U.S. English Foundation Research




National Minorities in Sweden

Ministry of Culture

June 1999

In the Government Bill National Minorities in Sweden, the Government presents its proposals for a unified Swedish minorities policy for the protection of national minorities in Sweden. A number of measures are proposed aimed at strengthening the situation of the national minorities in Sweden and giving their languages the support necessary to keep them alive. The focus of the policy is on protecting the national minorities and the historical regional and minority languages.

A unified Swedish minorities policy

Sweden’s ethnic and cultural diversity has a long history. Many of the groups that have long been minorities in Sweden have worked actively to preserve their culture and language so that today they form a living part of Swedish society. These minority groups have lived in Sweden for a very long time, and have their own religious, linguistic and cultural identity and the will to retain their own identity.

The Government now proposes in the bill National Minorities in Sweden (1998/99:143) that Sweden ratify the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The national minorities in Sweden thereby recognised are Sami, Swedish Finns, Tornedalers, Roma and Jews. The languages covered are Sami (all forms), Finnish, Meänkieli (Tornedal Finnish), Romani Chib (all forms) and Yiddish. Of these, Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli are historically geographically based, which means that more far-reaching measures are needed for these languages.

Regional measures

The right to use Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli in dea-lings with administrative authorities and courts of law

The Government proposes that the individual be given the right to use Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli in dealings with administrative authorities and courts of law in the geographical areas in which the languages have traditionally been used and are still used to a sufficient extent. The right applies to contacts with administrative authorities (such as county administrative boards, regional public prosecution offices, police authorities, tax authorities and employment offices), county council and municipal administrative authorities, district and city courts, county administrative courts and certain special courts.

For Sami the proposed geographical region includes the municipalities of Arjeplog, Gällivare, Jokkmokk and Kiruna, and for Finnish and Meänkieli the municipalities of Gällivare, Haparanda, Kiruna, Pajala and Övertorneå. The individual is entitled to speak Sami, Finnish or Meänkieli in oral proceedings before a court of law in the municipality concerned, irrespective of whether or not he or she has a command of Swedish. The individual is also entitled to submit documents in these languages. In contacts with administrative authorities the individual shall have the right to choose Finnish, Meänkieli or any form of Sami he or she wishes. The authority shall give an oral reply in Sami, Finnish or Meänkieli and generally strive to meet the individual in the respective language.

Pre-school activities and care of the elderly

Pre-school activities in the child’s own language are important for the preservation of Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli, since a child’s language learning is most intensive during the pre-school years. The Government proposes that the municipalities in the administrative regions for Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli give parents the opportunity to place their children in pre-school activities in which all or some of the activities are carried out in these languages.

With respect to the care of the elderly, it is the elderly who are often the greatest bearers of the language, culture and traditions. It is important therefore that older people who use Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli are able to continue to do so. Another reason why the mother tongue is important is that elderly people can lose their knowledge of the most recently acquired languages while retaining their first language. The Government proposes that the municipalities in the respective administrative regions offer elderly care in which all or some of the activities are carried out in Sami, Finnish or Meänkieli.



It is important that all children in Sweden, whether they belong to a minority or majority group, learn about the national minorities’ history in Sweden and their culture, language and religion. Therefore the Government regards it as important that the national curricula for state primary and secondary schools, pre-schools and after-school centres (Lpo 94) and independent schools (Lpf 94) be amended to include the provision of information about national minorities and re-gional and minority languages. For this to be effective, teacher training must follow the new curricula.

Mother-tongue instruction and bilingual instruction have an important role to play in supporting and strengthening regional and minority languages. The National Agency for Education must, within its supervisory framework, pay particular attention to the development of mothertongue instruction for the national minorities.

It is important that university education and research on regional and minority languages and the national minorities continue and develop at the universities which today carry out higher education and research in Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli. The potential for and interest in university courses and research in Romani Chib and Yiddish, and the national minorities’ culture, religion and history should also be carefully considered. The Government intends to present an evaluation in its next research policy bill.

Folk high schools and educational associations, because of their nature and form, are able to pursue activities aimed at members of national minorities. The Swedish National Council of Adult Education will be instructed to carry out an inventory of the courses for national minorities offered within adult and continuing education. The Council should also pay attention to the extent to which these groups participate in adult and continuing education, as well as the further measures that may be necessary in order to increase participation by these groups.

Cultural activities

Particular attention should be paid to national minorities in allocating public funds to literature, cultural periodicals and other cultural activities. Existing subsidies should be increased by one million kronor beginning in the year 2000. The National Council for Cultural Affairs should be instructed to study how Sami, Finnish, Tornedal Finnish, Romany and Jewish culture can be given sufficient space in Swedish cultural life.

Mass media

When considering new broadcasting licences for the public service broadcasters, Swedish Television, the Swedish Broadcasting Company and the Swedish Edu-cational Broadcasting Company, the Government intends to raise the issue of affording Romani Chib the same status in programming as Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli have today. It is also important that newspapers in Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli are given sufficient support. Newspapers in Sami can obtain state subsidies through the Sami Parliament, and the Finnish-language newspaper Ruotsin Suomalainen, and Haparandabladet, which is partly written in Meänkieli, can receive support via the Press Subsidies Council.


At present, government support is given to the Sami Parliament to be used in support of Sami culture and language, and to provide a Sami archivist at the Institute for Dialectology, Onomastics and Folklore Research in Umeå. The Government intends to initiate a survey of suitable methods of collecting and keeping documents in all the regional and minority languages.

Elderly care

The Finnish-speaking minority is the largest minority in Sweden. Shortly there will be a large number of Finnish speakers in need of elderly care. In order to provide different examples of elderly care takes into account the wishes of elderly Finnish speakers, the Government intends to instruct the National Board of Health and Welfare to survey elderly care for Finnish speakers in municipalities with a large number of elderly people who speak Finnish. The objective is to provide good examples.

Translation of certain statutes into regional and minority languages

Statutes that especially concern the rights of national minority groups should be translated into the regional and minority languages.

The national minorities’ ability to influence

It is important that those affected by the new minorities policy are able to make their views and wishes known before decisions are made. Examples of forms of influence are the Sami Parliament and the Working Group on the Roma at the Ministry of Culture, which has been working to improve the situation of the Roma. Closer forms of continuous consultation should be considered. In order to monitor regional measures, a regional working group will be set up under Norrbotten County Administrative Board, made up of representatives of municipalities, county councils and users of Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli.

Transfrontier cooperation

At present there is transfrontier cooperation on a number of different issues concerning national minorities. A large amount of this work is carried out through the Nordic Council of Ministers, but there is also co-operation between groups belonging to national minorities. Sweden should continue to encourage transfrontier cooperation on issues of interest to the national minorities, such as culture, history, language, religion, etc.

Economic consequences

In the Spring Budget the Government calculated SEK 10 million per year from 2000 as a response to the minorities policy. The amount is expected to be allocated as follows: SEK 6 million to the municipalities and county council concerned; SEK 1 million to the courts; SEK 1 million to strengthening the state cultural subsidy; and SEK 2 million for measures concerning the national minorities’ influence and for follow-up measures. The Government intends to present proposals for the exact allocation of the funds in the autumn budget bill for the year 2000.

Top of page