National Minorities of Finland
Photos from the left:
M. Hurme, M. Tirri, Propix/Ratilainen, Advisory Board
on Romani Affairs in Finland, Propix/Ratilainen
Some representatives of minorities in Finland from the left:
a Swedish-speaking Finn, a Sámi, a Tatar, a Roma and
Theories on the origins of the population
in Finland have been based on archaeological, linguistic and
biological research. According to previous archaeological and
linguistic theories, Finns and Saami (Lapps) descended from
a Proto-Finno-Saami people arriving from the east and south-east.
They settled initially in the southern parts of Finland during
the Neolithic Period (4,200 - 1,500 BC) introducing the Comb-Ceramic
culture to this area.
Around 3,000 - 2,500 BC Baltic people from the southern side
of the Gulf of Finland brought with them the Battle Axe and
Corded Ware culture. Animal husbandry and farming were introduced
during this period in southern Finland. The Battle Axe culture
remained south of a convex line starting from the north-east
of the Gulf of Bothnia and ending in the north-east of the Gulf
This culture lived side by side with the Comb-Ceramic culture
for about 500 years until around 2,000 BC, when the two cultures
started to merge, giving rise to the Kiukainen-culture. In the
north and the east the Comb-Ceramic culture was replaced by
the Asbestos-Ceramic culture of the people we would consider
to be Proto-Saami. The tribes living in the interior were to
a lesser extent mixed with the newcomers from the south and
the west and maintained their traditional occupations of hunting
and fishing. From this period on the people of the coastal regions
and the people of the interior were developing apart.
During the Bronze Age (1,500 - 500 BC) Germanic peoples from
Scandinavia and during the Roman Iron Age (0 - 400 AD) and the
Merovingian period (600 - 800 AD) Scandinavian and Germanic
tribes from Central Europe arrived in Finland. As a result of
these waves of invasion a great number of Baltic and Germanic
loan words exist in the Finnish language. Present-day Finns
would, according to the linguistic theory, be indo-europeanised
Findings in bioanthropological research using DNA tests show
that only about one quarter of the genetic stock of the Finns
is Uralic and three quarters are Indo-European. The genetical
theory would consider Finns as basically finnicised Indo-Europeans,
an Indo-European people who had taken over the language and
some of the culture of the local Proto-Finno-Saami population.
The expansion of the Finns and the retreat of the Saami to
the north means actually the advance of the farming culture
to the detriment of the hunting and gathering culture. The people
engaged in the former were to become the Finns and the people
adhering to the latter were to become the Saami. With the slow
penetration of farming and animal husbandry northwards the members
of the hunting and fishing communities were assimilated by the
farming communities. Proto-Saami were assimilated by the Proto-Finns
and later the Saami by the Finns.
Prior to and during the period of the Crusades, 1050 -1150,
and later, Swedes mainly from the coastal provinces of Roslagen,
Gästrikland and Hälsingland, in Sweden, settled in
the uninhabited coastlands of western and southern Finland.
During the Roman Iron Age or the early Medieval Age both the
kingdom of Sweden, supported by the Catholic Church, and the
Principality of Novgorod, supported by the Greek Orthodox Church,
tried to extend their realms to Finland. The Swedish kingdom
proved to be the more successful of the two, slowly gaining
control over the whole of Finland. The Swedish realm was to
last for about 700 years. In the 16th century the first Rom
came to Sweden via Denmark and during the 17th century they
established themselves in the eastern part of the kingdom, i.e.
The influence of Swedish language and culture in Finland was
at its peak in the 18th century when Finnish language and culture
were extant principally among the peasantry. After Sweden had
lost the so-called Finnish War against Russia (1808-09), Finland
became an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire.
On 29 March 1809, Tsar Alexander I promised the four Estates
of Finland to respect the faith and the basic laws that were
in force in the country. Swedish remained the official language
in Finland. The eastern parts of Finland (Karelia), which at
a much earlier date had come under Russian rule and had accepted
the Greek Orthodox faith (old Finland), were united with the
rest (new Finland). During the period of autonomy Russians,
Jews and Tatars established themselves in Finland.
The ‘old’, ‘historical’
or ‘national’ minorities in Finland today are the
Swedish speakers, the Saami, the Rom, the Jews, the Old Russians
and the Tatars.
Published June 2004