By Enrique Tessieri
A lot of people are scratching their heads at the stellar rise of the True Finns in the polls. Even though we have to wait for the ballot boxes to have their final say in April, certainly the polls and the success of the True Finns tell us something about where Finland is at this moment and where it is heading.
According to a poll published by Helsingin Sanomat on February 17, the popularity of the True Finns now stands at 17.9%, which is the same as the Social Democrats and close behind the Center Party (18.2%) and Kokoomus (20.2%). A supporter of the True Finns told me candidly that everyone in his party is lying low to not say or do anything that would put in jeopardy their popularity.
Even though the head of the True Finns, Timo Soini, claims that anti-immigration only accounts for 10% of the party’s supporters, some believe that immigration is one of the key driving forces behind its popularity.
In Sweden, were the far-right Sweden Democrats got 5.7% of the votes, immigrants make up 14.3% of the population. Contrarily in Finland, our immigrant population totals 2.9%. Alexis Kouros correctly asks in his column in Magma if these figures are out of proportion when compared with Sweden and the support that other anti-immigration parties have elsewhere in Europe.
Any historian and person who lived during the 1930s in Finland can tell you that one characteristic of our society back then was fear of foreigners and the outside world, especially the former Soviet Union.
The True Finns’ rising popularity and anti-immigration sentiment in Finland may reveal that we have not yet begun as a society to deal seriously and effectively with issues such as immigration, racism and exclusion. Even though sensible Finns may give their thumbs down to racism, it does not mean that political parties like Kokoomus and others have an effective strategy to combat such a social ill. We are still novices on this front.
Moreover, our geography and long geopolitical isolation from Western Europe during the cold war never gave us a chance to study deeper what happened during the Continuation War (1941-44) and what it meant to be a cobelligerant (the official term) of Nazi Germany. That question, in my opinion, has never been answered properly by Finnish historians.
Many of the concepts about ethnic groups and nationalities were never openly questioned because our country’s isolation never gave cause to challenge these views after the war. But how can you debate immigration, racism and stereotypes if there were hardly any foreigners living in Finland at the time?
Today we have that opportunity thanks to the rise of our immigrant population. We are now facing what other societies have gone or are going through: asking questions about our ever-growing cultural diversity and what it means in larger context. The questions that are being asked may vary from Armageddon-type threats to Finnish culture to sensible ones that look at it with a cool head.
The rise of the True Finns in the polls reveals, in my opinion, that that debate is now going on in earnest.