Eesti Elu
Masso: wrong to draw parallels between Finnsh and Estonian language policies (5)
Arvamus 20 Aug 2010 EL (Estonian Life)Eesti Elu
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Summarized translation, Laas Leivat

Helsinki based writer, political scientist and columnist Iivi Anna Masso gives a compelling argument for retaining Estonia’s official unilingual language policy by outlining the historic background and situation for Finland’s bi-lingualism. The following are her observations and positions on the issue, translated from Estonian.

Finland has two official state languages, Finnish and Swedish. Often, Estonia is urged to take Finland as an example and do likewise by adding Russian to Estonia’s current unilingual policy, since only 6% of Finland’s residents have Swedish as their mother tongue while 25% of Estonia’s residents have Russian as their mother tongue.

Finland’s bilingual policy is meant not only to protect a minority culture, but it has evolved from a historic and political context in which Finland wants to be identified as a Northern European country like Sweden. Estonians have no desire to be identified as part of the Russian cultural landscape.

It’s appropriate to contrast the cultural rights of the recent emigrants and those minorities indigenous to the country. A certain cultural accomodation is expected of recent arrivals. Nobody has seriously proposed the adoption of Arabic or Turkish for official languages in France, Germany or Holland where millions have those now as their mother tongues. The Russian speaking community in Estonia has also arrived in the same post-war period. To deny the forced nature of the immigration is to also deny the fact of Soviet occupation.

The Swedish presence in Finland can be traced back some 1000 years. The Swedish language was Finland’s offcial administrative language from the middle ages onwards. At the end of the 19th century, the cultural, educational and Helsinki’s city language was Swedish. The Finnish national culture evolved through Swedish culture. The leading figure in promoting a Finnish nation-state was Johan Vilhelm Snellman (1806-1881), a Swede born in Sweden. Many of the outstanding figures in the Finnish cultural elite, including national war hero Carl Gustaf Mannerhein were of Swedish heritage. A similar role for Russians or German’s in Estonia’s past doesn’t exist. Finns retained the Swedish governmental institutions and judical system even while under the rule of the Russian czar during which Swedish remained as one of the official languages.

Finnish gained official anguage status only after the winning of independence from communist Russia in 1919. Currently there are practical negative aspects to making bilingualism mandatory for the public sector workforce. It hinders the ability of newly arrived immigrants to win jobs in the public sector.

The survival of Swedish in Finland cannot be taken for granted. Not only assimilation with the majority but the rapid influx of new immigrants are a cultural threat. By protecting Swedish through its bilingual policy, Finland is confirming it’s position as a Northern European country.

The large Russian community in Estonia is not threatened with extinction. There is no historic justification for instituting bilingualism in Estonia. In spite of Finland’s bilingual policy the future of the Finnish language in Finland is much more assured than the Estonian language in Estonia.

The knowledge of Swedish in Finland isn’t universal. The same can be said for Estonian in Estonia. A unilingual offcial language policy in Estonia is totally justified. It would be most appropriate to compare Russian speakers in Estonia with Russian speakers in Finland, not with Finland’s Swedish speakers.

The issue of Estonian-Russian bilingualism in Estonia is constatntly raised for geoplitical reasons not for the survival of a minority cultural identity, raised by those longing for a Russian dominated ‘near abroad’.
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