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A Finn Man Trying to Get Out

The EU’s bailouts spark an uprising.

Apr 18, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 30 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
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Certainly, the True Finns are skeptical about immigration. One party member, a Helsinki city councilman, was convicted in 2009 for writing nasty things about immigrants on his website. But the party as a whole is not rabid on the matter. Its preoccupations concern failures of immigration policy. Soini himself has spoken in favor of labor immigration, but points to abuses of the welfare state and ghettoization as the main problems. The spectacular failure to assimilate a large group of Somalis who arrived in Helsinki roughly a decade ago has left the general public strongly disinclined to encourage more newcomers. All three mainstream parties have hardened their policies on immigration. 

After 2005, according to public opinion surveys taken by the businessmen’s think tank EVA, public opinion on immigration turned sharply negative. Still, Soini thinks Finland has been so relatively untouched by immigration that only a foolish politician would build his career on outrage over the issue. As a way of conveying his comfort with foreigners, Soini notes, a bit quaintly, that he is a Catholic. Impressed by John Paul II, he converted while living in Ireland in the 1980s. There are only 11,000 Catholics in Finland, and most of them are foreign born. 

Soini’s party puts forward a grab bag of conservative policies that sound a bit strange in Scandinavia. They would be a better fit for a pre-Tea Party American conservative. Soini likes monuments and statues, but has thrown down the gauntlet against government-funded modern art. He is one of the rare European politicians to assert that climate change is a scam, a ruse for raising taxes. Thanks to a recent “green” tax reform that dramatically raised the price of both gasoline and heating oil, Finns have been receptive to this message. Five years ago, 7 in 10 were ready to pay to fight climate change, according to Ilkka Haavisto of EVA; today the figure has fallen to 5 in 10.

Soini is a social conservative. He opposes abortion categorically. Finland does not have full same-sex marriage, at least not in churches, and Soini, like the Finnish Lutheran church and probably a majority of Finns, does not think it should. The three main parties, meanwhile, will not touch the issue with a stick, so Finland is drifting towards same-sex marriage just as the rest of the world is—out of a vague sense, cultivated by lobbyists and activists, that “history” somehow compels it. 

On many political issues, this uncomfortable sense of drift is the real source of Soini’s rise. The Finnish culture of government is reminiscent of the one prevalent in the Netherlands in the late 1990s before the rise of Pim Fortuyn. Then a series of “purple” governments, yoking the left (red) and the right (blue), delivered the country over to rule by experts. Today Finnish voters complain that, while ruling coalitions change, policies never do. And even ruling coalitions don’t change that often. Over the past half-decade, Finland has undergone a nationwide scandal surrounding the financing of the major parties. It culminated last year with the resignation of Center party prime minister Matti Vanhanen, who was succeeded unproblematically by his Center party colleague Mari Kiviniemi. Fewer than a third of Finns can name the parties that make up the government. Says Haavisto: “The only guy in Finnish politics who says we have options is Timo Soini.” 

In every European country there exists a party or movement that bundles together the losers of globalization. These parties vary a lot more than is commonly appreciated. Some are buttoned down (like Soini’s party) and some are libertine (like Fortuyn’s). Some are religious (like the Danish People’s party) and some are secular (like Geert Wilders’s Freedom party in the Netherlands). But the one position they all defend is a strong welfare state—a curious thing, because these populist parties tend to be lumped together as “right-wing” by their detractors. 

This, it turns out, is an oversimplification. What these parties ultimately care about is national sovereignty—which might indeed be called a right-wing cause. But politicians selling its virtues to a democratic electorate will not hesitate to lay out the “left wing” benefits that citizens used to enjoy before national sovereignty was called into question, whether in the name of human rights or free markets or “building Europe.” Of the three main parties, it is the Social Democrats who have lost biggest from the True Finns’ rise. Soini describes his movement as a “labor party without socialism.” 

“I’m being stoned in Finland for saying this,” Soini says of his opposition to the EU’s bank bailouts and to Finland’s membership in the EU more generally. “I’m not a bad man. I’m just saying that, in economic terms, this won’t work.”

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and the author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West.

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