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The Swedes are a people of Germanic origin, having their primarily geographical location on the eastern side of the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Identification, or the identity, as Swedes are today resting on a variety of factors, where Swedish language, Swedish heritage, Swedish descendance and Swedish citizenship may be used as criteria.
Depending on the context, Swedes can for instance refer to:
- citizens of Sweden
- Ethnic Swedes
- inhabitants of the autonomous Åland Islands (under sovereignty of Finland), some of whom may designate themselves as Finland-Swedes
- members of the Finland-Swedish minority in mainland Finland, some of whom may designate themselves as ethnic Swedes
- members of the Estonia-Swedish minority
- The Suiones, an ancient Germanic tribe, sometimes named Svear in academic works, at the roots of the Swedish statehood, and contemporary with the Geats and the Goths in Scandinavia. Note: in modern Scandinavian, but not in Icelandic, there is a distinction between svenskar and svear (as between danskar (Danes) and Daner), since the latter term does not include the Geats and the Gotlanders and other populations whose descendants are part of the present population of Sweden.
The notion of ethnic Swedes is controversial, and especially the Swedish and Finnish views contradict each other. The usage in English does not necessarily reflect the usage in Sweden and Finland, or in Swedish and Finnish.
In an English language context, the concept of Ethnic Swedes may be used for:
- People of Swedish heritage, typically immigrants to the Americas
- Minorities outside of Sweden with Swedish mother tongue, who however might not designate themselves as "ethnically Swedish"
In Sweden, the connotation of Swede, when used without qualifications, is often a person who is
- a citizen of Sweden,
- living in Sweden, and
- born by Swedish parents.
Not all Swedes would agree with such a usage. Immigrants and their offspring may by some persons be denoted as Swedes, particularly if their Swedish is flawlessly without foreign accent or if they are prominent industrialists or sportsmen and they appear assimilated in the Swedish culture.
In a Swedish mindset, the concept of ethnic Swedes is used chiefly in the following contexts:
- To distinguish "Swedish citizens" who are naturalized immigrants, but not indistinguishably assimilated, from the other Swedes.
- To distinguish, typically in school settings, pupils of immigrant heritage from them without.
In addition to this is ethnic Swedes sometimes used to include, besides the ethnic Swedes living in Sweden,
- the Swedish speaking minority living in Finland (the Finland-Swedes) and Åland,
- the Swedish speaking minority living in Estonia (Estonia-Swedes ) and
- the Swedish speaking minority living in Gammalsvenskby (Old Swedish Village) in Ukraine.
Some of the Estonia-Swedes and Ukraine-Swedes don't speak Swedish any more, but may yet be considered being ethnic Swedes (cf Ethnic German). In a nationalist context, the ethnic Swedes living outside Sweden are sometimes called "East-Swedes" (in Swedish östsvenskar), to distinguish them from the ethnic Swedes living in Sweden proper, called rikssvenskar or västsvenskar ("Western-Swedes"), reflecting irredentist sentiments.
However, in Sweden people typically refer to their ethnic identity, not as Swedes but rather to their sub-national ethnic identity, such as Dalecarlian, which orignates from the historical Provinces of Sweden.
Swedish speakers outside Sweden
The Finland-Swedes form an important minority group in Finland, about 265,000, comprising 5.10% of the population of Mainland Finland or 5.55% if the 26,000 inhabitants of Åland are included (there are also about 60,000 Finland-Swedes that have moved to Sweden). In the coastal areas where they historically have comprised the majority of the population they have lived longer than the Finnish speakers, making them the aboriginals of these areas.
A Swedish minority has also existed in Estonia (Estonia-Swedes ) at least since the Viking Age. There were about 12,000 in 1563. Estonia was under Swedish rule 1558–1721, after which the territory was ceded to Russia after the treaty of Nystad. In 1781 1,300 Estonia-Swedes, living at Dagö, were forcibly moved to Ukraine by Catherine II of Russia, where they formed Gammalsvenskby (Old Swedish Village). At the census in Estonia 1934 there were 7,641 Estonia-Swedes (Swedish speaking, 0.7 % of the population in Estonia), making Swedes the third largest national minority, after Russians and Germans. During World War II most Estonia-Swedes fled to Sweden. Today there are maybe a few hundred Estonia-Swedes living in Estonia and a few hundred in Ukraine.
New-Swedes, or Nysvenskar in Swedish, is a term used in Swedish society and currently fashionable in public debate, to denote 20th century immigrants and their offspring, particularly those of southern-European and non-European descent. Critics of this usage do however object to it as an exaggerated political correctness or alternatively as disguised racism, pointing out that this usage ignores roughly a third of the immigrants that originates in Finland, Denmark, Norway, Poland and Germany.
In a school-yard context, in our day's Sweden, Swedes do typically refer to ethnic Swedes contrasting to those pupils who identify themselves as immigrants – or of immigrant heritage. Many second and third generation immigrants have experienced how being born in Sweden is not sufficient to escape discrimination. A family name or physical looks that hints at low-status immigrant ancestry can be a critical disadvantage. Also Finland-Swedish immigrants to Sweden have experienced how they first and foremost are perceived as immigrants from Finland and not as Swedes by both authorities, neighbours and colleagues.
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