Finland, which is also known as the happiest country in the world, has always been a country that is admired with the welfare system and social support programs that are described as the most comprehensive in the world, the schooling system as a role model in the globe, it’s established full democracy and more to come. However, in recent years, Finland, like many other countries in the world, has begun to be exposed to threats to it’s democracy. One major threat to the democratic well-being of Finland is the rising ethnic nativist and radical right-wing populist parties as they trigger elite and mass polarization and eventually effect the democratic credentials.
The population of Republic of Finland is in majority ethnically homogenous where the dominant ethnicity is Finnish. Although there are also significant minority groups such as the Sami and Romani people as well as Russians, Estonians, Somalians, Iraqis etc. which now construct a notable percent of the Finnish population, 7.3%, after the recent immigration movements. Within such a country where groups of different ethnicities live, apart from the intolerant and racist thoughts that may directly arise from the mentality of the people itself, it is very critical whether the political parties and figures who guide the society, act in a way to provoke these thoughts or not. Discriminatory mentality, of ethnicity, starts to become dangerous in terms of conservation of democracy especially with the prominence of nativist and racist political parties and movements and their inducement of society to ideological extremes.
In the case of Finland, The True Finns Party, Perussuomalaiset, is one evident example to the rising right-wing populism and national conservatism throughout the country. Achieving its electoral breakthrough in the 2011 parliamentary election by winning 19.1% of the votes, The True Finns became the third largest party in the parliament. Since then, the party has been holding a major political power and now is the second largest party in the Finnish Parliament after the Social Democratic Party. The hyper-nationalist party is remembered for their attitude towards the immigrants and non-native citizens where they oppose “detrimental immigration” (Kirp, 2021). The anti-immigrant policy of the True Finns have made a great impression on a society where discrimination is very widespread but not mentioned. It is so prevalent that in a 28-country survey of first- and second-generation immigrants and ethnic minorities, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights determined that discrimination was most prevalent in Finland.
The party currently holding the third largest majority in the parliament is the National Coalition Party with a centre-right political position and liberal-conservative ideology, is one other example to the rising right-wing parties. Previously the National Coalition Party have had a more welcoming attitude towards the immigrants, especially towards work-based immigration from outside the EU, but this led to conflicting thoughts between the Finns and the National Coalition when the anti-immigrant messages of the Perussuomalaiset echoed within Finland (YLE News, 2015). Although there were certain disagreements between the two, the chair of the NCP, which is privileged to win the 2023 parliamentary elections, has made an announcement that the conservative party was willing to bring the hyper-nationalist Finns into the coalition of the government. This statement of the National Coalition demonstrates a open and voluntary consent of the NCP to the discriminatory nativist ideals of the Perussuomalaiset.
While the formation of parties in extreme ideologies bring together elite polarization, the fact that these ideologies gain representation in the parliament and are able to interfere in a more official way with the society fosters the formation of mass polarization. The rise of nativist and radical-right wing populist parties and the already prevalent power held by an ideologically pointed party – Finns – eventually have the power to erode the Finnish democracy.In the case of Finland, previous literature explains elite polarization with the conflict of preferences between the Green League as one party of the coalition government and the Finns of opposition. It is observed that the populist radical-right Finns Party became more and more anti-refugee, and the already pro-refugee Green League became even more pro-refugee. The Finns Party, in particular, is thought to construct the Green League as their enemies, which also helps explain why the Finns Party moved in an anti- environmental direction, as well as the increased issue-alignment between refugee-attitudes and environmental attitudes (Lönnqvist & Ilmarinen & Sortheix, 2020). Therefore
According to the American sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset, to a certain extent, polarization is the source of existence of democratic politics since it offers distinct alternatives to the electorate and promotes the participation of society in politics. Although in the case of Finland where the society starts seeing politics and society in terms of “us versus them”, as the immigrant policies suppose and the elites start giving counter decisions on ideology-free issues with the effect of polarization, such as the environmental attitude of Finns, it can be said that democracy is on the verge.
Photo by: Vesa Lindqvist, “Parliamentarianism in Finland”
While polarization can be a sign of a healthy, functioning democracy since it demonstrates competition and representation, extreme polarization can lead to possible democratic erosion. In the case of Finland, it appears that the True Finns Party is attempting to radically polarize Finnish politics and as the author suggests, create an “us versus them” mentality. As we know, a proper democracy should be representative of all its citizens, however, the Finns party is anti-immigration and wants to gatekeep the sizable immigrant population from government. The concept of ethnic nativism is a frightening platform for a political party to stand on. Throughout history we have seen many regimes do awful things to their citizens on the grounds of nativism. Now, we know it as ethnic cleansing. I believe the author is right to suggest that the world should keep an eye on Finland. The emergence of a right-leaning populist group that wants to discriminate against nearly 10% of the population is certainly something to be concerned about. The Finns political group shows clear early signs of possible threats to democracy. They are polarizing, discriminatory, hyper-nationalistic and ideologically extreme. Considering that many of these traits are prevalent in other authoritarian regimes such as Nazis Germany, I believe that the True Finns Party has many flashing warning signs. Lastly, it is interesting to note that Finland is regarded as the happiest country in the world when nearly 10% of their population are facing serious discrimination based on their ethnicity. Can it truly be the happiest country in the world when so many of its citizens are faced with serious prejudice from an emerging, popular political party?
You touch on an important point regarding extremism given the Finns Party getting representation in Finnish parliament and recognition from the National Coalition Party (NCP). One way that authoritarianism comes to power is through open invitation. Rather than distancing actors not faithful to democratic politics, political insiders cooperate with them, in hopes of either controlling them or getting them to play along. This accords such actors legitimacy and/or power in the political arena. While your post does not stipulate that the Finns Party has explicitly communicated contrary to adhering to democratic norms – comments that political opponents are illegitimate, for example – acknowledgement and recognition of extremism certainly contributes to polarization. An expression of willingness of the NCP to bring the Finns Party into a coalition government specifically legitimizes the Finns Party’s ideological extremism by inviting their conservative “hyper-nationalism” into the fold rather than pushing it away.
Notably, Hitler came to power democratically. Hitler’s Nazi party faced solid opposition from its political inception, but it was political insiders (“establishment politicians”) that gave Hitler the power and legitimacy he needed to amass power autocratically. The NCP’s relative embrace of the Finns Party helps to elevate its extremism to the same level as the ideologies of other parties in the Finnish parliament. At the least, the nationalist extremism whose seat at the table is growing larger contributes more to political polarization. Polarization erodes mutual toleration of opposition, i.e., not viewing opposition as an existential threat. Bringing extremism into the mix logically extends that prospect: extremists are less likely to tolerate opposition (obviously) and even centrist allies. Furthermore, extremists represent a potentially-existential threat to non-extremist actors/ideologies. Depending on if the Finns Party’s ideological extremism takes on a more anti-democratic bent, the party may yet contribute to democratic backsliding in Finland’s democratic system of government.