The end of moderation in the Finnish way

Journalist and politician Antero Eerola on the lurch in Finnish politics

By Sasha Kohen.- TASS Finland

Finland has for decades been considered one of the most neutral and moderate countries in Europe, where the inhabitants live in prosperity and happiness. The quiet political life of the northern country in 2022 and after the results of the new parliamentary elections gave a lurch towards radicalisation. The right-wing party “True Finns” – the Finnish analogue of the German AFD – came partially to power in the government; the country itself gave up its neutral status and joined NATO; the new government announced cuts in a number of social benefits and plans for a sharp tightening of migration.

We talk about the new trends in once-quiet Suomi with Finnish journalist and metropolitan area MP Antero Eerola from the Left Alliance party, the Finnish equivalent of Germany’s Die Linke.

Finland’s politics is now undergoing a radical change in the country’s development vector. The government coalition has changed. The current president Sauli Niiniste is also ending his presidency after two terms. “The Left Alliance was part of the last government coalition. How would you assess the performance of the outgoing government?

In domestic politics, the coalition achieved a lot of things, first of all, improvement of the quality of life: we raised pensions, invested in education, implemented a whole set of reforms in education and social sphere, employment increased. But the coalition’s activities have been affected by phenomena that are independent of us. These are the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Sanna Marin’s government did very well, got Finland through the pandemic, found a good balance between restrictions and keeping the society open.

The other thing is what happened in Ukraine on 24 February last year. After these events, the government supported NATO membership, which I think was a big mistake. The few MPs who voted against joining NATO were almost all from our party, although about half of our MPs voted in favour of joining NATO.

As a result: in domestic policy the achievements in building a welfare state were significant, but in foreign policy, in security and defence policy, a mistake was made. In my opinion, it was necessary to stick to the previous multi-year course of moderation.

How would you assess the work of President Sauli Niinisto?

He was a good president almost until the end of his term, until he supported NATO membership.

For a long time Niiniste found a good balance between the West and the East, he had quite a high standing among world leaders. Right after the start of the Ukrainian crisis in the spring of 2014, he was the only head of state who travelled to Moscow and then to Ukraine. And he did play a role as a mediator, trying to find a way out of the crisis in Ukraine. During his reign, there was a summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump exactly in Helsinki.

Niiniste played a constructive role. But everything changed last spring. And, of course, he was externally influenced….

The new coalition came up with a programme that attracted widespread criticism as early as the draft was published. Among other things, the new government’s desire to cut social benefits and drastically tighten the conditions for migration to Finland were particularly criticised. Why does the new government want to tighten migration?

Purely because a member of the coalition, the far-right True Finns party, wants to restrict all migration to Finland as such. They are against all immigration, you have to understand that. This is an ideological demand, not an economic one.

And to a certain extent it is in conflict with their own party allies – the Coalition Party (Kokoomus), which represents the interests of big capital, which is interested in cheap labour.

At the same time, a scandal has now broken out in the press. Old publications of the current True Finns ministers were found with racist statements, which was strongly condemned by the other coalition members – the Swedish People’s Party. The Minister of Economic Affairs had to leave the government coalition after only 11 days in office, when it turned out that he had only barely concealed his Nazi sympathies. We leftists were already well aware of this, but somehow it came as a surprise to the mainstream media.

How does Finnish society and the Left Alliance view the resolution of the conflict in Ukraine?

Right now there is no discussion in Finnish society about how to end the war in Ukraine. There is, I would say, an unjustified belief that Ukraine will eventually win the war and will be able to fully return to the borders of 1991 – but this is not realism.

Finnish media do not even write about any initiatives towards peace, or at least ceasefire, although such initiatives are constantly emerging: they come from Brazil, China, even Africa. The American media are constantly discussing how to find a way out of the current situation. And there are even secret negotiations between the United States and Russia, as we learnt from the American news, NBC.

And we have the impression that they only want to continue the war.

Is the rise of the right-wing a pan-European picture?

In a certain sense, yes, for example, France – Le Pen, Italy, Sweden, the AFD in Germany.

But without any prejudice we should discuss the same phenomenon in Ukraine, discuss it without Russian propaganda. The influence of the extreme right in Ukraine is also a serious problem. We cannot say that the government or the president is like that, but the influence of the extreme right in Ukrainian society is far from small.

What is Finland’s future in NATO? Will there be NATO military bases on the territory of the country, including those with nuclear weapons? How do Finns and the government look at it?

According to opinion polls, a huge number of Finns are against NATO military bases here and the deployment of nuclear weapons in Finland. But unfortunately, there are no restrictions in Finland’s NATO membership, which means that such a deployment is possible, but it is unlikely.

Does Finland participate in NATO’s nuclear policy planning – yes, it will. Does Finland participate in exercises, including those involving nuclear weapon carriers? Yes, it will participate. Finnish aircraft, such as the F 35, can protect probable nuclear weapon carriers, such carriers can enter Finnish ports or can fly in the airspace of other NATO countries.

But in a direct sense, the deployment of nuclear missiles on Finnish territory is unlikely.

Negotiations are now underway on a bilateral treaty on military co-operation between the US and Finland, which would most likely grant US troops access to Finnish military bases. Such a treaty already exists between Norway and the US. Negotiations are underway between Sweden and Denmark, which also want to open their bases to the US.

Pressenza New York