Sharon Ojanpa Mackey, FHM Staff Reporter
The Finnish Heritage Museum (FHM) in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, hosted a fascinating program at our monthly meeting on Monday, May 9, 2016. Melinda Laituri, PhD, came in from Denver to tell us about the “Other Cultures of Finland.”
Melinda Laituri took the floor and began her enthralling account of Finland’s Other Cultures.
Dr. Laituri is professor of geography in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at Colorado State University. She is the Director of the Geospatial Centroid at CSU. She is a Fulbright Scholar to Botswana at the Center for Scientific Research, Indigenous Knowledge, and Innovation, University of Botswana. She is Rachel Carson Fellow for Environment and Society at the Ludwig Maximillian University, Munich. Professor Laituri is a former National Science Foundation program officer in Geography and Spatial Sciences. She is a Jefferson Science Fellow where she works on the Secondary Cities Initiative part of the State Department’s Humanitarian Information Unit activities. She received her PhD from the University of Arizona in Geography and held a three-year tenure track position at University of Auckland, New Zealand before joining Colorado State University.
Dr. Laituri has taught the graduate GIS courses at CSU emphasizing the use of GIS in research applications. She has integrated spatial literacy into her undergraduate watershed science courses and at the CSU Mountain Campus field-based course. Her research interests include geospatial technologies in participatory resource assessment, disaster management, and water resources. She has worked throughout the world with indigenous peoples on resource management issues using participatory mapping approaches. And here she was, fulfilling a wish of her late father that she give a talk to FHM.
Some key facts about Finland: it is the northernmost country of the European continent; about one quarter of its land area lies north of the Arctic Circle. Helsinki is the northernmost national capital on the European continent. Finland is the seventh largest country in Europe, is bordered by Norway, Sweden, and Russia, and has one of the highest standards of living in the world.
There are about 5.5 million people in Finland today; it is considered the most homogenous society in Europe. Yet this most homogenous of countries is home to several different cultures. There are two common ways culture is identified in Finland – language and religion.
Finnish and Swedish are the recognized languages of Finland. The four largest foreign groups in Finland are Russians, Swedes, Estonians, and Somalis. There are also several dialects of Finnish, spoken in different regions. The Sami language has become increasingly important; three different Sami languages are recognized.
The old minorities in Finland are comprised of the Swedish-speaking Finns; the Romani; and the Sami of Lapland, who have been part of the Finnish landscape for centuries. Other minorities are the Russians, Tatars, and Jews. New minorities include Somalis, Vietnamese, and refugees and asylum-seekers such as Iraqis, Afghans, and Syrians, who are all trying to enter Finland. These minorities are not dominant in the Finnish society, but have distinctive linguistic, ethnic, or religious characteristics, and want to maintain their distinctiveness.
Today, there are few political tensions arising from the Swedish-speaking minority, as this population has declined in size and become assimilated through marriage.
The Romani, or Finnish Kale, have lived in Finland since the sixteenth century, migrating from Scotland and England. Originally nomadic, they were at the bottom of the social pecking order and have remained a marginalized population. The Roma have been subject to the greatest prejudice of any minority in Finland. More recently, the government has attempted to improve their economic situation and lessen discrimination. In 1995, the government passed a constitutional amendment that the Romani had the right to maintain and develop their own language and culture. Most Roma live in the urban areas of southern Finland.
The third “old” minority – the Sami – are indigenous people in all the Nordic countries. They use self-identification and linguistic ancestry. To be considered a Sami, one parent or grandparent had to speak Sami as their first language. Finland’s Sami, sometimes called Lapps, have largely avoided assimilation into the cultural mainstream, having been pushed ever northward by colonizing Finns over the past 2000 years. Their separateness is reinforced by not only cultural and linguistic isolation but also their economic marginality and limited educational opportunities. The Sami territory, or Lapland, extends across national boundaries spanned by the Arctic Circle. In 1990, the Sami language was officially recognized, and constitutional reforms were passed that guarantee minority rights. The Sami lifestyle consists of herding reindeer; fishing; trapping; herding sheep; farming, and, most recently, tourism.
Two major waves of Russians have come into Finland: first. in the 17th century, and again after Finnish independence. Former President Koivisto allowed Ingrian or Russian Finns to return after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This ingress may be slowing down because of recent unease between Finland and Russia.
Jewish communities were mostly in Helsinki and Turku, and generally consisted of craftsmen and tradesmen. Previously, under Swedish rule, the Jews had been forbidden to live in Finland. But after Finnish independence in 1917, civil rights were granted to all minorities.
The Tatar community in Finland is fairly small and concentrated in urban areas. The Tatars came from the Russian Volga area in the 19th century, and almost all practice the Muslim faith. They are the oldest Muslim minority in the Nordic countries. Their church, the Finnish Islamic Congregation, is the oldest state-recognized Muslim congregation in the western world.
Prior to 1990, Finland was relatively isolated from international immigration. A new policy was developed towards immigration after the collapse of the Soviet Union and membership in the European Union. Since then, other nationalities have been drawn to Finland.
Somali refugees have become the largest group of non-Europeans to migrate to Finland. Most are asylum seekers from Somalia, or university students from the former Soviet Union; and most are Muslims. They have become the unfortunate targets of hate crimes.
Groups of Vietnamese entered Finland in the 1970s and early 1980s. They have established homes mostly in urban areas.
Today Europe is facing the largest migrant crisis since WWII. More than a million people arrived across the continent last year, fleeing wars and poverty. Finland took in 32,000 of these asylum seekers.
There are also a growing number of foreigners living in Finland, increasing from 26,000 in 1990 to 300,000 today. Many are looking for peace, and hope to go back home. They do not really want to stay in Finland. Why do they come? Finland is a free country, has some of the best schools in the world and great social services. But laws and regulations discourage immigration, and make it a lengthy process; the Finnish language is one of the hardest to learn; the winters are long, dark, and cold; and many immigrants feel unwelcome.
Even though a large proportion of foreigners may return to their homelands, they leave behind changing cultural conditions.
In a separate event tonight, Ohio State Senator John Eklund presented the museum with both an Ohio State flag that had flown in the Senate chamber, and a United States flag that had been flown over the state capital. We thank him for his kindness in presenting the two flags to FHM. In the photo below, Senator Eklund addressed the audience and presented the flags to President Lasse Hiltunen.
At the conclusion of the program, refreshments were provided by Lasse and Jovette Hiltunen (blue chocolate!). FHM President Lasse Hiltunen then called the business meeting to order.
Text © Sharon Ojanpa Mackey, photos © Bill Lukshaw 2016