The Finnish government agreed on a one-time trial, where no more than 2,200 students will be able to choose a language other than Swedish, which remains compulsory for historic reasons, as Finland was part of Sweden for over 500 years. The trial is expected to affect no more than 3.7 percent of the corresponding age bracket, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.
Sampo Terho, who chairs the Finns' parliamentary faction, called it "a historic moment in Finnish language policy." However, Anna-Maja Henriksson, the leader of the Swedish People's Party, which remains the main defender of the Swedish language in Finland, suggested that Terho's campaigning against the Swedish language was rather driven by his ambition to chair the Finns Party after the resignation of its perennial leader Timo Soini. She also expressed hope that Swedish will retain its strong stance regardless of the experiment.
"We can probably live with this. After all, 3.7 percent is not that bad," Anna-Maja Henriksson said.
In December 2016, a short film protesting mandatory Swedish, made by the Finns' youth wing, sparked outrage in Finland and Sweden. In the film, Finns youth leader Sebastian Tynkkynen was whipped by black-clad figures on the stairs of a landmark Helsinki cathedral; accompanying text read "Nothing is mandatory except dying and studying Swedish."
According to the Finnish constitution, Finnish and Swedish are Finland's national languages. In addition to studying Swedish as a mandatory school subject, all university graduates must demonstrate a certain level of proficiency, known as "public servant's Swedish." The requirement to study Swedish is often derogatorily referred to as 'pakkoruotsi' ("enforced Swedish"), since 92 percent of Finnish citizens are native Finnish speakers, while only 5.5 percent of the population speak Swedish. Speakers of Swedish are mostly concentrated in the coastal area. The public campaign against mandatory Swedish is embodied in a logo, in which the Swedish letter Å is tossed into the garbage.
Neighboring Sweden, meanwhile, prides itself in English fluency; a study conducted by the language education company English First found that Sweden ranked among the top three countries in terms of English-language proficiency for five straight years among 60 countries surveyed.
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