Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Challenging and Negotiating National Borders: Sámi and Tornedalian AlterNative Literary History

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Challenging and Negotiating National Borders: Sámi and Tornedalian AlterNative Literary History

Article excerpt

The Nordic countries are frequently thought of as democratic and equal states with welfare systems whose benefits are evenly spread among the citizens. In part, this is related to national self-images cherished and actively promoted in brandings of the Nordic states. These images portray the nations as modem, progressive, and expert on democracy and human rights.1 This essay will examine how these narratives are being fractured through performative challenges of national homogeneity narratives which have excluded the voices of ethnic minorities. Historically, ethnic Swedes have been constructed as the racial ideal in state-supported race biology which operated with racial hierarchies that place the indigenous Sámi people and the Tornedalian Finns in the border area between Sweden and Finland on a lower level than the Nordic racial character.

The Sámi in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and north-western Russia and the Tomedalians (previously called ?Tornedalian Finns') in Sweden constitute ethnic and linguistic minorities within the nation-states. Both groups illustrate the fact that the Nordic nation-states were multi-ethnic spaces long before the present-day borders were established. The Sámi constitute an indigenous people, marginalized through the arrival of settlers who took over lands which had been used since ancient times for reindeer-herding, fishing, and hunting. The present-day status of the Tomedalians in Sweden is directly related to the establishment of the 1809 border which divided the Tomedalian population on both sides of the Könkämä, Muonio, and Tome Rivers when Sweden lost Finland at the conclusion of the 1808-1809 war with Russia. During the age of imperialism, there was a fear among the Swedish security elite of Russian expansionism. In this historical context, the northern border became strategically important for defending Sweden against a perceived ?Russian threat'.2

Lundborg, one of the leading race biologists of the 1920s and 1930s, used several series of photographs to illustrate racial differentiation within the Swedish nation. His work exemplifies how ideal whiteness was socially constructed in Sweden through the use of didactic images which taught viewers the existence of racial differences. From the perspective of Nordic critical whiteness studies, Lundborg's arrangement of photographs exemplify the creation of a racial hierarchy with the Nordic racial character as the ideal.

While ethnic Swedes, ?the Nordic racial character', were constructed as the superior racial character, other categories of people were constructed as in2 ferior. Among these other groups, the Sámi were seen as a remnant from the past which was doomed in the modem world, while the Finns were seen as a deviance from the norm which placed the Nordic racial character at the pinnacle of progress.3

This historical backdrop of borderings which have excluded and othered groups, such as the Sámi and the Tomedalian Finns, is one incentive for present-day challenges and negotiations of national histories. One example of this is when the voices of previously silenced groups are heard in new alternative histories. Both Swedish Tomedalian and Sámi cultural mobilization are interconnected with the social fragmentation of contemporary societies and an ensuing concern with cultural differences and diversity. One aspect of fragmentation is that it provides backgrounds for making visible "the multiplicity, difference, and particularity that corresponds to our sense of reality."5 One prerequisite for the acknowledgement of alternative histories is precisely this shift in "our sense of reality" which opens up discursive spaces for challenges to narratives of national homogeneity. In the ?sense of reality' which shapes the Tomedalian and Sámi specimens of literary history discussed here, ethnicity is a major category which functions as a catalyst for difference.

When discussing the connection between representation and culture, Stuart Hall points out that "culture is about ? …

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