An Outside View: Farewell to the Finnish language
2019-01-01 12:24:54 -


By Panu Höglund


Back when I started to learn Irish, I was such a naive and gullible young man that I wondered how the language could cease to be spoken by the people of Ireland so fast and so abruptly. As I understood what happened, the people of Ireland came to hate their old tongue and abandoned it for English more speedily and completely that nothing comparable had happened to a major language since the demise of Gaulish in late antiquity.

How could you hate your native language at all? The language of your upbringing, your home and hearth, your parents? Back in the day I didn’t understand that, but unfortunately that insight has since come to me.

My readers certainly remember that I spent the years 2006-2013 writing a blog for a major internet media portal in Finland. I committed myself to this job, trying to show that my recruiters had been right. Wasn’t this line of work natural to me, as I had been brought up in the spirit of old Finnish cultural nationalism?

It turned out, though, that I was basically only needed as a foot soldier in a campaign against leftists. When I wasn’t yet a paid blogger, I often criticised left-wing policies, because back then Social Democrats were in hegemonic position in Finnish politics, and you did not need to be a right-wing radical to be tired of that. However, it seems that those in charge of the media portal thought that I would be happy to endorse and support any kind of right-wing brutality, racism very much included.

As long as I was finding fault, say, with the most far-out aspects of feminism, the producer of the portal was happy to protect me against the attacks of those left-wingers who wanted me sacked. When right-wing extremists started to write insults in the comments box, though, things changed entirely. No protection was forthcoming, and the producer accused me of provoking the attacks.

Of course I wasn’t the only person who was criticising the racism of the alt-righters (although that word ‘alt-right’ entered common use only a couple of years later) but no media voice was targeted back then the way I was. This was probably due to my Irish-language connections. It is part of the extreme right-wing ideology to hate the underdog, and supporting a minority language equates to supporting the underdog.

When the portal had sacked me, I soon found out that I was entirely un-recruitable in any Finnish-language media. It wasn’t just that nobody else wanted to recruit me as a columnist. It was that I wasn’t needed even for articles about the Irish language itself. In the last couple of years or so, such items have been printed in Finnish papers. You’d think that whoever wrote those articles would be interested in additional information and hints from the only Finn who has actually published books in Irish. But no, nothing of the sort.

There are two possible conclusions here. Either, I was never a good writer of Finnish, and that I was originally recruited for political reasons (I am quite happy to acknowledge this possibility, because the writer himself is never the best judge of his own work). Or, that I was a good writer, but that writing skills were never important and that politics, ie the omnipotent will of the alt-right, matters more. If the alt right does not allow you to get published in Finnish, then you are a non-person as far as the world of the Finnish language is concerned.

Can you blame me for being sick and tired of the very Finnish language today? Fortunately, there are other languages in this world, and some of them I write well enough for literary purposes. Irish, for example. I might not be allowed to write anti-racist stuff in my native language, but I am sure there are Irish speakers who will welcome similar writings in their language, now that there are Irish people of immigrant background who are happy to study and use the language.


Panu Höglund is a Finn who writes in Irish. His newest publication is the anti-racist thriller Tine sa Chácóin.

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