On the 4th January 2021, our Member Organisation Finlands Svenska Skolungdomsförbund (FSS) turned 100 years old, becoming one of the oldest school student union in the world!
We could not miss the opportunity to interview FSS members and find out more about their interesting history, so here we are!
When was FSS founded and who does it represent?
FSS was founded on the 4th of January 1921 and we represent swedish-speaking school students in Finland. Our Members are in the age range of 13-20, and attend lower or upper secondary schools.
Are you planning any activity to celebrate your 100th anniversary?
We are going to celebrate our anniversary throughout the entire year. Some of our events have been postponed due to the pandemic, but we still hope to be able to celebrate with our Members, Alumni and partners later this year. The highlights of this year will include our General Assembly and a ceremonial gala, which will be held in October. We are also producing a special edition of our paper and plan on launching a podcast.
Would you give us some historical highlights of FSS?
The 60’s were historically significant times for the Finnish education system and in extension also FSS. FSS underwent large structural changes, and went from being a primarily cultural ‘thing’ to being an organisation advocating for student’s rights. This is still our main role today, even though we in no way have abandoned the cultural side. It’s unlikely that our union would’ve survived without going through this change.
Around this time a wave of student revolutions was passing through most West European countries. In 1968 Finland had one of the most old-fashioned school systems in Europe, so there were more than enough things for FSS to criticise. Democracy, religion, hierarchy and sex education are just some of the topics that were relevant at the time. At the same time there was a political shift to the left which also reflected onto the school student world. FSS was highly engaged in the radicalisation happening around 1968.
What would you say was the biggest achievement of FSS or lesson learnt in its 100 years of history?
One of the biggest achievements of our organisation is that, even though there have been hard times and situations like the 90’s, FSS has never ceased to exist completely. One reason may be that it represents a minority, and it gives an opportunity to be heard in the society.
In the early 70’s, our organisation started being more vocal about issues that were relevant on a larger scale. Questions regarding ecology and sustainability were important already back then, and therefore FSS could be seen as a bit of a pioneer in these matters. Big, global issues were frequently brought up. In 1967, FSS was involved in the creation of Operation a Day’s Work Finland (ODW), which is a NGO that is still active and thriving to this day, raising money to be used towards better conditions for children and young people in developing countries.
What would you say was the most challenging moment of FSS in the past 100 years?
There have been a few moments throughout history, which have been more challenging than others. Looking back now, one of the most challenging times must have been when the organisation almost ceased to exist in the 90’s and it became part of Suomen Lukiolaisten Liitto, SLL, for a few years. Behind this was mainly a poorly managed economy and embezzlement which resulted in a strong decrease in activities. In 1996, FSS' activities had been more or less non-existent for about three years, and some members used the office as a place to repair and resell bikes. Many people thought it was unfortunate that FSS had ended up like this. With some help from outside forces, a new team was put together in 1996, to bring FSS back on its feet and become an independent organisation again.
Is there something you would like to add?
FSS is not bound to any political party nor religion, but throughout history the organisation has had members from different political parties. Especially during more challenging times the power struggle between these has been noticeable. For example during the years of the student revolution up until the mid-70´s there was a group of radical leftwing members in FSS.
But this is not all! We were so curious that we could not resist to ask a few questions also to the OBESSU previous Board Members Ida Kreutzman and Georg Boldt, who started their path in FSS.
What is your history in FSS?
Ida: I was 15 when I took part in my first FSS event – I was the only one from my school going to the event and I almost bailed, because it was so scary. The friends I made on that first (in the end not at all scary) event were the reason I kept coming back – and why I ran and was elected to the board when I was 17. A year later, in 2011, I was elected the chair of FSS – the craziest and most amazing year of my life.
I remember when FSS turned 90 in 2011! We had a huge party with 100 guests and even the board of OBESSU flew to Helsinki to celebrate with us. I remember meeting a lot of people who had been part of FSS in the decades before me, and it was such a meaningful feeling to feel like you follow in their footsteps. The best thing about FSS oldies is that even if people move on and start doing other things, they still have this love and passion for the organization and its’ mission. The spirit of the school student movement never leaves you!
Georg: In 2001 I was elected to the board of FSS and I became president in 2002, a position I held for two years. During this period, FSS decided to re-engage international cooperation and as president of the organisation I established relations to the Nordic School Students Organisation and OBESSU. I was also responsible for applying for membership in OBESSU and subsequently I was elected for the board of OBESSU at the GA in Vilnius in 2004.
What is your best FSS memory?
Ida: I loved all the events with people coming together (before any pandemic). The school student movement is nothing without its activists! The FSS General Assembly in 2010 was hosted in the parliament building of the autonomous region of Åland. That memory stuck with me because it was so powerful, inspiring and fun to be part of these student activists occupying those seats of real-life parliamentarians, while debating education and changing the world.
The early 2010’s was also an interesting time to be a school student activist in Finland. Globally, Finland became known for having the best schools in the world (because of PISA results), but nationally, we were dealing with the trauma of two separate school shootings. When the columnists demanded security cameras in Finnish schools – the student movement asked for more focus on student wellbeing and mental health. I carry with me the feeling of fighting for things we really believed in, because unlike the policy makers, we actually knew the learning institutions firsthand. Our opinions mattered.
Georg: For several years FSS was the centre of my life. I have so many great memories from those years but among the most powerful were the general assemblies in 2003 and 2004 when we had more than 200 delegates present. There was so much going on with different groups meeting between the sessions to hash out their positions and plan their arguments. All the dialects, the hubris and the quick debates, going on like ping pong across auditoriums packed to the brim with people.
What would you like to tell FSS?
Ida: Happy 100th birthday! Grattis på födelsedagen!
Stay radical, keep questioning things and never stop surprising us oldies! Keep changing and keep demanding change! Continue inspiring young Swedish-speaking Finns like you have done for a century already. And remember to have a lot of fun! See you at the party as soon as this pandemic is done!
Georg: I have a bottomless chest of stories to tell but for now the Vulcan salute will be sufficient, live long and prosper!
Happy 100th anniversary from OBESSU!