Brace Yourselves for the Storm: the 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Romania under the Sign of Radical Right Populism
There is little doubt that the mainstream political scene in Romania is presently undergoing some dramatic convulsions. The current affairs have come to be compared by foreign and native political analysts alike, matter-of-factly, with the equally tumultuous period that Romanian witnessed during the early 1990s. Indeed, besides the ideological polarization specific to the eve of such important political confrontation as the Parliamentary elections (scheduled for December 9th 2012), the tone and manner of political discourse in Romania has witnessed a return to a level that many have hoped it was a thing of the past. In this context, these elections appear to be taking place under the sign of radical right populist discourse, which seems to come also from established political entities with a different ideological profile, not only the now consecrated radical right populist parties – and in here I refer to the Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul România Mare) – and some newcomers – the previously discussed Popular Party–Dan Diaconescu (PP–DD/ Partidul Popular–Dan Diaconescu).
In this context, several political events are illustrative of the said political climate. These are, in approximately chronological order: first, Dan Diaconescu’s surprising participation in the (by now failed) privatization process that the largest petrochemical companies in Romania (namely Oltchim) and in Central and Eastern Europe had undergone this September. No matter how perplexing this might sound, but Dan Diaconescu (PP–DD) has participated in the Oltchim privatization as a private person and declared he is motivated by his desire to return such a national asset back to its rightful owners: ‘the Romanian people‘. Even more perplexing, Diaconescu has later been declared the winner of the privatization bid and were to assume control over the Oltchim shortly thereof. Diaconescu played his role of being the ‘Saviour on a white horse’ (as labelled in newspapers; in Romanian, aici) very well. Despite accusations that he did not have the financial resources to perfect the privatization (accusations that are yet to be proven in court), he eventually presented no less than 1,8 million EUR in cash (several sacks allegedly filled with money had been transported in front of the Ministry of Economy in Bucharest, which was widely discussed in media; in Romanian, aici) to pay for the privatization. In this context, in decidedly populist manner, Diaconescu claimed that the sacks of money he brought to the Ministry of Economy were in fact destined ‘to pay the salaries of Oltchim workers’ (which have not received their salaried rights for several months). The governing coalition landed in a very ungrateful situation: mismanaging a significant privatization process, and coming out humiliated in such a populist manner by Diaconescu. The event signalled that the Romanian Social Democrats (PSD/ Partidul Social Democrat) are going to encounter a serious competitor in the PP–DD in their appeal for the support of Romanian working class. The few traditionally social-democratic policies implemented since the cabinet Ponta assumed office earlier this year are apparently going to be counteracted by a reputable adversary, which is versed in using the populist rhetoric.
Second, the more recent announcement that George (Gigi) Becali – former leader of a minuscule radical right populist party, the New Generation Party–Christian Democrat (PNG–CD/ Partidul Noua Generaţie–Creştin Democrat), and elected EMP on the PRM list – will be joining the ranks of the National Liberal Party (PNL/ Partidul Naţional Liberal). Becali was later confirmed as the PNL candidate for a deputy seat on the common list of the Social Liberal Union (USL/ Uniunea Social Liberală). The USL consisting of, as previously mentioned, the PM Victor Ponta’s and their allies the Center Right Alliance, which reunites the PNL and the Conservative Party (PC/ Partidul Conservator). The fact that Becali has joined the PNL and has immediately received an eligible place on behalf of the party on the USL list for the Lower Chamber (Camera Deputaților) has determined several commentators to wonder if this was the wisest political move the PNL could have done at present, just weeks from the Oltchim privatization in which it was heavily involved. Even more so, there are serious question marks on how compatible is the PNL’s self–declared subscription to liberalism with Becali’s blatantly xenophobic, homophobic and sexist misogynistic remarks (in Romanian, aici). Some others have seen in this just another case of a nouveau riche purchasing himself an eligible parliamentary seat on the lists of a respectable party, and wondered if the PNL would actually survive past this electoral cycle (in Romanian, aici).
Right of centre on the political spectrum, the conservative Democratic Liberal Party (PDL/ Partidul Democrat-Liberal) announced to have crafted a political alliance together with the Civic Force (FC/ Forța Civică), the pocket–party of former-PM Ungureanu, and a faction of the Christian-Democratic National Peasants’ Party (PNT–CD/ Partidul Naţional Ţărănesc–Creştin Democrat). The alliance is titled the Right (or Just) Romania Alliance (ARD/ Alianța România Dreaptă) (in Romanian, aici). Among the main figures of the new alliance, Adrian Papahagi, the Vice-president of the Christian–Democrat Foundation has succeed to draw the public outrage through a xenophobic, homophobic and sexist remark, which he posted on his Facebook profile. Expressing displeasure with the acting PM Ponta and his rather chaotic months of premiership (the plagiarism scandal, which is still pending a definitive decision, the forceful change of chiefs of institutions, and the failed attempt to depose the acting President Traian Basescu, to name just a few) Papahagi argued that: “After all, if we have reached that stage to have prime minister who is a plagiarist, and a putschist and Guevarist, why shouldn’t we soon have as President a Roma lesbian atheist.” It is highly troublesome how plagiarism, intrigue–making and ideological radicalism could easily lead, what according to Papahagi was the image of absolute Alterity – yet another Evil Other – manifest in Romanian politics: a Roma (thus not Romanian, but the most discriminated ethnic minority in Romania, thereby indicating the total reversal of the ‘normal’ hierarchy of values); lesbian (thus, not only less than man – read woman – but also sexually deviant from the heteropatriachal norm); atheist (thus, not Romanian Christian Orthodox, deviating from the allegedly one and only true way of being Romanian, and a Romanian President at it). His statement was quickly sanctioned (both original quote and the reaction to it, in Romanian, aici). Papahagi reacted swiftly by labelling his critics as “commissars”. The word reminds both of the feared Russian “commissars” of USSR, but also closer to our present days, of the epithet usually employed by the radical right populist leader Tudor (PRM) to describe one of his female adversaries (Zoe Petre) – perhaps unsurprisingly one of Papahagi’s critics is a woman (Alina Mungiu–Pippidi) (in Romanian, aici).
Finally, the PRM leader’s return to his previous anti-Semitic discourse, manifest this time through a reiterated denial of the Holocaust in Romania, and thereby lending support to a PSD member, incumbent Minister of Relations with the Parliament in the Ponta cabinet. Indeed, the PRM leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, did not fail to disappoint and delivered another anti-Semitic rant. Commenting on the issue of Holocaust in Romania, and the active participation of Romanian forces in the mass killing of Jews on Romanian soil, Tudor argued that no Romanians have ever been involved into the killings, rather they have been victims of the Holocaust themselves, together with the Jews and Romani (in Romanian, aici). Tudor defended in this context Dan Șova (PSD), now incumbent Minister of Relations with the Parliament in the Ponta cabinet. In March this year, Șova, then newly appointed PSD spokesperson, argued that “no Jew suffered on Romanian territory, thanks to marshal Antonescu”, causing widespread outrage – despite expressing regret that his statement has been misunderstood, Șova has refused to apologize (in English, here).
This leaves way to a lot of questions with regard to the coming Parliamentary elections: is the Romanian political mainstream taking the road of populist xenophobic extremism? Will there be any place for a debate about viable competing solutions for the country’s economic recovery between the left (i.e. the PSD, perhaps much watered down as a result of the USL electoral alliance) and the right (perhaps in this case it would be the PDL, and their ARD centre–right conservative alliance)? Is the Romanian political mainstream, in general, becoming permeated by radical right populism, with an increasing number of mainstream parties succumbing to xenophobia, homophobia, and submission to heteropatriarchism? Is it of any help to reflect how the main political forces in Romanian plan to address the serious democratic deficit the country is witnessing (Romania has one of the lowest percentage of women involved actively in mainstream politics from the whole EU)? Why would be of any importance if any woman active in Romanian politics, would be of Roma origin or from any other ethnic minority, or if she would be a lesbian, or a professed atheist?
In an attempt to ease the understanding of the various abbreviations present within the present post, I attach herein a succinct presentation of the main political parties and their electoral results in the Romanian Parliamentary elections between 1996 and 2008. For this purpose, I made use of the European Election Database (EED) that has been compiled by the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD/ Norsk samfunnsvitenskapelig datatjeneste). I do not have any copyright claims on the attached graph, which has been generated on the NSD–EED website containing information about Romania.
The total number of seats increased from 332 in 2004 to 334 in 2008. Seats: 316 (elected) + 18 assigned to ethnic minorities other than the Hungarians = 334.
2000: PSD ran as PDSR as Social Democratic Pole Alliance with PSDR
2001: PDSR merged with PSDR into PSD.
1996: PDL ran as part of Social Democratic Union (USD)
2000: PDL ran as PD
2004: PDL as part of Justice and Truth Alliance (DA: PNL-PD)
2004: PNGCD ran as PNG
1996: PNL ran as part of Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR)
2004: PNL ran as part of Justice and Truth Alliance (DA: PNL-PD)
In an earlier weblog I argued that 2010 and respectively 2011 are going to be very lively years, at least politically, in the northern part of the EU; Sweden held parliamentary and local elections in September 2010, and Finland scheduled its parliamentary elections for in the first half of 2011, most likely in April. What distinguishes these elections from the previous ones is, without doubt, the ever greater presence of Radical Right Populist (RRP) parties.
How does the situation look like in the rest of Scandinavia? Well, the RRP parties are very strong in both Denmark (where the Danish People’s Party/ DFP, Dansk Folkeparti is the third largest party with some 13.9% of the electoral support; it is a member of the governing centre-right coalition), and in Norway (the Progress Party/ FrP, Fremskrittspartiet pooled no less than 22.9% of the votes in the last elections). As noted earlier, in Finland the trend is pointing in the same direction: not only that the anti-immigration, outright xenophobic and radical parties are proliferating, but the now established RRP representative, the True Finns Party (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) pooled 12.5% of the voters’ preferences in the latest survey (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här). In other words, PS may be the fourth largest political party in Finland.
Returning to Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (SD/ Sverigedemokraterna) succeeded in what very few people would have thought it was possible. As a result of the September 19th elections, the SD will send its representatives to the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen).
In terms of distribution of the electoral support for the smaller parliamentary parties, the Left Party (V/ Vänsterpartiet) and the Swedish Christian Democrats (KD/ Kristdemokraterna) pooled 5.6% of the votes each (KD seems to have lost as much as a whole 1.00% of its voters’ support compared to the previous elections). Even more surprising was the SD’s jump of more than two percent, eventually totalling 5.7% of the voters’ support (diagram in Swedish, här; and detailed results, här). The results of the election translate into 156 mandates for the Red-Green centre-left alliance (gathering V; the Greens/ MP, Miljöpartiet; and the Social Democrats/ S, Socialdemokraterna); 173 mandates for the centre-right bourgeois alliance which appears to continue to rule the country with a minority government (this is the alliance between KD; the agrarian Centre Party/ C, Centerpartiet; the Liberal Party/ FP, Folkpartiet; and the conservative-liberal Moderate Party/ M, Moderaterna). At the same time, a total of 20 mandates are going to SD which virtually positions them as kingmakers.
Nevertheless, the Red-Greens have excluded immediately any cooperation with SD and denounced it for its radical right populist political agenda, and warned that a future government that bows to the SD’s pressure will worsen the social climate in the country. In reaction to that, the re-elected Prime Minister Reinfeld of the conservative-liberal M has dismissed any cooperation with the SD for the coming mandate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, having in mind that the SD’s party members are overwhelmingly men, out of the 20 SD future parliamentary representatives only 3 are women. This marks a serious setback for the whole gender proportionality in the Swedish Parliament.
At a closer look, the SD and its political agenda mark a clear example of a crypto-racist party that attempts to disguise its troubled past under the clothes of ‘normalcy’. To explain the above statement, the SD has in the past years vociferously made reference to giving back to the Swedish peoples the folkhem (literally translated to the house of people, thus making reference to a common national construct). The folkhem as a concept has been intimately connected to Swedish social democracy and the blooming of the welfare state at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, in the SD’s more recent interpretation, the restitution and restoration of the folkhem involves two equally important aspects.
On the one hand, there is a strong welfare chauvinist attitude connected to the use of the term. More clearly, the focus is on a restoration of the welfare totality (including pensions, unemployment benefits and healthcare), and its restitution to society’s allegedly most exposed members – those generally considered the losers of the globalizing processes. True, this comes at a moment of extreme precariousness of the working conditions (privatizations and/or externalization of the welfare services, relocation of jobs, change of work patterns). However, the disappearance of the folkhem and the inherent costs of such a restoration are blamed on those who, for one reason or another are not fulfilling the criteria for being part of the SD’s redefined folkhem. And here becomes apparent the second important aspect of their political agenda, their crypto-racism disguised in conservative ‘normalized’ clothes. The new national community, the folkhem they envisage is one based on assimilation to the point of complete homogeneity, and repudiation of ‘abnormality’ and ‘libertinism’. The assimilation project they promote stipulates the absorption of newcomers (be them immigrants or refugees, commonly seen as an external threatening Other) to an ideal Swedish homogeneity. A case in point is the SD’s undisguised opposition to immigrant people of Islamic faith, who fail to become Swedes precisely for not being Christians. From singling out a religion to alleging that a certain group of people have a gene that predisposes them to violence is but a step, and the SD party members are making it with unproblematic ease (in Swedish, här). But the guarding of purity excludes also other groups, such as the Sámi of Sweden, or the Swedish Romas. Not only that, it also defines what is to be considered morally sound and typically Swedish, in a staunchly heteropatriarchal sense, and portrays a whole panoply of groups that embody the internal evil Other to their construct. More clearly, the SD dismisses the gender equality efforts as ‘leftist propaganda’ and portrays the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community as ‘deviants’. And the solution to all these is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a toughening of the law and order policy, which is meant to fix all ills and pave the way for a rebirth of the folkhem. The SD claims to be ready to take the responsibility for this. But they are quick to add the perfect excuse for not achieving it and the endless postponing of their project: their isolation on the political scene.
One cannot help but to wonder how was it possible for the SD to convince people to cast their vote in their favour, when their welfare chauvinistic appeals (to reinstate the folkhem, or better said their very particular interpretation of the aforesaid concept) are so tightly bounded to crypto-racist stances, thinly disguised under appeals for a tougher law and order stance and a more selective and assimilative immigration policy? How closely resembles such a political option to the national-socialist promises of the early 1930s? And taking it to the wider European context, does this swiping wave of radicalism across the continent that accompanies one of the most severe financial and economic crises in modern history mark the ‘moral bankruptcy’ of late capitalism? Are the spontaneous demonstrations across Sweden that gathered people who wanted to signal their support of multiculturalism and tolerance, and the impressive support for the campaign ‘Vi gillar olika’ (a rough translation would be ‘We support diversity’) a sign of grassroots democratic rejuvenation that has the potential to flourish across Europe and counter radical right populism?
Obsessing about the Other in Finland: mandatory study of Swedish may turn you into a killer, welcoming refugees spells the end of Finnish nation
Being preoccupied with the Other appears as a multifaceted process in Finland, and it stretches to encompass attitudes against Swedish-speaking Finns and mandatory Swedish-language education in Finnish schools, to fears of national dilution with the apparent increase of asylum seekers and other refugees in the country, a consequence of the clandestine activities of the same Swedish-speakers. However, what they have in common is the danger they posit to the Finnish masculinity, or better said to the typology of Finnish conservative heteropatriachal masculinity heralded by the Finnish radical right populists- the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna).
A first example is the incident which was mainly discussed on the Finnish Broadcast company’s Swedish language web-pages (här). It is an opinion piece published by Kirkkonummen Sanomat (KS) authored by Voitto Mäkipää (in Finnish, tässä, p. 15). Kirkkonummen Sanomat is, as the name suggests, the local newspaper in Kirkkonummi/ Kyrkslätt, a commune some 30 km away from the Finnish capital. Mäkipää is a local non-affiliated commune councilor on educational matters, who works closely with PS. In his article, Mäkipää argued against the teaching of mandatory Swedish in Finnish schools, the so-called pakkoruotsi/tvångssvenska. What is surprising, however, is the way Mäkipää claimed in his piece that based on his personal experience of being forced to study a “completely useless” language like pakkoruotsi he has come to understand the frustration of young men that eventually shoot innocent people around them. In this light, he recommended researching which language had to study those who engaged in violent shootings in Finland in the recent past. He then continued unabated that pakkoruotsi is “a relic of the past” and that the Swedish-speaking Finns are the fifth column, which clandestinely undermines the Finnish nation from within.
From a gender-informed perspective, Mäkipää‘s take on the issue of violence in Finnish society obscures completely the widespread gun ownership across the country and focus on stereotypical images of Swedish masculinity (and by means of the common language, transferred over to the Swedish-speaking Finns), as emasculated and weak in comparison to the Finnish heteropatriarchal masculinity in its conservative translation as heralded by the radical right populism of PS. In other words being exposed to Swedish inflicts irreversible damage to Finnish heteropatriachal masculinity and reveals its extreme vulnerability, since violence is the only means to release the frustration of forced-learning and symbolically erase the signs of the less-than-masculine (read Swedish-language exposed). Apparently this is how real Finnish men are crafted: complete resistance to Swedish and everything the Swedish language represents in Finland, and if this is not possible then the only manly solution is indiscriminate violence against innocent bystanders.
In a parallel development that echoes the references to the fifth column of Swedish-speaking Finns, PS has lashed out at the Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors (SFP/ Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ Svenska folkpartiet) and demanded her resignation. PS accused her for the allegedly too liberal take on Finnish migration policy, which apparently has resulted in a surge in the numbers of asylum seekers in Finland (tässä, här, here). PS reacted to the 6000 or so family reunification applications received by the ministry, which are considered to be the direct effect of the overly lax immigration policy in the past years. What PS did not mention was the extremely high rejection rate of such applications, but in turn focused on the generous financial support offered by the Finnish state to those very few who are granted asylum and allowed to bring their families to Finland. It is not the first time when PS criticized Minister Thors for her work. At times of economic hardship, their accusations may sound very comforting to the disenchanted jobless and economically struggling Finns across the country. The PS implicit critique is that such an attitude risks to undermine the Finnish national being, since the newcomers, mainly from Somalia and Iraq represent an extreme embodiment of the Other, both religiously (i.e. non-Christian) and racially (non-European). The large non-Finnish families would thus change the population dynamic in the country, and undermine the hegemonic position of the Finnish man by exposing him to competition from the Other men.
One may wonder if learning Swedish, even when it is a mandatory discipline, leads to such frustration that justifies violent manifestations against innocent people around (like in the tragic school shootings in Jokela and Kauhajoki; or in the shooting spree in Espoo/ Esbo)? Is Finnish conservative heteropatriarchal masculinity really threatened by Swedish language abilities? Even more worryingly, is the Swedish-speaking Minister of Migration preparing quietly for an invasion of the country of True Finns (the name of the party after all) by cohorts of asylum seekers and their families from Somalia and Iraq? Is this yet another case of thinly veiled anti-Muslim sentiments against the incoming asylum seekers, or a real concern with an explosive immigration in Finland?
After all, in 2008 there were 467 favorable decisions for family reunification , and some 2 170 people were received by Finnish municipalities; one can imagine their impact on the overall Finnish population of 5 326 314 (the numbers are taken from the Finnish statistical public authority, for different language versions: tässä, här, here).
In times of economic insecurity, or simply of general uncertainty, the parties that manage to make the most of it are the radical right populist parties (RRP). With a rhetoric lambasting at the too liberal immigration policies, too expensive services provided to minorities or language communities, they manage to paint a picture of economic distress. Things need to be put in order, rationalized, according to some efficiency logic that usually is aimed to disadvantage those groups perceived to have “exploited” the system for their own gain, and restore the state, and implicitly its expenses to the common people.
For instance in Finland, the last meeting of the youth arm of the True Finns (PS-n/Perussuomalaiset-nuoret/Sannfinländarnas ungdomsorganisation ) witnessed the return to the bellicose rhetoric against the Swedish-speaking Finns and Swedish language(which has equal standing together with Finnish as one of the official languages of the country). According to them, the Swedish-speaking Finns are demanding too much proportionally to their population’s size (approximately 5.4% of the whole population of Finland), and that if it is about the state providing services in Swedish, then the Swedish-speaking community itself should provide them. Why? Well, it was ascertained it costs too much, though it was not really clear how economic streamlining could so evidently deprive a serious percentage of the population of services they are entitled to by law and guaranteed by the Finnish constitution. And if this was not a statement persuasive enough, then the argument put forward was a bit more simple: to provide services in another language than Finnish, is actually un-Finnish. Why, again? The discussion about the status of Swedish as a national language was strangely connect to betrayal of Finland. More clearly, having Swedish as the second national language may at anytime give the opportunity to the increasing Russian minority to demand the same status for Russian. This could lead to the hypothetical situation of Finland being transformed into a country with three official languages.
However, looking a bit closer at the official numbers provided by Statistics Finland (Tilastokeskus/ Statistikcentralen), one may notice that of the whole Finnish population, 4,844,047 of them are Finnish-speaking Finns, followed by 289,951 persons being Swedish-speaking Finns. How many Russian speakers are in Finland? They are some 48,740 strong, or in other words some 1% of the Finnish-speaking population, and even less of the overall population of Finland. How can the Russian community be used as a threat to the Finnish majority? Does PS-n attempt to portray a future for the Finnish-speakers as a “threatened majority”, that needs to be suspicious of its own, homegrown Other- the Swedish-speakers-, but also keep an eye on the ever increasing outside Other- the Russian-speakers? Even more interesting it was one of the participant’s comment that the Swedish-speaking Finns are planning to “join forces” with the un-Finns. Does it sound like the classical reasoning of the inner Other plotting with the outside Other to demise the righteous and the True? Will this suffice for ensuring PS‘s success in the next elections, considering that the readily identified solution is turning Swedish into a minority language, and watching its exile to the peripheries of Finnish society together with the Sami language, and the Romani language?
On the other side of Gulf of Bothnia, in Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (SD/Sverigedemokraterna) held their party convention in Ljungbyhed in Klippans commune in Scania province. The province is the main voting reservoir for SD, and in the aforementioned commune, SD received some 7.5% of the votes for the local council. During the convention, Jimmy Åkesson was confirmed his leadership position. Statistically, SD cannot pride itself with too impressive numbers: in the most recent elections for the representative in the Swedish Lutheran Church the party pooled 2.84% and increased from 4 to 7 mandates, which was duly dismissed as a setback by mainstream commentators.
For most of SD‘s existence as a political force in Sweden, it has been at best ignored, if not purposefully isolated by other political and social actors. The media boycott of even the main yellow press paper in Swede (Aftonbladet), left room to the isolation of SD council representatives in communes across Sweden. It was later revealed that the party representatives’ isolation is not waterproof, and that little by little they come to be tolerated, if not accepted by representatives of other parties. However, this prolonged and consistent isolation allowed SD to play the role of the martyr. This may have serious implication for the shape of the political scene in Sweden, with parliamentary elections being scheduled for 2010. Some have even ventured to argue that SD may become the kingmakers of the coming Swedish Cabinet. SD‘s central topic for the coming elections appears to be a call to a stop of the immigration, so that to ensure the protection of the Swedish workers from outer competitors, and a return of the welfare state before the turn of the century.
Interestingly, Aftonbladet decided to publish an opinion piece authored by Åkesson this week, a first in the mainstream media. The piece, which is basically a critique of the present immigration policy in Sweden, with rather grave accusations against the Muslim community in Sweden, identified as the main Evil Other in the RRP tradition (this has already a history in countries like Denmark, Austria, and The Netherlands, to name just a random few), was met with uproar. The article is a Swedish adaptation of the widely popular RRP theory of Eurabia,i.e. the danger posited to European culture and national specificity by an ever growing and menacing Muslim minority.
Even before being more closely discussed, SD, in general, and Åkesson’s peice in particular were hastily labeled as “racist”. More worrisome, it was revealed that Aftonbladet, not Åkesson, chose the fiery title that read: “The Muslims are our greatest enemy”. One can only wonder who benefits from over-using “racism”, and the concept entering the banality of daily life? Should not the main political attempt to engage in a punctual debate with SD? Is it be too painful to admit that not even Sweden remained untouched by the RRP waves that sweep Europe?
On a more general level, the most pressing questions are how the mainstream parties, in particular with regard to the electoral competition and the post-electoral parliamentary alliance building processes, and the societies, in general, will react to the constant ascension of the aforementioned parties? Ignoring them and exiling them to the peripheries is no longer actual, not even in Sweden. On the other hand, the increased visibility of such parties may be accompanied by the sudden rise to prominence on the agenda of mainstream parties of precisely this kind of issues.
Swedish language is an integral part of Finland, but it needs the decided commitment of all Finnish political parties (former president Ahtisaari’s plea for Swedish language in Finland is an excellent example of that). Healthy debates about such topics as language policies, regional development according to the interests of all language groups, and the opportunity of accommodating to an increasing immigrant population in Finland, need to be discussed openly, and it is necessary to argue against PS ‘s overt simplifications and menacing portrayal of the Other. At the same time, the topic of meaningful integration of immigrants, and the benefits of immigration for the whole society are highly actual in Sweden. These issues require at times engaging in a dialogue with such parties as PS and SD, not simply dismissing them for being RRP.
What is more important, however, is to be able to look for explanations behind manufactured statistics, and vitriolic rhetoric, and provide well balanced and honest insights into these subjects. But is not this one of the biggest challenges: to be able to explain that there is no Evil Other even in times of economic uncertainty, and that curiosity not fear should be the driving force of societies?
The anecdote is rather funny. Unfortunately I do not have it in English. Bellow are the two versions of it in Finnish, respectively in Swedish. The ‘encountering the stranger metaphor’, if one may call it so, evidences how the two countries relate to accommodating ‘the unknown (possibly Evil) Other’. This cannot be taken as more than a stereotyped portrayal of the two countries, but it is nevertheless striking. Evidently, this is just a small excerpt from a more detailed report produced by the Cultural Fund for Sweden and Finland/ Suomalais-ruotsalainen kulttuurirahasto/ Kulturfonden för Sverige och Finland. The report came out with the occasion of commemorating the separation of Finland from Sweden in 1809.
(FIN) Mitä tapahtuu, kun ruotsalainen ja suomalainen kohtaavat suuren elefantin.
Ruotsalainen haluaa ennen kaikkea auttaa elefanttia, mieluiten kaikkia maailman elefantteja. Tätä varten hän asettaa monia komiteoita ja työryhmiä, ja elefantille tarjotaan mahdollisuus tulla ruotsalaiseksi. Elefantti saa lisäksi ikioman asiamiehen, joka määrittelee linjaukset elefanttien monien ongelmien ja vaikeuksien ratkaisemiseksi.
Suomalainen taas hermostuu kohdatessaan elefantin katseen, ja häntä huolestuttaa se, että elefantti itse asiassa suhtautuu häneen alentuvasti. Hän sanoo hiljaa itselleen, että elefantin ei ollenkaan tarvitse luulla olevansa muita parempi vain sen vuoksi, että se on suurempi. Mutta tappelemisen sijaan suomalainen tyytyy puristamaan kätensä nyrkkiin housuntaskussaan, ja hän poistuu ääneti paikalta yhtä nöyryyttävää kokemusta rikkaampana.
(SVE) Vad som sker när en svensk och en finne möter en stor elefant.
Svensken vill framförallt hjälpa elefanten, och helst alla elefanter i hela världen. För att göra det tillsätter han en hel rad kommittéer och arbetsgrupper, och elefanten erbjuds också att bli svensk. Elefanten får dessutom en alldeles egen ombudsman som skall ge riktlinjer för hur man skall lösa elefanternas många problem och svårigheter.
Finnen å sin sida blir ängslig när han möter elefantens blick och han oroas av att elefanten i själva verket ser ned på honom. Finnen blir då arg och beredd att slåss mot elefanten. Han säger tyst till sig själv att elefanten minsann inte skall tro sig vara bättre än andra bara för att den är större. Men i stället för att slåss med elefanten nöjer sig finnen med att knyta näven i byxfickan, och han går tyst därifrån en förnedrande erfarenhet rikare.
This funny narrative makes me wonder about how a Romanian, to keep the stereotypical register, would react to meeting an elephant?
It is true, the Evil Other (with capitalized letters for reasons to be detailed bellow) strikes again. If one controversial person got onto the city council on a ticket from the True Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) (PS) mainly exploiting the fears of the local Finns of a possible ‘immigrant invasion’, more recently the Mayor of Helsinki/ Helsingfors Jussi Pajunen expressed his worries about an ever increasing population with an immigrant background in the capital.
Helsingin Sanomat’s article on the matter reveals the mayor’s calculations: from a soon to break the 10% threshold, to a worrying (!?) 24% around 2025. Another interesting point in the article is that the unemployment rate among the people of a migrant background is 2.5 higher than among the Finns. The ‘natural’ conclusion is drawn quickly, the asylum seekers (said by Statistics Finland to be at 1703 for 2007, including ‘refugees by quota, asylum-seekers having received a favorable decision and persons admitted under the family reunification scheme’ for the whole country) are too numerous, and thus Mayor Pajunen recommends a return to the previous gate-keeping.
How really evil is this Evil Other? I will not launch in cross country comparison (if someone will look at the numbers reported by the Swedish Migrationsverket, one may easily understand why). However two questions come forward. One regards the presumed danger that may pose a 10% population of a different background than Finnish. The other is how accurate are Mayor Pajunen’s numbers?
First, this can be a very contentious issue when discussed from the perspective of a mono-cultural landscape. The temptation of purity (the sort of purity that at any other time in history has hardly existed) was/is mainly ventilated by the True Finns Party (PS), since populism appears to be very close to their political soul. (Un)Surprisingly, such populist ideas are taken for granted by other political actors as well. What surprises me though is that it comes from someone from the National Coalition Party/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet (Kok) that was thought to exhibit a liberal agenda. It seems that fear of diversity and lack of initiative towards a more inclusive city are part of a Finnish liberal agenda. Is the present economic crisis used as some sort of excuse for a job-market of a solely ‘sinivalkoinen’ workforce? Can this realistically be achieved? And at what price? Are we all that evil?
Taking the second question, that of statistical accuracy, according the Minister of Migration and European Affaris Mrs Astrid Thors, quoted in an article in Hufvudstadsbladet, the number of asylum applications will not overpass 5,000 this year, and 2007 witnessed an exceptionally low number of applications. So there is not too much substance to portraying the Finnish capital of 2025 so ‘diverse’ that one in four inhabitants will be foreign. Moreover, I have the inconfortable feeling that Mayor Pajunen is mixing the statistics: I doubt that all those ‘almost’ 10% Others of the total population living under his administration are refugees. They may have a foreign background, yes, but not necessarily unemployed asylum seekers and refugees. So assimilating Others=asylum seekers=unemployed looks very much like a shorthand for something of an outright anti-immigration stance. In this light, is Mayor Pajunen riding on the populist horse? And if he does not, then I wonder what are his comments supposed to mean?
Basically, this is the very disturbing conclusion I reach following the news about the Finnish local elections this year. With all votes counted the statistics (link in English) say this:
1.The National Coalition Party (Kok)/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet (center-right): 23,4%
2. The Social Democratic Party (SDP)/ Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue/ Finlands socialdemokratiska parti (center-left): 21,2%
3. The Center Party (Kesk)/ Suomen Keskusta/ Centern i Finland (center): 20,1%
So these are the “3 Big” parties in Finland. In general, support for one of them spells disaster or major changes within the other two.Well, if we look at the remaining, or “minor” parties, then the pictures becomes more nuanced:
4. The Green League (G) (in the government coalition)/ Vihreät/ De Gröna (greens): 8,9%
5. The Left Alliance (VL)/ Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet (left): 8,8%
6. The True Finns Party (PS)/ Perussuomalaiset/Sannfinländarna (populist): 5,4% and thus with a superior result to
7. The Swedish People’s Party (RKP/SFP)(in the government coalition)/ Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ Svenska folkpartiet (centrist language based): 4,7%
8. The Christian Democracts (KD)/Kristillisdemokraattit/ Kristdemokraterna (center-right): 4,2%
The winners of these elections are thought to be the Kok and PS. Kok has surprisingly turned from the junior partner in the government with Kesk and two other “minor” parties (G and RKP/SFP) into the winner of the local elections with implications into the central political games. As such, there are comments that PM Vanhanen (Kesk) will not have a restful autumn. So far, so good, may say some, just another political competition won by the most persuasive.
On the other hand, PS made considerable gains from the previous elections (when it pooled only 0,9% of the votes), tapping on people’s dissatisfaction with mainstream politics. On a closer look the party has a strong anti-immigration (to put it mildly), anti-Swedish speaking (the famous pakkoruotsi/ mandatory Swedish), and commonly labeled as populist, Finnish nationalist, national conservative and so on. This means, in other words, that people are fed up with an explosive immigration (4,9%) and an all menacing Swedish speaking Finnish population (5,46%). If you do the math, there are virtually a bit over 10% of the total Finnish population endangering the rest of almost 90%. In which way, this is a bit unclear to me. What is interesting to note that such a menace has determined the Finnish voters to give their votes to PS.
An educated guess would be that from now on, an ever more suspicious, monocultural, exclusionary political agenda will be taking shape at community level. I am well aware that the asylum granted (68 in 2007, according to the same source as above) will drastically decrease. Those that dare to come to Finland in search for something better, well, they need to be prepared to assume the role of the Evil Other.
The Swedish speaking Finns are probably familiar with being the Enemy within, so they will do what they do best, becoming ever less visible and compromising and accommodating the radical political newcomers. That happening in a country that has bilingualism (Finnish and Swedish are official languages) stated in its Constitution.
A few days ago I was reading a piece about a visit of the Minister of Migration and European Affairs, Astrid Thors (RKP/SFP) to a hotel in a neighborhood in the capital, and taking over the tasks of a cleaner. Needless to say, most cleaners at the aforesaid hotel were of a foreign background. I was thinking of the symbolic putting together of those Others from outside (migrants) and from within (the Swedish speaking Finns), and frankly speaking they did not really look that menacing.
But then again, I was looking at them through the eyes of a foreigner, n’est pas?
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