Not all polar bears and the far right: Finnish politics and the Finns Party

Not all polar bears and the far right: Finnish politics and the Finns Party

We’re sure you’ve always been wondering about Finnish politics. Don’t give us that attitude. We know your interest has been piqued. Karla Malm explains Finnish politics and the supposedly right wing Finns Party

 “Oh, you are from Finland? Don’t you guys have those right wing people, the Finns Party?”

The number of times I’ve heard some variation of this sentence in the past few weeks – let’s just say I’ve stopped counting. And – despite the number of people I’ve had this same conversation with – I still get a bit confused by the question. Every single time.

I mean, yes, we have a party called the Finns Party. And yes, it’s quite popular. How right wing it actually is depends on how you define ‘right wing’. It’s openly nationalistic, which is the main reason people associate it with other European right wing parties like the Swedish Democrats, Front National, and Ukip. But it is not that simple. On some issues, like economic policy, the stance of the Finns Party is pretty much the exact opposite of right wing.

Finland’s next general election will be held in April 2015. In the last general election, four years ago, 19 percent of Finns voted for the Finns Party. This is no small number, especially for a relatively young party. Before that general election, the Finns had only five MPs. Now they have 39.

Timo Soini, Chairman of the Finns Party.  Soppakanuuna/ Wikipedia

Timo Soini, Chairman of the Finns Party.
Soppakanuuna/ Wikipedia

In spite of this enormous increase in support, the Finns Party aren’t a part of the current government. Some say this was a wise strategic choice – it is easier to continue gaining popularity when you are the opposition, not actually making the real decisions (see: Nick Clegg and the LibDems).

Now, as we sit on the precipice of another election, the questions for the Finns Party are how and why? How did this relatively young party, known primarily for criticising immigration policy, come out of nowhere and take almost one-fifth of all votes in 2011, and how are they going to repeat this in 2015? Why are they so popular?

First, the popularity of the Finns Party is rooted in social conservatism and Euro-scepticism, not radical right wing views. For example, it is strongly against same-sex marriage and Finland’s current immigration policy. Its website calls promoting and maintaining ‘the recognition of Finland as a nation and culture’ one of the most important ideas of the party. It is classically reactionary – an answer to our new, chaotic, fragmented world in which uncertainty about the future has become part of everyday life.

These are – for the most part – people who miss the old world, the predictable world. What brings these people of different backgrounds together is a disdain for development – development of technology, democracy and, above all, change. They do not want more freedom because it brings confusing new choices. Even if this predictable world and its traditional values are now just an illusion, it’s comforting.

 The Finns Party can provide this illusive comfort.

And second, the popularity of the party says something about the Finnish people’s attitude toward politics in general. It likes to call itself ‘populist’ and to label itself as the ‘people’s party’, not unlike Ukip or the American Tea Party. Its co-founder and leader, Timo Soini, carefully avoids using complicated language. His speeches are meant to be understandable for all – not just politicians or those who are highly educated. He’s trying desparately to say: “We’re truly here for you. We understand you. We’re not like other politicians.”

2015 is going to be interesting. Whether or not the Finns Party will be able to retain its standing in Finnish politics is yet to be seen. For me, in the meantime, I might start pointing people who ask me about them to this article.

Featured image credit: Nathan D. Wilson/ Wikipedia 

(We know it’s not entirely relevant, but with all the gloom of Finns Party, we felt a cute polar bear was just what was needed.)

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