By Enrique Tessieri
Anti-immigration populist parties in Norway and Denmark have suffered defeats in recent elections after mass-killer Anders Breivik went on the rampage on July 22. Both blows came this month. The first one was in the Norwegian municipal election, where the Progress Party (FrP) saw its support plunge by 6.1 percentage points to 11.5%. The second one happened Thursday in Denmark.
The neck-and-neck election in Denmark, which gave the left-leaning alliance led by the Social Democrats a victory, meant in effect an end to the pivotal role that the far-right Danish People’s Party (DPP) has played in the passage of strict immigration laws.
The election was historic since it will give Denmark its first-ever woman prime minister. The prime minister-elect, Helle Thoring-Schmidt, has said that she will refuse to work with the DPP and thereby stunt the influence of Pia Kjærsgaard’s party.
Even though Breivik forced voters in the Nordic region and Europe to think twice before supporting parties that use immigration as a populist ploy to prop up support, it was only a question of time when the anti-immigration message of the FrP and DPP would reach a dead-end. How long can people feed off xenophobia and simplistic views of other cultures and the world?
The big question to ask now is how the election results in Norway and Denmark will impact the Perussuomalaiset (PS) party in 2012, when Finland holds presidential and municipal elections.
Voters in Norway, Denmark and even in Sweden, where the far-right Sweden Democrats have seen their support decline in a post-Breivik world, have spoken: We don’t like hate speech, far-right nationalism and populism. It should not characterize our political system.
One of the reasons why the PS still does well in the polls in Finland is because it has become today an anti-EU party as opposed to one that is mainly anti-immigration. If PS MP Juss Halla-aho and his cronies would have gone on the anti-immigration rampage as they did before the April election, Timo Soini’s party would probably have seen a sharp fall in its popularity today.
It would be naive, however, to think that the PS has now shifted course on its anti-immigration message. It is still there as an undercurrent ready to surface when the political situation is opportune.
Voters in Finland, like those in Norway and Denmark, should make it clear next year that we in Finland want a civil debate about immigration not one characterized by free-for-all hate speech.