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Finland: Identities on the periphery


The troubled histories of nations are built from the bones of a million damaged children. But what about the nations and children who are stuck in the periphery between troubled and happy, between damaged and healthy? These are the settings that anthropology can thrive in: nations that have both suffered and benefited from colonialism, oppressed groups discriminating against others, and other ambiguous cultural dynamics. In this paper, I want to focus on Finland as a specific nation that serves as a good example of how collective trauma and ambiguous histories can be contested. These contestations are most commonly expressed through minute inequalities between the two main cultural groups in Finland: Finnish and Swedish-speaking Finns. Modern inequalities between different cultural and linguistic groups in and around Finland are expressed through stereotypes and expressions of identity. These stereotypes and identities are often mixed with ambivalent feelings, especially in regard to Finns' relationship with Sweden: the state and people, both historically and in the present. These relationships are based on the hegemonic and non-hegemonic views that Finnish speakers, Fennoswedes, and Swedes hold of each other. Hegemonically, quiet admiration and casual disapproval are common, hence the ambiguity. Non-hegemonically, extreme emotions and fixations are commonly perceived as strange and distasteful; everything must be just right, or lagom in Swedish. In this paper, I focus the discussion on Finnish issues of cultural and linguistic identity while keeping their relationship with the Swedish state and people in mind. Hence, my goal is to answer these questions: How has discrimination shaped Finnish identities? Has it shaped Finnish-speaking versus Swedish-speaking Finnish identities differently? How does a collective memory of oppression affect Finnish peoples' perceptions of others? However, what I ultimately want to answer is what is the source of Finland’s ambiguous historical identity: were Finns victims of ethnic discrimination or is this a narrative produced by historical revisionism?


Anthropological linguistics, Finland, Group identity, Swedish language, Finnish language