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  Main page: Politics & Society: National Minorities of Finland   

National Minorities of Finland

Written for Virtual Finland by Frank Horn, professor
The Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law
University of Lappland.

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 a Jew

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 of Finland.

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 Finno-Ugrians.

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. Finland.

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




The Swedish-speaking Finns

The Autonomous Regime of Åland

The Sámi

The Roma

The Old Russians

Jewry in Finland

The Tatars