Protection of national minorities in Finland ensured, but need to tackle rising intolerance
Levels of intolerance and nationalism have risen in the past years. This has begun to put pressure on persons belonging to both traditional and “new” minorities as well as Swedish-speaking Finns.
Strasbourg, 31.10.2019 - Finland has a long tradition of support for minority languages and cultures, through a well-developed legal framework that is generous towards persons belonging to minorities and affords extensive linguistic rights. However, as in other European countries, levels of intolerance and nationalism have risen in the past years. This has begun to put pressure on persons belonging to both traditional and “new” minorities as well as Swedish-speaking Finns. These are among the findings in the Council of Europe report on the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) in Finland. The Advisory Committee urges the authorities to effectively prevent and combat hate crime and reduce handling times of complaints by increasing the necessary resources and providing relevant training to law enforcement personnel.
The Advisory Committee also calls for a solution concerning the issue of registration on the electoral roll for the Sámi Parliament. To balance the rights between individual free self-identification of persons belonging to minorities and the collective rights of indigenous peoples to determine who can register as voters to the Sami Parliament, the Committee proposes to disconnect the objective criteria for registration on the electoral roll from the definition of who is a Sámi. While investments made in the revitalisation of the Sámi languages over past years is starting to yield results, more attention should be given to Sámi language nests and distance education, which are still project based. The Advisory Committee welcomes the decision to enter into a truth and reconciliation process and the consultations held on this matter in 2018, nevertheless, it is concerned about continued flaws in the involvement of the Sámi in decision making on land and water use and the failure to reform the corresponding legislation on the ‘obligation to negotiate’.
Furthermore, the report points out that while Finland is de jure a bilingual state, the country is de facto becoming multilingual with English and languages of migrants gaining increasing importance. In this context, the Advisory Committee is encouraging the authorities to engage in an open dialogue with Swedish speakers about their priorities and that commitments made regarding public services in the Swedish language are realistic, effective, matched with adequate resources and regularly monitored. The Committee calls on the authorities to ensure that in practice, Swedish speakers have access to health care and social welfare services in their first language and that efforts should be made to combat language discrimination against Swedish-speakers, in particular children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.
Though progress has been made supporting the Karelian language and culture, a more regular dialogue appears necessary to respond to the Karelians’ request for formal recognition.
Finally, the Committee pointed out that representatives of minority communities constitute themselves a minority among the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations (ETNO), and recommended that its status should be legally formalised, its composition re-evaluated, and its budgetary resources increased.
This opinion is based on information submitted by the authorities and non-governmental sources, including the Committees visit to Inari and Helsinki from 18 to 22 March 2019.
The Framework Convention is legally binding on member states which have ratified it and the evaluation of the implementation is carried out by the Committee of Ministers, assisted by the Advisory Committee. A report on the implementation is published every five years.
See also the comments of the Government of Finland.
Contact: Päivi Suhonen, Communications officer, tel +33 3 90 21 53 70