By Enrique Tessieri
Finland lags behind the rest of Europe in some areas. Good examples are immigration and reaction to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Is the growth of right-wing populism in Finland today only a belated response to the demise of the former Soviet Union in 1991 and Berlin Wall?
I remember clearly when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev paid his first visit to Helsinki in autumn 1989. That historic visit, which I covered for the London Financial Times, was the first big step in the thawing of cold war relations between Helsinki and Moscow.
Even if over two decades have passed since Gorbachev’s visit to Finland, it is curious that Finland has not yet begun to debate in earnest its cold war era. This is understandable since those policy makers who were junior civil servants in cold war Finland are today senior officials on the verge of retirement.
The cold war era took too long and was too big of an event to forget or conveniently brush under the rug. Some of the matters we should look at are how the media was censored and how politicians used Finnish-Soviet relations to strengthened their grip on power.
The lack of any meaningful debate on the cold war and that era in general could explain in great part the victory of the Perussuomalaiset (PS) party in the April election. Was it a belated response to the end of the cold war?
Each European country is different and their responses to a post-Soviet Union era differs. In Finland, our initial response was to become an EU member in 1995 and to continue life in this corner pocket of Europe as normal as possible.
Finland’s past and present small immigrant population says as well a lot about the PS and today’s political situation. For one, it reveals that those that came out to celebrate the end of the cold war twenty-two years late are probably more anti-EU than anti-immigration. If this is the case, it shows why all right-wing anti-immigration populist parties in the Nordic region except for the PS have lost ground after Anders Breivik went on his mass-murder rampage in Norway on July 22.
If there is a silver lining in the PS’ election victory in April it is Finland’s slow but certain rejection of anti-immigration populism by the likes of PS MP Jussi Halla-aho and his cronies. Nobody knows for certain but it is pretty clear by the reaction of other political parties, the media and common people that we do not want to follow Denmark’s former example.
Why? Because immigration laws and attitudes have been pretty tight in Finland to begin with.
The present political situation has placed new challenges on the country’s traditional parties as well. The Center Party could be seen as the first casualty of the post-post cold war era.
It’s pretty clear that “Finland’s Spring” will get stronger in the months ahead as our economic standing weakens in the face of a financially ever-troubled Europe and anemic global markets. It would be a mistake to assume as well that the PS will be the only party to benefit from the situation.
A visible group like the PS with all of its populist rhetoric has fuelled the rise of other parties like the Greens, Left Alliance and Kokoomus.
People may flock to Kokoomus to offset the rise of the PS and others to the Greens and Left Alliance to challenge the rise of right-wing populism.