A few diverse thoughts on the election campaign as it goes into its final week.
Astrid Thors has a sense of humour
Being the government minister responsible for immigration can’t be an easy job in a time when populists are on the rise. Migration Minister Astrid Thors of the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) has faced a tough time in the media and often hateful threats against her from hardline anti-immigration campaigners. Indeed, due to this she requires a body guard when out in public. But an article in yesterday’s Hufvudstadsbladet shows that Thors has not lost her sense of humour during this often tough four year parliamentary term. On Friday, as she campaigned for votes at SFP’s election hut next to Stockmann in central Helsingfors/Helsinki, she wore a flowery hat, mocking the Finnish language’s nickname of “flower-hatted aunt” referring to persons who are pro-immigration.
Whilst Hufvudstadsbladet‘s reporter was at the scene, one man did walk by Thors and shouted aggressively, “Kick out the niggers from Finland!” Straight after this, one of the few candidates with an immigrant background from the national Coalition party Kokoomus, Fatbardhe Hetemaj, approached Thors from Kokoomus’ neighbouring election hut to admire her hat. At the same time, Kokoomus parliament member for Helsinki Ben Zyskowicz stood with an election brochure and attempted to hand it to an older lady with her grandchildren, to which the elder lady replied in Swedish, “I am not voting for you and I vote in Nyland/Uusimaa electoral district anyway”. To which Zyskowicz replied that she should then vote for Alexander Stubb, Finland’s foreign minister who is standing as a Kokoomus candidate in Nyland. The elderly lady instead determinedly approached Astrid Thors.
Indeed, it can’t be easy to be an immigrant or Swedish-speaking candidate or supporter for Kokoomus. The party contains elements that are extremely hostile to both. The party’s youth wing has voted for scrapping the Swedish-language as a part of the compulsory school curriculum in Finnish schools. Whilst the youth wing’s chairman Wille Rydman, who is a candidate in the parliamentary election in Helsinki, has expressed anti-immigrant views that can be considered on a par with the populist True Finns. He has in the past even expressed support for the views of the hardline racist candidate of the True Finns Jussi Hallo-aho. Swedish-speakers and immigrants considering voting for Kokoomus candidates such as Stubb should be aware who else might benefit from their vote.
As for Astrid Thors, her strongest challenge in this election probably comes from Jörn Donner. The veteran politician, author, film director and journalist is also standing as an SFP candidate in the capital. SFP strategists hope that Donner could attract a large enough number of votes to ensure that party would win two mandates in Helsinki. This however seems unlikely, and if Donner were too win more votes than Thors, he could knock her out of parliament.
True Finns – Sann’finländarna’
Saturday was a flag day in honour of the Finnish language. The Finnish flag flew outside our house as it did from the flag poles of our neighbours, who are predominantly also Swedish-speaking Finns due to the area in which I live. We are one nation with two languages and it is right that we mark this fact. Yet, it made me think, I wonder how many True Finns supporters and candidates fly the Finnish flag on the 6 November each year, a flag day marking the Swedish language and culture in Finland. It made me wonder whether we should really be translating Perussuomalaiset to Sannfinländarna in Swedish. This will make little sense to the English-speaker, so allow me to explain. The Swedish-language, unlike English and for the most part Finnish, makes a distinction between finne and finländare. Both would be translated as ‘Finn’ in English, whereas in Swedish the former refers to a Finnish-speaking Finn and the latter to any Finn regardless of language group. Finlandssvensk refers to a Swedish-speaking Finn. The translation “Sannfinländarna” thus means “[the] True Finns” in the sense of all Finns regardless of language group. Yet, the party is clearly against anyone who is not a Finnish-speaking non-immigrant. It doesn’t like immigrants or Swedish-speakers. It might be more accurate to translate its name as Sannfinnarna in future. Let’s not pretend it is an inclusive party.
Voters disenfranchised in Berlin
One of the perhaps most troubling stories in the last couple of days was reported by Radio Vega’s Aktuellt news bulletin this morning. Yesterday was the last day for Finnish citizens living abroad to cast their vote at Finland’s diplomatic posts. However, this was made impossible for around 30 persons trying to vote at the Finnish embassy in Berlin. The embassy ran out of ballot papers thus effectively disenfranchising those effected unless they happen to be able to travel to Finland to vote here. Aktuellt‘s reporter in Berlin spoke with an official from the Berlin embassy who noted that they had noticed that they were low on ballot papers earlier in the week and had ordered 150 more from the consulates in Hamburg and Stuttgart. However, when the reporter asked why it wasn’t possible to order more from Finland when there are several flights a day between the Finnish and German capitals, the official was dumbstruck and could not supply an answer. Let’s hope that this serious break-down in the mechanics of democracy is an isolated incident.