politics in Finland

(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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, April 28th, 2011 Research 2 Comments