Mar 20, 2020

Sweden: Truth and Reconciliation for Crimes against Meankieli Speakers

Below is an article by the Japan Times

Sweden is creating a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate historic abuses against speakers of the Meankieli language, the Tornedalians. The Commission’s work will be based on a 2018 study with interviews detailing violations against the linguistic minority under an assimilation policy in Sweden. Active from the 19th century till the mid 20th century, the policy sought to suppress linguistic and cultural diversity by prohibiting the use of Meankieli, which is related to Finnish. Today, the approximately 75,000 Tornedalians are recognised as a national minority and Meankieli as an official minority language in Sweden. Importantly, the truth and reconciliation commission is not going to examine questions of individual responsibility and compensation for victims. It will investigate more generally into crimes under the assimilation policy and their consequences for the Tornedalians.

STOCKHOLM – Sweden said on Thursday that it was creating a truth and reconciliation commission to examine abuses against the speakers of the minority language Meankieli, following the country’s 19th- and 20th-century assimilation policy.

“History can not, and will not, be repeated,” Minister for Culture and Democracy Amanda Lind said in a statement.

Meankieli, meaning “our language,” is a Finnic minority language spoken in Sweden’s far north, along the valley of the Torne river near the Finnish border.

The language is related to Finnish and an estimated 75,000 people speak or understand it at least partially, according to the National Association of Swedish Tornedalians.

In 1999, the Swedish government named Meankieli an official minority language, and its speakers Tornedalians were recognised as a national minority.

Some of its speakers however refer to themselves as Kven or Lantalaiset.

During the 19th and well into the mid-20th century, the Swedish state, operating under an assimilation policy, made attempts to suppress the language and make Tornedalians “more Swedish.”

The commission will base its work on a preliminary study into the abuses, initiated in 2016 and published in 2018 by the National Association of Swedish Tornedalians.

Based on interviews with victims, it detailed stories about children who were not allowed to speak Meankieli in school, race biology studies, and abuses at special vocational boarding schools — originally set up for poor children in the early 20th century.

Kerstin Salomonsson, president of the association, said she was glad that the government had acted so quickly to set up a commission.

“We’re used to everything concerning national minorities being mulled and debated for years, but this went surprisingly fast,” Salomonsson told AFP.

The new commission will be tasked with examining the Swedish assimilation policy and its consequences for the minority.

It will however not evaluate questions of responsibility in individual cases or give compensation to those affected.

Sweden’s government also announced last year that it was intending to create a truth commission for Sweden’s Sami minority, which also live in the country’s north and suffered similar abuses, and was in dialogue with the Sami parliament.