Momentum of xenophobic right in Finland

Finnish far-right stokes up ‘othering’ and bigotry for votes.

Chairman Timo Soini of the Finns Party attends a session at the Finnish Parliament in Helsinki [Reuters]
Chairman Timo Soini of the Finns Party attends a session at the Finnish Parliament in Helsinki [Reuters]

On February 5, the Finns Party (formerly True Finns) published its 2015 programme on immigration policy. For those unfamiliar with the Finnish political scene, the Finns Party is the third largest political party in the Finnish parliament and it pushes for a nationalistic, conservative, and Christian agenda.

The Finns Party’s programme on immigration agonises about “immigrants who lack skills required in the labour market or who, for religious or cultural reasons, do not want to adopt important European notions for example on equality or freedom of expression”.

Remaining loyal to the tenets of jingoistic jargon cherished by most xenophobic parties in the EU, the programme’s fatuous concluding remarks promulgate that “Finland must free itself from the idea that immigration and multiculturalism even of themselves are necessary or preferable” but nonetheless “remain open to those who want to live in the house by the house’s rules”.

French conservatives surge in local elections

Discriminatory undertones

Riddled with factual errors, saturated with discriminatory undertones and capped with content that appears to contradict the Finnish constitution, the programme makes for a peculiar read.

Indeed, devoid of constructive content, it is plausible that one of the rationals to concoct such a programme was merely to create a platform for disseminating aforementioned rhetoric and asinine phrases such as “free riders”, “Jihad-tourism”, and “poverty immigration” whose only purpose is to stoke up othering and bigotry for votes.

One of the first assertions of the programme is that “asylum procedure has practically become the most significant route for immigration”. Not even remotely true. Out of the total 1.7 million people migrating to EU annually, 216,300 were asylum seekers, meaning that asylum seekers constitute 13 percent of immigrants to EU. Contrary to what the Finns Party programme claims, the primary reasons for people migrating to EU are family ties, work and studies.

According to the party’s immigration programme, immigrants receiving social assistance or general housing assistance could continue to receive such assistance if and only if they stay in the very apartment that has been assigned to them. No such logic is applied to native citizens of Finland. Such a proposal could be interpreted as a breach of freedom of movement, hence violating the Finnish constitution.

Martin Scheinin, a professor of international law and human rights at the European University Institute, has already confirmed in the Finnish media that the programme contradicts the constitution of Finland on a number of accounts. Johannes Koskinen, chair of the Constitutional Law Committee, has put forth similar observations.

The content of the Finns Party's immigration policy programme substantiates that systematic distortion of the factual record is still the modus operandi of Finnish xenophobia.


Racial incitement

The reaction by the Finns Party supporters to legitimate criticism elicited by the programme has been revealing. Veronika Honkasalo, a member of the City Council of Helsinki (Left Alliance), stated that the programme contains “racist language and is based on racist ideology” – an accurate characterisation of the programme, as one can confirm from the examples cited earlier. In the Finnish public discussion, Honkasalo is regarded as among the most ardent proponents of multiculturalism and vocal critics of the Finns Party.

Jussi Halla-aho, an MEP for the Finns Party and a one of the drafters of the party’s immigration programme, called for his Facebook acquaintances to “distance themselves” from remarks uttered by Honkasalo. 

Thereupon, Honkasalo’s Facebook profile, page and inbox, as well as her email, were flooded with misogynistic and racist slurs and threats to her personal safety. Those approaching her suggested, for instance, that she should start working as a hooker in an immigration detention centre and that she should be raped by immigrants who would then infect her with HIV.

Halla-aho, who has had his share of legal troubles, went on to conveniently deny all responsibility for the tsunami of personal attacks and threats uttered against Honkasalo.

“People are responsible for their own actions,” Halla-aho quipped, as if there’s no correlation whatsoever between his public Facebook plea and the vilification storm that ensued. In the aftermath of the incident, Honkasalo has emphasised she will not be deterred by any such scare tactics.

The content of the Finns Party’s immigration policy programme substantiates that systematic distortion of the factual record is still the modus operandi of Finnish xenophobia. Notwithstanding, the popularity of both the Finns Party and Halla-aho is considerable.

To illustrate, in the 2014 European Parliament elections, Halla-aho gathered the second largest share of votes in the whole of Finland. Thus, it remains as important as ever to seek to halt the momentum of, and challenge the tactics employed by, such a political force.

Bruno Jantti is an investigative journalist specialising in international politics.  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.