Thursday, October 25, 2012

Greater Scandinavia and Fennoscandia

For various reasons I've been researching, off and on, various features of what might be called Greater Scandinavian and Fennoscandian cultural sphere. It's somewhat difficult to pin down the bounds of it, so I'm trying to think through its boundaries, and I thought I'd do so 'out loud' here on the blog, in case anyone had any thoughts.

Scandinavia as such, Scandinavia Proper, we might call it, is pretty clearly established as the following countries:

Sweden
Norway
Denmark

Sweden and Norway are both on the Scandinavian Peninsula, which they share with Finland; Denmark is across the way on the Jutland Peninsula and the Danish Islands. It's not normal to think of them as such because of their significant differences, but they can be said to share a language, broadly speaking -- Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian, while in many ways very different, nonetheless share enough that they are, with a little work, mutually intelligible. They are, so to speak, clearly dialects of the Scandinavian superlanguage. There are ethnic and historical links, all of them quite close.

Nonetheless, there are complicating factors. Take, for instance, Denmark. Denmark is itself part of a Commonwealth of nations, the Danish Realm, which includes the following nations:

Denmark
Faroe Islands
Greenland

In effect, they constitute one nation with three autonomous jurisdictions, all under the Danish Crown. All three were at one time part of the Kingdom of Norway. Danish is certainly spoken in both Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The only official language of Greenland is Kalaallisut, which is an Inuit language, but this is a relatively recent thing (2009), as it used to share the honors with Danish, and Danish is still widely spoken. The Scandinavian links with Greenland are extensive and go back a thousand years; allowing for a few centuries of interruption, Greenland has been linked with Scandinavia in one way or another. The Faroe Islands, which are north of Britain, are a similar story, except that the Faroese are ethnically Scottish as well as Scandinavian, and that Faroese is itself a descendant of Old Norse, and so is itself a Scandinavian language. So if we include the Danish Realm in Greater Scandinavia, we've added an Inuit nation in North America, and while one would technically include the Faroe Islands in Europe, it's notable that while Denmark is part of the European Union, the Faroe Islands are not.

If, however, we take the entire Danish Realm into Greater Scandinavia, it makes sense to count in Iceland, too. Iceland is not part of the Danish Realm, but it used to be, until 1944. Icelandic, like Faroese, is an Old Norse derivative and thus related to Norwegian. And Denmark and Norway at one time formed two relatively autonomous parts of one kingdom, which had Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland as its dependencies.

It would in any case be a candidate for other reasons. When we are talking about Greater Scandinavia, we are usually talking about the nations of the Nordic Council, or Nordic Nations:

Denmark
Iceland
Norway
Sweden
Finland

Thus Iceland gets on the list as a full member. The following are associate members of the Nordic Council:

Greenland
Faroe Islands
Åland Islands

The Åland Islands are an autonomous Swedish-speaking jurisdiction associated with Finland. And the following have observer status:

Estonia
Latvia
Lithuania

Should one include these? Well, if you are including Finland there's very little reason not to include Estonia, which is a Baltic nation just across the way from Finland, has an ethnically Finnic population, and has a language that is very closely related to Finnish. And Estonia spent time both as Danish territory and as Swedish territory.

Finland, in turn, is an odd nation. It is on the Scandinavian Peninsula and one of its official languages is Swedish, but its other official, and certainly primary, language, Finnish, is a radically different language from any of the Scandinavian languages. The Scandinavian languages are all Indo-European languages of North Germanic type, all deriving from Old Norse. Finnish, on the other hand, is not even Indo-European; it is a Uralic language. There are a lot of cultural similarities, and a lot of cultural differences.

Sweden is in a sense the culprit here. It's difficult for us to remember it, since Sweden comes across now as an unassuming nation, but this is a modern thing. Sweden, of course, was a Viking nation. And in the seventeenth century it was one of the greatest powers in Europe. There's an argument that can be made that for at least a short time it was the most powerful European nation. Swedish military reforms had made the Swedish army an almost unstoppable juggernaut. At its height the Swedish Empire included not only Sweden but also Finland, modern-day Estonia, much of modern-day Latvia and Lithuania (hence, I suppose, their observer status), Russian Karelia, and bits and pieces of north Germany (Pomerania, in particular). Finland was Swedish for about five and a half centuries, and an important part of the Swedish Empire at its height. Then it was seized by Russia, and was a Russian Grand Duchy for quite some time. It broke away in 1917, and after a civil war, managed to stabilize for a while. (Estonia was also seized by Russia, also broke away in 1917, managed to avoid civil war, but had to extricate itself from a short German occupation.)

There is another designation, Fennoscandia, which includes the following:

Norway
Sweden
Finland
(in Russia) Karelian areas and the Kola Peninsula

And this does seem to identify some significant cultural commonality.

So, of the Scandinavian countries we've noted imperial reach. But how far should one really take it? Northern Scotland was Norwegian territory for centuries; the Danes had kingdoms in England once long ago; and so forth. Some of this reach dried up, of course. And, of course, there are various immigration cultures linked to it, as well -- Norwegian by way of Minnesota, and the like. While Greater Scandinavia is generally taken to be the Scandinavian Peninsula plus Denmark, the full sphere of Scandinavian influence is quite extensive.

5 comments:

  1. Arsen Darnay6:39 AM

    I like that phrase of yours, "dried up." But some things that dry up are very hard to remove. And all things being connected, we might link Britain, Northern France, and Southern Italy as well by means of the Norman conquests, dried up although they are. And I've read somewhere that Scandinavia was settled in the Prehistoric from Greek tendrils reaching up through the Balkans and around. Quite a nice post. Fresh cold winds blow from the north.

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  2. branemrys7:03 AM

    I hadn't thought of the Normans at all, but you are of course quite right, since they were originally Vikings. And, of course, the Normans were significant players in the Crusades -- the Crusader state, the Principality of Antioch, was a Norman kingdom, and was (unlike Cyprus) more than a mere blip in time. Scandinavian Syria! Of course, the far-flung and tenuous lines were very far-flung and tenuous by then, but I can't help but smile at the paradox of the Nordic Levant, the East-land of the Northmen.

    I think I've read about possible Greece-Scandinavia connections, too -- lots of parallels in art and myth that are hard to explain otherwise.  Always an interesting thought.

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  3. praymont9:17 PM

    There were some Norse settlements in North America, mainly trading posts. There's one at L'Anse aux Meadows (in Newfoundland) dating from about 1000. Recently, another (from about 700 years ago) was found on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. Cf. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121019-viking-outpost-second-new-canada-science-sutherland/ 

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  4. branemrys2:02 PM

     True; it's a light touch but the residue is certainly still identifiable.

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  5. Airikr4:56 PM

    As far as I know the myths about the norse ppl being greeks are nothing more than myths invented by Snorre Sturlasson in the prologue of the younger Edda.

    There are some other areas to discuss there are a lot of arctic islands which have been claimed by norway and/or denmark such as Hans Island and the Svedrup Islands in the canadian arctic. The Qusling regime in in the 40's had claims on Franz Josef Land in the russian artic, and claims on Scottish islands suck as orkney, shetland and the other hebrides (See Kingdom of Mann and the isles on wikia) Aswell the Qusling regime had claims on the Kola peninsular due to samll norwegian colonies. Finland also during the first half of the 20th century had claims on Kola aswell as the whole of russian karelia and ingria and estonia.(see greater finland on wikia)

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