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
2011 Finnish Parliamentary Elections. Constructing Enemies in the Name of Pure Finnish Heteropatriarchy – Examples from the KD, the PS and Other Conservatives
The campaigning for coming Parliamentary elections in Finland to take place on April 17 2011 appears to have started in earnest. Some people may regard as the starting signal for the election campaign PM Mari Kiviniemi‘s comment with regard to questioning the status of Swedish as the second official language in Finland in early September (in Swedish, här). This came as a result of what some thought to be a rather personal defeat for Mari Kiviniemi on the prolonged twists on the issue of Kokkola/ Karleby and its administrative orientation northwards – favored by Kiviniemi and the Center Party (Kesk/ Keskusta/ Centerpartiet) – and the southern alternative – which was eventually preferred; what appeared to have tipped the balance were not the economic, or even the historical reasons, but the discussion on the accessibility of services in Swedish, with Vaasa/ Vasa as the readily available option as a thriving bilingual center for the whole Ostrobothnian region. More recently, Kiviniemi would argue that she is even open to explore the possibility of replacing the teaching of Swedish language in the schools in Eastern Finland with that of Russian in the coming governing mandate (in Swedish, här). The official discourse is one of stimulating the local economies, and increasing the attractiveness of these communes to potential Russian investors, in other words a rather dangerous disregarding of constitutional rights for some probable economic gains. However, this is not a new issue, as the Green League (Vihr/ Vihreä liitto/ Gröna förbundet) has risen up this issue for quite some time.
What is perhaps more worrying, was the unfolding of a very controversial debate concerning the rights of the LGBT community members. More clearly, the Finnish National Broadcaster, YLE aired on October 12 the Homoilta (in English, Gay evening; the recording of the show in Finnish, tässä), that was meant to be a forum for discussing homosexuality in Finland and the possible effects of passing of a gender-neutral marriage act by the Finnish Parliament, especially since this is met with strong opposition from within the Finnish Lutheran Church (Suomen evankelis-luterilainen kirkko/ Evangelisk-lutherska kyrkan i Finland) which enjoys the status of state church. On the side of those who opposed such a move were gathered a conservative priest and Päivi Räsänen, spokes-person of the Finnish Christian-Democrats (KD/Kristillisdemokraatit/Kristdemokraterna) in the company of Pentti Oinonen, a member of the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) in the Finnish Parliament. The discussion focused a lot on how – and surprisingly, even if – the LGBT community should enjoy the same rights as the rest of the Finnish population. Most media attention received Päivi Räsänen‘s (KD) uncompromising remarks on the matter, but she was closely seconded by Pentti Oinonen (PS) with regard to Finland’s defense understood as safeguarding the traditional values of family and religion in the Finnish society. Päivi Räsänen argued that there is no need to change the heterosexual family institution that, according to her, has worked so well for thousands of years. Intriguingly, there was no discussion whatsoever about the continuous struggle for gender equality and for modernizing the aforesaid institution that oftentimes proved to be just another word for women’s subjection to the arbitrary will of men and containment to the ‘safe’ surroundings of the home. More worryingly is that Päivi Räisänen seems to be willing to turn back time, advocating straightforwardly for a total ban on abortions, unless pregnancy is a direct threat to the mother’s life (in English, here). Heteropatriarchy unveiled in its bare and oppressive entirety, some may argue. With regard to rights of the LGBT members to marry and possibly have/ adopt children the opposition was stiff. Such remarks that it is a universal children’s right to have a mother and a father, but it is not a universal right to have children, that the family as a heteropatriarchal institution has been thriving the past thousands of years so there is no need to change it, that the Christian teachings refer to homosexuality as a sin, were often heard during the show.
The effects of YLE’s show became shortly apparent, with an estimated of more than 34,000 people to have signed off from the registry of the Finnish Lutheran Church (as of October 24 2010) (follow the updated numbers here). The Finnish language online service eroakirkosta.fi (in Finnish) through which people can resign their church membership has registered a sharp increase in numbers soon after the airing of the TV debate. This will certainly have some serious financial effects which will soon be noticeable, with a church official arguing that the church might lose as much as EUR 2 million annually (in English, here).
However, while much of the public debate has focused on Päivi Räsänen‘s remarks, very little attention was given to the company in which these comments were made. It should not be surprising that the (arch)conservatives gathered the most traditionalist elements of the Finnish Lutheran Church, and the KD and the PS. In other words, the two parties appear to consolidate the tactical alliance they built up with the occasion of the 2009 European Parliamentary elections, which witnessed the alliance winning two mandates (out of a total of 13 that are allocated to Finland). And in the light of the last opinion survey by Taloustutkimus, the PS is riding on high horses, collecting 14.3% of the people’s votes, while KD increases only slightly to 4.6% (from 4.4% last month) (the whole results, in Swedish, här).
While the debate on gender-neutral marriage act was unfolding, Timo Soini, the PS leader, announced he would not prevent party members from drafting an anti-immigration election manifesto for the PS. He maintained that since he is not more than a member of the party’s leading organ, he will not stop the internal party dynamics (in Swedish, här). Arguably, this preserves Soini‘s image of a middle of the road politician that rarely crosses the borders of gentlemanly civility. At the same time it reveals his rare political ability, since he does not make any efforts to moderate the more radical members of his party. The anti-immigration election manifesto, titled Nuiva Vaalimanifesti was drafted by some 13 PS parliamentary candidates, who distinguished themselves through their extremely critical if not outright xenophobic comments during their political activity. Unsurprisingly, the neologism ‘nuiva’ denotes an anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalist attitude, as the manifesto proclaims to be against the “new state religion of worshiping foreigners”. In so doing, Soini allows the party to fish for votes among both the conservative voters at the center that react positively to his embodiment of a straightforward, patriarchal way of doing politics, and the xenophobic, nationalistic and radical voters at the margins.
The relationship between these two parties is worth monitoring closely, as it is the KD who claims to belong to the political mainstream, while the PS plays the role of the underdog; but if the surveys are correct it would be increasingly difficult to keep the PS out while allowing the KD to continue its homophobic rants from within. At a first sight, it seems that the competition for conservative votes is open and it becomes very vivid, and the scapegoats are readily available: Swedish-speakers and the status of Swedish, immigrants and their alleged unwillingness to integrate, or more blatantly refusing full citizenship rights to the LGBT community.
At the end of the day, it is a bit strange that the whole discussion about the status of Swedish as one of the two official languages has become a sort of departure point in discussing economic matters. With regard to the developments in Eastern Finland, what was eluded, however, was that the teaching of Swedish does not prevent from the teaching of Russian (or the other way around). Who has to gain by to presenting these teaching options as antithetically exclusive? If the need is so stringent, why not Swedish and Russian, or for those who prefer – Russian and Swedish – besides Finnish (and English) of course?
And when it comes to the issue of religion and the state, perhaps it looks a bit odd that the Finnish Lutheran Church is still a state church? In Sweden, the separation between the state and the church was officially proclaimed in 2000; in Norway this issue is more and more discussed. Which way will the Lutheran Church of Finland go in the light of the continuous drop out of its members, especially since instead of representing the whole nation will soon become a stronghold for the most conservative segments of the entire Finnish population?
And to conclude with a return to politics, how productive was for KD to antagonize at least some 30,000 potential voters, when a mere few hundreds have joined the party after the much debated TV show? How easily does KD accept to have an electoral companion like PS in their quest for the votes from staunchly conservative supporters? Is the indiscriminate glorification of Finnish heteropatriarchy worth preserving at any cost, even for those who do not identify themselves with an anti-immigration, xenophobic party like PS?
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).
2009 ended tragically in Finland: six people were killed in the Sello shopping mall shooting in Espoo/Esbo: one woman and three men were shot to death in the mall, another woman was discovered gruesomely killed in her home; the last victim was the gunman himself. At the time when the police was still searching for the suspect, and the media hardly had managed to publish information about him, comments flooded pointing out at his not being a Finn and being a convicted criminal as the main explanation of the shooting. By the time he was found dead in his apartment in Espoo/Esbo, it was public knowledge that his name was Ibrahim Shkupolli, a 43-year-old Kosovo Albanian that came to Finland at the beginning of the 1990s.
In the aftermath of the shootings it was heatedly argued that Shkupolli should have been deported to Kosovo, and that Finland has too loose a law on deportation of foreign convicts. In a later series of articles ran by Helsingin Sanomat (HS), it was revealed that annually there are deported approximately 70 from among the almost 140,000 people of foreign origin living presently in Finland; moreover, Shkupolli had his Finnish citizenship application rejected, as a result of his “numerous” offenses (in English, here). His criminal offenses, according to the same HS (in English, here) were a conviction of assault (2001), and two firearms offenses (in 2004 and 2007). His former partner, one of the women victims, had a restraining order against him because of his violent behavior and continuous harassing.
In a self-secure tone, Timo Soini leader of the RRP True Finns (PS/Perussuomalaiset), commented that both Finnish PM, Matti Vanhanen from the Center Party (Kesk/Keskusta/Centerpartiet), and the Minister of the Interior, Anne Holmlund from the National Coalition Party (Kok/Kansallinen Kokoomus/Samlingspartiet) are moving ever closer to PS’ line on the question of granting residence permits to foreigners with a criminal background, in the sense of making the legislation even more restrictive (in Swedish, här).
Acting as a leading opinion maker in Finland, HS addressed the heated debate about Shkupolli not being Finnish but also went further and asked what can be defined as “racist” and inquired openly if his background had an impact in the unfolding of the tragic event (in English, here). One of the main arguments put forward was that the Kosovo Albanians have suffered a severe collective trauma, as evidenced by research of psychiatrists from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm (Sweden). One of the main findings was that the Kosovo Albanians forced to seek refuge across Europe have an increased sense of marginalization and alienation than other migrant groups. This unfortunately silenced the issue of integration in the Finnish society, since Shkupolli lived almost 20 years in Finland before the tragic event. Despite being convicted for the aforementioned crimes, he lived and worked in Finland, and it is rather difficult to portray him as a blood-thirsty foreigner living at the fringes of Finnish society. Even the Finnish Immigration Services had to admit that his criminal record was not enough to support a potential deportation, and that his later actions could not have been foreseen just from that.
However, another HS article acknowledged the strong resemblance between the domestic violence degenerated into the killings of whole families perpetrated by native Finns, and Shkupolli’s actions. The case of former sportsman Matti Nykänen, who allegedly injured his wife on Christmas Day 2009 with a knife and attempted to strangle her (in Finnish, tässä; in English, here), made headlines not only in Finland but also abroad and was a sad reminder of domestic violence in Finland.
Interviewed by Hufvudstadsbladet (Hbl), the Minister of Migration and European Affairs, Astrid Thors from the Swedish People’s Party (SFP/Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/Svenska folkpartiet) was one of the few dissenting voices who reacted strongly on the matter and warned that the debate around the Sello killings should not focus on the ethnic background of the perpetrator, but consider the combined impact of high incidence of gun ownership, and domestic violence in Finland (in Swedish, här).
Addressing the issue of family violence, which in Finnish media usually receives a gender-neutral connotation, Pia Puu Oksanen argued in an interview in the same Hbl for the strengthening of policies on the matter, despite the present economic hardships (in Swedish, här). She underlined that in almost 20% of homicides in Finland a man kills his wife, girlfriend or co-inhabiting partner; the most critical moment is when women attempt to put an end to their relationships. Unfortunately, the ideals of Finnish masculinity appear to be constructed around the conviction of ownership of women. In other words, a woman breaking away from a toxic relationship with an abusive man, looses somehow her most basic human rights (the right to live being of utmost importance), and she is to be punished by the man who has a right of life and death over her.
Indeed, it is estimated that approximately 20-30 women die each year in Finland as a consequence of domestic violence. At European level, Finland is only surpassed by such countries as the Russian Federation, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Albania and Romania in terms of a higher rate of women killed in a relationship. In this context the question that comes forward concerns the Finnish obsession with keeping the country for Finns, when the very Finnish women are refused their most humane rights: who gains from hurrying into making rankings of violence, labeling violence perpetrated by foreigners as “bad”, while not addressing the very issue of violence and its poisonous symbiosis with the ideals of Finnish masculinity? Is not violence, at the end of the day, intrinsically bad, why is there a need to add shades to it, and attempt to find futile justifications for the violence in the Finnish homes? Can the tragic event in Sello mark a more serious questioning of the overall heteropatriarchal relationship between guns, violence against women, and ideas of masculinity?
It appears that the first decade of the third millennium, now nearing its end, was not under the most positive auspices for Finland. Especially with regard to public violence perpetrated by men in Finland, be them Finnish natives or “new” Finns, on other innocent citizens. To mention just those events that received a lot of media attention:
- Myyrmanni bombing in October 2002 in a shopping center located in Vantaa/Vanda, neighboring commune to the capital Helsinki/Helsingfors. The bomb killed 7 people and injured a total of 166.
- The school shootings in Jokela in November 2007, 9 were killed and 12 were injured. Less than a year later another school shooting shook Finland. In Kauhajoki in September 2008, 11 people were shot to death and 3 more were severely injured*.
- Today, 31 December 2009, just a few hours before the end of the year, a man shot and killed 5 innocent people. The gruesome event occurred in in Sello, one of the largest shopping malls in Finland, located in Espoo/Esbo, a commune neighboring the Finnish capital to the west. 4 people were executed at Prisma shop in Sello, while the other victim was shot in her home. From early police reports released by Finnish Public Broadcaster YLE (tässä/här/here), it seems that the gunman is of Kosovo Albanian origin and have resided in Finland for a long time.
A first thought that comes to mind is that the Finnish ideal of masculinity is undergoing a very unsettling stage. The constant pressure to comply with and fulfill the ideals of a heroic heteropatriachal masculinity, coupled by a tradition of gun ownership- not seriously kept in check by a rather lax gun law- intrinsically connect violence and Finnish masculinity in a deadly symbiosis.
A second comment pertains to the symbolical nature of these events that resemble strongly public executions. Innocent people, oftentimes mainly women, are targeted in cold blood, in what can be regarded as a public reassertion of the perpetrator’s masculinity. In other words, this very extreme manifestation of Finnish masculinity requires to be enacted, performed in front of terrified others and demands the irrational sacrifice of innocent bystanders. In this vein, the perpetrators’ last act is their own suicide, performed less publicly and more hurriedly, and thus ensuring they do have the last word.
A third, and necessary reflection comes up somewhat later. It was recently revealed that the author of the shooting in Sello is of a foreign background, namely of Kosovo Albanian origin (identified as Ibrahim Shkupolli). Will this be turned into a renewed interrogation of “irrational” Balcanic masculinity, and avoid the pressing need for reassessing the hegemonic Finnish masculinity? In the case of Myyrmanni, the perpetrator was an “unbalanced man”, in the case of Jokela, and especially Kauhajoki, the gunmen were labeled unstable mentally and “misfits” of the masculine norm. It seems that time and again, series of explanations and othered scapegoats are found and the main question is yet to be posed: What is the dominating ideal of Finnish masculinity and why is it umbilically connected to violence?
To conclude in a more interrogative tone, perhaps the decade to be inaugurated soon should be one to critically assess how traditional ideals of Finnish masculinity can enter a new phase, in which manly ideals are not underpinned by implicit reference to violence. Is Finland still haunted by its horrific experience of the WWII, or is this just an expedient explanation for much deeper and more serious traumas that are manifest in the Finnish culture in general?
* The issue of school shootings in Finland has received increased scholar attention. Among others, I have presented a paper titled “Violent masculinities and school shootings in Finland” (written together with Prof. Johanna Kantola and Ph.D. Student Jemima Repo) – presented at Foranderlige Mænd og Maskuliniteter i Ligestillede Samfund/ Changing Men and Masculinities in Gender Equal Societies conference, within Theme H: Uddannelse og opdragelse af drenge og piger: normalisering og formning af genus/ The education and upbringing of boys and the formation of masculinities (28.01-30.01.2009), Roskilde University, Denmark.
Call for Papers: Can Others Become Part of Us? Questions of National (Im)Purity. Workshop 19 at XLII Annual FPSA (11-12.03.2010 University of Helsinki & Tallinn University)
In an ever more integrated and diverse Europe, marked by a plethora of interactions between traditions, languages, and ethnic identities, the traditional understandings of nation-states and their role in societal structuring face new challenges. In a world where individuality and flexibility are norm, we witness the twin processes of widening up the traditional definitions of nation, with direct implications on that of citizenship, countered by the inward-looking, conservative attempt to contain and restrict the allowed definitions of the concept. What emerges is a continuous and fluid differentiation of “Us” from the “Other,” emphasized by the dual process of containing the generic “Us” to a coherent, indivisible and monolithic category; at the same time, the “Other” is crystallized to embody its symbolic and ever allusive counterpart.
Distinctions and borders are construed across various dimensions, and “purity” is a poignant concept for the definition of national, in-group belonging. Hierarchies of gender are elaborated to enforce heteropatriarchies as sole domains of national intelligibility. In this context, fears of masculine feebleness or sexual deviancy, thus failure to accomplish the task of national reproduction, are seconded by that of national “pollution,” of allowing the infestation of national body through the inclusion of male immigrant “Others.” Another dimension is that of a vaguely defined common European identity, which comes forth to strengthen European national specificities. These are projected as “European” and thus belonging to a transnational common “Us,” and embody a set of stable “traditions” and a “pure” culture that needs to be preserved against menacing, yet ubiquitous religiously different and racialized “Others.”
Paramount to all these dimensions is a preoccupation with maintaining an illusory “purity,” of a constant fear of “pollution” that is used to justify an ever closer policing of hierarchies, borders and bodies. These fleshes out problems raised by a type of “second class of citizenship” allotted to immediate “Others,” based on differences of language, religion, ethnicity and race, and last but not least differences of gender and sexual orientation. With this in mind, authors are encouraged to submit papers inquiring into the apparently dichotomous distinction that separates the categories of “Us” as opposed to “Others,” as constitutive lubricant narratives of political discourse. Analyses of how gender and sexuality, ethnicity, religion, race, and obsessions of national preservation and reproduction are intersecting to create (new) mythologies of purity and pollution are particularly welcomed.
Kewords: (im)purity, nation, Other, Us.
The workshop will be part of XLII Politiikan tutkimuksen päivät/ XLII Annual Meeting of Finnish Political Science Association to be hosted by the University of Helsinki (Finland) and Tallinn University (Estonia) (11-12 March 2010). For information on the FPSA conference (updated constantly). The workshop is planed to take place in Helsinki, Finland. The language of the workshop panel will be English. Interested authors should submit their abstract (max. 300 words) accompanied by 5 keywords to the panel organizer by 29.01.2010:
Ov Cristian Norocel: cristian.norocel(@)helsinki.fi
Probably Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet Tour in Europe was awaited with great expectation and excitement. One by one, European cities have greeted her and her music. Most notably, with the occasion of her concert in Bucharest (Romania), she chose to address a message of tolerance towards one of the most discriminated against minorities in Europe: the Romani, commonly known as Gypsies:
“It has been brought to my attention … that there is a lot of discrimination against Romanies and Gypsies in general in Eastern Europe. [...] It made me feel very sad. [...] We don’t believe in discrimination … we believe in freedom and equal rights for everyone.” (Associated Press)
How was her message met? By boos and jeers from some of the 60,000 people gathered for her concert. And that was just the beginning, since Romanian press took up the subject and transformed it into a matter of hurt national pride. Not few were the editorials that questioned her motivations, her position, and her right to make such a statement in Bucharest. Inflammatory pieces accused Madonna of equaling Romanians with Gypsies, and of purposefully exploiting this subject, a painful one for Romanians, for her own marketing purposes. A Romanian TV channel (link in Romanian) collected the opinions of average Romanians on the topic. Tellingly, they read: “the fact that a whole nation did not succeed to educate and civilize this ethnic group, but on the contrary [...] is no reason for national pride,” reads one comment; “I see no difference between our discrimination against Gypsies and their discrimination against the Blacks,” is another reaction; “Why don’t you [Madonna] go one night in Ferentari [a neighborhood in Bucharest with the reputation of the most violent and poorest borough in the city; inhabited by a large Romani population] to enrich a little your knowledge about them. To be robbed, beaten up, and possibly… to be still alive afterward,” recommends another.
They all revealed the uneasiness of a large majority in Romania with the subject. The “Gypsy question” so to speak, brings forward the shameful episode occurred a couple of years ago in Rome (Italy), when a Romanian Gypsy allegedly robbed and raped an Italian woman. At that time, the Italian press was quick to make the analogy between Romani and Romanians, to the deep dislike of latter group. Unfortunately, the tragic episode in Rome is one of a multitude of such stories. Even in Romania, Gypsies (as they are commonly called) are accused of raping, stealing, and pillaging “common” Romanians. Little was done to improve their status of pariahs and marginalized group. Behind the well intended initiatives, there is a deep seated distrust that very easily degenerates into violence against them.
It seems that a Romanian essentialist nationalist cliche has taken hold of the debate in which the Gypsy are stereotyped as uncivilized, robbers, beggars, and rapists, unworthy of any help, and the source of all possible evils and national shames. Gypsies as a whole group are accused of actively resisting “civilization”, “integration”, assimilation in the name of “Europeanization”, strikingly reminding of racist reasoning and civilizational superiority. The Romanians may be considered Easterners elsewhere in Europe, but they have identified an immediate Other at home that can be regarded with contempt. In other words, discrimination and hierarchical structuring of Whiteness goes in concentric geographical circles, from the very White and very Western center, to the intermediate Eastern Europeans, and it meets its Easternmost periphery in the person of Romani people.
Even more unsettling is that not all Romanians are some innocent, saintly creatures either (not that it would come at a huge surprise to anyone). More often than not one reads (if there is any such interest) about horrendous acts of violence of Romanians against Romanians. Newspapers are bursting nowadays with news about fathers that rape their children, women that sell their newborns, women that are being trafficked. The less fortunate aspect is that even these are oftentimes dismissed with a quick brush “The perpetrator must have been a Gypsy! No Romanian would ever do that.”
But then a whole range of questions arise: Really, is it really only the Gypsy/ Romani/ or whatever one may wish to name them, the ones who must take the blame? Why is not there any thorough interrogation about the so-called deep Romanian values, and the much heralded “true” ways of being a Romanian, and to compare them with what actually happens in the country, or wherever else in Europe Romanians may happen to be? Why is it so difficult to assume responsibility for one’s own deeds? Is hating the less privileged such an easy and convenient way out, postponing emancipation from old stereotypes and toxic judgments? Perhaps it is about the time the whole Eastern Europe (keeping in mind the horrendous anti-Romani acts in Hungary, and the strong discrimination they face elsewhere in the region) needs to accept its responsibility and seriously engage in a wider discussion about the Romani/Gypsy with the very Romani/Gypsy that are so easily accused and discriminated.
And this is, unfortunately, just one side of the issues some Romanians have when it comes to relating themselves to Romani people. In a similar vein, Madonna’s appeal for fighting discrimination against the LGBT community, at the same concert, was met with even stronger boos and jeers. In this light, it seems that Romanian essentialist nationalism is one deeply anchored in racism and patriarchal heterosexism, highly intolerant with anything not conforming to the norm, but at the same time extremely uncertain about its own identity and aspiring to a “rightful” place in the “Great family of European nations”.
Lately, I have been working on a paper titled ‘Conceptual Metaphors at Work in Radical Right Populist Discourses: Romania Is a Family and It Needs a Strict Father.’ My intent was to flesh out how certain metaphors were consistently employed by the two presidential hopefuls from the Romanian radical right populist parties in their 2004 televised final confrontation. The two were Vadim Tudor of the Greater Romania Party (PRM/Partidul Romania Mare) and George Becali of the New Generation Party (PNG-CD/Partidul Noua Generatie). The conceptual metaphor of the STRICT FATHER (i.e. the power to take care of the family members in need; the Messianic ability to read and interpret holly texts; the capacity of deciding who belongs to the family and who is excluded; the commitment to enforcing the set rules; and the ability to punish wrong doers, and bring justice to the defenseless) made direct reference to that of the NATION IS A FAMILY conceptual metaphor. The way these metaphors were used underlined a deeply heteropatriarchal structuring at work in the radical right populism in Romania. The discourses were obsessively structured around male figures, and their possible male contenders; women were almost invisible, and when their existence was acknowledged, they were presented merely as some subordinated beings. From this point of view, I think that a closer look from a feminist perspective at how such metaphors structure the reality these parties put forward and want to make people take as given is a worth doing enterprise.
I will present it within the workshop titled ‘From postcommunism and transitology to non-teleological change. Present and future research on Eastern and Central Europe.’ organized by Associate Professor Ann-Cathrine Jungar, research leader at CBEES, Södertörn University College, Stockholm.
The workshop is arranged by the CBEES (Center for Baltic and East European Studies) theme ‘Society and the Political’, and it aims at ‘at bringing together junior and senior scholars in the social sciences and humanities (political science, sociology, economics, ethnology and history) doing research on the political, economic and social developments in Eastern and Central Europe. The workshop is divided into thematic slots, which are introduced by senior scholars with experience in the specific research area and in which the participants are invited to present their ongoing research. A special session is devoted to issues of fieldwork in the area.’ (quoted from a more extensive workshop description; for more details, please read here).
I am very curious about the feedback I will get from the other researchers on Eastern Europe, especially since mine is very specific a reserch topic and it is undertaken from a consciously chosen gender sensitive perspective. In general populists managed to present masculinity as the norm, and I wonder if this would be accepted as such or discussed critically. I think it will be a very interesting workshop.
Call for Conference Panelists: ESHHC 2010 Panel
My colleague from Stockholm University, Helena Tinnerholm Ljungberg, and I are setting up a panel within The Sexuality Network of the European Social Science History titled (Re)-Producing the Nation, Histories of (Re)-Defining the Family? (Re)-Conceptualizations of Society’s Nuclear Structuring in a Global Age (a short description of the panel bellow). The panel will be part of the bigger European Social Science History Conference 2010 to take place in Ghent (13-16 April 2010).
Interested authors should submit their abstract (max. 300 words) accompanied by 5 keywords to both panel organizers. We have extended the call until the 22 April 2009:
O Cristian Norocel
Helena Tinnerholm Ljungberg
helena.tinnerholm-ljungberg(@)statsvet.su.se (remove parantheses).
(Re)-Producing the Nation, Histories of (Re)-Defining the Family? (Re)-Conceptualizations of Society’s Nuclear Structuring in a Global Age.
In an evermore interconnected world, marked by a full spectrum of interactions between traditions, languages, and ethnic identities, the family understood as the heteropatriarchal unit for societal structuring faces new challenges. In a world where individuality and flexibility are the norm, we witness the twin processes of widening up the traditional definition of the family, concomitantly with the inward-looking, conservative attempt to contain and restrict the allowed definitions of the concept.
Thus, queer and feminist activism and scholarship offer new perspectives and interpretations of the family concept, and call for inclusion of new family constellations in the mainstream debate. In the recent history, the right for same sex marriages, the right for assisted insemination for same sex couples, and the right for adoption by same sex families are just a few examples of painstakingly won rights in countries in the Western hemisphere.
These coexist, however, with appeals for moral reform and an increasing legal regulation of sexualities across the globe. Recently enforced constitutional amendments in various countries stipulate the family as exclusively heterosexual, and political actors across the political spectre (re)-invent traditionalist interpretations of the family concept. Conservative entities call for a defence of the traditional family and claim virtuous histories, refuting any non-heteronormative definitions of the family. Concomitantly, even more permissive legal regulation of sexualities restricts the (re)definitions of family to a monogamous relationship between two parts. From a historical perspective, the task of (re)producing the nation has relied strongly on a certain view on the family, but its actual (re)definition requires a (re)conceptualization of the two.
With this in mind, we welcome papers inquiring into the apparently monolithic definition of the family as the constitutive unit of society throughout history. We are particularly interested in exploring historically the (re)definitions of the family concept, in the questioning of the regulatory sexualities (be them hetero- or homosexual) and their impact on how society is perceived to be structured around the model of nuclear family. We encourage historically aware analyses of how gender, ethnicity, and obsessions of national preservation and reproduction are intersecting to create (new) mythologies of the family.
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