As Finland’s new coalition government is sworn into office on Tuesday, incoming Prime Minister Petteri Orpo is facing a public relations headache over the Speaker of Parliament and the Minister for Economic Affairs, both positions filled by the far-right Finns Party.
In Finland, it’s no secret that Jussi Halla-aho, a previous leader of the Finns Party, a former MEP and now in a senior role as Speaker of the House, has a decades-long track record of racist comments, and deeply troubling writings.
The blog posts, written years before he was in the public eye, contain disturbing insights into the worldview which has shaped his politics, and even brought him convictions for ‘disturbing religious worship’ and ‘ethnic agitation’ for which he was fined by the Finnish Supreme Court.
Among hundreds of blog posts over the years, Halla-aho wrote in June 2006 that Islam is a “religion of pedophiles,” and the Prophet Mohammed “was a pedophile.”
He said that “robbing passers-by” was a “genetic trait” of Somalis.
In 2006 he implied he would be “exclusively happy if a ‘gang of immigrants’ raped” a Green party MP.
“I still and will continue to sincerely and wholeheartedly believe that if a woman who opposes the deportation of immigrant rapists is raped by an immigrant rapist, it is a happy thing,” he later wrote.
Halla-aho has also targeted Finland’s LGBTQ+ community.
“Violence is an underrated problem-solving tool today,” he wrote in November 2008, during a discussion on the shooting of a gay man in Helsinki.
A Finnish court ordered some of the most egregious comments to be deleted, while others were scrubbed by the author, but many more can still be found online.
Halla-aho has never apologised for his earlier writing.
“Their whole mode of operation is always attack, never defend, never ask for forgiveness,” Oula Silvennoinen, an Associate Professor at the University of Helsinki, tells Euronews.
For several years, Halla-aho was openly a member of a nationalist organisation called Suomen Sisu, which is opposed to immigration and multiculturalism, and takes an anti-EU stance A number of senior Finns Party politicians have also been Suomen Sisu members.
Can someone with a conviction in Finland still run for parliament?
There’s no law in Finland that says someone with convictions against them can’t serve as a Member of Parliament, or indeed Speaker.
§31 of the Finnish constitution has a vague rule that reads “a representative shall conduct himself or herself with dignity and decorum, and not behave offensively to another person,” which applies not just to rank-and-file MPs, but to the Speaker of Parliament and government ministers too.
However Finland’s political system is based on the premise that an MP already received a mandate from voters, and that counts for a great deal, so no other checks or balances are on the books.
In response to a request for comment, the Finns Party tells Euronews Halla-aho “is one of the most esteemed politicians in Finland.”
However, Party Secretary Arto Luukkanen says “your information concerning Finnish politics is not apt and does not correspond to realities of life. To rely on biased sources is a typical ‘rookies-mistake’ (sic), both in journalism and in historiography (sic)” he added.
Halla-aho’s court convictions are a matter of public record in Finland, hundreds of his old blog posts are still online and can be verified, and the issues have been thoroughly documented in Finnish media over the years.
When asked by Finnish journalists about his writings, Halla-aho’s usual response is to say they are old, and he doesn’t bring them up, it’s the media’s choice to keep going back and rehashing old texts.
Minister spoke at rally organised by neo-Nazis
Another headache facing the incoming Finnish government is Minister of Economic Affairs Vilhelm Junnila, who takes the position for the first two years, then swaps with another Finns Party colleague.
In 2019, Junnila was the featured speaker at an event in the western city of Turku which ostensibly was supposed to commemorate a terrorist attack two years previously.
However, the rally was arranged by an organisation called the Coalition of Nationalists, an umbrella group formed in 2017 for those on the far-right including the Finns Party, the now-banned Nordic Resistance Movement, and the Soldiers of Odin vigilante movement.
Already in spring that same year, the Coalition of Nationalists had hit the headlines in Finland after they were exposed for organising shooting training at a camp in the forest, where the targets were faces of Finnish government ministers.
The event where Junnila spoke was a “who’s who of neo-Nazis in Finland”, according to one researcher, and members of these various shadowy extreme right-wing organisations can be seen in photographs standing behind Junnila while he gave a short speech, albeit on the opposite riverbank.
Junnila was “the official, pre-advertised speaker” at the event, writes Panu Raatikainen, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tampere.
Euronews has contacted incoming Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s National Coalition Party for comment about the new government.