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Sweden ordered to apologise to Tornedalian minority community for historical abuses

The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Tornedalians was published on 15 November 2023
The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Tornedalians was published on 15 November 2023 Copyright Svenska Tornedalingars Riksförbund / Tornionlaaksolaiset
Copyright Svenska Tornedalingars Riksförbund / Tornionlaaksolaiset
By David Mac Dougall with AFP
Published on Updated
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A Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made a series of recommendations of how to strengthen the Tornedalian culture and language.

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The Swedish State and the Church of Sweden should apologise for historic injustices committed against a minority group called Tornedalians, an independent commission has said. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Tornedalians found that Sweden's assimilation of their communities in the 19th and 20th centuries "harmed the minority and still (today) makes it difficult to protect their language, culture and traditional industries". 

The Commission was tasked with examining the violations perpetrated against the Tornedalians and has been working on the report since June 2020. The final report was published on Wednesday and presented to the Swedish government.

"Reparation is necessary in order to move forward", the Commission said. A first step would be to "acknowledge the historical violations that have been revealed today".

Terje Raattamaa, the Vice President of the Swedish Tornedalian Association says the Commission's report is a "step in the right direction." 

"We are very glad that our issues will be seen more now in government and in public, and the government will give us some money to work with and they'll apologise too," he tells Euronews. 

"We hope that next, they can accept us as indigenous people because we have been living in this area together with the Sami people since 100, 200 more than a thousand years," he says. 

Who are Tornedalians?

Tornedalians come from the area of the Torne River valley in northern Sweden, near the border with Finland, and are descendents of Finns who settled there in the 1800s - before the river became a border between the two countries.

Tornedalians are Swedes who speak Meänkieli, a Finno-Ugric language very close to Finnish, and although their distinct language and culture was initially supported by the Swedish, by the 1880s a policy of 'Swedishisation' and assimilation was put in place.

A ban on children speaking their mother tongue, or wearing traditional clothing, was strictly enforced in schools until early 1960s. Thousands of children were sent to boarding schools run by the Lutheran Church and forced to speak Swedish. 

Historically, Tornedalians made a living from agriculture, hunting, fishing and reindeer herding, and today there are around 50,000 Tornedalians living in Sweden.

In 2000, the Swedish state officially recognised Tornedalians as a national minority, and Meänkieli as an official language with protection in the education and legal system, the media and cultural life.

The new report published by the Commission says that more can be done to strengthen the status of the language by including Meänkieli in public broadcasting and in schools, and that the State of Sweden should "immediately launch an official process" of public apology to the Tornedalians. 

Another commission in Sweden is currently investigating the discriminatory policies inflicted on the indigenous Sámi people. This report will be made public in 2025.

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