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Racism in Finland: Government minister embroiled in shocking new row

FILE: Finland's Minister for Economic Affairs Wille Rydman
FILE: Finland's Minister for Economic Affairs Wille Rydman Copyright Lauri Heikkinen, Finnish Government
Copyright Lauri Heikkinen, Finnish Government
By David Mac Dougall
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Minister for Economic Affairs Wille Rydman only took up his role recently, after his predecessor quit for his own racist views and links to neo-Nazi groups.

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Another Finnish government minister from the far-right Finns Party has become embroiled in a racist scandal, after messages he sent to his former girlfriend were published by Helsingin Sanomat newspaper

Wille Rydman, who wrote the messages when he was an MP for the National Coalition Party, was appointed as minister for economic affairs earlier this month. 

Rydman replaced Vilhelm Junnila, who quit after his own racist speeches and connections with neo-Nazi groups came to light. 

Among the new messages published included Rydman suggesting that Somalis spread like weeds; and sharing lyrics to a song apparently penned by another Finns Party MP which talked about a Muslim who leaves his home country and rapes a woman. Rydman suggested to his ex-girlfriend that the song could be ideally sung at student parties. 

Minister Rydman complained about headscarves that some Muslim women wear; and described people from the Middle East as "monkeys" and "desert monkeys." 

In one message Rydman mused about where his own dark brown eyes might have been inherited from. 

"Even if I bred with a pitch black Nigerian negro, the child would still have a 26% chance of having green eyes," Rydman said. 

The editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat newspaper justified publishing the ostensibly private messages that Rydman sent to his ex-girlfriend, saying there was an overriding public interest in the minister and his views.

Aino Vahala, Finnish Government
FILE: Finns Party Riikka Purra and Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo, Helsinki, 12 July 2023Aino Vahala, Finnish Government

What has the political reaction been like in Finland?

Finland's political leaders are well used to being hit, almost weekly, by new scandals involving the Finns Party - one of the four parties which make up the right-wing coalition government. 

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said on Friday that even though the messages had been private, the language was "inappropriate."

"I cannot accept such a way of speaking," Orpo said. 

Finns Party leader Riikka Purra, who rocked the government with her own racism scandal in July, said the messages were inappropriate; while Rydman himself has indicated he could launch legal action against the newspaper for publishing the messages in the first place.

Eva Biaudet, a former minister, ombudsman and presidential candidate for the Swedish People's Party - one of the government's smaller coalition partners - has urged her party to quit the government. The party's leader, Anna-Maja Henriksson, said on Friday she's still hoping Rydman will make a full apology for his remarks. 

Ongoing political controversy

This is not the first time recently that MP Wille Rydman has found himself in the media spotlight. 

Earlier in July he claimed, without offering much in the way of evidence, that the international media is spreding "false claims" about the Nodic nation in an attempt to discredit the government, with critics branding him as a conspiracy theorist for the remarks.  

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Also in July, Riikka Purra had to apologise for "stupid social media comments" she made 15 years ago on a blog forum, saying she is "not a perfect person." 

Those comments included rants about Turkish and Somali immigrants; violent posts about shooting people on a commuter train if she had a gun; and the use of the n-word in a post about wanting to spit on beggars and beat up children with an African background in Helsinki. 

It forced the Finnish foreign minister to apologise to her Turkish counterpart for any offense that might have been caused. 

"I've made mistakes", said Purra, who then promptly refused to apologise for more recent comments she made about Muslim women, which were widely criticised as being racist. 

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Other Finns Party ministers have been accused of spreading the far-right 'Great Replacement Theory' during the election campaign; while the Speaker of Parliament, Jussi Halla-aho, also from the Finns Party, has a long track record of writing racist and misogynistic blog posts:  including musing about female politicians getting raped by immigrants, and wondering how much legal trouble he'd be in if he shot and killed a gay man.

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