Sverigedemokraterna

2011 Finnish Parliamentary Elections: About True Finns, One Language and All Sorts of Evil Others

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?

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Friday, April 8th, 2011 Research No Comments

Swedish Radical Right Populists: Crypto-Racists in the Swedish Parliament

In an earlier weblog I argued that 2010 and respectively 2011 are going to be very lively years, at least politically, in the northern part of the EU; Sweden held parliamentary and local elections in September 2010, and Finland scheduled its parliamentary elections for in the first half of 2011, most likely in April. What distinguishes these elections from the previous ones is, without doubt, the ever greater presence of Radical Right Populist (RRP) parties.

How does the situation look like in the rest of Scandinavia? Well, the RRP parties are very strong in both Denmark (where the Danish People’s Party/ DFP, Dansk Folkeparti is the third largest party with some 13.9% of the electoral support; it is a member of the governing centre-right coalition), and in Norway (the Progress Party/ FrP, Fremskrittspartiet pooled no less than 22.9% of the votes in the last elections). As noted earlier, in Finland the trend is pointing in the same direction: not only that the anti-immigration, outright xenophobic and radical parties are proliferating, but the now established RRP representative, the True Finns Party (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) pooled 12.5% of the voters’ preferences in the latest survey (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här). In other words, PS may be the fourth largest political party in Finland.

Returning to Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (SD/ Sverigedemokraterna) succeeded in what very few people would have thought it was possible. As a result of the September 19th elections, the SD will send its representatives to the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen).

In terms of distribution of the electoral support for the smaller parliamentary parties, the Left Party (V/ Vänsterpartiet) and the Swedish Christian Democrats (KD/ Kristdemokraterna) pooled 5.6% of the votes each (KD seems to have lost as much as a whole 1.00% of its voters’ support compared to the previous elections). Even more surprising was the SD’s jump of more than two percent, eventually totalling 5.7% of the voters’ support (diagram in Swedish, här; and detailed results, här). The results of the election translate into 156 mandates for the Red-Green centre-left alliance (gathering V; the Greens/ MP, Miljöpartiet; and the Social Democrats/ S, Socialdemokraterna); 173 mandates for the centre-right bourgeois alliance which appears to continue to rule the country with a minority government (this is the alliance between KD; the agrarian Centre Party/ C, Centerpartiet; the Liberal Party/ FP, Folkpartiet; and the conservative-liberal Moderate Party/ M, Moderaterna). At the same time, a total of 20 mandates are going to SD which virtually positions them as kingmakers.

Nevertheless, the Red-Greens have excluded immediately any cooperation with SD and denounced it for its radical right populist political agenda, and warned that a future government that bows to the SD’s pressure will worsen the social climate in the country. In reaction to that, the re-elected Prime Minister Reinfeld of the conservative-liberal M has dismissed any cooperation with the SD for the coming mandate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, having in mind that the SD’s party members are overwhelmingly men, out of the 20 SD future parliamentary representatives only 3 are women. This marks a serious setback for the whole gender proportionality in the Swedish Parliament.

At a closer look, the SD and its political agenda mark a clear example of a crypto-racist party that attempts to disguise its troubled past under the clothes of ‘normalcy’. To explain the above statement, the SD has in the past years vociferously made reference to giving back to the Swedish peoples the folkhem (literally translated to the house of people, thus making reference to a common national construct). The folkhem as a concept has been intimately connected to Swedish social democracy and the blooming of the welfare state at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, in the SD’s more recent interpretation, the restitution and restoration of the folkhem involves two equally important aspects.

On the one hand, there is a strong welfare chauvinist attitude connected to the use of the term. More clearly, the focus is on a restoration of the welfare totality (including pensions, unemployment benefits and healthcare), and its restitution to society’s allegedly most exposed members – those generally considered the losers of the globalizing processes. True, this comes at a moment of extreme precariousness of the working conditions (privatizations and/or externalization of the welfare services, relocation of jobs, change of work patterns). However, the disappearance of the folkhem and the inherent costs of such a restoration are blamed on those who, for one reason or another are not fulfilling the criteria for being part of the SD’s redefined folkhem. And here becomes apparent the second important aspect of their political agenda, their crypto-racism disguised in conservative ‘normalized’ clothes. The new national community, the folkhem they envisage is one based on assimilation to the point of complete homogeneity, and repudiation of ‘abnormality’ and ‘libertinism’. The assimilation project they promote stipulates the absorption of newcomers (be them immigrants or refugees, commonly seen as an external threatening Other) to an ideal Swedish homogeneity. A case in point is the SD’s undisguised opposition to immigrant people of Islamic faith, who fail to become Swedes precisely for not being Christians. From singling out a religion to alleging that a certain group of people have a gene that predisposes them to violence is but a step, and the SD party members are making it with unproblematic ease (in Swedish, här). But the guarding of purity excludes also other groups, such as the Sámi of Sweden, or the Swedish Romas. Not only that, it also defines what is to be considered morally sound and typically Swedish, in a staunchly heteropatriarchal sense, and portrays a whole panoply of groups that embody the internal evil Other to their construct. More clearly, the SD dismisses the gender equality efforts as ‘leftist propaganda’ and portrays the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community as ‘deviants’. And the solution to all these is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a toughening of the law and order policy, which is meant to fix all ills and pave the way for a rebirth of the folkhem. The SD claims to be ready to take the responsibility for this. But they are quick to add the perfect excuse for not achieving it and the endless postponing of their project: their isolation on the political scene.

One cannot help but to wonder how was it possible for the SD to convince people to cast their vote in their favour, when their welfare chauvinistic appeals (to reinstate the folkhem, or better said their very particular interpretation of the aforesaid concept) are so tightly bounded to crypto-racist stances, thinly disguised under appeals for a tougher law and order stance and a more selective and assimilative immigration policy? How closely resembles such a political option to the national-socialist promises of the early 1930s? And taking it to the wider European context, does this swiping wave of radicalism across the continent that accompanies one of the most severe financial and economic crises in modern history mark the ‘moral bankruptcy’ of late capitalism? Are the spontaneous demonstrations across Sweden that gathered people who wanted to signal their support of multiculturalism and tolerance, and the impressive support for the campaign ‘Vi gillar olika’ (a rough translation would be ‘We support diversity’) a sign of grassroots democratic rejuvenation that has the potential to flourish across Europe and counter radical right populism?

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Tuesday, September 28th, 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