In February we published the first part of this 2-part on the rise of the far right and populist parties in Finland. In the first part of the series our author Kristofer Jäntti focused on the rise of the Lapua movement. Now he examines the rise of the populist Finns party.
After the IKL (Patriotic People’s Movement) were finally disbanded, as part of the Peace Treaty between Finland and the Soviet Union, there were no Far Right Parties – that is parties against certain features of Liberal Democracy, of political importance . Indeed it would not even be feasible during the period ‘Finlandization’ . However, with the collapse of the Soviet Empire, Finland too has experienced the spectacular rise of a nationalist populist party: ‘The Finns’ – albeit a few years behind other European countries.
The question on people’s minds (especially the party leaders of the ‘old cartel’) is why such party has risen in such happy progressive nation with an immigrant population of just 2.5%? In order to answer this question one must recall the party’s origins and how it challenged Finland’s traditional party structure – most namely, the ‘Big Three’. (Social Democrats, Centre Party, National Coalition).
The Finns Party was founded in 1995 from the ruins of its predecessor, ‘the Finnish Rural Party’, which can be described as an agrarian-based protest party. It originally split-off from the Agrarian League, under the charismatic leadership of Veikko Vennamo in 1959. Ideologically it was a mix of left-wing and conservative values blended with a hefty dose of populism. It critiqued the power of large firms and argued that the ruling elites had been estranged from the needs of the ‘ordinary people’.
Central to its programme was to safeguard the interests of its key electorate (small land holders, day labourers, and small business) from the adverse effects of urbanisation and industrialisation on the Finnish countryside. With this platform, it even managed to secure an electoral breakthrough in the 1970’s and was even part coalition governments in the 1980’s, before it finally collapsed into bankruptcy as a result of falling support and political infighting.
When Timo Soini was made leader of the Finns party in 1997, he retained the populism and left-leaning economic policies of the Rural Party but eschewed its overtly agrarian focus. Instead, he has sought to re-orientate the party in order benefit from issues that had become salient in Finnish political life.
The political niche that the Finns had successfully occupied is similar to other populist parties in other European countries. One such issue is its consistent Euro-scepticism which has differentiated it from the other parties in Finnish politics. Indeed, during the 2000’s the issue of ‘Europe’ had emerged as an important part of its party manifestoes and part of its recent meteoric lies undoubtedly in the Eurocrisis and the Greece bailouts that started in 2008.
Another salient issue has been the gradual politicization of immigration. A good indication of this was for the 2003 parliamentary elections where he recruited the services services of ex-show wrestler and Boxer, Tony “the Viking” Halme who’s popularity was based on his authoritarian and anti-immigrant platform coalescing around the central message of ‘sending paedophiles, rapists and drug-dealers to Russian prisons’. His message was effective during the 2003 parliamentary elections gaining 16, 000 votes from the Helsinki.
Indeed, in Halme’s wake the Finns emerged as the party-of-choice for the anti-immigrant right, managing to attract the likes of Jussi Halla-Aho who gains notoriety for his anti-multicultural and anti-immigrant views expounded since 2003 in his ‘Scripta’ –blog which formed the basis for the infamous ‘Hommafoorum’ – the online home for Finland’s immigration critics.
Is the Finns party heading towards the extreme ? Indeed, in 2008, there was a real concern that the Finns were developing into a fully-fledged anti-immigrant party like in the rest of Europe. The fear has not been completely unfounded as two of its prominent members, Jussi Halla-Aho and James Hirvisaari, have been tried for ‘Hate Speech’ and its membership in Eurosceptic European Parliament Group ‘Eruope of Freedom and Democracy’ where it sits with the likes of Lega Nord and the Slovak National Party.
However, their official party programmes have been mild. On the one hand they want to deport immigrant criminals and have a positive programme to strengthen Finnish national identity, on the other they have not embarked on a full-frontal attack on Islam.
In some sense the Finns do not have to be ‘extreme’ as sociocultural issues like national identity and and immigration or multiculturalism as these issues have not been politicised by other Finnish parties. As long as Soini keeps the ‘Halla-Aho’ faction in check, the Finns will remain a stable feature in the Finnish political landscape.
 A term denoting a general deference in Finnish society and politics to Soviet wishes.