Right-wing government in eye of racism storm engulfing Finland

‘Analysts, politicians are not expecting this government to last throughout the term,’ says opposition party leader

Leila Nezirevic  | 14.09.2023 - Update : 14.09.2023
Right-wing government in eye of racism storm engulfing Finland


“Democracy is always a wonderful thing,” said Sanna Marin when she lost in Finland’s elections this April, a result that confirmed Finnish politics’ shift to the right.

After weeks of wrangling, at the end of June, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo managed to form a coalition government with his conservative National Coalition Party, Christian Democrats, Swedish People’s Party, and the controversial far-right Finns Party.

The Finns Party even managed to secure high-profile Cabinet posts within the most right-wing government in modern Finnish history.

But just three weeks later, the coalition was in turmoil after local media exposed racist comments made by several ministers of the far-right party. Some were even accused of having links to neo-Nazi groups.

Officials of the previous left-wing government picked up on these serious allegations and have proven to be an active opposition.

Three opposition parties filed a no-confidence motion against the government, as well as Finance Minister Riikka Purra and Economic Affairs Minister Wille Rydman, both of the Finns Party.

Despite the massive racism scandal, the government and ministers survived the vote last week, with 106 members of the 200-seat Parliament backing the right-wing coalition.

After the vote, Orpo told local media he was “really satisfied” and asserted that his government “does not accept any form of racism.”

However, according to Li Andersson, leader of the Left Alliance Party, “xenophobia and racism” have always been a part of the Finns Party’s politics.

They have survived the no-confidence vote but “this debate and discussion is not over yet” because the Finns “will not change who they are, they will not change what their party is,” Andersson told Anadolu.

She also pointed out that there is conflict and tension within the right-wing coalition.

“We do know that there are very big issues within the government, and I think a lot of analysts and also politicians are not expecting this government to last throughout the term,” she added.

‘Darkest, most dehumanizing side of Finnish politics’

Purra, who is the leader of the Finns Party, made a series of racist comments on her colleague’s blog in 2008.

“If they give me a gun, there’d be bodies on a commuter train,” she wrote, referring to young immigrants, according to local media reports.

Purra also insulted Turkish people in one of her comments.

While attending a conference in Spain, she made a racist comment about Black street hawkers selling “fake Vuittons,” adding: “Greetings from Barcelona, there is no alarming immigration problem to be seen here.”

The finance minister eventually apologized for what she said were “stupid and absurd” remarks made 15 years ago.

Purra became leader of the Finns Party when Jussi Halla-aho, the current parliament speaker, stepped down.

Halla-aho himself was caught in a controversy over racist remarks he made in 2008 about Islam and Somalis, after which he resigned from a parliamentary committee in 2012.

Another Finns Party member Vilhelm Junnila was forced to resign as economy minister at the end of June, just 10 days after his appointment, due to remarks at a far-right gathering in 2019 in which he expressed sympathy towards Adolf Hitler and for making racist slurs about abortions in Africa.

Junnila was replaced by Rydman, whose own old racist messages were exposed by local newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.

He made racist comments about Somalis, and people from the Middle East, and insulted Muslim women who wear headscarves.

Rydman also sent racist nationalist songs to his girlfriend in 2016 that were about Muslims leaving Finland, according to the newspaper.

Marin, the former prime minister, wrote in local media that the revelations about the far-right ministers were “no surprise” and “reflected the darkest and most dehumanizing side of Finnish politics.”

Asylum seekers, Muslims ‘main targets’

In a 2019 report, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the Council of Europe’s independent rights watchdog, warned that “racist and intolerant hate speech in public discourse is escalating” in Finland.

It said the “main targets are asylum seekers and Muslims.”

The authors of the report warned that racist and abusive language is “commonplace” online among Finnish youth, while also pointing out a rise in its use in political discourse.

It also said the response by Finnish authorities to incidents of racism “cannot be considered fully adequate.”

According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights’ 2018 report, discrimination against the Black community is the most common in Finland, out of the 12 member states studied.

Amnesty International last year highlighted the seriousness of the situation and urged for “action to end structural racism in Finland.”

Bad for economy

A very important issue in the political debate that divides opinion within the Finnish government is economic migration, according to Teivo Teivainen, a professor of world politics at the University of Helsinki.

“Most business sectors say Finland needs more labor, more workers from abroad, for the economy to survive and thrive in the future,” he told Anadolu.

Therefore, the “racist attitude towards migration” shown by the Finns Party “is not good for the economy,” he said.

Andersson, the Left Alliance Party leader, echoed that view, saying the country is facing a “huge” demographic challenge due to an aging population and needs “more workforce, more families, more people from other countries to want to move to Finland.”

The current government “is doing the opposite” and this is bad for the economy, she said.

For this government, it is not about what is good for the economy, but instead it is about an ideological agenda under which “it wants to permanently weaken the safety and security structures of the Finnish welfare state,” she warned.

Teivainen said the Finns Party could suffer once its voter base, generally poorer segments, realize that their benefits are being cut.

If the right-wing government splits due to this racism issue and other incompatibilities, the National Coalition Party could form a government with the Social Democrats, he said, adding that this possibility has increased after Marin’s departure as the party’s leader.

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