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Campus Celebrity in Politics: Paula Palin (SNÄf)

Paula Palin, a 21-year-old student of political science, opens her heart about being the chairman of SNÄf (Svenska Nationer och Ämnes­för­en­ing­ar) and how it feels to be a Swedish-speaking student in our university.

SNÄf isn’t a political organization in the usual sense. Tell me about it and the path that brought you to be an active member.

Snäf is an association of almost all of the Swedish-speaking subject associations and students nations of HY. You could say that because those organizations are busy organizing their own activities, they have “outsourced” the lobbying for the interests of Swedish-speaking students to us. In addition to myself, there are six other members in our board. Usually they are official active members of their own subject association.  Actually, before my current position as a chairman of SNÄf, I was the chairman of Stattsvet.

Before I got into the university I used to be the general secretary of Finlandssvenska Skolungdomsförbund where I learned a lot about the world of promotion of interests. It was then when I heard for the first time about SNÄf and became curious about it. I have been very interested in improving the social status of Swedish-speaking students and the possibilities of studying in Swedish, so it was easy decision for me to get involved in SNÄfs’ activity.

The world of the Swedish-speaking population in Finland is often described as a duck pond. Have you known everybody who operates in SNÄf since secondary school?

Well, of course our social circles are somewhat small, but so are the circles of active Finnish-speaking university members too. Naturally, our circles might be a bit smaller but it isn’t like all the members of our board are my high school friends.

Are you member of RKP (Swedish People’s Party of Finland)?

I am not a member of RKP, because I’d rather participate in grassroots movements. Party politics just isn’t my cup of tea.  SNÄf isn’t a member of RKP either.

You have three members in the representative council. What are your priorities there?

We have always spoken for bilingualism in the university, but this year it has been bigger question than ever before.  Last year HYY closed down the committee of bilingualism, so we decided to step up. The reason for closure was that they felt that there wasn’t enough action. So we have tried to build up a network that could replace it.

I could really use some concreteness: what are the main means of repression that need improvement? You already have the right to answer in Swedish in exams, right?

Well yes, but it really depends a lot on the lecturer’s attitude and skills in Swedish. It is not unusual that if the person who reads your exam doesn’t understand Swedish very well, then he/she might just give you a three (out of five) automatically. We also want to guarantee that those services that HYY provides to its Finnish-speaking members are and continue to be available in Swedish too. I mean, like legal aid and information overall.

In a political map, where do you situate yourselves, right or left?

We don’t co-operate with any wing and actually we sit in the representative council with other non-political groups.

What would the ideal university of SNÄf look like?

It would be strongly bilingual and it would be possible to do research properly in Swedish. Our university would also be recognized as an institution, which proudly fosters general knowledge.

Apart from lobbying, do you organize any other activities?

For a couple years we have organized a spring brunch with the idea that we gather our members and help them to network. We have two official meetings, too, in fall and spring, and we offer pre-Christmas glogg and coffee on the side. We also organize schooling e.g. about HYY’s structure and how it works, so that our members would be more aware how decisions are made and how to get involved. HYY operates mostly in Finnish, so we also try to translate information about important evenings and so on.

I know that SNÄf doesn’t take an official stance to the upcoming elections, but do you have any personal views related to it?

Personally I’d have preferred education to be a more distinguishable theme than it turned out to be. SYL (Suomen Ylioppilaskuntien Liitto) had an amazing campaign about it anyway. I am a bit disappointed about the fact that it seems that the main focus has been in the crossfire between governing parties. The opposition has of course played a role in that, too. It’s like the way of talking which is common in the USA has landed in Finland: the politicians run their own smear campaigns instead of talking about real issues and solutions. Anyway, I am very excited of the elections – which student of political science wouldn’t be?

How do you see the status of Swedish-speaking Finns now and in the future?

I think the conversation is at the moment very blunt. People have small minded views about the education of Swedish and the culture that Finland’s Swedish-speaking population holds. I think that talk about the “mandatory Swedish” started off on the wrong foot: bilingualism is a blessing, not a burden. It is very unique that there could be two so different cultures such as the Finnish-spoken culture and the Swedish-spoken culture living side by side in one country!

I have to admit that I have never lived in a place where the Swedish-spoken culture is not around, so it’s a bit hard for me to empathize how it is, for example, in Karelia. But anyway, I see that learning Swedish helps learning other languages and youngsters can never know whether it’ll turn out to be useful in their future. I think Swedish is one subject among others: we could also discuss mandatory history or math.

Any greetings for our readers?

Vi bits inte! Feel free to approach Swedish-spoken students: We don’t bite!


In this series we celebrate the upcoming parliamentary elections by interviewing students involved in HYY’s political organizations about their values and political opinions. We want to encourage a multivoiced university and dialogue between different political groups by giving voice to these brave and visionary fellow-students. Different views – same university!

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