Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Sweden : Finns

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Sweden : Finns, 2008, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


There are two Finnish-speaking groups in Sweden. An historic Finnish-speaking community has lived in the north of Sweden since before the Swedish state existed. There are also large numbers of more recent Finnish immigrants to Sweden.

Historical context

The Finnish language has been spoken in Sweden for a very long time. For approximately 600 years, up to 1809, Sweden and Finland were united under a common monarchy. During this period, there was active mobility amongst the population. As a result, large areas of Sweden were inhabited by both Swedish- and Finnish-speakers. However, the Finnish language almost completely fell into disuse during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. Today, approximately 450,000 first- and second-generation Swedish Finns live in Sweden, of whom about half speak Finnish. The majority moved to Sweden after the Second World War. The peak for Finnish migration to Sweden came around 1970 and it has subsequently declined. Swedish Finns have for many years been a well-organized group in Sweden. One example is the Stockholm Finnish Association which was formed in the 1830s. Another is the Stockholm Finnish Federation, which celebrated its 105th jubilee in 1998. In 1957 the National Association of Finns in Sweden was formed, which today works, among other things, for the establishment of activities in the Finnish languages within all areas of interest for Swedish Finns.

Within the Swedish Finn community, the Tornedalers deserve special comment. A Finnish-speaking settlement existed in the area around the Torne River during the Middle Ages. When Sweden ceded the eastern half of its kingdom to Russia in 1808-9, the Tornedalen area was effectively divided. Notwithstanding this, the Tornedalers on both sides of what is now the Swedish/Finnish frontier have preserved their language and their cultural heritage. The Tornedalers distinguish themselves from the Swedish majority population primarily by their language. The Tornedalers' language, which was previously referred to as Tornedal-Finnish, is now called Meänkieli ('our language'). The characteristic feature of Meänkieli is, among other things, that a number of Swedish words have been received into the otherwise Finnish vocabulary. The Tornedalers have their own distinctive culinary, architectural and craft traditions

Today, there are approximately 50,000 Tornedalers, most of whom live in the municipalities of Haparanda, Övertorneå and Pajala and also in parts of Kiruna and Gällivare. In recent years, Tornedalers have demonstrated a renewed determination to preserve and promote their distinct identity and culture. An expression of this is the formation in 1981 of the Swedish Tornedalian Association - Tornionlaaksolaiset (STR-T). The association aims to protect the linguistic and cultural interests of these Tornedalers, among other things by preparing educational material and a dictionary in Meänkieli in order to develop the written form of the language.

Since 1993, Meänkieli has been an obligatory teaching subject in those areas traditionally inhabited by the Tornedalers. In the same year, a Tornedaler Theatre was also established. With support from the Nordic Council of Ministers, municipalities in Swedish and Finnish Tornedalen regularly collaborate on educational and cultural activities to promote tourism and commercial activities in the region and to preserve the Tornedalers' cultural heritage.

Current issues

The 2003 (First Monitoring Cycle) Advisory Opinion on Sweden's obligations arising from the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities identifies shortcomings in the area of minority language education and media provision. It also asks Sweden to resolve the issue of land rights in the areas traditionally inhabited by the Sami. The 2006 (Second Cycle) State Report from Sweden was received in July 2006, and as of January 2007 was still awaiting an Advisory Opinion.

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