Swedish, you can ask for contact with public servants to be in Finnish.” (Id.)