Kjell Westö calls for more language and cultural tolerance

Author Kjell Westö, who is an alumnus of the Swedish School of Social Science, will talk at an alumni event today arranged by the Faculty of Arts. The theme of his address is “Pelätty monikielisyys”, which roughly translates to “The dreaded multilingualism”.

“There is a need to promote tolerance, justice and coexistence in our society today,” Westö remarks. “The nationalism rearing its head in most countries in Europe today shows some nasty characteristics. I have a bad feeling about many of the current trends.”

According to Westö, curiosity is a fundamental human characteristic, although human beings also harbour a fear of the future and the unknown. He feels that attitudes have lately become more harsh.

“We’ve had a number of tough years, and there are many things that worry me. On our home ground, for example, there is an aversion to the Swedish language that is expressed more openly and irreconcilably than in a long time.”

Born in 1961, during the Cold War, Westö points out that there certainly always have been conflicts and threats, but that the past decades still contained an optimism about the future which at least Europe now seems to have lost.

“It’s as if the belief in justice and equality is dissolving. Society has become tougher.”

What can Swedish-speaking Finns do for themselves in order to improve the situation and generate a more positive opinion towards Swedish among the majority?

“Finland-Swedes are not a particularly homogenous group; it’s difficult for us to act collectively. There are many views on what would be best for us, and I can’t really imagine a common line of action.”

One thing, however, is certain: the well-being of the Finland-Swedes depends on the Finnish-speaking majority. In this respect, as Westö points out, Finland is not an exception.

“There are ongoing discussions about minorities and majorities in all countries.”

Kjell Westö loves languages: he speaks five and is able to manage in another two. He writes in Swedish and Finnish, and picked up Spanish after he turned 40.

“I’d like to live until I’m 150. Then I’d be able to learn around ten languages.”

Text: Nadine Aschan
Photo: Cata Portin
6.4.2011
Translation: AAC Global
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