By Enrique Tessieri
Sunday’s election in Finland was historic for many reasons. For one it ushered in a populist party with far-right and xenophobic elements to the Eduskunta (Parliament). In order to comprehend the new political landscape of Finland, we must use hindsight to understand what has happened.
While some like the Social Democrats blame ever-growing social inequality in welfare state Finland and globalization for the convincing victory of the True Finns, I believe it has its roots deep in the cold war period. Even if Finland paid a high price for allying itself with Nazi Germany in the Continuation War (1941-44) and for waging war against the former Soviet Union, far-right nationalism in this country was never challenged.
This type of nationalism was maintained with the help of our hatred of the Russians and our general perceptions of other cultures based unfortunately on myths and racism.
One has only to look at the number of immigrants during the cold war era and the foreign investment laws to understand that at least in the laws Finland was an off-limits country for outsiders.
Apart from passing its first Aliens Act in 1983, or 65 years after we gained independence in 1917, Finland kept foreign investment on a very short leash through the Restricting Act of 1939. With the help of the law, equity ownership was capped at 20% and, with special permission up to 40%. Foreigners could not own land and weren’t allowed to establish companies in the following sectors: forestry, mining, shipping, refining and securities trading.
If you were a so-called alien before 1983, you did not even have the right to habeas corpus. Soviet refugees were returned back to the USSR as well to face long-term imprisonment in asylums.
Is the True Finns’ victory a return to the cold war preiod or a twenty-first version of it?
One of the first statements on television by the anti-immigration wing of the Perussuomalsiet (PS)* led by Jussi Halla-aho, who got elected in Helsinki, was on immigration. He interpreted the True Finns’ victory as a vote against Finland’s immigration policy and the European Union.
It is kind of odd that while 2.9% of the population of Finland are non-Finns, Halla-aho and his followers are steadfast on tightening immigration policy. Is this a first preview of Denmark a la Danish People’s Party? We don’t know.
In neighboring Sweden, where 14% of its population consist of non-Swedes, the xenophobic Sweden Democrats got 5.3% of the vote.
Even though Sunday’s election is a clear indication that about 20% of the Finns are fed up with the government’s EU policy, immigration and the weakening of the comprehensive social welfare state, it does not mean that the majority of the Finns are on a protest-vote warpath. The majority gave their support to the traditional parties and their values of our society.
The election will stand out as a dangerous watershed for Finland. As Finland finds it more difficult to finance its social welfare state with the help of borrowed money, thus fuelling social inequality, matters will get worse before they improve.
Far-right populism is an illness inflicting Europe at present and it now has a beachhead in Finland.
* The Finnish name of the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The names adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We therefore prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings.