Go Back

Henry Hedman

Henry Matti Vihtori Hedman
Born March 8, 1952, Riihimäki

Master of Religion Education 1994, Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia (B.C.)
Studies for a Bachelor of Theology in 1977–1978, Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas
Vocational qualification in business and administration 1971, Riihimäki Business College

University Instructor, Romani and Roma culture, University of Helsinki
Musician, non-fiction author, theologist and translator

Researcher, Centre for the Languages of Finland 2002–2012
Executive manager, Romano Missio ry 1996–2000

Publications, research projects and other academic activities (linkiksi: http://tuhat.halvi.helsinki.fi/portal/en/person/hmhedma)

Awards and memberships in organizations
Advisory board on Roma Affairs, member 1986-, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, member of the Committee, appointed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland 2012-
Member of MG-S-Rom, a Council of Europe Group of Specialists 2002–2010
Awarded for work on materials and education in Romani by the National Board of Education and the Advisory Board on Roma Affairs, 2010
Person of the year in Riihimäki, 2001

Written by Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta
Translated by Olli Silvennoinen

Making a difference in two communities

The Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe with approximately 10–12 million people. Outside of Europe, there are sizeable Roma communities in North and South America. In Finland, they number around 13,000. Only one out of three speaks the Finnish Romani language fluently, which makes the language endangered. The Finnish constitution, however, guarantees the rights of the Sami, the Roma and other groups to maintain and develop their own language and culture.

Henry Hedman has made a long career as a champion of the rights of the Roma. Over the years, he has represented Finland in several conferences and organizations abroad. He has also translated study materials and children’s literature into Romani. Teaching and research are a natural continuation of his own enthusiasm for learning.

– I see promoting the Roma as a calling. I myself have risen from among ordinary Roma to this position, and to do that I’ve needed the support of many people over the course of my life.

Hedman feels that his mission is to make a difference in two ways.

– I am forging a new path for the Roma to come into academia. Through my own example I try to show them that your own activity and studies can make a difference in your employment. On the other hand, I try to show the majority what the reality of the Roma looks like and to offer them opportunities for interaction.

Hedman travels regularly around Finland to tell young Roma examples of study and employment opportunities. At the same time, he maintains his ties to older members of the community and collects data for his research among the Roma.

Roma culture is at a turning point. The challenge is whether the old values, language and culture survive and, on the other hand, how the Roma adapt to a society that is constantly changing. Preserving its identity is a concern for the Roma population itself. Henry Hedman has also faced criticism from his own community.

– Particularly the fact that Romani can be studied at the university by anyone has caused some consternation among older members of the community. This probably stems from ignorance and fear as well as the persecution and criticism that the Roma have endured for centuries. In some cases, Roma parents fear that if their own children go into higher education, it spells the end of the family-centred culture when the children pursue careers away from the countryside.

Hedman is planning a revitalization project for Romani. He has applied for funding from groups such the Kone Foundation, but so far there has been no success. The aim is to launch a project in which 35 families in seven towns – 200 Roma altogether – make a commitment to speak to one another in Romani for three years. In addition to charting the development of language skills, the project would investigate the vocabulary that they would use among themselves. Another aim of the project is to increase the number of domains in which Romani is spoken, including a presence on television.

– During the past 50 years, the number of those who speak Romani well has decreased by around 40 per cent. In the Roma culture, the language used to be a central part of identity. Now the language is threatened by attrition. Our task is to revive it. Together with my wife, I have made five programmes that discuss the history and culture of the Roma. If the language project gets funding, I’d also like to teach the language through television.’

Further information on Henry Hedman’s project ‘How to revive Finnish Romani?’ (in Finnish)

Researchers of the Roma: professor Donald Kenrich from England and Marcel Corthiado from Romania, Henry Hedman at the centre.​
Researchers of the Roma: professor Donald Kenrich from England and Marcel Corthiado from Romania, Henry Hedman at the centre.​


Go Back