Archive for October, 2010

2011 Finnish Parliamentary Elections. Constructing Enemies in the Name of Pure Finnish Heteropatriarchy – Examples from the KD, the PS and Other Conservatives

The campaigning for coming Parliamentary elections in Finland to take place on April 17 2011 appears to have started in earnest. Some people may regard as the starting signal for the election campaign PM Mari Kiviniemi‘s comment with regard to questioning the status of Swedish as the second official language in Finland in early September (in Swedish, här). This came as a result of what some thought to be a rather personal defeat for Mari Kiviniemi on the prolonged twists on the issue of Kokkola/ Karleby and its administrative orientation northwards – favored by Kiviniemi and the Center Party (Kesk/ Keskusta/ Centerpartiet) – and the southern alternative – which was eventually preferred; what appeared to have tipped the balance were not the economic, or even the historical reasons, but the discussion on the accessibility of services in Swedish, with Vaasa/ Vasa as the readily available option as a thriving bilingual center for the whole Ostrobothnian region. More recently, Kiviniemi would argue that she is even open to explore the possibility of replacing the teaching of Swedish language in the schools in Eastern Finland with that of Russian in the coming governing mandate (in Swedish, här). The official discourse is one of stimulating the local economies, and increasing the attractiveness of these communes to potential Russian investors, in other words a rather dangerous disregarding of constitutional rights for some probable economic gains. However, this is not a new issue, as the Green League (Vihr/ Vihreä liitto/ Gröna förbundet) has risen up this issue for quite some time.

What is perhaps more worrying, was the unfolding of a very controversial debate concerning the rights of the LGBT community members. More clearly, the Finnish National Broadcaster, YLE aired on October 12 the Homoilta (in English, Gay evening; the recording of the show in Finnish, tässä), that was meant to be a forum for discussing homosexuality in Finland and the possible effects of passing of a gender-neutral marriage act by the Finnish Parliament, especially since this is met with strong opposition from within the Finnish Lutheran Church (Suomen evankelis-luterilainen kirkko/ Evangelisk-lutherska kyrkan i Finland) which enjoys the status of state church. On the side of those who opposed such a move were gathered a conservative priest and Päivi Räsänen, spokes-person of the Finnish Christian-Democrats (KD/Kristillisdemokraatit/Kristdemokraterna) in the company of Pentti Oinonen, a member of the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) in the Finnish Parliament. The discussion focused a lot on how – and surprisingly, even if – the LGBT community should enjoy the same rights as the rest of the Finnish population. Most media attention received Päivi Räsänen‘s (KD) uncompromising remarks on the matter, but she was closely seconded by Pentti Oinonen (PS) with regard to Finland’s defense understood as safeguarding the traditional values of family and religion in the Finnish society. Päivi Räsänen argued that there is no need to change the heterosexual family institution that, according to her, has worked so well for thousands of years. Intriguingly, there was no discussion whatsoever about the continuous struggle for gender equality and for modernizing the aforesaid institution that oftentimes proved to be just another word for women’s subjection to the arbitrary will of men and containment to the ‘safe’ surroundings of the home. More worryingly is that Päivi Räisänen seems to be willing to turn back time, advocating straightforwardly for a total ban on abortions, unless pregnancy is a direct threat to the mother’s life (in English, here). Heteropatriarchy unveiled in its bare and oppressive entirety, some may argue. With regard to rights of the LGBT members to marry and possibly have/ adopt children the opposition was stiff. Such remarks that it is a universal children’s right to have a mother and a father, but it is not a universal right to have children, that the family as a heteropatriarchal institution has been thriving the past thousands of years so there is no need to change it, that the Christian teachings refer to homosexuality as a sin, were often heard during the show.

The effects of YLE’s show became shortly apparent, with an estimated of more than 34,000 people to have signed off from the registry of the Finnish Lutheran Church (as of October 24 2010) (follow the updated numbers here). The Finnish language online service eroakirkosta.fi (in Finnish) through which people can resign their church membership has registered a sharp increase in numbers soon after the airing of the TV debate. This will certainly have some serious financial effects which will soon be noticeable, with a church official arguing that the church might lose as much as EUR 2 million annually (in English, here).

However, while much of the public debate has focused on Päivi Räsänen‘s remarks, very little attention was given to the company in which these comments were made. It should not be surprising that the (arch)conservatives gathered the most traditionalist elements of the Finnish Lutheran Church, and the KD and the PS. In other words, the two parties appear to consolidate the tactical alliance they built up with the occasion of the 2009 European Parliamentary elections, which witnessed the alliance winning two mandates (out of a total of 13 that are allocated to Finland). And in the light of the last opinion survey by Taloustutkimus, the PS is riding on high horses, collecting 14.3% of the people’s votes, while KD increases only slightly to 4.6% (from 4.4% last month) (the whole results, in Swedish, här).

While the debate on gender-neutral marriage act was unfolding, Timo Soini, the PS leader, announced he would not prevent party members from drafting an anti-immigration election manifesto for the PS. He maintained that since he is not more than a member of the party’s leading organ, he will not stop the internal party dynamics (in Swedish, här). Arguably, this preserves Soini‘s image of a middle of the road politician that rarely crosses the borders of gentlemanly civility. At the same time it reveals his rare political ability, since he does not make any efforts to moderate the more radical members of his party. The anti-immigration election manifesto, titled Nuiva Vaalimanifesti was drafted by some 13 PS parliamentary candidates, who distinguished themselves through their extremely critical if not outright xenophobic comments during their political activity. Unsurprisingly, the neologism ‘nuiva’ denotes an anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalist attitude, as the manifesto proclaims to be against the “new state religion of worshiping foreigners”. In so doing, Soini allows the party to fish for votes among both the conservative voters at the center that react positively to his embodiment of a straightforward, patriarchal way of doing politics, and the xenophobic, nationalistic and radical voters at the margins.

The relationship between these two parties is worth monitoring closely, as it is the KD who claims to belong to the political mainstream, while the PS plays the role of the underdog; but if the surveys are correct it would be increasingly difficult to keep the PS out while allowing the KD to continue its homophobic rants from within. At a first sight, it seems that the competition for conservative votes is open and it becomes very vivid, and the scapegoats are readily available: Swedish-speakers and the status of Swedish, immigrants and their alleged unwillingness to integrate, or more blatantly refusing full citizenship rights to the LGBT community.

At the end of the day, it is a bit strange that the whole discussion about the status of Swedish as one of the two official languages has become a sort of departure point in discussing economic matters. With regard to the developments in Eastern Finland, what was eluded, however, was that the teaching of Swedish does not prevent from the teaching of Russian (or the other way around). Who has to gain by to presenting these teaching options as antithetically exclusive? If the need is so stringent, why not Swedish and Russian, or for those who prefer – Russian and Swedish – besides Finnish (and English) of course?

And when it comes to the issue of religion and the state, perhaps it looks a bit odd that the Finnish Lutheran Church is still a state church? In Sweden, the separation between the state and the church was officially proclaimed in 2000; in Norway this issue is more and more discussed. Which way will the Lutheran Church of Finland go in the light of the continuous drop out of its members, especially since instead of representing the whole nation will soon become a stronghold for the most conservative segments of the entire Finnish population?

And to conclude with a return to politics, how productive was for KD to antagonize at least some 30,000 potential voters, when a mere few hundreds have joined the party after the much debated TV show? How easily does KD accept to have an electoral companion like PS in their quest for the votes from staunchly conservative supporters? Is the indiscriminate glorification of Finnish heteropatriarchy worth preserving at any cost, even for those who do not identify themselves with an anti-immigration, xenophobic party like PS?

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Sunday, October 24th, 2010 Research No Comments