Anna-Maja Henriksson, the chairperson of the Swedish People’s Party, and Otto Andersson, the chairperson of the Swedish People’s Parliamentary Group, held a press conference in conjunction with the summer meeting of the parliamentary group in Mariehamn, Åland, on Tuesday, 29 August 2023. Andersson on Wednesday told YLE that the newly finalised government statement on equality meets the expectations of the ruling party. (Niclas Nordlund – Str / Lehtikuva)


THE LONG-AWAITED government statement on equality and non-discrimination satisfies the expectations of the Swedish People’s Party, according to Otto Andersson, the chairperson of the Swedish People’s Parliamentary Group.

Andersson on Wednesday revealed on YLE A-studio that the group approved the statement unanimously at the initiative of Minister of Education Anna-Maja Henriksson (SFP).

“The statement can be presented to the government for approval tomorrow,” he said.

Henriksson said to the public broadcasting company earlier yesterday that the end result is “excellent” and sets the bar high but declined to cast light on the content. “What was our starting point, what we thought was necessary was that every cabinet member rejects racism and extremist thought through the statement,” she said.

Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday reported, citing its sources, that the statement lays down more than 20 measures for promoting non-discrimination and weeding out racism, including systemic racism. Among the measures, it added, is encouraging anonymous recruitment to ensure factors irrelevant for the position, such as the name of the applicant, have no bearing on the chances of applicants.

Funding for the measures is not expected to exceed a couple of millions of euros, with the details to be agreed on in the autumn budget session.

The statement was drafted over the past several weeks in response to revelations about the past racist statements of Minister of Finance Riikka Purra (PS) and Minister of Economic Affairs Wille Rydman (PS).

One of the foremost challenges during the process was the language on hate speech, according to sources interviewed by YLE. Andersson stated to the public broadcaster that the statement also includes measures to tackle hate speech.

After the statement has been approved by the government, it will be presented to parliament, providing lawmakers the opportunity to gauge confidence in individual cabinet members or the whole government.

Cracks still persist within the Swedish People’s Party. Andersson confirmed to YLE that Eva Biaudet (SFP) continues to weigh up whether she is able to support the ruling coalition in a vote of confidence.

“We still have one representative who wants to consider the issue and peruse the statement. I want to give her the space to do that.”

The Swedish People’s Party, in particular, has a lot riding on the statement as it could enable it to stay in the ruling coalition without losing face after failed demands for apologies from Finns Party.

Although the statement may serve as adhesive for the ruling coalition, questions will persist about its practical implications as long as one of the four ruling parties continues to define racism and hate speech differently than the others.

While Purra says the Finns Party opposes racism, many of her party comrades have raised questions about the definition of racism, reminds a recent editorial by Helsingin Sanomat. Rydman, for example, stated in response to the controversy over his racist private messages that he rejects racism “as it is classically understood”.

The daily reminded that the populist right-wing party has sought to delineate the definition of racism to discrimination based on ethnic origin, which – conveniently – is already prohibited under the constitution.

“I think that the big picture here is that we’re solving a problem that we don’t actually have,” Jani Mäkelä, the chairperson of the Finns Party Parliamentary Group, said, describing the work on the government statement.

The Finns Party’s definition does not encompass slandering or stigmatising members of ethnic minorities, a position that is reflected in the media and culture policy programme of the party. Ethnic agitation, the programme states, should be re-defined so that only incitement and threats to commit a crime would be punishable under the criminal code.

Its views stand in contrast with the predominant views, wrote Helsingin Sanomat.

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) defines racism as “a model of thinking where people are defined as inferior based on factors such as ethnic origin, colour of skin, nationality, culture, mother tongue or religion”. Also the Finnish justice system has adopted the broader definition, as evidenced by the ethnic agitation convictions handed down to many members of the Finns Party.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT