Minister of Education Anna-Maja Henriksson (SFP) and Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) talked during a plenary session in the Parliament House in Helsinki on 28 June 2023. Both Henriksson and Orpo on Friday declined to comment on whether Minister of Economic Affairs Wille Rydman’s (PS) racist private messages preclude him from performing his duties as cabinet member. (Eeva-Maria Brotherus – Lehtikuva)

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MINISTER of Economic Affairs Wille Rydman (PS) should have apologised for his racist private messages, states Minister of Education Anna-Maja Henriksson (SFP).

“I hoped that we would’ve seen some kind of an apology. We didn’t get one. This doesn’t make the overall situation easier because we’ll have to consider this at some point in any case,” she commented to Helsingin Sanomat on Friday.

“Even though we’ve talking about private messages, they do also bring forth his own thoughts which, in my view, were very inappropriate. It was racist language.”

Rydman has declined to apologise for using racist language in messages he sent to his then-girlfriend in 2016, instead affirming his commitment to the provisions on equality and non-discrimination in the government programme.

“My starting point is that everyone in the government is committed to everything we’ve agreed on together, the upcoming government statement [on equality and non-discrimination]. At least I have; hopefully so has everyone else,” he wrote on Twitter on Friday.

While Henriksson did not state whether the Swedish People’s Party could back Rydman in a possible vote of confidence, she did express her concern about the message that is being sent outside Finland.

“We’ll return to these questions of confidence when it’s time, and the time isn’t in July. We’ll have a thorough discussion about the overall situation in the parliamentary group,” she said.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) on Friday revealed that he had a discussion with his fellow ruling-party leaders in the wake of reporting about the private messages.

“When [Helsingin Sanomat’s] story came out yesterday, I invited the chairpersons for a meeting this morning and we went through the issue together. It’s good that Rydman has said he’s committed to the provisions in the government programme,” the premier stated to Helsingin Sanomat.

Rydman’s affirmation, he added, was necessary because the government rejected all racist activity.

“Even though they were only private messages, we can’t accept the use of this kind of language in any circumstance. Racism can’t be tolerated in any form in the work of a government minister, and it’s my duty – along with seeing to the government programme’s implementation – that we hold on to this in the government’s work,” said Orpo.

The Finnish government communicated last week that it is continuing to draft its statement on promoting equality and non-discrimination with a view to presenting the statement to the parliament in the autumn. The government first announced it is drafting the statement following reporting on the old, racist comments of Minister of Finance Riikka Purra (PS).

Purra apologised for her “stupid” social media comments and the “harm and grievance they understandably caused” on Twitter on 11 July. Questions have persisted about whether the apology was sincere also within the government, however.

Orpo on Friday admitted that the government is ever more necessary following the news concerning Rydman.

“The government must now have a lot of internal discussion because it’s necessary to make it clear to both Finns and people outside Finland that racism isn’t tolerated in Finland,” he stressed to Helsingin Sanomat.

“We’ll continue to be a society where people’s origin doesn’t matter. On the contrary, we want foreign skilled workers, investments and companies here. People who move here from other parts of the world are needed, and this is a message we must be able to tell clearly to Finns.”

Also the Finns Party is committed to this, he viewed.

“Going through old texts and statements is difficult, but it’s necessary that you reject them so that we can move forward and start complying with these principles.”

Helsingin Sanomat wrote about Rydman’s racist private messages on Thursday, the same day that Purra rejected the racism allegations surrounding the Finns Party. “The Finns Party isn’t racist,” she insisted.

Meanwhile, Speaker of Parliament Jussi Halla-aho (PS) seemed to mock Orpo’s calls for zero tolerance for racism by tweeting that he promises to reject racism, citing racism against Finns in Finland as an example. The Finns Party has repeatedly resorted to such doubletalk in response to accusations, adopting a more conciliatory tone in the media while continuing to foment its radical supporters on social media.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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