Finland: A balance between individual and territorial rights

Unlike Canada, Finland is a unitary state, not a federation. Administratively, the country comprises six provinces (lääni, in Finnish, län, in Swedish) and 20 regions, the latter being divided into 446 municipalities (communes). In turn, these municipalities break down into four categories: unilingual Finnish towns, unilingual Swedish towns, bilingual towns with a Finnish majority, and bilingual towns with a Swedish majority.

At the regional and local level, five of the six provinces (Southern Finland, Western Finland, Eastern Finland, Oulu, Lapland) simply represent the central government. As such, they are nothing more than decentralized administrative regions of the state and have no political autonomy; Åland province is the exception. The provinces are run by a governor, appointed for an eight-year term by the president of the Finnish republic.

A map of Finland and a map of the Swedophone population clusters in Finland
A map of Finland on the world map, and a visual aid highlighting the distribution of Swedophone population clusters in Finland

The archipelago of Åland (first letter pronounced like the O in POST) has had considerable political autonomy since 1920; this status translates into a distinct government, a local parliament and its own administrative branch. Virtually all citizens of Åland speak "Swedish from Sweden" (Rikssvenska), rather than "Swedish from Finland" (Finlandssvenska).

The lack of provincial powers aside, Finland is a highly decentralized country where municipalities play an essential role, especially in terms of language. In fact, municipalities (and not the provinces) decide on their linguistic status according to Finnish law. In essence, the cornerstone of language rights in Finland lies with municipalities, whose linguistic status is determined by law ("Languages Act").

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