Miranda Vuolasranta, Executive Director of the National Finnish Roma Forum
6 July 2009
1. Describe your job?
I work for the National Finnish Roma Forum . It
represents Roma in questions concerning human,
fundamental and social rights, It has an important role
in helping non-governmental organisations in their
activities, strengthening cooperation and networking. I
am also the Finnish representative and the Vice-Chairman
of the European Roma and Travellers Forum.
2. How do you assess the level of discrimination in
There has been cooperation between the authorities and
the Roma for 100 years when the first national Roma
organisation was established and we’ve learnt how to
cooperate smoothly through learning from mistakes.
However, the Roma are facing discrimination in their
ordinary life. Almost 100% of the Finnish Roma women
wear the traditional dress which distinguishes clearly
the Finnish Kale (the Romani people living in Finland
and Sweden) from the non-Roma and, therefore,
discrimination is easy. They can find it difficult to
access public places. Restaurants don’t allow them to
enter or they are not served. These situations are very
common and only the tip of the iceberg of cases that
lead to reports of an offence or an investigation.
3. What specific challenges do Roma face in Finland?
The challenges are the same as elsewhere in Europe -
combat anti-Gypsism and raise awareness of the Roma as a
historical, traditional minority in Finland. Roma have
the right to their own language and culture. By law.,
Roma language should be taught to Roma children in the
schools and the media is obliged to produce information
in Roma language but these laws have not clearly been
resourced or executed.
4. What kind of challenges arise from the cultural
differences between the Roma and non-Roma?
Finland has aimed for a homogeneous culture without
diversity since independence. The Swedish speaking
minority has been respected but the linguistic needs of
the Roma and the Sami minorities were only addressed in
the 70’s and the 80’s. It was forbidden to speak Roma in
public places before. According to the Finnish Research
Institute for the Languages of Finland, the Romani
language is in danger of disappearing if teaching
possibilities are not immediately increased and the Roma
children are not guaranteed their right to study their
5. How would you describe the differences between the
Roma communities in Finland and?
The old Finnish Kale community arrived in Finland in
early 16th century. There are approximately 10,000 in
Finland and 3,000 – 4,000 in Sweden. In addition, there
is a Roma community of an estimated 500-1000 people from
the Balkan countries, mainly Kosovo. These communities
are very different. Dialect, dress and religion are
related to the place of origin . Most Finnish Roma
belong to the Evangelical Lutherans or follow free
evangelical religions, whereas the Roma from the Balkan
countries are Muslims or Orthodox. The similarities can
be found in their cultural values and ethical norms.
6. What needs to be done at the national level to
improve the situation of Roma?
Finland has been exemplary in many matters but to remove
fear and prejudice, more work needs to be done to spread
basic information on Roma language, culture, religion
and history . Positive action such as development of
education, employment and housing are recognised but
suffer from a lack of resources.
7. How have cultural organisations and political groups
responded to the challenges of diversity in Finland?
There are common goals but in practice the challenge of
diversity has not yet been internalised in Finland.
Swedish-speaking Finns and the Sami people work actively
within their communities but there is no united
8. How are Roma issues reported by the media in Finland?
It used to be common to stress the ethnic origin of Roma
people involved in stories, but during the last couple
of years there have been positive developments.
9. What role should the media play in promoting
diversity in Finland?
The media, the Union of Journalists in Finland and
Parliament should take a standpoint of antiracism,
equality and diversity. The media should cover different
minority groups equally and produce more documentaries
and educational programmes about Roma culture, history,
crafts and music.
10. How can the Council of Europe’s campaign assist in
the fight against discrimination?
I am worried about the changing attitudes among youth.
The Roma used to have close links to people working in
the countryside ,but in an urban, modern society
attitudes have become harder and tolerance has
decreased. People speak about diversity but in practice
intolerance among youth has increased. They communicate
and spend time only with similar people which reduces
the ability to face diversity. Families, parents and
schools should pay attention to the hardening attitudes
and increase of intolerance.
Extremism in Europe is the main challenge for the
Anti-Discrimination Campaign. The Council of Europe’s
Dosta campaign, for example, has been very successful in
reaching out to the general public.