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?
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