Unpublished Finland Bridge column: Hold the Fort (Until Sanity Returns)

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Migrant Tales insight: After publishing a regular column for Finland Bridge of Finland Society (Suomi-Seura), the column below written in 2015 was the last one. Apparently, the content of the column was too much for the editor of the magazine, who scolded me for being too critical of the Perussuomalaiset (Finns Party). I had to rewrite the column. Even so, I decided to end my long relationship with the magazine.

Over twenty years of contributions to the Finland Bridge did not even end with a thank you.


Finland is in quite a rut these days. In some ways, it resembles a cocktail with the following ingredients: lethargic economic growth since 2013, fiscal deficits, sizeable budget cuts, an ever-greying population that will put more strain on the welfare state mixed with a spoonful of nationalist populism and a record number of asylum seekers.

Nothing has been the same on the political front ever since the nationalist-populist Finns Party (PS) joined the government as a partner with the Center Party and National Coalition Party (NCP).

Matters haven’t been helped by government plans to make massive public spending cuts to the tune of billions of euros, which will impact negatively some of our proudest social accomplishments from the last century like social welfare, health, and education.

Matters have gotten so bad in Finland these days that even the police, in a campaign against tax dodgers, asked consumers in the fall to report to the authorities if pizzas are sold for under 6 euros.

The police state that it’s impossible to sell pizza in an expensive country like Finland for less than 6 euros unless you are evading taxes.  Apart from the attention that the story got on social media, it was picked up by the BBC and Corriere della Sera, an Italian daily.

Writes the BBC: “Finns commenting on social media have reacted to the campaign with a mixture of bemusement and disbelief. ‘This pizza-receipt hunting is ridiculous,’ writes one user on the [Finnish police service’s] Economic Crime Investigators’ Facebook page. ‘Shouldn’t they concentrate those limited police investigative resources where real problems are?’” 

Nordic Nationalism

All Nordic countries have seen in recent years the rise of populist parties that are anti-EU, anti-cultural diversity, and especially anti-Islam. In Iceland and Norway, we have the Progressive Party, while in Denmark the Danish People’s Party (DPP) calls the shots. Both the DPP and PS are the second-biggest parties in parliament in their respective countries.

Sweden is the only Nordic country that has refused to play ball with such ultranationalist groups. While various polls place the Sweden Democrats (SD) in second or third place, all mainstream parties in that country have agreed not to cooperate with the SD.

There are many ways to skin a nationalist-populist cat. One of them, like in Finland, is to invite them to form part of the government. Only after a few months in government, the PS saw its support plummet by a record 7 percentage points to 10.7% from the April elections, according to a YLE poll.

Considering the massive cutbacks in spending planned by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s government, it’s understandable the those who voted for the PS are riling mad since such budget cuts will impact their living standards directly.

Another issue that PS voters feel betrayed by is immigration policy. Even if the party has promised to take a tough stand on immigration, Finland is seeing today a record number of asylum seekers coming to the country. Some estimates place the number of asylum seekers to rise to 35,000 this year and by as many as 50,000 in 2016.

Disappointing poll results, accusations of broken campaign promises, and angry PS supporters don’t make party chairman Timo Soini’s job any easier even if he is accustomed to running a tight ship with near-absolute powers.

PS third vice president, Sebastian Tynkkynen, who is also chairman of the party’s youth league, is one visible example of the growing dissension in the party. If Tynkkynen and his followers had their way, the PS would exit the government and take a much stiffer stance against asylum seekers and migrants, even if they breach international agreements and are unconstitutional.

Tynkkynen’s membership in the party was revoked in October and that caused quite a media and social media uproar. Some analysts believe that what happened to Tynkkynen is another example that there is very little room for criticism at the party.

While the Soini-Tynkkynen row may have receded into the background by December, it is ironic that the very people that the PS leader gave a political voice to like MEP Jussi Halla-aho, MP Olli Immonen, and others, are the ones who could threaten to destroy party unity.

Two examples

Contrary to the PS, the DPP of Denmark has a totally different strategy on how to maintain its popularity and power. The DPP’s recipe for political survival has been to stay out of minority governments but support them in exchange for tougher immigration and refugee policy.

Like the rest of the nationalist-populist parties in the Nordic region, the DPP uses as well anti-immigration and especially anti-Islam rhetoric to capture voters.

According to Politiken, one of Denmark’s leading dailies, some of the initiatives supported by the DPP in the past include: the removal of satellite dishes that receive Al Jazeera; deport immigrant families if one member is a criminal; end Muslim migration; 50% of the music played on ‘Denmarks Radio’ must be Danish; immigrants must speak Danish in their homes, among others.  

The only Nordic country that is holding the fort until political sanity returns to this part of Europe is Sweden.

While there are split opinions about Sweden’s strategy to shun the SD, the Finnish and Danish examples suggest that if nationalist-populist parties are given power anti-immigration and anti-Islam sentiment will grow.

I hope that Sweden’s strategy to isolate the SD will bear fruit and that voters in the next elections will send the PS back to the political minor leagues.  

Why?

Because xenophobia, racism, and bigotry are based on a huge lie that only aims to exclude and marginalize other groups at a high cost to our society. 

By dividing society into “us” and “them” we end up undermining Nordic values such as social equality.

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