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 Finland?

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 mother tongue.

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 diversity network.

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.


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