Sofia Virta, the chairperson of the Green League, spoke to reporters following her appointment to the helm of the opposition party in Seinäjoki on 10 June 2023. Virta on Monday accused the Finns Party of distorting the racism debate in Finland. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)

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SOFIA VIRTA, the chairperson of the Green League, says the Finns Party is distorting the racism discussion in Finland.

Virta expressed her disapproval of the communication strategy adopted by the populist right-wing party on YLE A-studio on Monday, directing her criticism at her co-guest Joakim Vigelius of the Finns Party.

Vigelius argued on the current affairs show that the concept of racism has undergone inflation.

“We’re talking about how different ice cream bars and board games can be racist, with even institutions joining the talk. We’re talking about [the game] Afrikan tähti, we’re talking about [the ice cream bar] Eskimo,” he said.

He added that it would be important to distinguish in public debate what is and what is not racism.

“Even one experience of racism is too much, and here we are at the same time talking about ice cream bars. That’s misleading,” retorted Virta.

The Green League, she declared, has no confidence in the government, Minister of Finance Riikka Purra (PS) or Minister of Economic Affairs Wille Rydman (PS). Purra and Rydman have been at the centre of the recent racism discussion – the former over a series of racist online remarks dating back to 2008 and the latter over racist private messages sent in 2016.

Purra has apologised for her "stupid" comments but also accused the media of taking the comments out of their context and engaging in a witch-hunt against the Finns Party. Rydman, in turn, has not apologised for the messages he sent to his now ex-girlfriend and has blamed the media for damaging the country image by digging up writings from years ago.

In the messages, he for example likened the uncontrollable spread of a flower to the reproduction of Somalis.

Rydman on Thursday stated on Sanna Ukkola Show that he rejects racism as “it has been understood classically”. “There are of course people who think anything is racism,” he added on the topical affairs show by Verkkouutiset.

Jani Mäkelä, the chairperson of the Finns Party Parliamentary Group, stated to Helsingin Sanomat on Saturday that “certain political trends” have deliberately expanded the definition of racism beyond how it is understood by the Finns Party.

“They’re taking this term, arbitrarily defining its meaning and viewing other debaters based on their own definition,” he claimed

The Finnish legislation, he stated, provides a fairly solid framework for determining what is and what is not prohibited discrimination. It is not racist, he added, to criticise an immigration policy, a larger population group or another culture instead of the individual.

“What I find hard to understand is that some immigration policy decision or measure could be racist if it targets all immigrants equally. It doesn’t look at skin colour or any other personal quality,” he said.

He also estimated that cultures that subject women and sexual minorities to treatment that violates their human dignity cannot be regarded as equal with Finnish culture. “A culture like that should be regarded as inferior since it treats people that way.”

Virta on Monday also drew attention to what she believes is a divide between the words and actions of the National Coalition.

“The National Coalition tells that we can intervene in racism at bus stops and schools, but you’re simultaneously governing with a party whose values have pronouncedly racist elements,” she stated to YLE.

Mari-Leena Talvitie (NCP) responded by reiterating that the government has a zero tolerance for racism.

“The public voted last spring and the government was appointed based on the results of their votes. We’ll then evaluate the actions of ministers, and racist actions will not be tolerated from any minister, as Prime Minister Petteri Orpo has stated,” she said.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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