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FROM RACE HYGIENE TO STERILIZATION: THE EUGENICS MOVEMENT IN FINLAND MARJAnA HIETALA INTRODUCTION Finland passed sterilization legislation in 1935 as part of a general Nordic movement, following Denmark (1929) and Norway (1934), with a Swedish sterilization law also coming into effect in 1935. Why was Finland willing to adopt such a eugenic legislative program? Finland's position is particularly interesting for two reasons: there was an influential Swedish-speaking minority in the country which considerably influenced the development of eugenic thinking; and the country did not gain its independence until 1917 and was still in the process ofbuilding national confidence in the 1930s. From 1809 to 1917 Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire. During this time, the period of autonomy, its administration was a legacy from pre-1809 Swedish rule, and the Swedish-speaking minority (in 1900 12.9 percent) continued to hold most influential positions in administration , industry, and commerce. The majority of schools in the country were Swedish-speaking. Even though the position of the Finnish-speaking population was gradually gaining strength, actual struggles over language, for example about using Finnish in university teaching, did not begin to appear on a major scale until the 1920s. The Finnish speakers wished to gain improved access to the upper echelons of power and were committed to the creation of a new national culture with its own independent identity. In general, Finnish society in the nineteenth century has been described as strongly conservative in outlook and marked by a deep division between the educated classes and peasantry, a division reflected in wide differences in levels of education, learning, and social attitudes. On the other hand, due to the work of the church, literacy was at a high level, education was generally accepted as a means of upward social mobility and, as elsewhere in the Nordic countries, huge popular movements with educational and 195 196 EUGENICS AND THE WELFARE STATE instructional aims sprang up. During the closing years of the autonomous period the attitude toward the Russians changed from previous loyalty to deep antipathy, caused by the oppressive measures instituted by the Russians.! In 1918 the newly independent Finland experienced a civil war, based on ideological differences between socialists and nonsocialists (the Reds and the Whites), the impact ofwhich continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s, for it left Finnish society divided into two hostile camps. The role of the labor movement became a minor one. Yet a number of new laws were enacted at the beginning of the 1920s that dealt with compulsory education, prohibition, freedom of religion, military service, and land reforms that allowed leasehold farmers to purchase the land they worked. Elementary schools spread into rural areas and the number of secondary schools grew substantially. In the realm of higher education Helsinki University was joined by two new universities , the Swedish language Abo Akademi in Turku, founded in 1919, and the Finnish language Turun Yliopisto in Turku, founded a year later. Abo Akademi became the only Swedish language university outside Sweden and it had an important role for Swedish speakers in the 1920s. In the political climate of Finland rural peasant values were the cornerstone of Finnish identity, and rural society was the ideal model for the whole of Finnish society. From the very first years of independence the Agrarian League came to occupy a virtually continuous place in government. No significant social reforms covering the industrial sector were introduced; agrarianinspired nationalists concentrated solely on domestic values. Many Conservatives preferred to concentrate on highlighting Finland's role as a bastion and outpost of the West pitted against the East. In this they drew on the anti-Russian sentiment and sense of ethnic superiority which had increased during the nineteenth century, particularly among the Swedish-speaking intelligentsia , and which were now adapted to the cause ofanti-Bolshevism. The various attempts made to underline a sense of Finnish identity to complement national independence, and stress the importance of the Finnish language as an ideal medium for expressing that identity, were linked to the feelings of self-confidence which had emerged from gaining independence. It was argued that only a linguistically homogeneous people, one speaking the same national language, could really be assumed to find a strong sense of national purpose while bilingualism in any form spelled dangerous compromise . The emergence ofthese ideas led many Swedish speakers to conclude that the position ofthe Swedish-language minority was increasingly threatened.2 The Finnish nationalists were interested in other Finno-Ugrian...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781609170028
Related ISBN
9780870137587
MARC Record
OCLC
933516327
Pages
312
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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