Finland has stereotypically been considered to be an example of Nordic consensus culture. For long internet hate and hate speech in general have rarely been discussed in the open in Finland, in public debates, and even rarer have been the cases in which several people would stand up and confess to being subject to hateful email and death threats.
However, the straw that broke the camel’s back came on Monday 27 May 2013 in the form of an e-mail addressed to Bettina Sågbom, well known Finnish Swedish-speaking journalist and presenter working for the state television YLE. The e-mail contained death threats targeting Sågbom and her family; the e-mail was followed by several other messages in the same register the following day. Sågbom chose to finally break the silence and made public the threats, raising the issue of internet hate but also connecting the rather abstract discussions that have taken place so far with a well-known public figure. In response, she received a subsequent threat in which she was warned she would die in circumstances made to resemble an accident (in English, here; in Swedish, här). Sågbom received the death threats because she has allegedly presented an eschewed picture about the status of Swedish language in Finland. The message contained also a demand that Sågbom invite to her TV-show a representative of the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity (Suomalaisuuden Liitto/ Finskhetsförbundet) to discuss the topic of oppression and linguistic repression that the Finnish-speakers were subject to during the time Finland was part of the Swedish realm. The said association has close ties to the radical right populist party in Finland, the (True) Finns (Party) (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna/ SF), being chaired by Sampo Terho, who is a Finnish EMP on the PS/SF mandate.
But Sågbom is far from being the only person to have received such hate mail with such a precise request. Paula Salovaara, managing editor of Helsingin Sanomat, the largest Finnish-language daily in Finland, has also admitted on a Tweet to having received death threats for taking a public stance in support of Swedish language as the second national language in Finland. In addition, Päivi Storgård, vice-chair of the Swedish People’s Party (SFP/ Svenska folkpartiet i Finland/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ RKP), has also made public that she has been target of hate messages, mentioning a recent incident in which she has been threatened with rape by a man in a telephone conversation (in Swedish, här). The Left Alliance MP Silvia Modig (Vas/ Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet) has later on confessed to having been harassed because of her publicly admitted homosexuality, and mentioned she had received e-mails containing dozens of pictures of male genitalia. Her conclusion was that her political convictions and the values she stands for have angered quite many, but she underlined she did not fear for her life. However, she is living now at a secret address, a direct result of the hate mails she has received (in Swedish, här).
A salutary reaction to the wave of hate speech flooding the web and pushing the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable in public debates in Finland has been the reaction of Helsingin Sanomat. The newspaper published in its internal news pages a bilingual section addressing the issue of hate speech in the public domain, containing interviews with PM Jyrki Katainen (Kok/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet/ Saml / The National Coalition Party) and police representatives, allocating equal space to both Finnish and Swedish (in Finnish/Swedish, tässä/här). Only towards the end of the week, on 31 May 2013, and after several demonstrations in support of the country’s bilingualism and against hate speeches, Terho has eventually distanced himself and the association he chairs from the hate messages (in Finnish, tässä).
The ongoing discussion about the need to denounce intimidation as a means to achieve certain political outcomes, while much needed, seems to be preoccupied with only one side of a multifaceted phenomenon. In my view, it is not only the language aspect that media, researchers and public figures alike should be paying attention to. Indeed the status of the Swedish language in Finland appears to have galvanized the wave of hateful reactions, but I would like to draw attention on the gender aspect that intersects the former, since the majority of those who have acknowledged to being subject to such intimidation are women, on both sides of the language divide but with an assumed commitment to defend bilingualism in Finland. So the questions that arise in this context concern the many aspects of purity, and how such purity – understood, it seems, in exclusionary language terms – may be instrumentally employed to discipline and punish those Finnish women – Finnish- and Swedish-speaking alike – that defend the country’s plural legacy and bilingualism? What place do threats of ‘corrective rape’ – both at the most physical but also at symbolic level – have in this effort to maintain national purity, and what are those mechanisms that justify them?
When ‘Joking’ Fails, Use ‘Satire’ – How to Make Sure Finland Is Kept Pure If Social Engineering Is No Longer An Acceptable Solution: Make Those Others Wear Patches
It appears that the Nazi ideology has consolidated its place at the main source of inspiration for the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) rank and file. Indeed, in October 2011 the PS MP Teuvo Hakkarainen was suggesting ‘jokingly’ – as it was later on quickly dismissed – that the autonomous Åland/Ahvenanmaa islands (inherently symbolizing the Swedish–speaking Finnish community in Finland) are the perfect place where to ‘put’ all ‘homosexuals’, ‘lesbians’ and ‘Somalis’ to live side by side and see what kind of ‘model society’ takes shape from that (see my previous blog entry discussing the matter, here). It was then evidence the uncanny resemblance with the anti-Semitic Madagascar plan of the Nazis (a Wikipedia entry on the infamous Madagascar plan – in English, here; in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här).
On 11 April 2012, this was further exploited by Helena Eronen, assistant to the PS MP James Hirvisaari. Helena Eronen published an article on the Uusi Suomi e-newspaper, titled ‘Ratkaisu poliisin ulkomaalaisratsioihin’ (‘The Solution to Police’s Raids Among Foreigners’, in an approximate English translation). Shortly after it was published, the article was removed from the e-news platform (yet, available in its entirety in Finnish, tässä). It is worth noting that the PS MP James Hirvisaari was elected in April 2011 into the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta/Riksdagen) on a strong anti–immigration platform, being one of the authors of the Nuiva Vaalimanifesti (on signatories, in Finnish, tässä). The same PM MP James Hirvissari has been also the subject of a trial for incitement to racial hatred because of his blog entry on the same Uusi Suomi, titled ‘Kikkarapäälle kuonoon’.
In her article, Helena Eronen identified a readily available solution to the Finnish Police’s dilemma on knowing a person’s ‘worth’ in the Finnish society: make them wear sleeve badges! According to her, it is useful to know, from the very first sight, ‘who is a Somali Muslim’ or ‘a beggar from Romania’. The symbols on badges were just as easily provided to the readers: a half-moon for the Muslims, a hammer and a sickle for Russians, a landmine for Cambodians (sic). Neither the Swedish–speaking Finns, nor and the LGBTQI–community members were forgotten – in the latter case it was aptly suggested a patch depicting ‘a rainbow’ (media comments on her article, in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här). Helena Eronen even envisaged a means to account for someone’s accommodation to Finnish customs: a Muslim foreigner’s half–moon could later be exchanged to a blue–white half–moon thereby enforcing integration (on her article, commented at length in English, here). Eventually, the ‘blue–white half–moon’ badge could be handed in, a sign of the person’s complete assimilation and secularization: the birth of a new Finn. In other words, there are degrees of Otherness, and degrees of sanction and reward for all Others. The similarity with the Nazi methodical classification of the undesired Others is, yet again, uncanny (a detailed article on the Nazi identification system using badges – in English, here; in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här).
One may wonder why has it become so crucially important among the PS rank and file to be able to make a distinction between an apparently ‘true’ Finn (to keep with the PS’ own denomination) and a ‘Somali Muslim’ or ‘a beggar from Romania’? What is the purpose of such process of selection and differentiation? Why to distinguish between a Muslim with a ‘red half–moon’ and one with a ‘blue–white half–moon’ when Islam is squarely rejected by the PS as foreign to the Finnish national fiber? Having a closer look at the hierarchy suggested by Helena Eronen, another question that insinuates itself is why are Swedish–speaking Finns to be ‘marked’ – what is their shortcoming for not being deemed worthy to be part of the Finnish un–badged majority, and why would this justify them being bullied by the majority Finnish–speaking Finns ?
Even more so, applying what appears to be a rudimentary heteropatriarchal logic of structuring, if the LGBTQI–community members have to bear a rainbow, how should then the distinction be made between, for instance, ‘true’ Finnish women dutifully married with Finnish men and bearing Finnish offspring, and those also ‘true’ Finnish women, but who however fail do so? In the Nazi system of badge marking, the political opponents were also classified; with this in mind, it would have perhaps been instructive to know if Helena Eronen also considered a system to differentiate between the common voters and those ‘true’ citizens identifying themselves with the PS cause? And by ways of conclusion, why continuously ‘making jokes’, and writing ‘satire’ on a subject that appears to be such a sensitive point of discussion? Whom is to gain from a radicalization of the whole discussion and at which price?
The Finest Art of Finnish Social Engineering: A Heterosexual (True) Finn Envisioning the Society of Tomorrow?
Not so long ago, the True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) has decided to change its English name and be titled (only) the Finns (see my previous blog entry discussing the matter, here). However, it appears that despite their name change, the the PS is keeping true to its previous radical right populist (RRP) line of discourse that so often has bordered with outright instigation to hate (be it against the Swedish-speaking Finns, the Somali community in Finland, or the LGBTQI–community in Finland).
The most recent example is constituted by the remarks of Teuvo Hakkarainen, the PS elected MP. He appears to have remained truthful to his line of reasoning (on this, please see my previous blog entry, here). When told he has a certain amount of male admirers that happen to be homosexuals, Teuvo Hakkarainen replied to the newspaper Ilta Sanomat that he would be more interested in having a female following. On the topic, he then presented his ideas about a ‘model society’ (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här). According to him, the autonomous Åland/Ahvenanmaa islands (seen as the epitome of what the Swedish–speaking Finnish community in Finland stands for) are the perfect place where to ‘put’ all ‘homosexuals’, ‘lesbians’ and ‘Somalis’ to live side by side and see what kind of ‘model society’ takes shape from that. This way, the Swedish People’s Party (SFP/ Svenska folkpartiet i Finland/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ RKP) could no longer accuse the PS of not taking into consideration the needs of the minorities in Finland. He then concluded that on Åland/ Ahvenanmaa the ‘Somalis’ would finally be free to ‘shout from the minarets’ whatever they see fit. The ‘model society’ could be then replicated on the mainland.
Despite the uncanny resemblance of such a suggestion to the anti-Semitic Madagascar plan of the Nazis (a Wikipedia entry on this matter – in English, here; in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här), the Finnish MP Teuvo Hakkarainen does not seem troubled with that. Instead, he appears to have taken on himself this laborious task of social engineering. It does not take long to understand what would such an undertake entail. Finland as it is nowadays has failed the standards of truthfulness established by the PS. In order to correct that, Åland/Ahvenanmaa appears to be safely far and yet soundly Finnish to have all those who fail off the normative spectrum of Finnishness removed from the native mainland soil and sent there. What would this mean? If the Swedish–speaking Finns native of Åland/ Ahvenanmaa and from the rest of Finland, together with the deported Somali community and all those identifying themselves as LGBTQI previously living on the mainland would engage in crafting that ‘model society’ envisioned by the PS MP Teuvo Hakkarainen, one can only wonder what would happen in the meantime on the Finnish mainland thus vacated? Will a purely and truly Finnish heterosexual society blossom on the Finnish mainland, a place where only Finnish men will marry Finnish women and born Finnish babies that would finally balance the pressing demographic problems Finland has to deal with, where finally there will be no calls for prayer from the minarets, where there will be no minority one could think of? And if the SFP/ RKP would probably be busying itself with the ‘model society’ taking shape on Åland/Ahvenanmaa, what would the other parliamentary Finnish parties do then? Would the Left Alliance (Vas/ Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet) or even the Greens (Vihr/ Vihreä liitto/ Gröna förbundet) – only those who are (true) pure heterosexual Finnish-speaking Finns, that is – be participating in engineering this purely Finnish heterosexual society, or would this task be exclusively assumed by the party that IS the Finns?
Unfortunately, Pirkko Ruohonen–Lerner the chair of the PS parliamentary group did not allow for a full development of the PS MP Teuvo Hakkarainen’s ideas and label them as ‘vitsailua‘, or joke (in Finnish, tässä). On who this joke is, however, it has not yet been disclosed. Is it a joke on the Swedish-speaking Finns who see themselves thrown out of the national construct called Finland, or is it on the Somali community whose members have come to Finland with the hope of escaping death and oppression only to be welcomed with a discriminatory superiority of the native Finns, or is it a joke on the LGBTQI–community that is refused membership in this construction of (true) Finnishness? Or is this joke on those who were not yet named and who would, one way or another, end up as unaware pawns in the social engineering plan of a rightfully elected parliamentary representative into the Finnish Eduskunta/ Riksdag?
A Brave New World? The Victory of the True Finns: A Return to Patriarchal Arch-Conservative Parochialism?
After the preliminary results of the 17 April 2011 Finnish parliamentary elections were announced (the final results may be announced on the 20 April 2011, after the recount of the votes), it became obvious that the agrarian Kesk was heading towards a painful loss, pooling only 15.8% of the votes and thus sending only 35 representatives to the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen. This determined former PM Mari Kiviniemi to comment that the Kesk needs to prepare for a mandate in the opposition. A similar argument was put forward by the Vihr’s chairwomen Anni Sinnemäki, because of the party’s performance (it lost 5 MPs).
Jyrki Katainen, the Kok leader and most probably the future Finnish PM, was threading very carefully last evening when it became clear that his party was heading to a historical victory. He acknowledged that the situation was a very difficult one, and that negotiations will be very though. Concomitantly he maintained that Finland will continue its pro-European course (on BBC News, here). The other winning party of last night’s elections, the SDP voiced though its chairwoman Jutta Urpilainen their interest in being involved with the governing act. Urpilainen added that since the PS has been scoring so high in the voters’ preferences, the party should be invited to the government-coalition talks. Interestingly, Timo Soini of the PS, took a rather strong stance, arguing he would not negotiate on the other parties’ terms but on his own, adding that one option would be that the PS to recruit its ministers from outside the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här).
Together the three parties (Kok, SDP, PS) will have some 125 MPs, a relatively secure majority. Nonetheless, if to strive to have past the 130MPs and thus avoid unexpected opposition from their own rank and file, the new government would need to be enlarged to incorporate another, small party. Which one will this be? There are two separate options that indicate, even if only tentatively, the road Finland would engage on.
One option would be to co-opt the KD, which nowadays lies very close to the PS in terms of social values (a staunch patriarchal conservatism has been defining the new KD, since Päivi Räsänen assumed leadership of the party). However, this would sum up to only 131 MPs, and this raises the question if the Kok will agree with such an arch-conservative swing?
A second option – which was already formally dismissed by Timo Soini today (in Finnish, tässä) – would be to co-opt the SFP/ RKP in the new government. The party has succeeded so far to represent in the government the interests of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland since 1979. The coalition (Kok, SDP, PS, SFP/ RKP) would have 134 MPs, a safe majority.Having in mind that the Kok and SFP/ RKP are both pro-European and have a relatively liberal agenda will the Kok, in this context force the presence of the SFP/ RKP in the new government, and thus ensure a balance to the PS? So far the SDP has been in favour of the PS in government, but also defended the rights of the Swedish-speaking minority. How would this materialize in the governmental negotiations? Will the SDP and Kok defend the country’s bilingualism and resist the PS’ demands to do away with SFP/ RKP as a coalition partner and in time eventually turn Finland into a monolingual polity?
Women in the Finnish Parliament: At least there are some?
The 2011-2015 mandates for the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen appear to be divided between men (57%) and women (43%) so that it slightly favours men (updated continuously, numbers may change; link in Finnish, tässä). Nonetheless, at a closer look there are big discrepancies between the parties. According the preliminary results posted on 18 April 2011, the PS has 11 women MPs out of a total of 39 (only 28.2%). This is a rather low percentage – compare it to the 5 women MPs out of the total of 9 that the SFP/ RKP has; the 6 women out of 14 MPs that the Vas, or the 5 women MPs out of the 10 MPs that the Vihr got into the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen – and reflects the PS’ overall view on the role of women in the Finnish society. This may be interpreted as a threatening sign for the ‘state-feminism’, which characterized Finland and its welfare system for the past decades. Furthermore, the PS is deeply conservative when it comes to such issues (anti-abortion stance, vociferously against gay marriages and gay adoptions), and the question that comes up is how will women’s issues and the topic of gender equality and anti-discrimination issues in general be handled by the coming cabinet?
Espousing Anti-Immigration Opinions from a Ministerial Post?
There is a lot of speculation about the coming government, and there are a lot of people wondering who is going to land in which ministerial post? If the PS is decided to negotiate from a firm position as Timo Soini has said, is there to be expected that a PS party member will land the position of Minister of Migration and European Affairs? Will Jussi Halla-aho‘s expressed will (in Swedish, här) to be named into the function be taken into consideration? Furthermore, one needs to bear in mind that Halla-aho was the PS vote magnet in the capital Helsinki/ Helsingfors and cumulated 14,884 individual votes (only Paavo Arhinmäki from Vas received more: 17,099 in this electoral district). Halla-aho distinguished himself through the very acid statements against Islam, and against immigration (especially against the Somali refugees) in general. He has been tried in 2009 on charges of incitement against an ethnic group and breach of the sanctity of religion. He was eventually convicted for disturbing religious worship, and ordered to pay a fine (in Swedish, här); his firs appeal was rejected (in Swedish, här); the appeal to the Supreme Court resulted in a discharge of the accusation of incitement to ethnic hatred (in Finnish, tässä). In this context, what would the choice of Halla-aho as a minister in the future cabinet, and even more so, as a minister of integration, signal to the rest of the world?
Finnish parties in the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen listed alphabetically and their respective number of seats:
KD (Kristillisdemokraatit/Kristdemokraterna/ The Christian Democrats) 6 MPs
Kesk (Keskusta/ Centerpartiet/ The Center Party) 35 MPs
Kok (Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet/ The National Coalition Party)44 MPs
PS (Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna/ The True Finns) 39 MPs
SDP (Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue/ Finlands Socialdemokratiska Parti/ The Social Democrats)42 MPs
SFP/RKP (Svenska folkpartiet/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue /The Swedish People’s Party) 9+1 MPs
Vas (Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet/ The Left Alliance) 14 MPs
Vihr (Vihreä liitto/ Gröna förbundet/ The Greens) 10 MPs
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?
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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