When a #kikkelikuva Is Not a #snoppselfie and What Are the Consequences of That

There are not many MPs in today’s Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta/Riksdagen) that have been so often in the attention of the media, and even fewer have managed to galvanize more vehement reactions than the (True) Finn Teuvo Hakkarainen (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna/ SF). Hakkarainen took the Finnish parliamentarism with storm as a result of the March 2011 elections that witnessed his election into the Eduskunta/ Riskdagen, and shortly thereafter made a name for himself for his mediatized rants against the Somali (Muslims) living in Finland, the Swedish-speaking Finnish minority, the LGBTQI-community – in short, against everyone and anyone not easily assimilated to the position of a heterosexual (true) Finnish-speaking Finn that he claimed to represent (for a brief update, see my previous blog entries here; and here). For such acts of (true) Finnish masculine bravery, Hakkarainen earned the distinction of ‘the Apostle of Genuineness‘ and swiftly dismissed any accusations of xenophobia and homophobia as mere misunderstandings of his sense of humor.

In this light, the latest incident may be understood to add a new layer to the complex masculinity performative embodied by Hakkarainen. To cut the long story short, on 13 March 2014 the entertainment magazine Seiska published a piece disclosing that Hakkarainen has been assiduously courting a woman, even sending her naked pictures of himself and close-ups of his sex organ from his work phone (in Finnish, tässä). The incident caused a lot of media attention and Hakkarainen issued a public apology. It was discussed not only in the Finnish yellow press – Ilta-sanomat (in Finnish, tässä) and Iltalehti (in Finnish, tässä); but also on the Finnish national TV network YLE (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här) and the reputed Helsingin sanomat (in Finnish, tässä) and in the Swedish-speaking Finnish main newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet (in Swedish, här). On Twitter, the Swedish language hashtag #snoppselfie (in English something along the lines of ‘#willieselfie’) trended seriously, as well as the (somewhat) tamer equivalent in Finnish #kikkelikuva (in English, something like ‘#williepic’).

The chair of PS/SF parliamentary group Jari Lindström refused to comment on the event, indicating Hakkarainen‘s public statement concerning the incident. Indeed, Hakkarainen blamed the whole affair on his alcohol abuse and claimed it was part of a failed attempt to extortion. Even more so, according to a PS/SF fellow MPMika Niikko, Hakkarainen did not take the picture himself, but was in fact the victim of a ‘prank’ set up by ‘a friend’ (in Ilta-sanomat, in Finnish, tässä).

In other words, does the whole issue boil down to a (male) Finnish MP’s misfortune to find reliable friends, combined with his inability to deal with alcohol abuse? Does this indicate a toxic manifestation of masculinity widely spread within Finnish society that regards alcohol abuse as an inherent part of being a (Finnish) man? But do these alone justify the harassment that the woman in question was subject to (sending sexually explicit pictures surely do qualify as such) – an aspect not so much picked up on by the media? What if putting this incident in the wider context of significant level of violence against women (both physical and sexual but also psychological) in Finland (Helsinki Times news report, in English here; the FRA report , in English here)? Hakkarainen has gained his reputation of ‘Apostle of Genuineness‘ for his remarks that can be easily considered a manifestation of outright xenophobia, but also a sign of a populist homophobia; does his ‘genuineness’ include sexism as well in this context? Having in mind the coming EU elections later this spring, and despite the fact that the chair of the PS/SF parliamentary group does not consider this issue serious enough to address, do the Finnish voters have a right to know where does the PS/SF position itself on such issues? So far, Hakkarainen‘s previous remarks have been explained through references to his particular sense of humor and his famed ‘genuineness’. At the moment it appears his harassment of women is allegedly blamed on his entourage and alcohol abuse, so the question that comes forward is what and when would be considered to be the entire responsibility of the PS/SF MP Hakkarainen, and when would the PS/SF assume its responsibility in front of its electors for having such a representative in the Finnish Eduskunta/ Riksdagen?

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Sunday, March 16th, 2014 Research No Comments

(Internet) Hate Speech and the Issue of Finnish National Purity: A Gender Perspective

Finland has stereotypically been considered to be an example of Nordic consensus culture. For long internet hate and hate speech in general have rarely been discussed in the open in Finland, in public debates, and even rarer have been the cases in which several people would stand up and confess to being subject to hateful email and death threats.

However, the straw that broke the camel’s back came on Monday 27 May 2013 in the form of an e-mail addressed to Bettina Sågbom, well known Finnish Swedish-speaking journalist and presenter working for the state television YLE. The e-mail contained death threats targeting Sågbom and her family; the e-mail was followed by several other messages in the same register the following day. Sågbom chose to finally break the silence and made public the threats, raising the issue of internet hate but also connecting the rather abstract discussions that have taken place so far with a well-known public figure. In response, she received a subsequent threat in which she was warned she would die in circumstances made to resemble an accident (in English, here; in Swedish, här). Sågbom received the death threats because she has allegedly presented an eschewed picture about the status of Swedish language in Finland. The message contained also a demand that Sågbom invite to her TV-show a representative of the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity (Suomalaisuuden Liitto/ Finskhetsförbundet) to discuss the topic of oppression and linguistic repression that the Finnish-speakers were subject to during the time Finland was part of the Swedish realm. The said association has close ties to the radical right populist party in Finland, the (True) Finns (Party) (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna/ SF), being chaired by Sampo Terho, who is a Finnish MEP on the PS/SF mandate.

But Sågbom is far from being the only person to have received such hate mail with such a precise request. Paula Salovaara, managing editor of Helsingin Sanomat, the largest Finnish-language daily in Finland, has also admitted on a Tweet to having received death threats for taking a public stance in support of Swedish language as the second national language in Finland. In addition, Päivi Storgård, vice-chair of the Swedish People’s Party (SFP/ Svenska folkpartiet i Finland/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ RKP), has also made public that she has been target of hate messages, mentioning a recent incident in which she has been threatened with rape by a man in a telephone conversation (in Swedish, här). The Left Alliance MP Silvia Modig (Vas/ Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet) has later on confessed to having been harassed because of her publicly admitted homosexuality, and mentioned she had received e-mails containing dozens of pictures of male genitalia. Her conclusion was that her political convictions and the values she stands for have angered quite many, but she underlined she did not fear for her life. However, she is living now at a secret address, a direct result of the hate mails she has received (in Swedish, här).

A salutary reaction to the wave of hate speech flooding the web and pushing the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable in public debates in Finland has been the  reaction of Helsingin Sanomat. The newspaper published in its internal news pages a bilingual section addressing the issue of hate speech in the public domain, containing interviews with PM Jyrki Katainen (Kok/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet/ Saml / The National Coalition Party) and police representatives, allocating equal space to both Finnish and Swedish (in Finnish/Swedish, tässä/här). Only towards the end of the week, on 31 May 2013, and after several demonstrations in support of the country’s bilingualism and against hate speeches, Terho has eventually distanced himself and the association he chairs from the hate messages (in Finnish, tässä).

The ongoing discussion about the need to denounce intimidation as a means to achieve certain political outcomes, while much needed, seems to be preoccupied with only one side of a multifaceted phenomenon. In my view, it is not only the language aspect that media, researchers and public figures alike should be paying attention to. Indeed the status of the Swedish language in Finland appears to have galvanized the wave of hateful reactions, but I would like to draw attention on the gender aspect that intersects the former, since the majority of those who have acknowledged to being subject to such intimidation are women, on both sides of the language divide but with an assumed commitment to defend bilingualism in Finland. So the questions that arise in this context concern the many aspects of purity, and how such purity – understood, it seems, in exclusionary language terms – may be instrumentally employed to discipline and punish those Finnish women – Finnish- and Swedish-speaking alike – that defend the country’s plural legacy and bilingualism? What place do threats of ‘corrective rape’ – both at the most physical but also at symbolic level – have in this effort to maintain national purity, and what are those mechanisms that justify them?

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Friday, May 31st, 2013 Research No Comments

When ‘Joking’ Fails, Use ‘Satire’ – How to Make Sure Finland Is Kept Pure If Social Engineering Is No Longer An Acceptable Solution: Make Those Others Wear Patches

It appears that the Nazi ideology has consolidated its place at the main source of inspiration for the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) rank and file. Indeed, in October 2011 the PS MP Teuvo Hakkarainen was suggesting ‘jokingly’ – as it was later on quickly dismissed – that the autonomous Åland/Ahvenanmaa islands (inherently symbolizing the Swedish–speaking Finnish community in Finland) are the perfect place where to ‘put’ all ‘homosexuals’, ‘lesbians’ and ‘Somalis’ to live side by side and see what kind of ‘model society’ takes shape from that (see my previous blog entry discussing the matter, here). It was then evidence the uncanny resemblance with the anti-Semitic Madagascar plan of the Nazis (a Wikipedia entry on the infamous Madagascar plan – in English, here; in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här).

On 11 April 2012, this was further exploited by Helena Eronen, assistant to the PS MP James Hirvisaari. Helena Eronen published an article on the Uusi Suomi e-newspaper, titled ‘Ratkaisu poliisin ulkomaalaisratsioihin’ (‘The Solution to Police’s Raids Among Foreigners’, in an approximate English translation). Shortly after it was published, the article was removed from the e-news platform (yet, available in its entirety in Finnish, tässä). It is worth noting that the PS MP James Hirvisaari was elected in April 2011 into the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta/Riksdagen) on a strong anti–immigration platform, being one of the authors of the Nuiva Vaalimanifesti (on signatories, in Finnish, tässä). The same PM MP James Hirvissari has been also the subject of a trial for incitement to racial hatred because of his blog entry on the same Uusi Suomi, titled ‘Kikkarapäälle kuonoon’.

In her article, Helena Eronen identified a readily available solution to the Finnish Police’s dilemma on knowing a person’s ‘worth’ in the Finnish society: make them wear sleeve badges! According to her, it is useful to know, from the very first sight, ‘who is a Somali Muslim’ or ‘a beggar from Romania’. The symbols on badges were just as easily provided to the readers: a half-moon for the Muslims, a hammer and a sickle for Russians, a landmine for Cambodians (sic). Neither the Swedish–speaking Finns, nor and the LGBTQI–community members were forgotten – in the latter case it was aptly suggested a patch depicting ‘a rainbow’ (media comments on her article, in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här). Helena Eronen even envisaged a means to account for someone’s accommodation to Finnish customs: a Muslim foreigner’s half–moon could later be exchanged to a blue–white half–moon thereby enforcing integration (on her article, commented at length in English, here). Eventually, the ‘blue–white half–moon’ badge could be handed in, a sign of the person’s complete assimilation and secularization: the birth of a new Finn. In other words, there are degrees of Otherness, and degrees of sanction and reward for all Others. The similarity with the Nazi methodical classification of the undesired Others is, yet again, uncanny (a detailed article on the Nazi identification system using badges – in English, here; in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här).

One may wonder why has it become so crucially important among the PS rank and file to be able to make a distinction between an apparently ‘true’ Finn (to keep with the PS’ own denomination) and a ‘Somali Muslim’ or ‘a beggar from Romania’? What is the purpose of such process of selection and differentiation? Why to distinguish between a Muslim with a ‘red half–moon’ and one with a ‘blue–white half–moon’ when Islam is squarely rejected by the PS as foreign to the Finnish national fiber? Having a closer look at the hierarchy suggested by Helena Eronen, another question that insinuates itself is why are Swedish–speaking Finns to be ‘marked’ – what is their shortcoming for not being deemed worthy to be part of the Finnish un–badged majority, and why would this justify them being bullied by the majority Finnish–speaking Finns ?

Even more so, applying what appears to be a rudimentary heteropatriarchal logic of structuring, if the LGBTQI–community members have to bear a rainbow, how should then the distinction be made between, for instance, ‘true’ Finnish women dutifully married with Finnish men and bearing Finnish offspring, and those also ‘true’ Finnish women, but who however fail do so? In the Nazi system of badge marking, the political opponents were also classified; with this in mind, it would have perhaps been instructive to know if Helena Eronen also considered a system to differentiate between the common voters and those ‘true’ citizens identifying themselves with the PS cause? And by ways of conclusion, why continuously ‘making jokes’, and writing ‘satire’ on a subject that appears to be such a sensitive point of discussion? Whom is to gain from a radicalization of the whole discussion and at which price?

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Thursday, April 12th, 2012 Research No Comments

The Finest Art of Finnish Social Engineering: A Heterosexual (True) Finn Envisioning the Society of Tomorrow?

Not so long ago, the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) has decided to change its English name and be titled (only) the Finns (see my previous blog entry discussing the matter, here). However, it appears that despite their name change, the the PS is keeping true to its previous radical right populist (RRP) line of discourse that so often has bordered with outright instigation to hate (be it against the Swedish-speaking Finns, the Somali community in Finland, or the LGBTQI–community in Finland).

The most recent example is constituted by the remarks of Teuvo Hakkarainen, the PS elected MP. He appears to have remained truthful to his line of reasoning (on this, please see my previous blog entry, here). When told he has a certain amount of male admirers that happen to be homosexuals, Teuvo Hakkarainen replied to the newspaper Ilta Sanomat that he would be more interested in having a female following. On the topic, he then presented his ideas about a ‘model society’ (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här). According to him, the autonomous Åland/Ahvenanmaa islands (seen as the epitome of what the Swedish–speaking Finnish community in Finland stands for) are the perfect place where to ‘put’ all ‘homosexuals’, ‘lesbians’ and ‘Somalis’ to live side by side and see what kind of ‘model society’ takes shape from that. This way, the Swedish People’s Party (SFP/ Svenska folkpartiet i Finland/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ RKP) could no longer accuse the PS of not taking into consideration the needs of the minorities in Finland. He then concluded that on Åland/ Ahvenanmaa the ‘Somalis would finally be free to ‘shout from the minarets’ whatever they see fit. The ‘model society’ could be then replicated on the mainland.

Despite the uncanny resemblance of such a suggestion to the anti-Semitic Madagascar plan of the Nazis (a Wikipedia entry on this matter – in English, here; in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här), the Finnish MP Teuvo Hakkarainen does not seem troubled with that. Instead, he appears to have taken on himself this laborious task of social engineering. It does not take long to understand what would such an undertake entail. Finland as it is nowadays has failed the standards of truthfulness established by the PS. In order to correct that, Åland/Ahvenanmaa appears to be safely far and yet soundly Finnish to have all those who fail off the normative spectrum of Finnishness removed from the native mainland soil and sent there. What would this mean? If the Swedish–speaking Finns native of Åland/ Ahvenanmaa and from the rest of Finland, together with the deported Somali community and all those identifying themselves as LGBTQI previously living on the mainland would engage in crafting that ‘model society’ envisioned by the PS MP Teuvo Hakkarainen, one can only wonder what would happen in the meantime on the Finnish mainland thus vacated? Will a purely and truly Finnish heterosexual society blossom on the Finnish mainland, a place where only Finnish men will marry Finnish women and born Finnish babies that would finally balance the pressing demographic problems Finland has to deal with, where finally there will be no calls for prayer from the minarets, where there will be no minority one could think of? And if the SFP/ RKP would probably be busying itself with the ‘model society’ taking shape on Åland/Ahvenanmaa, what would the other parliamentary Finnish parties do then? Would the Left Alliance (Vas/ Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet) or even the Greens (Vihr/ Vihreä liitto/ Gröna förbundet) – only those who are (true) pure heterosexual Finnish-speaking Finns, that is – be participating in engineering this purely Finnish heterosexual society, or would this task be exclusively assumed by the party that IS the Finns?

Unfortunately, Pirkko Ruohonen–Lerner the chair of the PS parliamentary group did not allow for a full development of the PS MP Teuvo Hakkarainen’s ideas and label them as ‘vitsailua‘, or joke (in Finnish, tässä). On who this joke is, however, it has not yet been disclosed. Is it a joke on the Swedish-speaking Finns who see themselves thrown out of the national construct called Finland, or is it on the Somali community whose members have come to Finland with the hope of escaping death and oppression only to be welcomed with a discriminatory superiority of the native Finns, or is it a joke on the LGBTQI–community that is refused membership in this construction of (true) Finnishness? Or is this joke on those who were not yet named and who would, one way or another, end up as unaware pawns in the social engineering plan of a rightfully elected parliamentary representative into the Finnish Eduskunta/ Riksdag?

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Sunday, October 23rd, 2011 Research No Comments

Who Are Those Brave Men Who Support the (True) Finns?

In another move that has left very little room for interpretation with regard to the party’s intentions on the Finnish political stage – and should have signaled that some time for reflection is needed in the headquarters of the main political parties – the radical right populist True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) has chosen to drop the ‘true’ particle in their name’s English version and title themselves simply and perplexingly: The Finns (in Swedish, här). Besides the argument that most foreign media has been misusing their name, there is a deeper lying explanation and has to do less with the foreign media, than with the PS’ captive electorate: the Finns (the party) thereby appeal to those that have cast their vote for them that they the Finns (the voters) are to see themselves as one with all the Finns (the people). In other words, through a simple name change, the PS has anchored itself ever more comfortably in the populist discursive field, thus erasing the difference between a small community within the Finnish society and the society as a whole, while proclaiming its representativeness for the whole Finnish society.

Such claims of homogeneity and representativeness have nevertheless determined the media to scrutinize into the PS’ voter profile. Taloustutkimus hurried with a survey that was aimed to offer a better picture of the PS supporters. The survey was first published in Yhteiskuntapolitiikka (in Finnish, tässä) and later on was popularized further by among others Helsingin Sanomat, the Finnish daily with the widest circulation in the country (a more recent article in Finnish, tässä; in English, here). The study revealed that the PS has a serious support base among the workers and lower middle class small entrepreneurs. Noteworthy, the PS supporters are spread among all income categories. They also appear to share an affinity with the voters of governing conservatives, the National Coalition Party (Kok/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet), in terms of conservative values. Nonetheless, the educational profile of the PS supporters is below the Finnish average, but this however does not necessarily mean that the party does not have its voters among the student population in Finnish universities. In addition to that, the finding that two thirds of the PS supporters are recruited among men was flatly reported as a stereotype with ‘some factual basis’ (a wording present in the English version of the Helsingin Sanomat article, see link above).

The media hype thus created around the PS voters unfortunately lost focus on certain important aspects. For instance to which extent does the fact that the party has a serious gender imbalance in terms of its electoral support reflect into the media’s labeling of the PS as a ‘party encompassing all classes of people’ (as the aforementioned English version of the Helsingin Sanomat article claims)? Is this representative for all Finnish parties, or is it rather a defining aspect of the radical populist parties that in the specialist literature are even called ‘men’s parties’ (Männerparteien)? And if the previous holds true, how much do the PS converge with the Finnish political mainstream and to which extent is the party actually getting closer to the other such radical right populist parties across Europe?

Even more so, is it to be understood that the unit of comparison in the Finnish context for a party to be part of the mainstream is to be voted by (Finnish) men? Are the voting patterns of Finnish women less representative and thereby there is no need to investigate the reasons of the gender imbalance among the PS supporters? Looking closer at the voter base of the PS, to which extent their support reflects a ‘perceived’ uncertainty (in this context, my previous blog entry discussing the situation of a ‘perceived precariousness’ becomes perhaps more anchored into reality)? In the end, one may wonder to which extent the media’s unabated reporting on the PS as part of the political mainstream does actually contribute to the party’s normalization?

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Monday, September 12th, 2011 Research No Comments

The True Finns: the Suppressed Finnish Masculinity and the Finnish Majority under Siege? (Re)Defining Racism?

The last elections in Finland witnessed the growing importance of the True Finns Party (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) on the national political arena.  The PS‘s electoral success also evidenced the increasingly Manichean distinction operated in the public discourse with regard to the native Finnish-speaking Finns, on the one hand, that represent the majority of the population, and the people of an immigrant or perceived foreign background (a category flexible enough to include when needed both Swedish-speaking Finns,  and people that immigrated to Finland freely or people searching for asylum to Finland), on the other. This comes to illustrate that the PS is gradually leaving its former Christian conservative-agrarian origins behind, and converges with other parties in the overall Radical Right Populist (RRP) ideological specter.

The ‘Apostle of Genuineness’

In this context, the newly elected PS representative Teuvo Hakkarainen did not fail to deliver, and in an interview to the local newspaper Jämsän Seutu raised again the issues of immigration from ‘the African horn’, lack of willingness to work on behalf of the newcomers, and summed up with a succinct evaluation of the real reasons for their coming to Finland as being a plan to enforce ‘Islamic laws’ (in Finnish, tässä). Indeed, he expressed his concern with the present level of immigration in Finland, expressing a need to curb it. He continued noting that those ‘neekeriukkoja‘ (male ‘niggers’) instead of doing nothing in the streets of the capital Helsinki/ Helsingfors would be more useful to the Finnish society if they would come to work in the forestry in Jämsä. He then expressed his doubts that the refugees are really running for their life when applying for asylum, and suspected them of simply choosing an easy life of living on the Finnish welfare. He then substantiated his reasoning with a remark that during his work for his company in ‘Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador’, he noted that those ‘eurooppalaista alkuperää‘ (of an ‘European origin’) appeared to ‘work harder’. The interview concluded with his comment that the Finnish capital city risks to become a place deserted by native Finns because of the pressure from the above-mentioned men of color who are coming from ‘the African horn’ trying to enforce their ‘Islamic laws’ on the Finnish citizens. To sum it up succinctly, according to Teuvo Hakkarainen, white men work harder than the men of color who only come to Finland as refugees in search of welfare benefits, and who plan to enforce the ‘Islamic laws’ in the country sooner or later.

Nothing seemed to disturb Teuvo Hakkarainen‘s certainties. The men of color were to be held responsible for not working, for not integrating and only exploiting the generous Finnish welfare system. He was the sage Finnish man, an entrepreneur from the Finnish countryside that does not mince his words, not even once elected into the Eduskunta/ Riksdag. In other words, he was prepared to be an ‘apostle of genuineness’ as some of the medias aptly noted (in Swedish, här). Interestingly, the gender aspect did not raise any attention in the overall discussion that followed. However, from a gender-informed perspective,  it appears that the sort of Finnish masculinity that the PS is embodying (mediated by its MPs) is depicted in a temporarily suppressed position, having to bravely defend the ‘rightful’ way of life and ‘European supremacy’ and vigorously oppose the undeserved rewarding of a competing masculinity – read of color and of Islamic faith. More clearly, Teuvo Hakkarainen can be considered to represent the apostle of a battled Finnish nation. In other words a majority under the siege of the barely over 3% of the population that the immigrant population in Finland represents. Needless to say, the aforesaid 3% is made out of both women and men, of as diverse ethnic backgrounds as Estonians, Russians, Somalis and Iraqis – to name just a few-, and representing a group that is systematically discriminated against in all aspects of their daily lives, excluded from the Finnish national community, but constantly criticized for not doing enough to become Finnish (on this process of belonging, see the excellent work authored by Camilla Haavisto from which a brief abstract in Finnish/ English here).

As a result of  the media attention, Teuvo Hakkarainen was eventually reprimanded by the PS leader Timo Soini, for what even Helsingin Sanomat worded as ‘racially insensitive remarks‘ (in English, here). In general a reprimand is what a Finnish MP gets when voting against the party line, and nothing more. This cannot be met with a shrugging off the shoulders, as it has far deeper implications for the whole climate of the public debate in Finland. If constantly and persistently talking in the medias about people of color as ‘niggers’, and depicting them solely as a burden for the Finnish society, how will such an attitude encourage an ‘open and honest‘ debate – Helsingin Sanomat has underlined indeed the importance of such a debate at least since the 2008 Finnish local elections that witnessed the rise to prominence of such  PS members as Jussi Halla-Aho and his anti-immigration discourse? How rational and balanced will be the assessment of the impact of immigration onto the overall Finnish society? There was also the strong anti-Islam aspect in Teuvo Hakkarainen‘s interview, that one perhaps should also take in consideration, as it represents a bookcase example of what academics call ‘cultural racism‘ – which posits the superiority of a certain race or ethnic group over another, not in obviously racist terms, but disguised under the pretense of cultural incompatibility in the sense of manifest cultural ‘backwardness’ or ‘barbarity’ of the allegedly inferior group – like the hard-working Europeans as opposed to the locals in the Latin American case, or the local Finns in Jämsä as opposed to the men of color from the capital from the interview above. In this context, if labeling people as ‘niggers’ and alleging that they did not really sought refuge to Finland because their life was in danger, but because they planed to enforce their ‘Islamic laws’ in Finland is not enough to be defined as racist, then perhaps the Helsingin Sanomat and the rest of the Finnish media will soon start another ‘open and honest‘ debate about what racism really means these days in Finland? If Teuvo Hakkarainen, who is the elected Finnish MP on behalf of the PS, has earlier excused his ‘racially insensitive remarks‘ by blaming them on his rural background, what sort of background then immigrants to Finland would need to have so that to be taken seriously when they discuss about the racism manifest in the Finnish society? Will gendered racism be taken seriously and will its impact on the public climate be addressed in a comprehensive manner? Will the structural disparities – in terms of unequal treatment, access to resources, and protection by the state – that the population that does not represent the Finnish majority be addressed?

When Racism Is No Longer What It Was Before

Somewhat surprisingly, just recently and concomitant with the debate around Teuvo Hakkarainen‘s interview, the PS has put forward in the Eduskunta/ Riksdag a declaration authored by Jussi Halla-Aho condemning racism, discrimination and the violence they give rise to, regardless if such acts are directed against a member of the minority or the majority (in Finnish, tässä). The PS appealed to the other parties to subscribe to it. However, the other parliamentary parties did not rush to sign the declaration and pointed out that in 2009 a similar declaration against racism, authored by Stefan Wallin from the Swedish People’s Party (SFP/ Svenska folkpartiet i Finland/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ RKP) , was rejected by the PS chairman Timo Soini under the pretext that it was a way to interfere in the selection process of candidates that the party was undergoing at that time. They also criticized the new declaration’s vagueness, and mentioned Teuvo Hakarrainen‘s interview as an excellent missed opportunity to put the aforesaid declaration to work (in Swedish, här). At a closer look, the declaration takes issue, among other things, with what it calls the unfair special treatment given to immigrant groups or to the Swedish-speaking Finns. The examples given by the PS are the study places allocated to Swedish-speaking Finns at the University of Helsinki/ Helsingin yliopisto/ Helsingfors universitet – which is one of the few still bilingual institutions of higher education in Finland – or the measures to stimulate the employment of people of an immigrant background (in Swedish, här; in English, here). This is a peculiar turn, to say the least, which labels the majority as a ‘possible’ victim of discrimination or racially motivated attacks, and leaves a lot of room for interpretation of what racism and discrimination are. It also raises a lot of questions with regard to what the definitions of racism and discrimination and fair treatment need to take into account. In the document authored by Jussi Halla-Aho, the possibility that the majority will make use of its position of dominance vanishes, and the Finnish-speaking Finns are depicted in a position of ‘defenselessness’ in the face of abuse of power similar to that of the non-natives or the Swedish-speaking Finns. Though, in such a context is rather difficult to rationally explain how a majority could possibly be subject to such a situation.

In this light, one can wonder if not a Finnish-speaking Finn will feel discriminated against, if not outright racially discriminated, when hearing by accident some Swedish-speaking Finns having a conversation in Swedish in a public means of transport? Perhaps such situation will justify, if not require, the violent reaction of the Finnish-speaking Finn against such an obvious act of exclusion? But even more illustrative, if for instance a native Finn experiences racial discrimination in a commuter train at the sight of a school girl of Somali descent that not only is not Finnish and ‘white’, but also wears a headscarf – read she is of color and of Islamic faith- is then acceptable for the native Finn to throw her off the train? In other words, is the Finnish masculinity representing a majority under siege? Does democracy need to be redefined to simply mean the dictatorship of the majority? Even more so, can a party like the PS that received 19.1% of the Finnish votes in the last elections claim to represent the whole population of Finland?

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Friday, May 27th, 2011 Research No 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

UPDATE: Workshop at the XLIII FPSA (20-21.01.2011, University of Jyväskylä/ Jyväskylän yliopisto Finland)

The Workshop “Moulding Identity, Trust and Commitment in the Nordic Countries: Balancing between Assimilation and Accommodation in the (Post)Multicultural World?” organized with the occasion of the XLIII Politiikan tutkimuksen päivät/ XLIII Annual Meeting of Finnish Political Science Association (FPSA, conference web-page in Finnish, tässä; English, here) will be taking place at the University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä Finland on 20.01.2011 between 14:30 and 18:00.  The workshop is allocated room AgB201. The room is in the second floor of the Agora building in Mattilanniemi (here).

The following papers are scheduled to be presented within the workshop (the language of the workshop panel will be English):

1. Borders of the Finnish Nation: ‘Gang Rapes’ in the Rhetoric of Anti-Immigration Activists and Politicians
Suvi Keskinen (Department of Social Research/Sociology, University of Turku) (details, in Finnish, tässä; in English, here)

In recent years a European trend, that has been called the ‘backlash against difference’ (Grillo 2007) or the ‘multiculturalism backlash’ (Vertovec & Wessendorf 2010), has gained foothold in Finland too. While multiculturalism was previously considered a positive goal and future vision, it has more recently been subjected to critique and claims of ‘having gone too far’. One sign of this ‘backlash’ is the rise of neo-nationalist and anti-immigration forces in municipal and national elections. In Finland neo-nationalist and anti-immigration rhetoric is used especially by politicians in the True Finns party and by activists on the internet. However, such rhetoric has spread itself through the political field and been adopted by representatives of several political parties.

Issues related to gender and sexuality prominently appear in neo-nationalist and anti-immigration rhetoric. References to forced marriages, honour-killings and sexual violence are frequently used to construct dichotomous divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’. In this presentation I will analyze how the events called the ‘gang rapes in Oulu’ in 2006-2007 were used by anti-immigration activists on the internet and by the politician Jussi Halla-aho to promote neo-nationalist and anti-immigration agendas. Although (or maybe because) the perpetrators of the rapes were never identified, the events were used to construct an overwhelming threat of the ‘other’ man towards both local communities (such as Oulu) and national safety. The boundaries of the Finnish nation were evoked through a threat from the outside, caused by growing numbers of asylum seekers and refugees from non-Western countries, as well as a threat from the inside, embodied by migrant people who were residents of the country but not regarded as belonging to the nation. The border-policing rhetoric was based on a racialization of criminality – a process in which criminal acts were stereotyped and turned into characteristics of certain ethnically or racially defined groups.

Furthermore, the presentation analyzes the blog text of the politician Jussi Halla-aho in which he comments on the ‘gang rapes’. It will be shown how, in his text, the discussion about the threat of the ‘other’ man turns into a discussion about the hindrances that white femininities create for the performance of patriotic masculinity. The gendered and classed figure of the ‘lady in a flowery hat’ (kukkahattutäti) is analyzed as the metaphor for the educated women in the Finnish society who speak for multiculturalism and work with integration or immigration affairs. The rhetoric will be analyzed in relation to how oppositions are constructed in present-day Finnish politics based on distinctions of gender, class and ‘race’/ethnicity.

Keywords: multiculturalism, neo-nationalism, racism, sexual violence, radical right populist parties, criminality

2. Regulation and encouragement of participation by ethnic minorities in Finland and Denmark
Marjukka Weide (Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki) (details in English, here)

Resident foreigners in Finland and Denmark enjoy relatively extensive political rights. The level of political participation by resident foreigners and naturalized immigrants, however, remains low. A question arises as to how the two states are addressing this situation. Societal participation and related areas, such as naturalization, are at least in part governed by different bodies than those responsible for general immigrant affairs. This is why the answer cannot be provided by examining only one branch of government, as many immigrant policy studies do.

My aim in this paper is to identify the various policy locations in the two countries, which contribute to regulating participation by people with migratory backgrounds. On the basis of an extensive institutional mapping, I locate four policies of relevance in the sphere of traditional “immigrant policy”: 1) naturalization policy, 2) state “integration policy”, including language/integration courses, 3) municipal “integration” and minority policy, including advisory boards/integration councils 4) state institutions for minority representation. Furthermore, I find three other policy areas to be in a significant position: 1) electoral policies, 2) state policy of civic participation, and 3) municipal participation policy.

Regulation of immigrant participation can be of restricting character, as in the case of access to nationality, or of “proactive” character, i.e. spurring certain types of activity, as in the case of support to associations or organising elections to integration councils. In Denmark, political citizenship of new ethnic minorities is mainly addressed under the heading of integration policies; in Finland the policy area of “democracy policy” is of increasing importance. While the state level is decisive in the forming of the overall policy framework in both countries, municipal solutions, for example, determine the position of integration councils or multicultural boards.

Keywords: Denmark, Finland, immigrant policy, integration policy, minority representation

3. The Nation (Re)Imagined
Peter Holley (Department of Social Research (Sociology) / CEREN, The Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism, University of Helsinki) (details in English, here)

In recent decades there has emerged a significant debate within Western societies as to the nature of ‘the nation-state’ and the place of the migrant ‘other’ within its borders (cf. Benhabib 2002; Fortier 2008; Goldberg 1994; Modood 2005; Parekh 2006). In fact, in the Finnish context, a comparatively recent opening up of national borders followed by a modest flow of immigration (particularly to towns and cities in the capitol region) implies that a sharp change from a once perceived homogenous culture to a new understanding of a Finnish heterogeneity is now taking place. Such transforms therefore result in a new Finnish multiculturalism in which the migrant ‘other’ seeks to negotiate her belongings and identifications. How then, we might ask, do such migrants make sense of their position(s) within their ‘host’ society? And how do they articulate a space in which they too might be included within the ‘national family’? Moreover, to what extent is a fundamental change in Finland’s national identity currently taking place due to the impact of migration?

Keywords: Finnish identity, (political) belonging, transnational migration, multiculturalism and citizenship.

4. ‘Chauvinism’, ‘Xenophobia’ and ‘Flowered Hats’
Niko Pyrhönen (CEREN, The Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism, University of Helsinki) (details in English, here)

The municipal elections of 2008 marked the inception of the steep rise in the support for the True Finns party and their political agenda – in polls and in public debates the sentiments towards immigration and multiculturalism have become more hostile. However, significant challenges remain in attempts to explain the growth of anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalist (AIAM) voices in the public debate. In the recent scientific work their proliferation has commonly been attributed to relatively abstract developments, such as “work-related precariousness”, “the challenging of traditional ideas on national unity” or “ethnocentric in-group bias”. While these meta-narratives remain coherent, they also leave a crucial aspect of the phenomenon unexplored if they are not linked to actual articulations of AIAM sentiments that narratives seek to explain.

My work in progress seeks to help in filling this empirical gap by looking at the articulations of AIAM sentiments within the most commented news threads on the discussion boards of Helsingin sanomat during the years 2008–2010. My initial findings suggest that AIAM sentiments are not most commonly articulated with reference to concepts of identity and belonging such as “the national unity” or “the Finnish way of life.” Rather, these articulations appear to be outnumbered by references to redistributive issues whose implications go to the core of welfare ideology and its institutional manifestation in welfare state politics. This would suggest that the existing narratives behind the growth of AIAM sentiments need to be complemented with reference to the proliferation of an instrumental discourse whose AIAM underpinnings are regarded as rising from the redistributive demands of the welfare system.

Keywords: immigration, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, welfare policy, public debate.

5. Nationalisms and Europeanness in media discourses on Islam
Karin Creutz-Kämppi (CEREN, The Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism, University of Helsinki) (details in English, here)

The global aspects of media stories bring with them changes in spatial consciousness. This
means not only a greater involvement in events in other parts of the world, but also a
reassessment of one’s own position in the enlarged society. When the individual’s subjective world of knowledge is widened from the immediate surroundings to a global perspective, the self-categorization needs to be redefined to obtain relevance in the new context. In this paper, I examine the concepts that within the discursive othering of Islam
represent the notion of a We-collective. Through discursive polarization the boundaries for collectivity are clarified; these boundaries consist of typifications and routinized perceptions. As collectivity on a global level is distant to the everyday-life of the individual, without attachment to daily practices, it is from a sociological viewpoint interesting to look at how these conceptions of belonging are rhetorically constructed and legitimized as positions for identification. This assessment simultaneously shows articulations of the discursive power of specific institutionalized knowledge forms.

Nationalism is a central ideological aspect of boundary making – the nation, however, has a less important role as factor for identification in connection to global discourses on Islam. Instead the notions of Europe and the West function as the entities where the “own” and “right” values and traditions prevail. By excluding specific values, norms and cultural attributes from these concepts, denominators for collective identifications are constructed. Media rhetoric is a central element in the societal knowledge production; an inquiry in how the notions of collective identification are rhetorically mediated provides insight in the premises and knowledge structures of these positions. The analyzed data in this case study consists of all opinion articles debating the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad from seven Swedish-language dailies in Finland from a six months period in 2006.

Keywords: Othering, Islam representations, nationalisms, Europeanization, sociology of knowledge, media rhetoric

6. The Rhetorical (Re)Constructions of the Swedish Folkhem: A Feminist Reading of Conceptual Metaphors
Ov Cristian Norocel (Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki/ Department of Political Science, Stockholm University) (details in English, here)

Acknowledging that the construction of radical right populism around the metaphorical depiction of the national family at the beginning of twenty-first century is a little researched area, this article explores the discursive redefinitions of Swedishness enabled by the folkhem conceptual metaphor so that to accommodate centrally located heterosexist masculinities at the intersection of gender, class, and “race”, as it is heralded by the main Swedish radical right populist party, the Sweden Democrats (SD) and its leader Jimmie Åkesson.

In order to do so, the main tenets of the conceptual metaphor theory are discussed and criticisms to the present methodologies are presented leading to the suggestion of a new, genealogical approach. The research material is then analyzed with the help of the proposed method, evidencing Åkesson’s use of the national family metaphor over time. The concluding part provides with an overview of the findings and indicates possible extrapolations for studying masculinities in radical right populist discourses with the aid of the suggested methodological apparatus developing conceptual metaphor theory.

Keywords: conceptual metaphor theory, feminism, genealogy, heteronormativity, Jimmie Åkesson, Sweden Democrats

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Friday, December 10th, 2010 Research No Comments

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 (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

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).

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Sunday, February 7th, 2010 Miscellaneous No Comments