The coming Finnish Parliamentary elections on April 17th 2011 are considered by many to be a turning point. Not only that the three major parties – the major opposition party the Social Democratic Party (SDP/ Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue/ Finlands Socialdemokratiska Parti), and the Center Party (Kesk/ Keskusta/ Centerpartiet) and the National Coalition Party (Kok/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet), which are the main coalition partners in the present government - are engaged in a bitter competition with one another for the votes of an electorate ever more wary of the economic situation in the country, the debate about increasing the retirement age, and the Finnish participation in the Eurozone and the European Financial Stability Facility. A series of opinion polls have constantly indicated that the Finnish radical right populist (RRP) party the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna ) are closing the gap and if earlier analyses of the Finnish politics discussed about the Big Three (the SDP, the Kok, and the Kesk) now one has to talk about the Big Four, thus acknowledging the newly gained prominence of the PS on the Finnish political stage.
Indeed, most surveys placed the PS of Timo Soini past the two digit threshold this year, somewhere between 14 and as high as 18.4 (in English, here), more recently at 16.2 percent (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här). This is by no means a low score, having in mind that the fragmented nature of the Finnish political scene with various political entities, and that the party does represent the furthermost right wing position on the political specter clad in populist appeals to social equity and social conservatism. Even more so, there are a series of voices discussing the possibility of taking the PS and Soini in the government for the next term. This has lead to a much more neutral line of speeches chosen lately by Soini, but has not in the least dispelled fears of a xenophobic, Fennoman backlash doubled with even more economic wrangling around the issue of Finnish participation in the Euro-zone and the wider EU cooperation.
Nonetheless, as researcher of populism Ann-Cathrine Jungar aptly noted (for the detailed interview, in Swedish, här), a co-optation of the PS to the government would definitely set Finland aside in the Scandinavian context, where the other RRP parties have succeeded to influence the mainstream political agenda but never partook in the actual government. In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party (DF/ Dansk Folkeparti) has supported a center-right coalition government since 2001 and succeeded to change the Danish political debate beyond recognition. In Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (SD/ Sverigedemokraterna) have only recently managed to gain parliamentary representation, and despite their general support for the present center-right coalition (in 91% of the cases the SD voted with the governmental coalition in the Parliament, see more in Swedish, här), they are isolated on the political scene. The last but not least, in Norway the Progress Party (FrP/ Fremskrittspartiet/ Framstegspartiet) has been constantly excluded from government talks but it is not certain for how long - if the PS is indeed taken in for the next Finnish government they might serve as an example for the coming 2013 elections in Norway.
The True Finns and the (Only and True) Language Debate Reborn
This aside, one other aspect that cannot go unnoticed is the extreme media attention focus on the PS, and especially on Soini. This even determined some politicians to note rather bitterly that Soini turned into a media phenomenon. A short look at Helsingin Sanomat (HS) the main Finish language Finish newspaper, that enjoys an unchallenged position among the Finish newspapers, reveals that the PS, and especially Soini have been a constant news source. Even Hufvudstadsbladet (Hbl) the Swedish language newspaper and much smaller in reach counterpart of HS has payed special anttention to the rise of RRP in Finland. This is also a result of the extremely polarizing debate concerning the status of the Swedish language in Finland as the second official language of the country, and the obligativity of Swedish language teaching in the schools across the country (generally known under the derogatory term pakkoruotsi/ tvångssvenska).
The events culminated with a public demonstration on the steps of the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta/ Finlands riksdag) organized by two organizations that rally their supporters among the PS voters: the so called Language Choice Society (Vapaa kielivalinta) and the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity (Suomalaisuuden liitto/ Finskhetsförbundet) that distinguished itself through an increasingly vociferous demand for transforming Finland into a mono-lingual and mono-cultural country, that is with Finnish as the sole official language. The present language debate reminds a lot about a similar language strife in the 1920s and 1930s that was never actually sorted out but rather died out after WWII as a consequence of the common external threat that the Soviet Union embodied in the post-1945 era. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the PS among the most vocal supporters of the school reform that would remove Swedish from the mandatory subjects in Finnish schools. The reasoning appears to be a greater choice for the pupils and the possibility of replacing Swedish with Russian in the Eastern parts of the country. Nonetheless such a move is strongly resisted by the major parties, both the SDP and the Kok being firmly against it, while the Kesk through acting PM Mari Kiviniemi has opened the door for ‘experimentation’ with teaching Russian instead of Swedish in Eastern Finland. This is of course strongly disapproved with by the Swedish People’s Party (Sfp/ Svenska folkpartiet i Finland/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ Rkp).
In this context, it comes as a surprise that the PS collects any support from the Swedish-speaking Finns, which reaches a much as 4 percent of the overall voting options of the Swedish-speaking Finns in the capital Helsinki/ Helsingfors, and the southern province of Uusimaa/ Nyland (detailed breakdown of the party support among the Swedish-speaking Finns, in Swedish, här). One needs to bear in mind that the PS stereotypically portrays the Swedish-speaking Finns as some sort of linguistic over-class that has a monopolistic position on the Finnish economic capital, and forcefully imposes the language issue on a submissive Finnish-speaking Finnish political establishment.
True Finns, True Men: Conservatism, Controlling Women’s Bodies, and Symbolic Political Violence
Perhaps one of the most delicate episodes that Timo Soini would like to quickly forget is that connected to Oona Riipinen‘s question concerning the right for abortion of women victims of rape, which basically rendered Soini speechless. Riipinen‘s legitimate question, coming from a 15-year old Finnish woman, highlighted the patriarchal attempts to control women’s bodies, as the PS and Soini personally have attempted to profile the party on the conservative side of the political specter – where according to researcher Åssa Bengtsson the PS lies very closely to the Finnish Christian-Democrats (KD/ Kristillisdemokraatit/ Kristdemokraterna) (archive, Hbl 19.03.2011, p. 17). Even more so, as university professor Jan Sundberg noted with regard to the PS election program (archive, Hbl 02.04.2011, p. 17), the idea of encouraging the birth of Finnish babies at any costs goes hand in hand with that of restricting further the coming of foreigners into the country. In a Finland in which Finnish students would divide their time between study and making ‘true Finnish’ children, there would be no need for new immigrants to be taken in and no resources would be spent with their adaptation to the Finnish system, reasons the PS. A similar critique on the gender aspect of the PS‘s political platform for the coming elections came from a feminist researcher, Suvi Keskinen, who argued that the party’s general xenophobia is easily obscured with excuses (the whole text in Finnish, tässä). In her opinion piece published by HS, Keskinen criticized how the debate has tended to focus on the failings of the immigrant population to achieve gender equality (in terms of forced marriages, the head-scarves, the female genital mutilation, honor killings, and other forms of violence). Drawing a comparison between the situation in Denmark and in Finland, she noticed how the RRP parties in these countries have transformed the generally heterogeneous immigrant population into one solid and homogeneous block and used this for their political goals in their attempts to curb, if not to totally stop immigration into these countries. In conclusion, heteropatriarchal misogynism goes hand in hand with xenophobia, and the civilizing gaze is only focused on the need to ‘liberate’ immigrant women from the patriarchal oppression of their husbands, while Finnish women focus on giving birth to ‘true’ Finnish offspring.
There is also a growing irritation among the established parties with the PS party members, especially because of their heavy-handed style of campaigning (in Finnish, tässä; in English, here). Indeed, it appears that the PS footmen do not shy away from harassing their political opponents, either by resorting to physical intimidation or by making racist remarks at the opponents’ political candidates with a foreign background (such as those against the SDP‘s candidate Ranbir Sodhi in the city of Vantaa/ Vanda, who was ‘recommended’ to do politics in ‘his own home country’ – despite him living in Finland for 20 years and having a Finnish citizenship). In another example of exercising power over a helpless human being caught in a grim economic situation, thus bordering with symbolic violence, one PS parliamentary candidate had paid various beggars of Rromani origin to display his banner while begging in the streets of the Finnish capital (in Swedish, här).
However, such xenophobic remarks and acts need to be understood in the wider anti-immigration rhetoric of the PS, an excerpt of which even Soini offered to the audience of the election debate held in Swedish hosted by YLE (in Swedish only available from Finland, här). In the discussion about Finland’s becoming an increasingly diverse, even multicultural society (the example chosen by the moderators was signage in the capital city in 7 languages), Soini took a very critical stance on immigration and argued that people come to Finland in an attempt to profit from the country’s generous welfare benefits. This falls very much in line with assimilating foreigners, immigrants and asylum seekers in general, to a class of assisted non-productive denizens, very much in line with the anti-immigration reasoning specific to other RRP parties across the EU, such as the Danish DF and Swedish SD.
From this point of view one can argue that there has been a convergence between the PS, that can trace its genealogy to the agrarian conservative populist party Finnish Rural Party (SMP/ Suomen Maaseudun Puolue/ Finska landsbygdspartiet), on the one hand, and the other RRP parties that have a more radical rightist, even crypto-racist past such as the SD, on the other. Even though most political analysts and journalists in Finland are still skeptical to equaling the PS to the Swedish SD, it seems that the two parties are converging towards a very similar political platform characterized by moral conservatism dressed in Christian clothes and welfare chauvinism, disguising more extreme racist views.
There are however a series of interesting questions arising from this situation. Will the PS succeed in its charm offensive and become a coalition partner for the next government? How much of their RRP appeal would be preserved in the governing act and how wide a space for ideological manouvering will they be allowed? If indeed the PS and the Sfp/Rkp will become coalition partners, will Swedish language in particular and Swedish culture in Finland in general have any chance for survival? Will the anti-immigration sentiment escalate even more? And even more so, will the PS in a Finnish government set the example for its sister parties, as the Danish DF and even the Swedish SD?
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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