Finland


Finland
   Estimated Gypsy population: 8,000. From approximately 1200 to 1809, Finland was under Swedish control. Eight work horses were confiscated from Gypsies on the island of Aland in 1559 - the year of their arrival, reputedly the first Gypsies in Finland. Many of this group were sent back to Sweden. The first record on the mainland dates from 1580. In the 1600s Finland's Romany population grew, with immigration occurring from the east as well as from Sweden. A Swedish law of 1637 - which applied to Finland, too-stated that all Gypsies should be banished or hanged, but this was ineffective.
   In 1660 the ruler Per Brahe settled 140 Gypsies on farms in the Ka-jaani Castle area that had been abandoned by Finnish peasants after the crops had failed. He wanted the Gypsies to serve as spies and guards on the eastern border. It seems then that they did not settle down, and in 1663 Per Brahe issued a warning that if they did not settle by the next year on the plot of land given to them, they would be banished from the whole of the Swedish empire.
   The Gypsy population carried out traditional nomadic trades in Finland-horse selling, veterinary care, castration of pigs, ironwork, smithing, making and selling lace, fortune-telling, and seasonal agricultural work.
   In 1809 Russia occupied Finland. In 1812 a decree was issued that all the disabled, wandering Tartars, Gypsies, and other vagabonds of poor reputation who were not capable of ordinary work were to be dispatched to workhouses. In 1863, any Gypsies in ordinary workhouses were removed and placed in special stricter workhouses in Hameenlinna. The year 1862 saw Gypsies arriving from abroad being refused entry even if holding genuine passports. A census in 1895 recorded 1,551 Gypsies, a figure seen as too low.
   Finland became independent in 1917. In 1906 a Gypsy mission had been founded by Oskari Jalkio, whose aim was to remove Gypsy children from their families and give them a normal education. The first attempts to set up children's homes in the 1920s were not successful. By 1953 a new commission adopted a number of recommendations, including once again the use of children's homes and enforcing school attendance. By 1963 five homes were established, and 100-150 children lived in them.
   After World War II, the industrialization of Finland decreased the demand for the Gypsies' trades, and seasonal work was no longer available. In addition, the Gypsy community of Karelia, taken over by the Soviet Union, decided to migrate from their former living areas into Finland proper. Gypsies had to move into towns, where they soon found themselves living on welfare benefits. In 1960 a report of the Helsinki City Special Committee published a survey of the situation.
   In 1967 the Suomen Mustalaisyhdistys Ry (Finnish Gypsy Association) was formed, with the aim of bringing pressure on the government to improve the standard of living of the Gypsies and to stop discrimination in Finnish society. For several years, the magazine Zirickli (Bird), edited by Kari Huttunen, campaigned for Gypsy civil rights.
   In 1968 the State Committee for Gypsy Affairs was reestablished. The committee included three members representing the association and two from the Lutheran Gypsy Mission. They set about making two studies, one on the social needs of Gypsies and the other on housing, and these were published by the committee. In 1970 an Act of Parliament prohibited racial discrimination. In 1971 the Social Welfare Act was reformed, and the government then refunded half of any welfare assistance that the local authorities gave to their Gypsy population. At this time, three-quarters of the Gypsies were receiving welfare payments and faced diminished health, family breakdown, and unemployment. The aim of the reform was to make it easier to obtain welfare payments and provide more systematic and better planned support to promote assimilation. The Ministry of Education encouraged adults to join classes in literacy and technical subjects, as well as studying Gypsy history. The National Board of Education then printed a history book for the Gypsies. In 1972 the Work Group for Vocational Training set up by the Ministry of Labor proposed linking vocational and basic education into one course.
   Two thousand Finnish Gypsies immigrated to Sweden in the 1980s. Most left for better housing and employment conditions, and the Finnish Romany Association in Stockholm was created to assist the Gypsies there. Meanwhile, living conditions in Finland itself improved.
   At the end of the 1960s Gypsy music was very popular in Finland, with Hungarian and Russian Gypsy music proving particularly popular with people of all classes. The Folklore Archive of the Finnish Literary Society started to collect Gypsy songs in 1968 and now has more than 1,000 titles. In 1972 the Folklore Archive and Love Records jointly produced an anthology called Kaale dzambena [Finnish Gypsies Sing]. Singers and musicians include Olli Palm, the band Hortto Kaalo, Anneli Sari, and classical violinist Basil Borteanou. In September 2005 a festival was organized in Porvoo where the performers included Bratsch from France.
   The language of the Finnish Gypsies is a distinct Romani dialect that had been falling into disuse among the younger generation. However, there has recently been a revival of the Romani language, and textbooks have been prepared for children.

Historical dictionary of the Gypsies . .

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