Our Five National Minorities
Five groups are recognized as national minorities in Norway today: Kven/Norwegian Finns, Jews, Roma, Forest Finns, and Romani people/Tater.
Kven/Norwegian Finns are descendants of people from Finland and Sweden who settled in Northern Norway over the centuries. Areas that are now divided among the three countries were considered common areas before borders were established. There was extensive contact across borders through seasonal migrations and, eventually, more permanent settlements in the 17th and 18th centuries. In some places, there were separate residences for Kven/Norwegian Finns and Norwegians, contributing to both increased distance between people and opportunities to preserve language and culture (Niemi, 2010). Today, many who identify as Kven/Norwegian Finns also live in other parts of Norway.
“The Kven language was recognized as a minority language in 2005, and since 2007, significant efforts have been made to standardize the language.
National borders led to the development of the Kven language spoken in Norway and Sweden, separately from Finnish spoken in Finland. When Finnish ceased to be a written and instructional language in Norway, the Finnish dialect evolved with Norwegian vocabulary and grammar. Sami also influenced the language (Lidén, 2005).
Kven, like other minority languages, was severely affected by assimilation policies in Norway and remains a threatened language. However, it has undergone a revitalization process in the last 10-15 years, with an increasing number of language users reclaiming it (Schall 2017). Kven was recognized as a minority language in 2005, and since 2007, significant efforts have been made to standardize the language, including the development of a Kven grammar and changes in the place name law to write Kven place names with Kven spelling, not Finnish.
In the 1990s, the Kvens organized and demanded minority status from Norwegian authorities. In 1997, Finnish as a second language was introduced in schools. Norway's accession to the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 1998 supported this effort. With the implementation of the Knowledge Promotion in 2006, Finnish and Kven were considered equal as languages of instruction.
Jewish identity can be viewed based on religious beliefs and tradition, culture, and history (Ervin Kohn, VG 6. mars 2016). The degree to which individuals identify with these aspects varies. Judaism as a religion encompasses many denominations with differing views on both belief and practice, also in Norway. Many Jews consider themselves non-practicing and view Judaism more as a culture than a religion (Groth 2015). Institutions like the Jewish communities in Oslo and Trondheim and the synagogue are central institutions for both religious and non-religious Jews. The synagogue serves as a religious and social gathering place, and for many, it is important to mark holidays and life cycle events in the synagogue (Døving and Moe 2014).
“Historically and in today's Norway, Jews are well integrated into Norwegian society, both socially and economically.
Historically and in today's Norway, Jews are well integrated into Norwegian society, both socially and economically (Døving and Moe 2014, Midtbøen and Lidén 2015). Most Jews have Norwegian as their first language. Until World War II, Yiddish was part of Jewish-Norwegian cultural life and the everyday language in many homes. Many Jews have a connection to Hebrew, the official language in Israel alongside Arabic (Schall 2017, Groth 2015).
The Jewish minority in Norway was severely affected by the Holocaust, and for those who grew up in the decades after the war, the Holocaust is a central element of their Jewish identity. Younger generations seem more focused on promoting positive aspects of Jewish life as the basis for continuing a Jewish identity (Døving and Moe 2014).
The first Roma families came to Norway in the late 1800s. Most Roma are descendants of families that were granted residence in Norway after World War II and live more or less permanently in Oslo or other parts of the eastern region.
Roma identity is linked to a vibrant social and cultural community, not a collective memory of the past. Contact with family and networks of relatives and other Roma families across borders is essential in maintaining social obligations and the traditions and institutions of the community (Aarset and Lidén 2017).
“There are many stories of how they are met with mistrust as Roma rather than as individuals. Also from fellow students and teachers.
Roma identity is also connected to adhering to important group norms, respecting age hierarchies, adhering to traditions for significant life events (weddings, funerals), and using specific mediators and conflict resolution mechanisms (Engebrigtsen and Lidén 2010). The use of the Romani language in daily life is also crucial for this identity. Most Roma in Norway are bilingual, with Romani as their mother tongue alongside Norwegian.
As a visible minority, Roma have been subjected to extensive discrimination over time, and they still experience this today. There are many stories of how they are met with mistrust as Roma rather than as individuals in shopping centers, campgrounds, the housing market, and as job seekers. Several children have experienced prejudice from fellow students and teachers. Some also find that Norwegians lack knowledge about the long-standing connection of Norwegian Roma to the country and that they are Norwegian citizens, unlike traveling Roma.
Strong attachment has developed within individual extended families in the Norwegian Roma community. The establishment of the Romani Council in 2016 was initiated by Roma themselves, aiming to facilitate collaboration between families in dialogue with Norwegian authorities and promote Roma culture.
Forest Finns, or people of Forest Finnish descent, are descendants of Finns who migrated to Sweden from the late 16th century and further to Norway from the early 17th century. In Norway, Forest Finns settled primarily in Finnskogen in Hedmark, but they also settled in a total of 40 municipalities in Eastern Norway.
“General societal development and policies in Norway led to a practical assimilation process that also affected Forest Finns.
There was no explicit assimilation policy toward Forest Finns, but general societal development and policies in Norway led to a practical assimilation process that also affected them. The increasing need for timber for the sawmill industry led to a ban on the traditional slash-and-burn cultivation method already in the 17th century. Slash-and-burn was a unique form of cultivation involving cutting down the forest in an area and letting it dry for a year or two. Afterward, the area was set on fire, and a special type of rye (slash-and-burn rye) was sown in the ashes. The year following, the harvest was collected.
Norwegian was the language to be used in schools, making it forbidden to speak Finnish. This contributed to the disappearance of the Forest Finnish language, although some individual words and many place names have been preserved, especially in Finnskogen.
“Since the 1970s, there has been a revitalization of Forest Finnish traditions.
The extent to which Forest Finns or individuals of Forest Finnish descent feel connected to their history and cultural heritage varies. However, since the 1970s, there has been a revitalization of Forest Finnish traditions, increased interest in discovering Forest Finnish ancestry through genealogy, the use of Finnish baptismal names, and signage with Finnish place names. Since 1970, Finnskogdagene, a three-day cultural festival in Svullrya on Grue Finnskog, has been held annually. The festival opens with the proclamation of the "Republic of Finnskogen."
In the 2000s, there was a dialogue between the state and the Forest Finnish museums regarding whether these museums should have autonomy over their collections and museum development. In 2005, these museums merged to form the Norwegian Forest Finnish Museum. Today, this museum plays a central role in preserving and conveying Forest Finnish history, culture, and traditions. However, it currently has only an older school building available for administration, library, and exhibition purposes. For a long time, the museum's board and staff, with support from the Forest Finnish interest community, have been working to secure funding from the authorities for a larger museum building that can enable the preservation and dissemination of Forest Finnish cultural heritage (Lien 2017).
The group today referred to as "Romani people" or "Tater" are descendants of families that came to Norway via Sweden from the 16th century and onwards. They currently constitute a diverse group with varying levels of education, different life situations, living conditions, worldviews, and ways of life. They reside in various parts of Norway. For some, travel, trade, and craftsmanship are still central to their group identity. However, conditions for traveling have changed, and it is less tied to income-generating work and more socially motivated, especially during the summer.
“Many are proud to belong to the Romani people/Tater but may be cautious about displaying their identity outwardly.
Most Romani people in Norway have Norwegian as their first language. The Romani language/Norwegian Romani is nevertheless important for many in understanding what it means to be Tater/Romani. Due to assimilation policies, much of the language has been lost among many Romani people/Tater, especially in the younger generation. However, words and expressions are still used by many in everyday life and are crucial for their identity. The extent to which Romani words and expressions are still used on a daily basis varies among different individuals, families, and environments.
Many are proud to belong to the Romani people/Tater but may be cautious about displaying their identity outwardly. Some have experienced prejudice and negative attitudes in society and have faced harassment and bullying. Some fear that increased attention to the Romani people/Tater, including in school education, may lead to renewed stigmatization. Others have engaged in organizations actively working to promote the interests of the Romani people/Tater and preserve their traditions.
“There are also different views on how to relate to the past. Some believe that there must be a "reckoning with the past," while others think that the "past should be left in the past."
There are also different views on how to relate to the past. Some believe that there must be a "reckoning with the past," while others think that the "past should be left in the past." The latter group believes that the best thing the larger society can do now is to "let people be in peace" (Lidén and Aarset 2017). This desire can be understood on the one hand as an expression that this ethnic group today perceives itself as fully integrated and accepted by Norwegian society. On the other hand, it may reflect concerns that increased attention will lead to heightened stigmatization.
Aarseth, Monica Five & Lidén, Hilde (2017). Historiens betydning for rom og romanifolks/ tateres situasjon i dag. I: Brandal, Nik, Døving, Cora Alexa & Plesner, Ingvill Thorsen (red.). Nasjonale minoriteter og urfolk i norsk politikk fra 1900 til 2016. Oslo: Cappelen Damm AS, 201-217.
Døving, Cora Alexa & Moe, Vibeke (2014). «Det som er jødisk». – Identiteter, historiebevissthet og erfaringer med antisemittisme. Oslo: Senter for studier av Holocaust og livssynsminoriteter
Groth, Bente (2015). Jødedom. Store Norske Leksikon. https://snl.no/j%C3%B8dedom
Kohn, Ervin (6.3.2016). Hvor mange identiteter kan man ha? Oslo: Verdens gang. http://www.vg.no/nyheter/meninger/religion/hvor-mange-identiteter-kan-man-ha/a/23606554/
Engebretsen, Ada & Lidén, Hilde (2010). De norske rom – og deres historie. I: Lund, Anne Bonnevie & Moen, Bente Bolme (red.) Nasjonale minoriteter i det flerkulturelle Norge. Trondheim: Tapir Akademisk forlag, 87-98.
Liden, Hilde (2005). Barn og unge fra nasjonale minoriteter. En nordisk kunnskapsoversikt. Oslo: Institutt for samfunnsforskning
Lien, Lars (utgis 2017). Minoritetene som politiske aktører. Fra samers, jøders og kveners organisering på 1900-tallet til romsk og Skogfinsk mobilisering i nyere tid. I: Brandal, Nik, Døving, Cora Alexa & Plesner, Ingvill Thorsen (red.). Nasjonale minoriteter og urfolk i norsk politikk fra 1900 til 2016. Oslo: Cappelen Damm AS,
Midtbøen, Arnfinn & Lidén, Hilde (2015). Diskriminering av samer, nasjonale minoriteter og innvandrere i Norge. En kunnskapsgjennomgang. Rapport 2015:001. Oslo: Institutt for samfunnsforskning. http://www.samfunnsforskning.no/Publikasjoner/Rapporter/2015/2015-001
Niemi, E. (2010). Kvenene – Nord-Norges finner. En historisk oversikt. I: Lund, Anne Bonnevie & Moen, Bente Bolme (red.) Nasjonale minoriteter i det flerkulturelle Norge, Trondheim: Tapir Akademisk forlag, 33-54
Schall, Verena (utgis 2017). Språk, identitet og minoritetspolitikk. I: Brandal, Nik, Døving, Cora Alexa og Thorson Plesner, Ingvill (red). Nasjonale minoriteter og urfolk i Norge. Politikken og dens virkninger. Oslo: Cappelen Damm AS. 219-235