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As many Russian as Swedish speakers by 2050?

The number of Russian speakers resident in Finland could match the size of Finland's Swedish-speaking minority within 40 years. Russian could replace Swedish as the nation's second-most widely spoken mother tongue.

Grafiikka.
There are presently 62,000 Russian speakers in Finland. In 2050, there may be 240,000. Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

The Russian-speaking population of Finland has doubled in a decade and is expected to continue expanding at the same pace. The 100,000 mark is likely to be passed during the 2020's.

"If the proportion of Russian speakers among all immigrants remains the same, in 2050 they will number 200,000 to 240,000," calculates Director Ismo Söderling of the Institute of Migration.

This projection is based on figures from Statistics Finland and Söderling's own calculations.

This would mean that the number of people in Finland who speak Russian as their first language would come close to the size of Finland's native Swedish-speaking minority. At present 290,000 Finns, about five percent of the population, have Swedish as their mother tongue.

The assumption is that the relative percentage of Swedish-speakers will remain more or less constant.

A new official language?

Söderling believes that immigration will reach a saturation point in Finland around the year 2050, at perhaps one million. If this is the case, by then one in six residents will be of immigrant stock.

He believes that at some point the issue debate will arise as to whether Russian should have the status of an official minority language. It was an official language between 1809 and 1917, when Finland was a Grand Duchy ruled by the Russian Tsars.

"If in future there are hundreds of thousands of them, it is obvious that the Russian language and Russian culture will have to be taken into consideration in the daycare and school system, perhaps in the labour market, too," Söderling points out. 

At present, there are some 62,500 residents in Finland whose mother tongue is Russian. Not all are Russian citizens or dual nationals. Nearly half are of ethnic Finno-Ugric background. Fewer than half of the resident Russian speakers in the country have Finnish citizenship.

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