During the last week, Immonen, a member of the Finnish Parliament from the populist Party member of the government’s coalition, the True Finns, posted on his Facebook account an attack on multiculturalism which, by its tone, is an extreme-right violent declaration and provoked strong reactions in Finland, in the majority and in the opposition. It is proving that the leader of the True Finns, Timo Soini, who went in the government denying that his party was an extreme-right movement, is not able to keep the control of its party members, and that the Prime Minister has made the wrong choice when picking his allies in a government coalition supposed to unite Finland and improve its economy.
Immonen’s declaration of : extreme-right provocation
On the 25th of July, Immonen wrote on his Facebook account:“I’m dreaming of a strong, brave nation that will defeat this nightmare called multiculturalism. This ugly bubble that our enemies live in, will soon enough burst into a million little pieces. Our lives are entwined in a very harsh times. These are the days that will forever leave a mark on our nations’ future. I have strong belief in my fellow fighters. We will fight until the end for our homeland and one true Finnish nation. The victory will be ours.”
It has provoked a number of reactions in Finland, beginning with the allies of his own party. Prime Minister Sippilä, leader of the Centre Party Keskusta, wrote on Twitter (holiday time, no physical presence): “I want to develop Finland as an open, linguistically and culturally international country […] I cannot accept Immonen’s remarks”. The leader of the 3rd party in government, Alexander Stubb (National Coalition Party, Kokoomus) was also writing on Twitter,: “Multiculturalism is an asset. That’s all I have to say”.
For the True Finns, the party leader Timo Soini, who was on holidays, has reacted weakly some days after the event and declared that the matter of excluding or not Immonen would be dealt with by the parliamentary group, and that Immonen’s or others’ opinions have no influence on him . The leader of the True Finns’s parliamentary group, Sampo Terho, indicated to the news agency STT that he does not want to comment as it is only the expression of “a representative’s personal opinion”, and not the party’s opinion.
According to Yle News, “some moderates in the party, such as MP Maria Tolppanen, party secretary Riikka Slunga-Poutsalo and parliamentary group chair Sampo Terho said they were taken aback by Immonen’s post. The paper contacted seven Finns Party group leaders, four of whom agreed that the post had a negative impact”. But three of them did not share this opinion.
True Finns, a party very tolerant with extreme-right opinions among its members
But there has been voices supporting Immonen in the party. For example, Jussi Halla-Aho, Finns Party member of the European Parliament who has been some years ago convicted of hate speech has on his blog come out in support of Immonen, according to Yle News: “Just for the record, I want to tell journalists and others that I also oppose multiculturalism. I also believe multiculturalism is an ugly bubble. I don’t necessarily share his optimism that this ugly bubble will pop before it has destroyed European society, but I will do everything to ensure that it does”. Another example: True Finns MP, Martin Mölsä, has refused to condemn MP Olli Immonen multiculturalism declaration, just saying that they are “a bit exaggerated”, but he declares that he understands the feeling. And at local level, a number of True Finns leaders support Immonen.
Questioning multiculturalism, after all, is not a crime or by itself worrying. Other leaders, such as David Cameron or Angela Merkel, did it, but in another context, which was not a critic of immigration, but only of the way integration was handled in their countries.
But here, in Finland, Immonen’s declarations are extremely violent, and are in fact similar or even worse than those of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian extreme-right terrorist, perpetrator of the 2011 Norway attacks, who killed 77 people on 22 July 2011 and was convicted of mass murder, causing a fatal explosion, and terrorism. According to YLE, Pekka Vennamo, former Finnish Rural Party chairman (the predecessor of the True Finns party), saw Immonen’s remarks as a response to mass murderer and Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Breivik’s call to fight multiculturalism. Vennamo compared Immonen’s Facebook post to Breivik’s manifesto, with in addition the fact that Immonen published his post 4 years day for day after Breivik’s attack. On Facebook, Vennamo ponders whether “Immonen is a Breivik fan or his successor[…] Immonen’s text reads like an abbreviated version of Breivik’s manifesto,” wrote Vennamo. You can make your opinion by comparing the two texts by clicking here
Why Juha Sipilä should be embarrassed to work with the True Finns party in the coalition
The main problem is that, in Finland, it is now possible to have in the government a party where it is possible for parliament members to express views which are not in line with the EU values, are racists or seriously reminding the declarations of the Nazis in the beginning of the thirties. Before Immonen’s declarations, there is a long list of declarations from True Finns’ members which went without major problems for their authors, and are a shame for Finnish politics:
- On the 28th of May, the new Justice Minister from the Finns’ party, Jari Lindström, declared that he “could in some circumstances consider the death penalty”
- On the 25th of May 2015, Olli Sademies, City of Helsinki deputy councillor has come under fire after he publicly stated in a Facebook post that African men who come to Finland as refugees should not be allowed to have more than three children, and should be sterilized instead.
- On 19th of May 2015, Ann-Cathrine Jungar, a researcher on right wing populism, has expressed surprise at the meagre debate in the country resulting from the recent photo shoot of Perussuomalaiset (True Finns Party) MP Olli Immonen with neo-Nazis.
This is all since the April elections, when the Finns party has been in the government. Before that, there has been a number of declarations by True Finns’ local or national politicians which are at the level of the worse extreme-right excesses in the rest of Europe:
- In December 2008, Halla-aho, now representing Finland in the European parliament, as a True Finns elected MEP, was put under investigation for incitement to ethnic or racial hatred (under Finnish law referred to as “ethnic agitation”) for remarks published on his blog, as he wrote that the prophet Muhammad was a paedophile, making reference to Muhammad’s relationship with Aisha, and that Islam is a religion that sanctifies pedophilia. In another text, he asked if it could be stated that robbing passers-by and living on taxpayers’ expense are cultural and possibly genetic characteristics of Somalis. The case went to the Supreme Court and in a sentence given on the 8 of June 2012, the Supreme Court found Halla-aho guilty of both disturbing religious worship and of ethnic agitation.
- In April 2011, Teuvo Hakkarainen, member of the Finnish Parliament for the True Finns, according to Wikipedia openly expressed his opinions towards black people and Muslims in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat. During the interview Hakkarainen used a pejorative word neekeriukko (which nowadays translates to male negro or nigga and is considered to be an offensive racial slur). He also made a mocking imitation of the Islamic call to prayer. Justice did not prosecute him.
- In May 2011, True Finns’ member Freddy Van Wonterghem, councilman in Kotka town, claimed on Iltalehti that even though excesses happened during World War II, the Holocaust was an “exaggerated” fabrication by the former Soviet Union. He was later condemned for “ethnic agitation” when declaring about a public execution in Saudi Arabia that it was ok if Saudis kill a Muslim woman because “that person would not give birth to anymore Muslims”, and later declared that he had no regrets about what he wrote.
- In October 2013, True Finns member of Parliament Hirvisaari received a notice of censure from the Chair of the Finnish Parliament for having invited far-right activist Seppo Lehto as his guest to the parliament, let him make several Nazi salutes, and having taken a photo of Lehto performing the Nazi salute from the spectator gallery overlooking the Parliament House’s Session Hall. Photos and videos of Lehto performing the Nazi salute in the Parliament House were then distributed on Lehto’s public Facebook page and on YouTube.
In addition, there has been a number of cases of holocaust denials, racist remarks, and more recently of anti-gays comments made by True Finns members and not condemned by the party’s management. In general , the perpetrators have not been excluded from the True Finns party, even when condemned by the Finnish justice. Interviewed on the BBC (it is worth looking at least at the transcript here ), Timo Soini has appeared to be quite passive, indicating that he cannot control his party companions: “Of course there are one or two outbursts but we have 19% out of people voting for us…If there are some individuals or even some MPs you cannot personally be in charge”, which is strange for a party leader, as noted by the interviewer. Some have translated Timo Soini position by “I am not racist, but I do not reject the racists’ votes”.
Juha Sippilä, and his other ally Alexander Stubb, are now facing a dilemma: even if personally Timo Soini, the present leader of the True Finns, is an acceptable partner, the positions of influential party members and members of Parliament on a number of topics and in the domain of values are the opposite of those of the two other parties of the coalition. In addition, any racist of simply provocative declaration by one of the member of the True Finns in the Parliament is embarrassing the government, at a moment when the most important is to be able to push the necessary reforms for Finland, which is meaning limiting the divisions in the society.
One possibility is to continue to rely on Soini’s will to stay as a Minister of Foreign Affairs, which has been his personal dream during years, as explained by Erkki Tuomioja during his interview on this website some months ago. It is also a bet on the capacity of Timo Soini to control his party members, which is more and more difficult, particularly with the Greek bailout where he appeared as betraying his voters. This strategy may find also its limits when hard measures concerning in particular families and pensioners, which goes against the True Finns’ party promises during the last campaign. Apparently, as explained recently by Antti Rinne, leader of the social-democrats, True Finns members of parliament have not yet read in detail the content of the government’s programme…
Another one which would make sense would be to let go of Timo Soini and his party, using one of the weekly problems they are creating to organise a separation. Considering the last declarations of the Social Democratic Party leaders and of the Greens, Sipilä would have a chance to have them join the government. It would make sense as it would facilitate the agreement with the trade unions on a social contract as proposed by Sipilä. The Greens would be accepting as the Fennovoima project (building a new nuclear plant) seems to be sinking fast, and could be replaced by a green energy programme as promised by Sipilä during his campaign. The price would be some changes in the government programme (cuts in budget for poor families, students, poor pensioners), and also convincing Antti Rinne to work with Stubb. It looks feasible, and would improve the chance of success of Sipilä. After all, better now than in 6 months.
Unfortunately there will always be a sector of Finnish society that will find these viewpoints acceptable. I am afraid people like Olli Immonen are here to stay, no matter what his party’s leaders do to sanction him.
It seems the True Finns only post to Facebook after a few drinks get consumed, or something much worse if done while sober. Instead of expressing negative anti-immigrant sentiments, perhaps it would be more useful to focus on the causes of increasing immigration to Europe: wars, corruption leading to deteriorating social conditions in Africa and the Middle East, increased wealth inequality, continuation of the world’s tax haven industry, etc. When nations have their resource wealth taken out of the country through corrupt banking and tax evasion, experience destructive wars facilitated by foreigners, etc., the people in those nations suffer deprivation, explaining the reasons for migration very clearly.
In my opinion, demanding the True Finns to isolate the most extremist parts of the party doesn’t have any real sense. The “True Finns” rises as xenophobic political force. If it isolates or excludes the extremists in it, it simply won’t be. It is true there are not only extremists, but that’s an unavoidable part of that force, which distinguishes it from the others. You can take away the non-extremists from it and then isolate the rest from the other political forces, but not the opposite.