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Racism and violence: Finland's government plagued by new scandal on eve of Biden visit

Finland's new Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (R) and his new Finance Minister Riikka Purra hold a press conference in Helsinki, Finland on June 20, 2023
Finland's new Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (R) and his new Finance Minister Riikka Purra hold a press conference in Helsinki, Finland on June 20, 2023 Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By David Mac Dougall
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Inflammatory blog post comments from 15 years ago have been linked to the far-right Finns Party leader and current finance minister, Riikka Purra, who hasn't denied it.

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Finland's right-wing government is facing yet another crisis after old comments from a far-right blog forum, purportedly written by Finns Party leader Riikka Purra, re-surfaced. 

The author of the posts writes anti-Islamic and violent comments, among others, and disparages immigrants including Somalis and "Turkish monkeys". 

Purra, Finland's finance minister, leads one of the four parties which make up the coalition government headed by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo of the National Coalition Party. 

In recent days Finnish media and social media users have matched details of Riikka Purra's life including her upbringing, where she lived, occupation, age, husband's job, studies, favourite foods and travel schedules with a woman called 'riikka' who posted the comments mostly during 2008. 

"Greetings from Barcelona," wrote 'riikka', on the same day in August that Riikka Purra was also in Barcelona speaking at a conference on multiculturalism. 

"There is no 'alarming immigration problem' to be seen here. Negroes sell pirate Vuittons on Las Ramblas," she blogged. 

"Oh, it was wonderful civil racism again today on the ground floor of McDonald's, when our little boy ate Happy Meal Nuggets, and at the neighbouring table a Somali family with a BMI [body mass index] +30 ate their own," 'riikka' wrote in June 2008.

"Do you know what 'the reeds rustle' means?" 'riikka' asked her readers in January 2008. 7

"Well, that's the sound these darker male characters make when they approach/pass by/in the escalator/elevator/wherever. It's not whistling (that would be too obvious) but a f****** hiss between the teeth - the more eager Abdullah is, the more saliva comes with it." 

"Netsit," wrote 'riikka' in July 2008, a nickname for anti-immigration netizens which is also a play on the Finnish word for Nazis.  

"Is anyone up for spitting on beggars and beating n****r children today in Helsinki?," she asked. 

"I'm so full of hate and pure rage that I'm about to melt on my chair. Holy hell what are you doing to my psyche, Islam?" 'riikka' wrote in January 2008. 

And in September 2008 'riikka' wrote "If I were given a gun, there would be dead bodies even on the commuter train." 

AFP
FILE: Leaders of the four parties which make up the new Finnish coalition government arrive at House of the Estates, Helsinki, 16 June 2023AFP

What has the response been like in Finland?

Riikka Purra has neither confirmed nor denied she wrote these specific comments, though she has conceded she wrote things in the past she would not write today. 

"My angry text is just angry text, nothing else. I do not accept and have never accepted any kind of violence," Purra tweeted on Monday evening. 

She said she felt "frustrated and hopeless" about immigration in Finland, "for example the harassment and sexual crimes against women and the unequal practices of Islam."

Purra asked to be judged not on anything she might have written in the past but on her actions as an elected member of parliament, party leader and government minister.

The contrite nature of Purra's comments might be enough to mollify prime minister Orpo, who relies on the Finns Party to stay in power. 

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But it is yet another embarrassing chapter for a government not even a month old, coming the same week he'll want to show good leadership when US President Joe Biden makes a brief visit to Helsinki for talks.

Political opponents have been quick to condemn the blog post comments.

"Finance Minister Riikka Purra has not only racist but also violent content on the same platform. No regrets, no resignation," said Maria Ohisalo, former Green party leader and interior minister in the last government.

She also threw PM Orpo's own words back at him when he said that there must be "zero tolerance" for ministers who flirt with extremism, Nazim or anti-Semitism.

Finnish MEP Ville Niinistö from the Greens wrote that "repeated racist policies and language tells a lot about a person's world of values."

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"'Rikka's' thinking is not suitable for the Finnish finance minister."

There has even been criticism from within Orpo's own National Coalition Party, with Helsinki councillor Otto Meri writing that the old blog posts by 'riikka' "are very shocking." 

"Idolising violence is not healthy. And I find the use of the n-word not only inappropriate but also racist."

What's the background to this latest incident?

There has been increased scrutiny of the activities, sympathies and writings of Finns Party politicians, especially those in government, since Euronews reported on the former minister for economic affairs who made 'Heil Hitler' jokes and posted swastika pictures on his social media channels. 

Although the minister, Vilhelm Junnila, survived a confidence vote in parliament, he was later forced to resign after it emerged he had called for mass abortions of African women to tackle the climate crisis. 

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Junnila was replaced by another politician with a problematic recent history. 

Wille Rydman had been a member of prime minister Orpo's National Coalition Party until last year when a newspaper investigation uncovered complaints from teenage girls about his interactions with them. 

Finnish police declined to charge Rydman with rape, but by this spring he had switched parties and stood as an election candidate for the Finns Party. 

Since his appointment as minister for economic affairs, it transpired that police are now looking into whether Rydman used confidential information from the investigation in a book he published earlier this year, which could be a breach of confidentiality. 

Rydman's appointment was anyway seen as a slap in the face for Orpo, who just months earlier had condemned Rydman's behaviour towards women, especially young girls, and who now has to sit alongside him in cabinet meetings.

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