Finland: Thousands demonstrate against scandal-ridden, far-right government

Up to 6,000 people joined last Wednesday’s “Zero Tolerance for Racism” march in central Helsinki, demanding the fall of the National Conservative/Basic Finns-led far-right coalition, just one month after it the government was formed. The march targeted finance minister, Riikka Purra, who was recently revealed to have made numerous violent racist statements on blogs and social media over the past decade and a half.

The mass public outrage against Purra comes just weeks after Economic Affairs Minister Vilhelm Junnila resigned over the revelation of pro-Hitler comments made at public events and online. In the wake of the scandal, National Conservative Prime Minister, Petteri Orpo, has declared that his government, a coalition of the Thatcherite National Conservative Party (Kokoomus), with the far-right, fascist-based Basic Finns (PS), the likewise far-right Christian Democrats (KD) and the ostensibly liberal Swedish People’s Party (RKP), has “no tolerance” for racism.

Large sections of the Finnish public have been quick to recognize the absurdity of Orpo’s declaration. The affiliation of the leadership of PS with the extreme right has been obvious for years, with various representatives of the party speaking at neo-Nazi events, receiving convictions for incitement of racial hatred, and holding membership in the swastika-bearing ultranationalist organization, Suomen Sisu. When PS had to produce a less odious MP to replace Junnila, their choice was none other than Wille Rydman — who until last year was an NCP MP until he left the party amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment against young and underage women.

The decision on whether to continue the government hinges on the RKP, who already have signaled their unease by voting against their own coalition in the confidence motion against Junnila. But the leaders of the RKP cannot pretend naivete about what PS is any more than Orpo can. It is their own opportunism that brought this government about in the first place. The reason it formed as it did is that the leaders of the RKP put the pursuit of neoliberal austerity economics ahead of any concerns they might have had about racism or far-right violence.

The ejection of PS from the government would be welcome. A new government, one based on the NCP and Social Democrats, would not be openly racist the way the PS is, but we must recognize it would only slow, not stop, the agenda of cutbacks, privatization of public services, and militarism that help drive racism. The Social Democrats, Greens and Left Alliances’ public capitulation to austerity has created the space for PS to pose as a radical alternative. In the nearly 20 years since PS emerged as a major force in Finnish politics, not once has any parliamentary party used its influence to seriously oppose PS. Bringing down the government would be like treating syphilis with mercury: the outward symptoms might be covered up, but the rot will continue to corrupt every organ within.

“Helsinki Without Nazis”

It is telling that Wednesday’s demonstration was not organized or led by any political party or trade union, nor even by the “Helsinki Without Nazis” (HIN) coalition, but by a small group of inexperienced young activists who sensed the need for action and boldly took it. These organizers display good instinct in planning to develop the action into a coalition staging anti-racist demonstrations across Finland. What is needed — what HIN undermines itself in rejecting — is a positive programme, one that is not just against racism but for a socialist programme to undermine racism: mass availability of good-quality affordable public housing, full employment with state-created well-paying jobs, mass nationalization and the democratic control and management of the commanding heights of the economy by the working class.

All these are the logical consequence of “zero tolerance” — after all, while the previous government called itself “center-left” and did not indulge in barefaced xenophobia, it still did nothing to make Helsinki’s police accountable to the public after they were found to be systematically discriminatory against Somalis and Romani. It still promoted a policy toward asylum seekers that opened the doors to white Europeans while denigrating Syrians and Afghans. It still calculatedly escalated persecution of Kurdish activists in order to placate the violently anti-Kurdish regime in Turkey during negotiations over Finland joining NATO.

The root of the problem lies not in one government or another but in the very foundation of the Finnish state: the fanatical promotion of nationalism and capitalism. Thursday’s march began at the foot of the statue of JV Snellman, who as Finance Minister chose to let tens of thousands starve rather than engage in deficit spending to buy grain. The protest ended beneath a statue of Per Evind Svinhufvud, the first Regent and third President of Finland, who presided over the executions and concentration camp deaths of tens of thousands of Finnish Communists. In the time between his Regency and Presidency, Svinhufvud occupied his time largely with the organization of a far-right militia.

Over the years, the targets have changed: Russians, Tatars, Romani, Somalis, and Syrians. Finland remains a paradox: lauded for its high level of happiness and equality due to its strong unions and welfare state, but by its own admission one of the most racist countries in Europe. The resolution to this paradox can only come with a definitive break from capitalism and the building, based on a mass movement of the working class, of a new socialist society.

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July 2023