While the large majority of Finland’s population is ethnically Finnish, with a significant Swedish-speaking minority, like other Scandinavian countries its population has become more heterogeneous in recent years as a result of immigration. It also includes a small Roma population, primarily based in its cities, who still face widespread social prejudice and stigmatization. Finland’s Sámi community, numbering some 8,000 in total, are indigenous to the region; despite official recognition, however, they struggle to retain their traditional way of life.    

Land rights remain a salient issue in Finland, affecting in particular the Sámi community. Almost all of traditional Sámi land is currently controlled by the Finnish government. In recent years some of the world’s largest mining companies have conducted exploratory drilling in Sámi reindeer-herding areas. In 2016, the government passed a new Forestry Act that gives the state-run enterprise Metsähallitus the ability to log in the ancient boreal forests that is vital to Sámi livelihoods without the need for prior consultation. Sámi herding cooperatives had previously arrived at an agreement with Metsähallitus in 2010, according to which harvesting restrictions would be applied; since then, however, there have been numerous disputes about whether the agreement and resulting plans have been followed by the company.  A key concern is that Finland has yet to sign ILO Convention No. 169 (ILO 169) concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, despite prolonged advocacy by Sámi organizations.  

Another issue is the disappearance of indigenous languages. According to UNESCO, all Sámi languages are endangered, and particularly in Finland, the UN and other agencies have expressed concern at the lack of protections for the languagesIn 2016, the Council of Europe recommended that Sámi education be strengthened, while expressing concern at the lack of protection for Inari and Skolt Sámi, noting that these languages are especially at risk of becoming extinct. Sámi children are unable to access education in Sámi languages outside of the Sámi homeland, despite the fact that more than 70 per cent of Sámi children live outside the regionThe UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has also expressed concern at the lack of teachers who are qualified to teach Sámi languages and that there are insufficient health and social services available in Sámi languages. 

Political representation also remains a contested matter owing to the fact that according to the current Nordic Sámi Convention, the government retains the power to determine who is Sámi and thus is eligible to participate in Sámi Parliamentary elections. The Sámi Parliament has been pushing for increased power for years – particularly regarding the ratification of ILO 169 and acknowledgment of their right to prior consultation. 

Finland’s official policy towards migrants and refugees has generally been positive. Nevertheless, the annual quota of 750 refugees to be received for resettlement has been low compared with its Nordic neighbours. Moreover, in 2018, the UN refugee agency UNHCR criticised the Finnish authorities for their restrictive application of the ‘internal flight alternative’ (whereby asylum-seekers are rejected on the grounds that they should have been able to stay elsewhere in their countries of origin), particularly with regard to asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq. From mid-2016, the percentage of applicants granted asylum from those countries decreased drastically. In June 2016, 77 per cent of Iraqi applicants were rejected, compared with just 13 per cent the year earlier. More positively, in August 2018, the Finnish Interior Ministry announced that it would raise its resettlement target to 1,050, returning the annual quota to the figure temporarily set in response to the refugee crisis of 2014 and 2015.  

Among far-right groups and sections of Finnish society, there have been calls to halt immigration into the country. Anti-migrant rhetoric has framed immigration, in particular refugees and asylumseekers, as a driver of crime, a threat to Finnish values and an economic burden to the country – views that, while unfounded, are held by a significant number of Finns. According to a recent EU Fundamental Rights Agency survey, migrants and members of ethnic minorities are more likely to experience discrimination in Finland than in most other EU member-states. In results published in 2017, nearly half of people of sub-Saharan descent living in Finland had experienced discrimination during the previous 12 months.  

There habeen a worrying increase in the number of hate crime complaints filed with the authorities. The Finnish police announced that 1,165 complaints had been logged in 2017, representing an increase of 8 per cent compared with 2016. This was a bit less than in 2015, however, when the country witnessed an influx of 32,000 asylumseekers. Around 70 per cent of cases were motivated by the victim’s ethnicity; 20 per cent related to the victim’s religion or beliefs – an increase compared with the previous year. Muslims were most likely to be targeted. Researchers warned that the majority of victims will never file a complaint, due to feelings of shame and lack of faith in police follow-up.  

 

Updated June 2019

Finland is located in northern Europe and shares land borders with Sweden, Norway, and Russia. The Åland Islands(off the south-western coast) have a special autonomy arrangement while remaining under Finnish sovereignty. 

What is now Finland belonged to the Kingdom of Sweden from the twelfth century to 1809, when the area, including the Åland Islands, was ceded to Russia. Finland declared independence in 1917, and its 1919 Constitution gave it a parliamentary system with a strong presidency. Finnish and Swedish were both designated national languages. The Soviet Union was one of the first states to recognize Finland.   

Finland experienced numerous conflicts during the first decades of independence. A civil war was fought in 1918 between forces loyal to the Social Democrats on the one hand, and the non-socialist conservative-led Senate; by the war’s end, almost 37,000 people had died.  

In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland, leading to the Winter War. Despite being considerably outnumbered, the Finnish forces were initially able to resist, using guerrilla tactics and their knowledge of the local terrain. Nevertheless, the war ended with a peace treaty that led to Finland ceding 9 per cent of its territory, including the country’s second largest city, Viipuri. 25,000 Finns died as a result of the conflict, and over 400,000 Karelians were displaced. In 1941, conflict broke out again between the two countries. This time the war lasted over two years with the opposing sides digging down, once Finland had regained territories which it previously ceded. In 1944, the Soviet army went on the offensive, forcing the Finnish army from most of the terrain it had regained. Conflict concluded later that year with an armistice, followed by the Paris peace treaty of 1947. Finland had to cede much of Karelia to the Soviet Union and pay reparations. Over 63,000 Finns died during this second conflict. Although Finland and Nazi Germany were co-belligerents and despite strong pressure from its ally, the Finnish government refused to take any action against its Jewish minority which continued to enjoy the full range of rights as other citizens. 

Finland joined the European Union in 1995, and in the same year, the Sámi people were officially recognized as an indigenous people in the Finnish Constitution. 

 

Updated June 2019

 

Main languages: Finnish (88.3 per cent), Swedish (5.3 per cent)Russian (1.4 per cent), Sámi (0.03 per cent). 

Main religions: Evangelical Lutheran Christianity (72 per cent), Finnish Orthodox (1.1 per cent). 

Minority groups include: Swedishspeakers (5.3 per cent), Russian-speakers (1.4 per cent), Estonians (0.9 per cent), Roma (0.2 per cent, and Sámi (0.1 per cent). 

Numbering around 8,000 people (with some estimates reaching 10,000)Sámi are the country’s only indigenous peopleA sizeable number live in northernmost Lapland, in an area known as the ‘Sámi Homeland’, although more than 60 per cent now reside elsewhere in the country. There is a far larger population in Norway, and they also live in Sweden and Russia.  

Roma of the eastern Kale group settled in Finland at the end of the sixteenth century. With a current population of around 11,000 people, they mostly live in urban areas. 

Swedish-speakers live mostly in the coastal regions of Österbotten, Nyland and Åboland, and on the Åland Islands. 

Russian-speakers are partly a historical minority and partly new immigrants, some with Finnish citizenship and some non-citizens. Russians who settled in Finland from the eighteenth century to the aftermath of the First World War are often referred to as Old Russians. The first group of Russians settled in the eastern province of Karelia. Old Russian communities in and around Helsinki, Turku, and Tampere are mostly the descendants of civil servants, officers and merchants who settled during the nineteenth century. They may also be the descendants of people who fled the Russian Revolution. The most recent group of Russians in Finland (called the New Russians) immigrated from the 1960s onwards and especially since 1991.  

The number of Old Russians has been estimated at 2,500 to 5,000. Old Russians fall within the scope of Finlands obligations under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the key European treaty on minority groups. Russian immigrants from the former Soviet Union do not. The Union of Finland’s Russian-Speaking Societies has criticized the division between Old Russians and so-called New Russians, made for the purposes of the implementation of the Framework Convention, as being at best artificial and misleading, and at worse unfounded and useless. 

Jews first arrived in Sweden–Finland during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Present-day Finnish Jews, estimated to number up to 1,800 people, are mainly descendants of later arrivals of Russian origin. In 1918, after Finland gained independence, Jews were granted full rights as citizens. The Jews moving to Finland in the eighteenth century spoke Russian and Yiddish and, upon settling in Finland, chose Swedish as their first language. In 1932 it was decided that the language of instruction at the Jewish school in Helsinki should be Finnish instead of Swedish. Jews have been basically bilingual, although younger generations have increasingly tended to be unilingual Finnish-speaking. 

Islamic Tatars came to Finland from the Sergatch region on the Volga from the 1880s to the 1920s. They were merchants and settled mainly in the Helsinki area. In 1925, the founded the first Finnish Islamic congregation. According to government documents in 2007, Tatars number about 800, although the total number of Muslims in Finland (many of them recent immigrants from various countries in the Islamic world) is unofficially estimated to be around 60-70,000 people. Tatars have kept their Turkic language alive, using it mainly in family and private life. Their religious organization arranges the regular teaching of Turkic to children, and there are summer camp courses in Turkic. 

 

Updated June 2019

The Swedish language remains protected under provisions of the Finnish Constitution and language legislation as an official language alongside Finnish. Swedish schools and institutes of higher education continue to ensure the future of Swedish language and culture. However, emigration to Sweden and the low birth rate among Swedish-speaking Finns mean that the proportion of younger age groups is decreasing, leading to a population decline. 

The Finnish Constitution recognizes Sámi as an indigenous people, as well as their right to cultural autonomy.  However, prospects for Finnish Sámi, as for all Sámi, involve the struggle to maintain their culture as their traditional northern reindeer grazing lands are increasingly exploited by modern extractive industriesA key priority remains to protect their wildlife resources for sustainable use.  

The far-right True Finns Party gained votes in the 2011 elections, becoming the third largest party in parliament. After the 2015 elections the Finnish government again became more conservative, when the (now renamed) Finns Party joined the governing coalition. These shifts have added to concerns over the growing support for right-wing nationalist parties across Scandinavia. In June 2017, the 38 MPs of the Finns Party split into two groupings, in order to save the coalition government. A new group comprising the 21 more moderate Finns MPs formed the New Alternative, allowing the coalition to remain in place. 

The 2015 election was also significant for minority rights in another way. It was the first time since 1979 that the resulting coalition government did not include at least one minister from the Svenska Folkpartiet (SFP, or Swedish People’s Party).  This created concern amongst Swedish-speaking Finns, as the party’s presence in successive governments had long guaranteed the Swedish language’s protected status.  

In 2009, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health set up a working group which drafted the first Finnish National Policy on Roma. The purpose of the policy is to promote the equal inclusion of Roma in Finnish life. An EU assessment in 2014 noted some positive steps, for instance with regard to Roma teacher training and increased presence of Roma children in early education; however, the EU Commission noted that more needed to be done in terms of assessing results 

Finland has yet to ratify International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. In 2015, ratification was considered with the Sámi Parliament Act; however, it was voted down by 162 votes to 28. 

 

Updated June 2019

Roma 

Profile 

Roma in Finland belong to the eastern Kale group and settled at the end of the sixteenth century. Numbering about 11,000 they live mostly in urban areas. Although some of Finland’s Roma still speak their Kale dialect of Romani, most speak Finnish. 

Historical Context 

Roma first settled in what was then the Kingdom of Sweden-Finland in the early sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century, Roma were forced to relocate to the eastern part of the realm, which now forms Finland. At the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, the official policy was to assimilate Roma into the Finnish population. Roma children were frequently separated from their parents and the Kale language was banned. But since the 1960s, the goal has been to integrate Roma into Finnish society whilst still respecting their wish to maintain a distinct identity. In 1995, an amendment to the 1919 Constitution guaranteed the Roma, along with Sámi and other minorities, the right to retain and develop their own language and culture. Accordingly, the Kale language in Finland now has the status of a non-territorial minority language and Finland’s Roma community is recognized as a national minority under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. 

Since the 1960s Roma have campaigned for better housing and for instruction in the Kale language. The Finnish Gypsy (since 1990 ‘Romani’) Association was founded in 1967, and an Advisory Board on Gypsy (since 1990 ‘Romani’) Affairs has operated since 1956 in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. In 1992 the Unit for the Development of Romani Education and Culture was set up by the Finnish National Board of Education to promote Romani language and culture. 

Current Issues 

Unemployment continues to be a major issue of concern to Finnish Roma mainly due to their generally low level of education. The living conditions of Roma remain poorer than for the majority of Finland’s population. Since the 1970s, the Finnish government has tried to facilitate the acquisition of homes by Roma families through housing allocations and low-interest loans. Despite these efforts, Roma housing conditions have not improved much and Roma still face discrimination in the housing market.  

In addition to widespread prejudice in employment and housing, the Roma also face discrimination in access to restaurants and other licensed premises. Prejudicial treatment occurs even though the Finnish Penal Code criminalizes incitement to racial hatred and racial discrimination. The Roma population continues to face significant levels of hate crimes. The Finnish authorities have tried to address bullying of Roma children in schools through, for instance, rap music television campaigns targeting young people to reduce negative stereotypes. The authorities have also supported KiVa anti-bullying programmes, following a methodology initially developed by the University of Turku. The UN nevertheless expressed concern in 2017 that bullying of Roma and migrant children persists in Finnish schools.  

In 2009, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health set up a working group which drafted the first Finnish National Policy on Roma. The purpose of the policy is to promote the equal inclusion of Roma in Finnish life. An EU assessment in 2014 noted some positive steps, for instance with regard to Roma teacher training and increased presence of Roma children in early education; however, the EU Commission noted that more needed to be done in terms of assessing results.  

 Sámi 

Profile 

There are about 80,00indigenous Sámi living in northern Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the far north-west and north-east of Russia. Finland is home to about 8,000 Sámi. 

Most Sámi continue to reside in their traditional area, which is known as the Sámi Homeland (Sámiid ruovttuguovlu). This area is of relevance for the implementation of the Sámi Language Act of 1992 (revised in 2004) as well as the Act on the Sámi Parliament of 1995 (amended up to 2003). The Sámi Homeland stretches across the three northernmost municipalities in the Province of Lapland, namely Utsjoki, Inari, and Enontekiö, plus the northern part of the municipality of Sodankylä. Only in Utsjoki do Sámi constitute a majority of the local residents. The Sámi of Finland are divided into three distinct groups: Northern Sámi (the vast majority), Greek Orthodox Skolt Sámi, and Inari Sámi – each speaking their own Sámi language.  

Historical Context 

From as early as the seventeenth century, when Lutheran missionaries first arrived in the Sámi Homeland, Sámi have been discouraged from speaking their native languages in favour of Finnish. However, there were no official policies prohibiting the use of Sámi languages – unlike in Norway and Sweden.  

Under Finnish law, a ‘Sámi’ is a person who identifies as Sámi and who is either a native Sámi-speaker or has at least one parent or grandparent who learnt Sámi as a first language. Controversially, this linguistic definition was extended in 1995 to include descendants of persons who were identified as ‘Lapps’ (the previously widely-used but derogatory term) in previous land, taxation, or population registers, even if these descendants do not fulfil the linguistic criteria. This decision to privilege descent over language was opposed by the Sámi Parliament, which claimed that the new legislative definition would effectively dilute the Sámi community with persons already assimilated into the majority Finnish population. As a result, in 1999 the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland restricted the scope of the new criterion by excluding persons whose registered Lapp ancestors were more distant than their grandparents. 

In 1995, the Finnish Constitution was amended to include stronger guarantees for the rights of Sámi. The new provisions recognized the status of Sámi as an indigenous people and accorded Sámi the right to maintain and develop their own languages and culture. They also guaranteed Sámi cultural autonomy within the Sámi Homeland. These provisions remained unchanged in the new Finnish Constitution which entered into force on 1 March 2003. 

The Sámi Parliament was established in Finland in 1973 as the first elected body of Sámi peoples in the Nordic states. The original name in Northern Sámi was the Sámi parlameanta. Following the 1995 Act on the Sámi Parliament and a legislative decree, the name was changed in 1996 to Samediggi in Northern Sámi and Saamelaiskäräjät in FinnishThe Sámi Parliament is entrusted with decision-making powers relating to the distribution of funds set aside in the state budget for Sámi and may also take initiatives in matters concerning the Sámi languages, culture and indigenous status. As a result of the legislative reform introduced in 1995 the Finnish authorities have an obligation to negotiate with the Sámi Parliament in all important matters which may affect the status of Sámi as an indigenous people. 

A separate Act on the Sámi Language was adopted in 1991 and came into effect in 1992. It made Sámi an official language. It applies mainly in the Sámi Homeland and was replaced by a new Sámi Language Act which is based on a proposal made by the Sámi Parliament. The new Act entered into force on 1 January 2004. The new Sámi Language Act aims to overcome shortcomings associated with the previous arrangement by strengthening Sámi language use before courts of law and other authorities and improving access to public services in Sámi. The Sámi Language Act is based on principles that are similar to those included in the Language Act setting forth the linguistic rights of the Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking populations. However, whereas Finnish and Swedish are recognized as national languages of Finland, the Sámi languages retain the status of regional minority languages. Nevertheless, according to the law, Sámi have the right to use their languages when contacting the public authorities in the Sámi Homeland. In Utsjoki municipality, where Sámi are the majority, Sámi and Finnish have almost the same status.  

Current Issues 

Disputes over the ownership and use of land in the Sámi Homeland remain unresolved. Sámi do not have the ability to make any decisions regarding land or access to resources in their traditional territory, of which ninety per cent currently belongs to the government. Provisions for land use and ownership were left out of the law establishing the administrative status and cultural autonomy of Sámi. Instead, the Finnish authorities argued that a more detailed examination of the issues relating to land rights was required before any legislation could be adopted. Since then, a number of government bodies, most notably the Finnish Ministry of Justice, have sought to address the question of Sámi land rights. The Sámi Parliament has conducted its own investigation into the land rights question and in September 2002 published a report on land ownership which asserted that Finnish claims to land ownership within the Sámi Homeland were based on judicially untenable grounds.  

In discussing the land rights question Finnish officials have said that any solution must be acceptable to both the government and Sámi and suggested that the joint working group of three Nordic countries could provide the basis for such an agreement. However, after 2015 elections the Finnish government became more conservative with the Finns Party (previously True Finns) entering the coalition. In April 2016 the parliament passed a new Forestry Act which – in the face of unequivocal Sámi opposition – circumvents the need for prior consultation and gives the Finnish state-run enterprise Metsähallitus the ability to remove the boreal forest that is vital to Sámi livelihoods. 

Unlike Norway and Sweden, Finland does not grant exclusive reindeer herding land rights to Sámi. The Finnish government has not allowed nomadic herding for years, and territory where herding is allowed has been divided into specified cooperatives since 1898. Despite its importance in Sámi culture, reindeer herding is losing its economic viability. In Finland, the average reindeer herder is likely to earn only a third of what a farmer would. 

Language rights also remains an important issue, particularly for Sámi children. In overseeing implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the Committee of Experts feels that some progress has been made with regard to the development of teaching materials and language nests. However, more needs to be done in terms of securing use of the Sámi languages in the provision of public services, including health care. The Committee has also urged the Finnish authorities to extend Sámi language training to areas outside the Sámi Homeland, given that the majority of Sámi now live elsewhere. 

Swedish-speakers 

Profile 

Swedish-speakers form some 5.3 per cent of the Finnish population. They live mostly in the coastal regions of Österbotten, Nyland and Åboland, and on the Åland Islands, areas inhabited by Swedish-speakers since before the twelfth century. Their social structures resemble those of the majority population. 

The official bilingual status of the country has given rise to special laws and decrees. The Finnish Language Act protects the linguistic rights of the Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking populations as required by the Constitution. The Language Act of 1922 was replaced by a new Language Act that became law in 2004. This new legislation presupposes that Finnish and Swedish can operate as both majority and minority languages, depending on where and in what connection they are used. 

The new Language Act addresses previous dissatisfaction with Swedish-language services provided by courts of law and other governmental authorities. However, it does not create any new language rights. Its goal is to ‘ensure the right of everyone to a fair trial and good administration, irrespective of language, and to secure the linguistic rights of an individual person without him or her needing specifically to refer to these rights’. It includes provisions, inter alia, on the right to use Finnish and Swedish before courts of law and other authorities, on the language of proceedings and the working language of the authorities, and on the language of official documents. The Act obligates the authorities to ensure that the linguistic rights of private individuals are secured in their daily practice. 

Sweden is, after Germany, Finland’s largest trading partner, and this has tended to increase demand for Swedish-speakers in business circles, as has the large number of Swedish visitors who help bolster Finland’s tourist industry. There are 10 Swedish-language newspapers, as well as Swedish-language theatres and Swedish-language broadcasts on Finnish radio and television. Throughout the education system, from primary schools to the Åbo Academy University and bilingual universities, there is Swedish-language provision. However, in 2005, the government removed the Swedish language requirement from the secondary school matriculation exam, which is necessary for students to pass in order to apply to university.  

The Svenska Folkpartiet (SFP), is the political party dedicated to representing the interests of Swedish speaking Finns. Despite its small size, the SFP frequently serves in Finnish coalition governments. Since 1979, it has regularly held at least one ministerial post, although it lost this role in the coalition government formed after the 2015 election. Historically, the strongest support for SFP comes from the constituency of Vasa (Finnish name: Vaasa), in western Finland in the Province of Österbotten. 

In addition to the SFP, Swedish-speaking Finns also have an umbrella organization, the Swedish Assembly of Finland (Svenska Finlands folkting). Its 75 members are indirectly elected every fourth year on the basis of the outcome of municipal elections. They represent Swedish-speakers in the various political parties. The Assembly fosters the cultural needs of the Swedish-speaking population and submits initiatives to that effect to the government and other authorities. It is partly subsidized by the state. 

Of the 29,000 people living on the Åland Islands, Swedish-speakers constitute the vast majority. Ninety per cent of the population lives on Fasta Åland, the largest island, and 40 per cent in Mariehamn, the only town. The Åland legislative assembly, the Lagting, has the right to pass laws in matters such as education, health and medical services, radio and television, the police, local administration and the promotion of industry. The authorities in Finland exercise competence over such areas as foreign affairs, customs and courts of justice. The Finnish state collects taxes, but the Lagting adopts the Åland budget and is also given a set percentage of the Finnish state budget to finance autonomy provisions. The Lagting appoints the Landskapsstyrelse, an executive council of between five and seven members. There is also an Ålandic Delegation, half of whom are appointed by the Finnish government and half by the Lagting. The President of Finland may impose a veto on laws passed by the Lagting if the latter has exceeded its competence or if any law affects Finnish security. The President’s decision is based on advice from the Åland Delegation. 

The Åland islanders’ long-standing basic industries of shipping, agriculture, and fishing are declining, but tourism has been increasing. Combined with emigration to Sweden, this has helped keep unemployment low. 

Historical Context 

The Åland Islands have long been Swedish-speaking, and when Finland declared independence the islanders wanted reunification with Sweden. The question was referred to the League of Nations. In 1921 it was decided that Finland should retain sovereignty over the islands, and Finland in return agreed to respect and preserve the islands’ Swedish language and culture. The 1920 Autonomy Act soon proved inadequate and was replaced in 1951 and again in 1993. This Act too became outdated, and the present Act on the Autonomy of Åland came into force in June 2004. A protocol on the Åland Islands (Protocol No. 2) was also attached to the Act of Accession of Finland into the EU (1995). 

The resolution of the Åland dispute had a decisive impact on how the Swedish question was to be settled in mainland Finland. The Finland Swedes had to abandon their proposals for four Swedish cantons similar to the Swiss model. Instead, the Swedish language retained its status as a national language together with Finnish. Section 14 of the 1919 Constitution (as amended in 1995) declared that the educational, cultural, and social needs of the Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking populations should be taken care of in accordance with similar principles. The original formulation had been ‘the cultural and economic needs … according to the same principles’. The new Constitution of Finland, which was adopted by parliament in 1999 and which entered into force on 1 March 2003, affirms that the public authorities shall provide for the cultural and societal needs of the Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking populations of the country on an equal basis (Section 17). 

Current Issues 

In 2006, the European Commission asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to declare Finland in breach of EU regulations for letting Åland maintain sales of smokeless tobacco (snuff) – forbidden in the EU – on ferries to and from the island. Snuff is traditionally enjoyed by many Swedes. But since Åland is a part of Finland it was not included in the opt-out of the EU-wide snuff ban that Sweden negotiated when it joined the EU: Sweden had declared that the use of moist snuff is part of its national heritage. The Åland islanders have also argued that because of their cultural and historical bond with Sweden, their territory is also eligible for the same exemption. The sale of snuff on duty-free ferries has also been an important source of income for Åland. However, Helsinki announced that, on health grounds, it would side with the European Commission on the matter, which is why the Åland government wanted to bring its case before the ECJ. Snuff was finally banned on Åland in 2007. The dispute did not end then, however; as a related debate concerning the applicability of EU’s Lisbon Treaty to Åland showed.  

When Finland joined the EU in 1996, Åland agreed to join on condition that it could keep some of its crucial laws, such as retaining Swedish as the only official language, and having complete demilitarization of the island. Another matter of importance to Åland was that the waters surrounding the islands remain their own – not EU waters – allowing tax-free sales on passenger ferries from neighbouring countries. In June 2006, Britt Lundberg of Åland’s government met with European Commission officials to explain that if the island is not allowed to plead its own case before the ECJ, then public opinion in Åland will turn against the EU and may lead Åland islanders, to consider leaving the EU. The ECJ ruled that the ban was consistent with EU law and could remain in place, however the Constitutional Law Committee of the Finnish parliament later decided that Finland could ratify the Lisbon Treaty while excluding and rendering the treaty inapplicable to the Åland Islands. 

While these debates focussed on very specific issues, such as the sale of snuff and tax-free sales, ultimately they related to local cultural practices, the economic viability of the Åland Islands, and most crucially, the islanders’ participation rights both nationally and at the EU level.  

In 2016, there was a public debate in Finland concerning an opinion poll conducted among Swedish-speaking Finns. While the number polled was small, a large majority of those responding said that they felt vulnerable speaking Swedish in public places. Over half had actually been threatened or experienced either verbal or physical abuse. Respondents linked this trend to the increased support to the right-wing Finns Party (previously the True Finns), and the fact that the Svenska Folkpartiet (SFP) was for the first time in decades no longer part of a ruling coalition government. Despite its small size, while in government the SFP was viewed as guarantor for the official status of the Swedish language.  

 

Updated June 2019

General 

Ålands Lagting (Ålandic Parliament)
Website: http://www.lagtinget.ax 

Ombudsman for Minorities, Ministry of Labour
www.vahemmistovaltuutettu.fi 

Amnesty International Finland
Website: www.amnesty.fi 

Finnish Helsinki Committee
Website: http://www.fhc.fi/introduction.html 

Finnish Islamic Congregation [Tatar] 

Forum of Russian-Speakers in Finland 

Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Academy University
Website: http://www.abo.fi/instut/imr/ 

Jewish Community of Helsinki
Website: http://www.jchelsinki.fi/english/index.htm 

The Union of Russian-Speaking Associations in Finland:
[The umbrella organization for Russian associations in Finland] 
Website: www.faror.com 

Swedish-speakers 

Svenska Finlands Folkting (Swedish Assembly)
Website: http://www.folktinget.fi/ 

Sámi 

Sámiraddi/Saamelaisneuvosto (Sámi Council)
Website: http://www.saamicouncil.net/en/   

Samediggi/Saamelaiskäräjät/The Sámi Parliament
Website: www.samediggi.fi 

Suoma Sámi Nuorat (Sámi Youth Organization in Finland)
[Works to strengthen the identity of Sámi youth and their knowledge about their culture]
Website: http://www.same.net/~ssn/english.html 

Taiga Rescue Network
[International network of non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples and individuals working to defend the world’s boreal forests]
Website: http://www.taigarescue.org/ 

Roma  

Advisory Board on Romani Affairs
Website:http://www.stm.fi/Resource.phx/eng/orgis/board/romani/index.htx 

Romano Missio
[Educational services for the Romany (Gypsy) people]
Website: http://www.romanomissio.fi/engl_ind.htm 

International Romani Writers’ Association
[Promotes Roma literature, to obtain its recognition as part of world literature and to strengthen the language and culture of Roma people]
Website: http://www.romaniwriters.com/about.htm 

 

Updated June 2019

General 

Ålands Lagting (Ålandic Parliament)
Website: http://www.lagtinget.ax 

Ombudsman for Minorities, Ministry of Labour
www.vahemmistovaltuutettu.fi 

Amnesty International Finland
Website: www.amnesty.fi 

Finnish Helsinki Committee
Website: http://www.fhc.fi/introduction.html 

Finnish Islamic Congregation [Tatar] 

Forum of Russian-Speakers in Finland 

Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Academy University
Website: http://www.abo.fi/instut/imr/ 

Jewish Community of Helsinki
Website: http://www.jchelsinki.fi/english/index.htm 

The Union of Russian-Speaking Associations in Finland:
[The umbrella organization for Russian associations in Finland] 
Website: www.faror.com 

Swedish-speakers 

Svenska Finlands Folkting (Swedish Assembly)
Website: http://www.folktinget.fi/ 

Sámi 

Sámiraddi/Saamelaisneuvosto (Sámi Council)
Website: http://www.saamicouncil.net/en/   

Samediggi/Saamelaiskäräjät/The Sámi Parliament
Website: www.samediggi.fi 

Suoma Sámi Nuorat (Sámi Youth Organization in Finland)
[Works to strengthen the identity of Sámi youth and their knowledge about their culture]
Website: http://www.same.net/~ssn/english.html 

Taiga Rescue Network
[International network of non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples and individuals working to defend the world’s boreal forests]
Website: http://www.taigarescue.org/ 

Roma  

Advisory Board on Romani Affairs
Website:http://www.stm.fi/Resource.phx/eng/orgis/board/romani/index.htx 

Romano Missio
[Educational services for the Romany (Gypsy) people]
Website: http://www.romanomissio.fi/engl_ind.htm 

International Romani Writers’ Association
[Promotes Roma literature, to obtain its recognition as part of world literature and to strengthen the language and culture of Roma people]
Website: http://www.romaniwriters.com/about.htm 

 

Updated June 2019

Minority based and advocacy organisations

General

 

Ålands Lagting (Ålandic Parliament)
Tel: +358 (0)18 25 000
Website: http://www.lagtinget.ax

Ombudsman for Minorities, Ministry of Labour,
www.vahemmistovaltuutettu.fi
Tel: +358 (0) 10 60 4001

Amnesty International Finland
Tel: +358 (0) 693 1488
Website: www.amnesty.fi

Finnish Helsinki Committee
Tel: +358 (0) 135 1470, +358 9 4155 2555
Email: info@fhc.fi
Website: http://www.fhc.fi/introduction.html

Finnish Islamic Congregation [Tatar]
Tel: +358 9 643 579, +385 40 5350017 (chairman Okan Daher)
Email: kanslia@fic-sis.org, okan.daher@fic-sis.org (chairman Okan Daher)

Forum of Russian-Speakers in Finland
Tel: +358 19 544 868

Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Academy University
Tel: +358 21 265 4325
Website: http://www.abo.fi/instut/imr/

Jewish Community of Helsinki
Tel: +358 9 586 0310
Email: srk@jchelsinki.fi
Website: http://www.jchelsinki.fi/english/index.htm

The Union of Russian-Speaking Associations in Finland:
[The umbrella organization for Russian associations in Finland]
Tel: +358 45 652 7869
Email: faro@kolumbus.fi, al@faror.com
Website: www.faror.com

 

Swedish-speakers

Svenska Finlands Folkting (Swedish Assembly)
Tel: + 358 9 684 4250
Email: folktinget@folktinget.fi
Website: http://www.folktinget.fi/

 

Sami

Samiraddi/Saamelaisneuvosto (Sami Council)
Tel: +358 9697 677351
Email: saamicouncil@saamicouncil.net
Website: www.saamicouncil.net

Samediggi/Saamelaiskäräjät/The Sami Parliament
Tel: +358 16 665 011
Email: info@samediggi.fi
Website: www.samediggi.fi

Suoma Sami Nuorat (Sami Youth Organization in Finland)
[Works to strengthen the identity of Sami youth and their knowledge about their culture]
Tel: +358 40 7253947
Email: ssn@same.net
Website: http://www.same.net/~ssn/english.html

Taiga Rescue Network
[International network of non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples and individuals working to defend the world’s boreal forests]
Tel: + 46 971 17039
Website: http://www.taigarescue.org/

 

 

Roma Gypsies

Advisory Board on Romani Affairs
Tel: +358 9 160 74308
Email: ronk@stm.fi
Website:http://www.stm.fi/Resource.phx/eng/orgis/board/romani/index.htx

Romano Missio
[Educational services for the Romany (Gypsy) people]
Tel: +358 9 351 13 66
Email: toimisto@romanomissio.fi
Website: http://www.romanomissio.fi/engl_ind.htm

International Romani Writers’ Association
[Promotes Roma literature, to obtain its recognition as part of world literature and to strengthen the language and culture of Roma people]
Tel: +358 50 343 4808
Email: vbaltzar@saunalahti.fi OR romani_writers@hotmail.com
Website: http://www.romaniwriters.com/about.htm

 

Updated June 2019

Sources and further reading


Minorities and indigenous peoples in
Finland: