Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö panders (again) to the racists

by , under Enrique Tessieri

“That’s the central issue, people who want to be here need to accept our core values: democracy, equality, human rights and all of that. If they don’t, they can’t stay in Finland.”

President Sauli Niinistö in Yle News

During the many years I have written about President Sauli Niinistö, he has always disappointed me. For me, he represents a Finland where time will steamroll over it. If you read many of his comments throughout the years, one matter stands out like a sore thumb: He does not like anti-racism activists, Muslims, and minorities like people of color.

Instead of uniting all the people in this country from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, his populism gets the better of him.

There are many examples, like when he addressed parliament in 2020. Without mentioning radical-right parties like the Perussuomalaiset (PS)*, he warned about the rise of “anti-Semitism and racism.” There is nothing wrong with that, but what was odd was he did not mention a word about Muslims and Islamophobia.


Cartoonist Ville Ranta’s view of President Sauli Niinistö’s two-extremes argument.

Islam is Finland’s second-biggest religion, with 120,000-130,000 followers.

A good example that he does not respect cultural diversity is the following statement he made in 2018, which is the worst of the worst.

He said: “I read in a newspaper about an Iraqi who had lived a long time in Finland, and he said that this [his culture] isn’t any problem. When I leave home for work, go to the store, or anywhere, I behave like a Finn. In this society, [I] follow the rules of the [cultural] game. But when I come home, I have Iraqi culture – truly impressive. And together with acquaintances can practice [my culture] very well, but the starting point is that Finland’s values are respected, democracy, gender equality.”

One can quickly notice that what President Niinistö said about the Iraqi is misleading. Finland is a country that guarantees people the right to their cultures and public spaces to practice them. There is no reason to run to one’s home and practice culture inside four walls.

Another important question to President Niinistö: Is everyone in Finland equal before the law? What are you doing to promote such a vital value?

With comments like the above, President Niinistö ends up with his foot in his mouth whenever he comments about cultural diversity and asylum seekers, usually Muslims and people from Africa.

In his New Year’s speech, President Niinistö did not disappoint us. Like in an earlier statement about the alleged threat of youth gangs and how we’re on Sweden’s dangerous path, he gave the opposition more fuel.

“However, it is high time to wake up to internal security as well,” he said. “Finland is an open and tolerant country. In this kind of thinking we may have gone further than other Nordic countries, maybe even further than the whole world. That entails a lot of good things. But being the most tolerant of all also has its pitfalls. Namely, evil is good at finding the one that is the most lenient of all. In the Nordic countries, the direction is now towards strengthening public order and the safety of individuals.”

What is President Niinistö implying? Is he stating that brown and black youths are “evil” and are taking advantage of our goodwill?

The fact that President Niinistö likes to make these types of xenophobic populist statements proves that he never was, is, or will be the president of our ever-growing culturally diverse communities.

Fortunately, Finland will hold presidential elections in 2024.

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