The Swedish People's Party
The abolition of the four-estate Diet and the introduction of universal suffrage in 1906 made it clear to the Swedish-speaking elite that its traditional domination of Finnish politics was at an end. The only chance to protect the rights of Swedish-speaking Finns was seen to lie in the formation of a party with a broader base that would unite all classes of the minority. For this reason the Swedish People's Party (Svenska Folkpartiet--SFP) was created in 1906. Composed of members from all classes, the party passed over economic questions to concentrate on preserving the existence of Swedish-speaking Finns as a cultural group.
Desires for local autonomy in the southern and western coastal areas, where Swedish Finns had lived for centuries and from which the party still drew its support in the late 1980s, were not met by the Constitution Act of 1919. The Swedish language was guaranteed the status of an official language, however, and it was given special protection in those areas in which it traditionally had been spoken. During the interwar decades when Swedish-speaking Finns were under serious pressure from the Agrarian Party and the National Coalition Party, the SFP allied itself with the SDP to protect minority rights, for though conservative in economic matters, the SFP was liberal on social questions. SDP compromises with the Agrarians in order to come to power in the Red-Earth governments of 1937 brought the Swedish minority some reverses, but the Finnicization program was not fully realized.
After the war, the language question was considered to be settled in a way generally satisfactory to most Swedish-speaking Finns. The SFP saw to it that the settlement of 400,000 refugees from Karelia did not upset the existing language balance in the areas where Swedish-speaking Finns made up a significant segment of the population. Relations between the SFP and the ML remained strained, however, because of the Agrarians' role in attempts at Finnicization.
The steady decline in the number of Swedish-speaking Finns was reflected in the size of the party's delegation in the Eduskunta. The Finnish electoral system favored parties with strongly localized support, however, and its position in the center of the political spectrum has meant that the SFP has been in most cabinets formed since the war. The virtual collapse of the Liberal People's Party (Liberaalinen Kansanpuolue--LKP) in the latter half of the 1970s brought the SFP some new votes, and in the 1983 and the 1987 elections, the party increased the number of its seats in the Eduskunta. Like the larger parties, the SFP has been affected by the general drift toward the center, and some of its right-wing members have left it for parties such as the POP.
|Country Studies main page | Finland Country Studies main page|