Archive for April, 2011

The True Finns: Facing True Responsibilities and Acting Like True Finnish Men?!

The elections in Finland, and especially their results have attracted a lot of media attention worldwide. Indeed, with 19.00% of the electoral support the radical right populists True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) have 39 MPs in Eduskunta/ Riksdagen. Furthermore, as the third largest party the PS received the chairmanship of several parliamentary committees: the Foreign Affairs  Parliamentary Committee (which will have Timo Soini as chair), the Defence Committee (chaired by Jussi Niinistö), and finally, the Administrative Committee (chaired by Jussi Halla-aho) (in English, here). Interestingly, the PS did not manifest its interest in any parliamentary committees that would have confirmed the party’s allegedly genuine preoccupation with the problems of the ‘common Finns’. Tellingly, the Employment and Equality Committee, and the Committee for the Future are kept by the Social Democrats (SDP/ Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue/ Finlands Socialdemokratiska Parti), while the Social Affairs and Health Committee is chaired by an MP from the Center Party (Kesk/ Keskusta/ Centerpartiet) – the party that suffered the disastrous defeat in these elections.

This raises a series of questions about the PS priorities in the coming parliamentary mandate. The chairmanship of the Defence Committee is a highly symbolic position, and perhaps it is going to play a key role in what is already announced to be a heated debate about the future of the only Swedish-speaking Finnish brigade of the Finnish Armed Forces (Nylands Brigad/ Uudenmaan Prikaati). Is Jussi Niinistö going to pursue his plans to close it down, as he announced shortly after the elections (in Swedish, här), and if yes at what price, having in mind that the aforementioned Nylands Brigad is not only considered a highly symbolic Swedish-speaking Finnish institution, but it also assures the link between the Finnish Army and the other Nordic Countries, and so far has been economically effective (in Swedish, här)?

Also highly symbolic is the chairmanship of the Administrative Committee by Jussi Halla-aho. After earlier announcing that he would like to take over the ministry responsible with the integration and European affairs, Jussi Halla-aho has admitted to being politically inexperienced. How much of his lack of experience will then be at work in chairing the aforesaid committee? Even more so, how much the Finnish policies towards immigrants and asylum seekers will he attempt to change, and in which way – having in mind his previously rather unflattering comments with regard to Islam and the worthiness of the human beings. Interestingly, when Helsingin Sanomat contacted him after elections, Jussi Halla-aho has accused the journalists of trying to put words into his mouth, although they just asked him to comment a passage taken from his personal blog, which maintained that “individuals can justifiably be placed in a hierarchy of values according to how the removal of their abilities or skills from the use of the community would weaken the community” (in Finnish, tässä; in English, here). Will Jussi Halla-aho guide his policy proposals on matters of immigration, asylum-seeking, basic human rights for both Finnish citizens and non-citizens residing or present on Finnish soil according to these lines of reasoning?

And to end in a similar note, what kind of public space will the coming Eduskunta/ Riksdagen be, and in which manner will the parliamentary debates take place in the future? One glimpse at what is perhaps to come was allowed by the recent remarks of one of the new PS MPs, Teuvo Hakkarainen . Formerly a sawyer, he was elected on the PS list from the Central Finland electoral district. In his brief interview he managed to make some things clear (in Finnish, tässä; with English subtitles, here). Such as that Finland is in need of ‘an instant immigrant rejection law’ because at the present any ‘nigger’ (man) that knows only one word – ‘asylum’ – has a safe entry into the country ‘right away’. And if this was not enough, Teuvo Hakkarainen also confesses to be aware of ‘all kinds of Muslims’ that are ‘hanging around’ ‘crouching and yelling’. A strong opponent of the EU in general, and advocate of Finnish withdrawal from the European cooperation framework, had his aura of Euroskeptic dissolved by the news published by Iltalehti that the sawmill which he partly owns has benefited from some 461,750.00 EUR in financial aid from the European Regional Development Fund (in Finnish, tässä). Assuming that ‘truthfulness’ is one of the key values of the PS, how will Teuvo Hakkarainen be involved in the coming debates on the issue of future migration to Finland, and how will he keep an independent stance on the EU matters?

Considering all the above, it appears that the PS is more interested in symbolic gestures than anything else. The issue of the Swedish-speaking brigade can be seen in this context as the opening of yet another front – if one is to use the military vocabulary – and the brigade’s closure would mark one manly blow to an already embattled language community. Equally manly would be establishing a clear hierarchy of worthiness of all human beings, presumably with Finnish citizens at the top, and drafting policies and laws accordingly. From the same register of manly deeds appears to be the Finnish truthfulness, though with a slight amendment that resembles very much the honesty of the rest of the political class. In this context, how will PS leader Timo Soini manage to maintain in the future that his party is not to be compared with the Sweden Democrats (SD/ Sverigedemokraterna) and need not to be put together with other radical right populist parties, with a parliamentary debate lead by MP Teuvo Hakkarainen, who serenely uses ‘niggers’ and ‘instant immigration rejection’ in the same sentence?

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Thursday, April 28th, 2011 Research 2 Comments

A Brave New World? The Victory of the True Finns: A Return to Patriarchal Arch-Conservative Parochialism?

After the preliminary results of the 17 April 2011 Finnish parliamentary elections were announced (the final results may be announced on the 20 April 2011, after the recount of the votes), it became obvious that the agrarian Kesk was heading towards a painful loss, pooling only 15.8% of the votes and thus sending only 35 representatives to the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen. This determined former PM Mari Kiviniemi to comment that the Kesk needs to prepare for a mandate in the opposition. A similar argument was put forward by the Vihr’s chairwomen Anni Sinnemäki, because of the party’s performance (it lost 5 MPs).

Jyrki Katainen, the Kok leader and most probably the future Finnish PM, was threading very carefully last evening when it became clear that his party was heading to a historical victory. He acknowledged that the situation was a very difficult one, and that negotiations will be very though. Concomitantly he maintained that Finland will continue its pro-European course (on BBC News, here). The other winning party of last night’s elections, the SDP voiced though its chairwoman Jutta Urpilainen their interest in being involved with the governing act. Urpilainen added that since the PS has been scoring so high in the voters’ preferences, the party should be invited to the government-coalition talks. Interestingly, Timo Soini of the PS, took a rather strong stance, arguing he would not negotiate on the other parties’ terms but on his own, adding that one option would be that the PS to recruit its ministers from outside the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här).

Together the three parties (Kok, SDP, PS) will have some 125 MPs, a relatively secure majority. Nonetheless, if to strive to have past the 130MPs and thus avoid unexpected opposition from their own rank and file, the new government would need to be enlarged to incorporate another, small party. Which one will this be? There are two separate options that indicate, even if only tentatively, the road Finland would engage on.

One option would be to co-opt the KD, which nowadays lies very close to the PS in terms of social values (a staunch patriarchal conservatism has been defining the new KD, since Päivi Räsänen assumed leadership of the party). However, this would sum up to only 131 MPs, and this raises the question if the Kok will agree with such an arch-conservative swing?

A second option – which was already formally dismissed by Timo Soini today (in Finnish, tässä) – would be to co-opt the SFP/ RKP in the new government. The party has succeeded so far to represent in the government the interests of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland since 1979. The coalition (Kok, SDP, PS, SFP/ RKP) would have 134 MPs, a safe majority.Having in mind that the Kok and SFP/ RKP are both pro-European and have a relatively liberal agenda will the Kok, in this context force the presence of the SFP/ RKP in the new government, and thus ensure a balance to the PS? So far the SDP has been in favour of the PS in government, but also defended the rights of the Swedish-speaking minority. How would this materialize in the governmental negotiations? Will the SDP and Kok defend the country’s bilingualism and resist the PS’ demands to do away with SFP/ RKP as a coalition partner and in time eventually turn Finland into a monolingual polity?

Women in the Finnish Parliament: At least there are some?

The 2011-2015 mandates for the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen appear to be divided between men (57%) and women (43%) so that it slightly favours men (updated continuously, numbers may change; link in Finnish, tässä). Nonetheless, at a closer look there are big discrepancies between the parties. According the preliminary results posted on 18 April 2011, the PS has 11 women MPs out of a total of 39 (only 28.2%). This is a rather low percentage – compare it to the 5 women MPs out of the total of 9 that the SFP/ RKP has; the 6 women out of 14 MPs that the Vas, or the 5 women MPs out of the 10 MPs that the Vihr got into the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen – and reflects the PS’ overall view on the role of women in the Finnish society. This may be interpreted as a threatening sign for the ‘state-feminism’, which characterized Finland and its welfare system for the past decades. Furthermore, the PS is deeply conservative when it comes to such issues (anti-abortion stance, vociferously against gay marriages and gay adoptions), and the question that comes up is how will women’s issues and the topic of gender equality and anti-discrimination issues in general be handled by the coming cabinet?

Espousing Anti-Immigration Opinions from a Ministerial Post?

There is a lot of speculation about the coming government, and there are a lot of people wondering who is going to land in which ministerial post? If the PS is decided to negotiate from a firm position as Timo Soini has said, is there to be expected that a PS party member will land the position of Minister of Migration and European Affairs? Will Jussi Halla-aho‘s expressed will (in Swedish, här) to be named into the function be taken into consideration? Furthermore, one needs to bear in mind that Halla-aho was the PS vote magnet in the capital Helsinki/ Helsingfors and cumulated 14,884 individual votes (only Paavo Arhinmäki from Vas received more: 17,099 in this electoral district). Halla-aho distinguished himself through the very acid statements against Islam, and against immigration (especially against the Somali refugees) in general. He has been tried in 2009 on charges of incitement against an ethnic group and breach of the sanctity of religion. He was eventually convicted for disturbing religious worship, and ordered to pay a fine (in Swedish, här); his firs appeal was rejected (in Swedish, här); the appeal to the Supreme Court resulted in a discharge of the accusation of incitement to ethnic hatred (in Finnish, tässä). In this context, what would the choice of Halla-aho as a minister in the future cabinet, and even more so, as a minister of integration, signal to the rest of the world?

Finnish parties in the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen listed alphabetically and their respective number of seats:
KD (Kristillisdemokraatit/Kristdemokraterna/ The Christian Democrats) 6 MPs
Kesk (Keskusta/ Centerpartiet/ The Center Party) 35 MPs
Kok (Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet/ The National Coalition Party)44 MPs
PS (Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna/ The True Finns) 39 MPs
SDP (Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue/ Finlands Socialdemokratiska Parti/ The Social Democrats)42 MPs
SFP/RKP (Svenska folkpartiet/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue /The Swedish People’s Party) 9+1 MPs
Vas (Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet/ The Left Alliance) 14 MPs
Vihr (Vihreä liitto/ Gröna förbundet/ The Greens) 10 MPs

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Monday, April 18th, 2011 Research No Comments

2011 Finnish Parliamentary Elections: About True Finns, One Language and All Sorts of Evil Others

The coming Finnish Parliamentary elections on April 17th 2011 are considered by many to be a turning point. Not only that the three major parties – the major opposition party the Social Democratic Party (SDP/ Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue/ Finlands Socialdemokratiska Parti), and the Center Party (Kesk/ Keskusta/ Centerpartiet) and the National Coalition Party (Kok/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet), which are the main coalition partners in the present government -  are engaged in a bitter competition with one another for the votes of an electorate ever more wary of the economic situation in the country, the debate about increasing the retirement age, and the Finnish participation in the Eurozone and the European Financial Stability Facility. A series of opinion polls have constantly indicated that the Finnish radical right populist (RRP) party the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna ) are closing the gap and if earlier analyses of the Finnish politics discussed about the Big Three (the SDP, the Kok, and the Kesk) now one has to talk about the Big Four, thus acknowledging the newly gained prominence of the PS on the Finnish political stage.

Indeed, most surveys placed the PS of Timo Soini past the two digit threshold this year, somewhere between 14 and as high as 18.4 (in English, here), more recently at 16.2 percent (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här). This is by no means a low score, having in mind that the fragmented nature of the Finnish political scene with various political entities, and that the party does represent the furthermost right wing position on the political specter clad in populist appeals to social equity and social conservatism. Even more so, there are a series of voices discussing the possibility of taking the PS and Soini in the government for the next term. This has lead to a much more neutral line of speeches chosen lately by Soini, but has not in the least dispelled fears of a xenophobic, Fennoman backlash doubled with even more economic wrangling around the issue of Finnish participation in the Euro-zone and the wider EU cooperation.

Nonetheless, as researcher of populism Ann-Cathrine Jungar aptly noted (for the detailed interview, in Swedish, här), a co-optation of the PS to the government would definitely set Finland aside in the Scandinavian context, where the other RRP parties have succeeded to influence the mainstream political agenda but never partook in the actual government. In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party (DF/ Dansk Folkeparti) has supported a center-right coalition government since 2001 and succeeded to change the Danish political debate beyond recognition. In Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (SD/ Sverigedemokraterna) have only recently managed to gain parliamentary representation, and despite their general support for the present center-right coalition (in 91% of the cases the SD voted with the governmental coalition in the Parliament, see  more in Swedish, här), they are isolated on the political scene. The last but not least, in Norway the Progress Party (FrP/ Fremskrittspartiet/ Framstegspartiet) has been constantly excluded from government talks but it is not certain for how long -  if the PS is indeed taken in for the next Finnish government they might serve as an example for the coming 2013 elections in Norway.

The True Finns and the (Only and True) Language Debate Reborn

This aside, one other aspect that cannot go unnoticed is the extreme media attention focus on the PS, and especially on Soini. This even determined some politicians to note rather bitterly that Soini turned into a media phenomenon. A short look at Helsingin Sanomat (HS) the main Finish language Finish newspaper, that enjoys an unchallenged position among the Finish newspapers, reveals that the PS, and especially Soini have been a constant news source. Even Hufvudstadsbladet (Hbl) the Swedish language newspaper and much smaller in reach counterpart of HS has payed special anttention to the rise of RRP in Finland. This is also a result of the extremely polarizing debate concerning the status of the Swedish language in Finland as the second official language of the country, and the obligativity of Swedish language teaching in the schools across the country (generally known under the derogatory term pakkoruotsi/ tvångssvenska).

The events culminated with a public demonstration on the steps of the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta/ Finlands riksdag) organized by two organizations that rally their supporters among the PS voters: the so called Language Choice Society (Vapaa kielivalinta) and the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity (Suomalaisuuden liitto/ Finskhetsförbundet) that distinguished itself through an increasingly vociferous demand for transforming Finland into a mono-lingual and mono-cultural country, that is with Finnish as the sole official language. The present language debate reminds a lot about a similar language strife in the 1920s and 1930s that was never actually sorted out but rather died out after WWII as a consequence of the common external threat that the Soviet Union embodied in the post-1945 era. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the PS among the most vocal supporters of the school reform that would remove Swedish from the mandatory subjects in Finnish schools. The reasoning appears to be a greater choice for the pupils and the possibility of replacing Swedish with Russian in the Eastern parts of the country. Nonetheless such a move is strongly resisted by the major parties, both the SDP and the Kok being firmly against it, while the Kesk through acting PM Mari Kiviniemi has opened the door for ‘experimentation’ with teaching Russian instead of Swedish in Eastern Finland. This is of course strongly disapproved with by the Swedish People’s Party (Sfp/ Svenska folkpartiet i Finland/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ Rkp).

In this context, it comes as a surprise that the PS collects any support from the Swedish-speaking Finns, which reaches a much as 4 percent of the overall voting options of the Swedish-speaking Finns in the capital Helsinki/ Helsingfors, and the southern province of Uusimaa/ Nyland (detailed breakdown of the party support among the Swedish-speaking Finns, in Swedish, här). One needs to bear in mind that the PS stereotypically portrays the Swedish-speaking Finns as some sort of linguistic over-class that has a monopolistic position on the Finnish economic capital, and forcefully imposes the language issue on a submissive Finnish-speaking Finnish political establishment.

True Finns, True Men: Conservatism, Controlling Women’s Bodies, and Symbolic Political Violence

Perhaps one of the most delicate episodes that Timo Soini would like to quickly forget is that connected to Oona Riipinen‘s question concerning the right for abortion of women victims of rape, which basically rendered Soini speechless. Riipinen‘s legitimate question, coming from a 15-year old Finnish woman, highlighted the patriarchal attempts to control women’s bodies, as the PS and Soini personally have attempted to profile the party on the conservative side of the political specter – where according to researcher Åssa Bengtsson the PS lies very closely to the Finnish Christian-Democrats (KD/ Kristillisdemokraatit/ Kristdemokraterna) (archive, Hbl 19.03.2011, p. 17). Even more so, as university professor Jan Sundberg noted  with regard to the PS election program (archive, Hbl 02.04.2011, p. 17), the idea of encouraging the birth of Finnish babies at any costs goes hand in hand with that of restricting further the coming of foreigners into the country. In a Finland in which Finnish students would divide their time between study and making ‘true Finnish’ children, there would be no need for new immigrants to be taken in and no resources would be spent with their adaptation to the Finnish system, reasons the PS. A similar critique on the gender aspect of the PS‘s political platform for the coming elections came from a feminist researcher, Suvi Keskinen, who argued that the party’s general xenophobia is easily obscured with excuses (the whole text in Finnish, tässä). In her opinion piece published by HS, Keskinen criticized how the debate has tended to focus on the failings of the immigrant population to achieve gender equality (in terms of forced marriages, the head-scarves, the female genital mutilation, honor killings, and other forms of violence). Drawing a comparison between the situation in Denmark and in Finland, she noticed how the RRP parties in these countries have transformed the generally heterogeneous immigrant population into one solid and homogeneous block and used this for their political goals in their attempts to curb, if not to totally stop immigration into these countries. In conclusion, heteropatriarchal misogynism goes hand in hand with xenophobia, and the civilizing gaze is only focused on the need to ‘liberate’ immigrant women from the patriarchal oppression of their husbands, while Finnish women focus on giving birth to ‘true’ Finnish offspring.

There is also a growing irritation among the established parties with the PS party members, especially because of their heavy-handed style of campaigning (in Finnish, tässä; in English, here). Indeed, it appears that the PS footmen do not shy away from harassing their political opponents, either by resorting to physical intimidation or by making racist remarks at the opponents’ political candidates with a foreign background (such as those against the SDP‘s candidate Ranbir Sodhi in the city of Vantaa/ Vanda, who was ‘recommended’ to do politics in ‘his own home country’ – despite him living in Finland for 20 years and having a Finnish citizenship).  In another example of exercising power over a helpless human being caught in a grim economic situation, thus bordering with symbolic violence, one PS parliamentary candidate had paid various beggars of Rromani origin to display his banner while begging in the streets of the Finnish capital (in Swedish, här).

However, such xenophobic remarks and acts need to be understood in the wider anti-immigration rhetoric of the PS, an excerpt of which even Soini offered to the audience of the election debate held in Swedish hosted by YLE (in Swedish only available from Finland, här). In the discussion about Finland’s becoming an increasingly diverse, even multicultural society (the example chosen by the moderators was signage in the capital city in 7 languages), Soini took a very critical stance on immigration and argued that people come to Finland in an attempt to profit from the country’s generous welfare benefits. This falls very much in line with assimilating foreigners, immigrants and asylum seekers in general, to a class of assisted non-productive denizens, very much in line with the anti-immigration reasoning specific to other RRP parties across the EU, such as the Danish DF and Swedish SD.

From this point of view one can argue that there has been a convergence between the PS, that can trace its genealogy to the agrarian conservative populist party Finnish Rural Party (SMP/ Suomen Maaseudun Puolue/ Finska landsbygdspartiet), on the one hand, and the other RRP parties that have a more radical rightist, even crypto-racist past such as the SD, on the other. Even though most political analysts and journalists in Finland are still skeptical to equaling the PS to the Swedish SD, it seems that the two parties are converging towards a very similar political platform characterized by moral conservatism dressed in Christian clothes and welfare chauvinism, disguising more extreme racist views.

There are however a series of interesting questions arising from this situation. Will the PS succeed in its charm offensive and become a coalition partner for the next government? How much of their RRP appeal would be preserved in the governing act and how wide a space for ideological manouvering will they be allowed? If indeed the PS and the Sfp/Rkp will become coalition partners, will Swedish language  in particular and Swedish culture in Finland in general have any chance for survival? Will the anti-immigration sentiment escalate even more? And even more so, will the PS in a Finnish government  set the example for its sister parties, as the Danish DF and even the Swedish SD?

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Friday, April 8th, 2011 Research No Comments