Saturday March 18, 2023
By David Mac Dougall
Finnish voters go to the polls at the beginning of April, in a closely-fought campaign that sees Prime Minister Sanna Marin's Social Democrats in a tight three-way race against the conservative National Coalition Party, and the the far-right populist Finns Party.
This week a Finns Party candidate sparked a backlash from other politicians and voters alike, for an advert branded as "racist."
Laura Jokela, who is standing in Helsinki, uploaded the image to her social media accounts and said she would also distribute the picture on a flyer to prospective supporters.
On the left hand side it shows a picture of half her face with the words "You know why" in Finnish, above a Finns Party logo.
On the right hand side it shows Jokela's face apparently covered in a burqa, and the slogan "East Helsinki. Like going abroad?"
"If someone feels that the picture is racist, they can ask themselves why they feel that way," Jokela, 31, told Euronews.
"If the reason is a Finnish woman wearing a burkha, you can reflect on your own prejudices, why it causes negative feelings," she said.
Some responses online were supportive of Jokela's campaign poster. "You're doing a great job," said one man, while another offered to hand out flyers on her behalf. Another man said "It's a shame we can't do anything about the immigrant criminals that invade Finland," and "already the police are powerless."
But most of the comments were critical of Jokela's stance, and that of her party -- where the most popular candidate (a former party leader), and several MPs have multiple court convictions for race-related offenses; and where there has been a recent history of party activists supporting banned neo-Nazi groups, declaring their support for fascism, and championing ethno-nationalist causes.
"Of course they want the attention, and they want us to react, we know that," said Habiba Ali, a local councillor
for the Social Democrats in the city of Espoo, west of Helsinki.
"But at the same time we cannot be quiet about the racism things they are doing, and how they are behaving. We have to call them out," she told Euronews.
"It's a really racist picture," said Ali, who has has previously spoken about racist and gendered abuse she received while campaigning during Finland's last parliamentary election cycle: with threats of rape and violence against her targeted specifically because she's a woman with an immigrant background.
Suldaan Said Ahmed, MP, Finland's Special Representative for Peace Mediation in the Horn of Africa - Ulkoministeriö
Finland's first Somali-born Member of Parliament
Suldaan Said Ahmed is a candidate this year for the Left Alliance party, and lives in Helsinki's eastern suburbs. In 2022 he was appointed as the Finnish foreign minister's Special Representative for Peace Mediation in the Horn of Africa.
"They should come into this decade, Finland is a very diverse country and there are many ways to be Finnish," he told Euronews.
During the 2019 general election campaign, Said Ahmed was assaulted by a man while on the campaign trail, in an apparently racially-motivated attack.
"This kind of confrontation and contempt for groups of people does not contribute to anyone's safety and it's totally disgusting," he said.
Green League candidate Ozan Yanar holding campaign leaflets in Helsinki, March 2023 - Ozan Yanar
The Green League's Ozan Yanar grew up in east Helsinki, and is running for election in April. He says the stereotype of the Finnish capital's eastside -- which has a large multicultural community, and has been branded a "no-go zone" for police by Finns Party activists in the past -- is unfounded.
"East Helsinki is a very nice place with Finnish people from different backgrounds there. All these prejudices linked to east Helsinki are false," he told Euronews.
"It's just a normal Finnish neighbourhood. I don't take these attention seeking politicians who try to bash Helsinki seriously," said Yanar, who was born in Turkey and moved to Finland as a teenager and later served a term in parliament from 2015 to 2019.
This is not the first time the Finns Party has found itself in legal hot water over racist comments during an election campaign
In the 2019 European Parliament elections, the party's youth wing shared a social media post from the European Parliament which showed two dark-skinned people.
A message encouraged people to vote for the Finns Party "if you don’t want Finland’s future to look like this".
The youth group later lost all tens of thousands of euros in state funding for the racist post, despite an apology from the person who wrote it. The youth group was formally disbanded, but later re-established with a different name as part of the main party's structure.