The willingness to see True Finns as a respectable party among others tells something of the consensus-oriented Finnish political culture

“The question is, to what extent the hostility to immigrants and immigration, not to speak of racism, will appear in the party’s activities: ‘less’ or ‘more’ than elsewhere”, writes Risto Alapuro.

I have tried to digest the results of the elections, and it seems to me that different dimensions can be discerned in the True Finns’ success and in the nature of the party, or the movement.

1. It is certainly a populist party in the classical sense of te term. Many of the new MPs for example are former members of Veikko Vennamo’s party from the seventies (Finnish Rural Party) or their offspring. The party’s rhetorics defending the unemployed, small farmers and small entrepreneurs, is reminiscent of Vennamo’s party. The elite vs. the people is the main frame. A number of the new MPs and supporters are close to the industrial working class or belong to it. All this means that you can really find many elements from the arsenal of the traditional Left in the propositions of the candidates – as in fact a quantitative analysis of the the candidates’ views in the internet candidate selector (vaalikone), published in Helsingin Sanomat suggests.

2. At the same time the “values” of the True Finn candidates, according to this two-dimensional analysis, are “conservative”. This includes, not surprisingly, valuing for example the traditional family, religion (many new deputies are or have been involved in the Lutheran church activities at the local level) and — “Finnishness”. All this as well can be labeled populist in a rather conventional sense of the word, I think.

3. But then comes the crucial question, the role and contents of the “Finnishness” (they are “True Finns”, after all). The point is, and very much like in the right-wing populist parties in Norway or Denmark or elsewhere, that there is no clear dividing line between those who are populist in the sense of the previous point, and those who are close to racism or are even openly racist in their propositions. This wing, whose main figure is called Jussi Halla-aho (he gathered a lot of votes in Helsinki) and whose representatives belong into an extreme-nationalist organization called Suomen Sisu, has 4-5 (I should check the figure) True Finn deputies out of the total of 39. That is, in the nationalist aspect of the True Finn “ideology”, the experience of the threat from outside (immigration, the EU, etc.) plays such an important and but vague role that it gives a shelter or a refuge to a grouping that is openly racist — even though the majority of the party does not go so far. (There are also deputies to whom the immigration is no major issue.)

4. I think that this picture of the True Finns as a whole is in many ways similar or comparable with that of other (right-wing) populist parties in Europe. The question is, to what extent the hostility to immigrants and immigration, not to speak of racism, will appear in the party’s activities: “less” or “more” than elsewhere? Does the leader Timo Soini will keep the right wing inside, even though trying to marginalize the most extreme statements (this is something familiar from Denmark), or will he dissassociate himself from them, and if yes, to what extent?

5. All this means that in my mind there are dangerous elements in the party. And what I find amazing is that this rightist aspect or potential has been very little present in the post-election comments so far. It is a telling fact that the negative reaction elsewhere in Europe has not been taken very seriously. Again, as in some occasions before in the history of Finland, the predominant reaction is that “our” counterpart (if one can even speak of a counterpart) for un- or anti-democratic phenomena elsewhere in Europe, is “different” or “not really comparable”, and usually “more moderate” than elsewhere. This reaction tells something of the consensus-oriented Finnish political culture. There is a willingness to see True Finns as a respectable party among others.

This said, I also think that the party should be given a chance to join the cabinet. The problematic thing is that they really express a “people’s voice” that has brought politics back into the Finnish politics, and shaken ossified structures (there have not been clear alternatives in the elections, as there are in Sweden, for example).

6. One more important, and negative, consequence of the election result is that it certainly affects the common atmosphere in the public discussion: it makes the xenophobic discourse or a discourse close to it more legitimate or respectable than before. In fact that has been a trend already, but the new political constellation will reinforce this tendency.