Finnish and Swedish politicians have traditionally practiced rather conservative Protestant characteristics, with very few outliers on either side of the political spectrum. There was a flirtation with left-wing politics in the 1960s, as in many parts of Europe, but this quickly died out decades ago, leaving the Left and Social Democrats resembling middle-of-the road politicians. Apart from the fall of the Iron Curtain, the main driver of this change was the dramatic improvement in living standards. The parties on the right have also been reasonably tame in their policies by avoiding conflicts with their colleagues from the left-leaning and center parties. Together they lived happily in a symbiotic relationship sharing government positions in the Block System in Sweden, where the “Right” and “Left” parties run their own separate governments according to the general election results. The Finns are more relaxed about mixing the two wings of politics and have practiced “rainbow” coalitions more often than not.
However, things changed a few years ago with the rise of the Sweden Democrats (SD) and the True Finns (TF).
The SD started out as a rather extreme neo-nationalist white supremist party with many members who pursued violence as a political tool. The party later sought to become respectable and removed some of these noisy members and toned down their vocal objections to non-white Protestant members of the population. In those heady days they saw their popularity soar to above 20%.
In Finland, a Catholic leader of the TF led them to popularity and respectability, but they were nothing like the SD with one or two silly members who made racist noises on social media. Finns have never seen the sort of immigration that Sweden has promoted, and when larger numbers arrived in 2014 to 2017 the reaction amongst voters was somewhat negative. These were the good years for the True Finns, until political interest in immigration cooled.
Now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a second immigrant flow, and this has resulted in another increase in the popularity of the Sweden Democrats and the True Finns in our respective countries. When immigration was a hot potato, both parties saw a surge in the polls to around the mid-20% and since then have fallen before rising again to the current level of 19% in both countries respectively.
Up until this year the main political parties have refused to engage with both parties. In Finland, a short-lived off-shoot of the True Finns, (a political party then called the Blues), was brought into the coalition government for a few years before completely dissolving at the next election.
More recently, during the last two years, Sweden Democrats and the True Finns have made efforts to secure a place at their respective government’s table. They want to be seen as respectable parties worthy of a seat at the table. A few large parties in both countries have stated that they do not want to sit in the same government with SD and TF respectively, but the political imperative to exercise power can lead even responsible politicians to make a Faustian Bargain!
Such a bargain can have consequences that can undermine the credibility of a government as seen in an article by Martin Sandbu of the Financial Times who wrote: “An epidemic of shootings — 60 gun murders across Sweden last year, against 9 in London — no doubt fuelled the rightwing nationalist Sweden Democrats’ election success last September. Formerly shunned, the party enjoys a formal deal for parliamentary support of the new centre-right coalition government.”
Swedes must feel very uncomfortable with this type of critical assessment, but an excesses of violence that have spread through the country, the flames of which are fanned by political outliers who claim to be able to solve these difficult problems. One can argue that Mr. Sandu’s comments are a clear warning shot at the foolishness of Swedish voters in accepting such extreme political parties. Political conservatism has a great intrinsic value – call it common sense or simply good judgement.
In Finland, the Conservatives have said that they are willing to talk with the TF to see if they can work together in a new government if they get the largest share of the vote. Most of the other bigger Finnish parties are concluding that having the TF as a partner in government is both short-sighted and risky. These parties understand that having a new populist player on the block can only steal voters away from their own party – the TFs have been very skilled at attracting dissatisfied voters from the parties! Common sense and good judgement are needed here in Finland too… the risks of a violent backlash are too high. Putting more people in prison or isolating as rejects or by treating them as unwanted groups is no solution.