Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Landmark Year

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the separation of Sweden and Finland - for 600 years before 1809 they had been part of the same Swedish kingdom.

In both Finland and Sweden considerable effort is being put into organizing suitable functions and ceremonies to mark the Märkesåret, or "Landmark Year" -- yet one cannot help noticing that so far most of these events seem to have taken place in Sweden, not Finland. For example, yesterday, in the Blue Hall of Stockholm City Hall, where the Nobel Prize Banquet is held on December 10 each year, Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt took part in a conference on the future of Finnish-Swedish relations.

Yet the anniversary is not without its painful memories. Earlier this year the spokesperson of Sweden's Environmental (or Green) Party, Maria Wetterstrand, published a dark critique of Sweden's treatment of Finns and Finland in which she wrote of the "class contempt" felt by many Swedes for migrant Finns, the ignorance of Finnish history and of Finland's Swedish-speaking minority which led one Finland-Swedish migrant to Sweden to experience the Kafkaesque situation of being sent on a Swedish-language course for foreigners, even though it was the only language he knew. Wetterstrand believes that Sweden should make a formal apology to Finland for the suffering Finland endured at its hands -- rather like the one made to Ireland by Tony Blair in 1999.

Perhaps it's in the field of literature that Finland and Sweden can really come together, in the manner in which Joyce and Yeats helped Ireland to approach and partially forgive England. For historically Finland's books were written in Swedish - and even the bard of Finnish national consciousness Johan Ludvig Runeberg wrote his epic Fänrik Ståls sägner (The Tales of Ensign Steel), like the rest of his work, in the language of his Swedish forebears.

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