Brace Yourselves for the Storm: the 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Romania under the Sign of Radical Right Populism

There is little doubt that the mainstream political scene in Romania is presently undergoing some dramatic convulsions. The current affairs have come to be compared by foreign and native political analysts alike, matter-of-factly, with the equally tumultuous period that Romanian witnessed during the early 1990s. Indeed, besides the ideological polarization specific to the eve of such important political confrontation as the Parliamentary elections (scheduled for December 9th 2012), the tone and manner of political discourse in Romania has witnessed a return to a level that many have hoped it was a thing of the past. In this context, these elections appear to be taking place under the sign of radical right populist discourse, which seems to come also from established political entities with a different ideological profile, not only the now consecrated radical right populist parties – and in here I refer to the Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul România Mare) – and some newcomers – the previously discussed Popular Party–Dan Diaconescu (PP–DD/ Partidul Popular–Dan Diaconescu).

In this context, several political events are illustrative of the said political climate. These are, in approximately chronological order: first, Dan Diaconescu’s surprising participation in the (by now failed) privatization process that the largest petrochemical companies in Romania (namely Oltchim) and in Central and Eastern Europe had undergone this September. No matter how perplexing this might sound, but Dan Diaconescu (PP–DD) has participated in the Oltchim privatization as a private person and declared he is motivated by his desire to return such a national asset back to its rightful owners: ‘the Romanian people‘. Even more perplexing, Diaconescu has later been declared the winner of the privatization bid and were to assume control over the Oltchim shortly thereof. Diaconescu played his role of being the ‘Saviour on a white horse’ (as labelled in newspapers; in Romanian, aici) very well. Despite accusations that he did not have the financial resources to perfect the privatization (accusations that are yet to be proven in court), he eventually presented no less than 1,8 million EUR in cash (several sacks allegedly filled with money had been transported in front of the Ministry of Economy in Bucharest, which was widely discussed in media; in Romanian, aici) to pay for the privatization. In this context, in decidedly populist manner, Diaconescu claimed that the sacks of money he brought to the Ministry of Economy were in fact destined ‘to pay the salaries of Oltchim workers’ (which have not received their salaried rights for several months). The governing coalition landed in a very ungrateful situation: mismanaging a significant privatization process, and coming out humiliated in such a populist manner by Diaconescu. The event signalled that the Romanian Social Democrats (PSD/ Partidul Social Democrat) are going to encounter a serious competitor in the PP–DD in their appeal for the support of Romanian working class. The few traditionally social-democratic policies implemented since the cabinet Ponta assumed office earlier this year are apparently going to be counteracted by a reputable adversary, which is versed in using the populist rhetoric.

Second, the more recent announcement that George (Gigi) Becali – former leader of a minuscule radical right populist party, the New Generation Party–Christian Democrat (PNGCD/ Partidul Noua Generaţie–Creştin Democrat), and elected EMP on the PRM list – will be joining the ranks of the National Liberal Party (PNL/ Partidul Naţional Liberal). Becali was later confirmed as the PNL candidate for a deputy seat on the common list of the Social Liberal Union (USL/ Uniunea Social Liberală). The USL consisting of, as previously mentioned, the PM Victor Ponta’s  and their allies the Center Right Alliance, which reunites the  PNL and the Conservative Party (PC/ Partidul Conservator). The fact that Becali has joined the PNL and has immediately received an eligible place on behalf of the party on the USL list for the Lower Chamber (Camera Deputaților) has determined several commentators to wonder if this was the wisest political move the PNL could have done at present, just weeks from the Oltchim privatization in which it was heavily involved. Even more so, there are serious question marks on how compatible is the PNL’s self–declared subscription to liberalism with Becali’s blatantly xenophobic, homophobic and sexist misogynistic remarks (in Romanian, aici). Some others have seen in this just another case of a nouveau riche purchasing himself an eligible parliamentary seat on the lists of a respectable party, and wondered if the PNL would actually survive past this electoral cycle (in Romanian, aici).

Right of centre on the political spectrum, the conservative Democratic Liberal Party (PDL/ Partidul Democrat-Liberal) announced to have crafted a political alliance together with the Civic Force (FC/ Forța Civică), the pocket–party of former-PM Ungureanu, and a faction of the Christian-Democratic National Peasants’ Party (PNT–CD/ Partidul Naţional Ţărănesc–Creştin Democrat). The alliance is titled the Right (or Just) Romania Alliance (ARD/ Alianța România Dreaptă) (in Romanian, aici). Among the main figures of the new alliance, Adrian Papahagi, the Vice-president of the Christian–Democrat Foundation has succeed to draw the public outrage through a xenophobic, homophobic and sexist remark, which he posted on his Facebook profile. Expressing displeasure with the acting PM Ponta and his rather chaotic months of premiership (the plagiarism scandal, which is still pending a definitive decision, the forceful change of chiefs of institutions, and the failed attempt to depose the acting President Traian Basescu, to name just a few) Papahagi argued that: “After all, if we have reached that stage to have prime minister who is a plagiarist, and a putschist and Guevarist, why shouldn’t we soon have as President a Roma lesbian atheist.” It is highly troublesome how plagiarism, intrigue–making and ideological radicalism could easily lead, what according to Papahagi was the image of absolute Alterity – yet another Evil Other – manifest in Romanian politics: a Roma (thus not Romanian, but the most discriminated ethnic minority in Romania, thereby indicating the total reversal of the ‘normal’ hierarchy of values); lesbian (thus, not only less than man – read woman –  but also sexually deviant from the heteropatriachal norm); atheist (thus, not Romanian Christian Orthodox, deviating from the allegedly one and only true way of being Romanian, and a Romanian President at it). His statement was quickly sanctioned (both original quote and the reaction to it, in Romanian, aici).  Papahagi reacted swiftly by labelling his critics as “commissars”. The word reminds both of the feared Russian “commissars” of USSR, but also closer to our present days, of the epithet usually employed by the radical right populist leader Tudor (PRM) to describe one of his female adversaries (Zoe Petre) – perhaps unsurprisingly one of Papahagi’s critics is a woman (Alina Mungiu–Pippidi) (in Romanian, aici).

Finally, the PRM leader’s return to his previous anti-Semitic discourse, manifest this time through a reiterated denial of the Holocaust in Romania, and thereby lending support to a PSD member, incumbent Minister of Relations with the Parliament in the Ponta cabinet. Indeed, the PRM leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, did not fail to disappoint and delivered another anti-Semitic rant. Commenting on the issue of Holocaust in Romania, and the active participation of Romanian forces in the mass killing of Jews on Romanian soil, Tudor argued that no Romanians have ever been involved into the killings, rather they have been victims of the Holocaust themselves, together with the Jews and Romani (in Romanian, aici). Tudor defended in this context Dan Șova (PSD), now incumbent Minister of Relations with the Parliament in the Ponta cabinet. In March this year, Șova, then newly appointed PSD spokesperson, argued that “no Jew suffered on Romanian territory, thanks to marshal Antonescu”, causing widespread outrage – despite expressing regret that his statement has been misunderstood, Șova has refused to apologize (in English, here).

This leaves way to a lot of questions with regard to the coming Parliamentary elections: is the Romanian political mainstream taking the road of populist xenophobic extremism? Will there be any place for a debate about viable competing solutions for the country’s economic recovery between the left (i.e. the PSD, perhaps much watered down as a result of the USL electoral alliance) and the right (perhaps in this case it would be the PDL, and their ARD centre–right conservative alliance)? Is the Romanian political mainstream, in general, becoming permeated by radical right populism, with an increasing number of mainstream parties succumbing to xenophobia, homophobia, and submission to heteropatriarchism? Is it of any help to reflect how the main political forces in Romanian plan to address the serious democratic deficit the country is witnessing (Romania has one of the lowest percentage of women involved actively in mainstream politics from the whole EU)? Why would be of any importance if any woman active in Romanian politics, would be of Roma origin or from any other ethnic minority, or if she would be a lesbian, or a professed atheist?

Parliamentary Elections in Romania (1996-2008) (Click to enlarge) (Source: NSD-EED)

In an attempt to ease the understanding of the various abbreviations present within the present post, I attach herein a succinct presentation of the main political parties and their electoral results in the Romanian Parliamentary elections between 1996 and 2008.  For this purpose, I made use of the European Election Database (EED) that has been compiled by the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD/ Norsk samfunnsvitenskapelig datatjeneste). I do not have any copyright claims on the attached graph, which has been generated on the NSD–EED website containing information about Romania.


The total number of seats increased from 332 in 2004 to 334 in 2008. Seats: 316 (elected) + 18 assigned to ethnic minorities other than the Hungarians = 334.
2000: PSD ran as PDSR as Social Democratic Pole Alliance with PSDR
2001: PDSR merged with PSDR into PSD.
1996: PDL ran as part of Social Democratic Union (USD)
2000: PDL ran as PD
2004: PDL as part of Justice and Truth Alliance (DA: PNL-PD)
2004: PNGCD ran as PNG
1996: PNL ran as part of Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR)
2004: PNL ran as part of Justice and Truth Alliance (DA: PNL-PD)

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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 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

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

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

Radical Right Populism and Peripheries in Times of Crisis: Glimpses from Finland and Sweden

In times of economic insecurity, or simply of general uncertainty, the parties that manage to make the most of it are the radical right populist parties (RRP). With a rhetoric lambasting at the too liberal immigration policies, too expensive services provided to minorities or language communities, they manage to paint a picture of economic distress. Things need to be put in order, rationalized, according to some efficiency logic that usually is aimed to disadvantage those groups perceived to have “exploited”  the system for their own gain, and restore the state, and implicitly its expenses to the common people.

For instance in Finland, the last meeting of the youth arm of the True Finns (PS-n/Perussuomalaiset-nuoret/Sannfinländarnas ungdomsorganisation ) witnessed the return to the bellicose rhetoric against the Swedish-speaking Finns and Swedish language(which has equal standing together with Finnish as one of the official languages of the country). According to them, the Swedish-speaking Finns are demanding too much proportionally to their population’s size (approximately 5.4% of the whole population of Finland), and that if it is about the state providing services in Swedish, then the Swedish-speaking community itself should provide them. Why? Well, it was ascertained it costs too much, though it was not really clear how economic streamlining could so evidently deprive a serious percentage of the population of services they are entitled to by law and guaranteed by the Finnish constitution. And if this was not a statement persuasive enough, then the argument put forward was a bit more simple: to provide services in another language than Finnish, is actually un-Finnish. Why, again? The discussion about the status of Swedish as a national language was strangely connect to betrayal of Finland. More clearly, having Swedish as the second national language may at anytime give the opportunity to the increasing Russian minority to demand the same status for Russian. This could lead to the hypothetical situation of Finland being transformed into a country with three official languages.

However, looking a bit closer at the official numbers provided by Statistics Finland (Tilastokeskus/ Statistikcentralen), one may notice that of the whole Finnish population, 4,844,047 of them are Finnish-speaking Finns, followed by 289,951 persons being Swedish-speaking Finns. How many Russian speakers are in Finland? They are some 48,740 strong, or in other words some 1% of the Finnish-speaking population, and even less of the overall population of Finland. How can the Russian community be used as a threat to the Finnish majority? Does PS-n attempt to portray a future for the Finnish-speakers as a “threatened majority”, that needs to be suspicious of its own, homegrown Other- the Swedish-speakers-, but also keep an eye on the ever increasing outside Other- the Russian-speakers? Even more interesting it was one of the participant’s comment that the Swedish-speaking Finns are planning to “join forces” with the un-Finns. Does it sound like the classical reasoning of the inner Other plotting with the outside Other to demise the righteous and the True? Will this suffice for ensuring PS‘s success in the next elections, considering that the readily identified solution is turning Swedish into a minority language, and watching its exile to the peripheries of Finnish society together with the Sami language, and the Romani language?

On the other side of Gulf of Bothnia, in Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (SD/Sverigedemokraterna) held their party convention in Ljungbyhed in Klippans commune in Scania province. The province is the main voting reservoir for SD, and in the aforementioned commune, SD received some 7.5% of the votes for the local council. During the convention, Jimmy Åkesson was confirmed his leadership position. Statistically, SD cannot pride itself with too impressive numbers: in the most recent elections for the representative in the Swedish Lutheran Church the party pooled 2.84% and increased from 4 to 7 mandates, which was duly dismissed as a setback by mainstream commentators.

For most of SD‘s existence as a political force in Sweden, it has been at best ignored, if not purposefully isolated by  other political and social actors. The media boycott of even the main yellow press paper in Swede (Aftonbladet), left room to the isolation of SD council representatives in communes across Sweden. It was later revealed that the party representatives’ isolation is not waterproof, and that little by little they come to be tolerated, if not accepted by representatives of other parties. However, this prolonged and consistent isolation allowed SD to play the role of the martyr. This may have serious implication for the shape of the political scene in Sweden, with parliamentary elections being scheduled for 2010. Some have even ventured to argue that SD may become the kingmakers of the coming Swedish Cabinet. SD‘s central topic for the coming elections appears to be a call to a stop of the immigration, so that to ensure the protection of the Swedish workers from outer competitors, and a return of the welfare state before the turn of the century.

Interestingly, Aftonbladet decided to publish an opinion piece authored by Åkesson this week, a first in the mainstream media. The piece, which is basically a critique of the present immigration policy in Sweden, with rather grave accusations against the Muslim community in Sweden, identified as the main Evil Other in the RRP tradition (this has already a history in countries like Denmark, Austria, and The Netherlands, to name just a random few), was met with uproar. The article is a Swedish adaptation of the widely popular RRP theory of Eurabia,i.e. the danger posited to European culture and national specificity by an ever growing and menacing Muslim minority.

Even before being more closely discussed, SD, in general, and Åkesson’s peice in particular were hastily labeled as “racist”.  More worrisome, it was revealed that Aftonbladet, not Åkesson, chose the fiery title that read:  “The Muslims are our greatest enemy”. One can only wonder who benefits from over-using “racism”, and the concept entering the banality of daily life? Should not the main political attempt to engage in a punctual debate with SD? Is it be too painful to admit that not even Sweden remained untouched by the RRP waves that sweep Europe?

On a more general level, the most pressing questions are how the mainstream parties, in particular with regard to the electoral competition and the post-electoral parliamentary alliance building processes, and the societies, in general, will react to the constant ascension of the aforementioned parties? Ignoring them and exiling them to the peripheries is no longer actual, not even in Sweden. On the other hand, the increased visibility of such parties may be accompanied by the sudden rise to prominence on the agenda of mainstream parties of precisely this kind of issues.

Swedish language is an integral part of Finland, but it needs the decided commitment of all Finnish political parties (former president Ahtisaari’s plea for Swedish language in Finland is an excellent example of that). Healthy debates about such topics as language policies, regional development according to the interests of all language groups, and the opportunity of accommodating to an increasing immigrant population in Finland, need to be discussed openly, and it is necessary to argue against PS ‘s overt simplifications and menacing portrayal of the Other.  At the same time, the topic of meaningful integration of immigrants, and the benefits of immigration for the whole society are highly actual in Sweden. These issues require at times engaging in a dialogue with such parties as PS and SD, not simply dismissing them for being RRP.

What is more important, however, is to be able to look for explanations behind manufactured statistics, and vitriolic rhetoric, and provide well balanced and honest insights into these subjects. But is not this one of the biggest challenges: to be able to explain that there is no Evil Other even in times of economic uncertainty, and that curiosity not fear should be the driving force of societies?

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Saturday, October 24th, 2009 Research No Comments

Improbable Meeting: Madonna Faces Romanian Essentialist Nationalism on the Gypsy/Romani Question.

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”.

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Friday, August 28th, 2009 Miscellaneous No Comments