By a guest writer.
The rise of the populist, right wing parties and organisations is a phenomenon that has been experienced everywhere in the western world. From Donald Trump to Austria’s FPÖ, and from Finland’s very own Jussi Halla-Aho and his Finns’ Party to France’s Front National and Australia’s Pauline Hanson, the impact of these parties and the policies they advocate should not be neglected.
Many scholars (such as Mulinari and Neergaard, as well as Ravndal) highlight the importance of ‘’political opportunity structures’’, which are, in essence, political structures that enable ideas, ideologies and thoughts to be converted into action. This indicates how the racism and hatred these parties exercise provides an excuse for the violence against migrants, sexual minorities, feminists and the social democratic establishment at large. Even though the scholarly body of work on these structures does not draw a direct line between the violent atrocities and the parties in question, it pinpoints how the possibility of ideologically motivated violence tends to increase in a societal atmosphere that allows migrants to be compared to ‘’a harmful foreign species’’ in the Finnish Parliament or the UK PM-to-be stating that women wearing the burqa look like letter boxes.
I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on the topic of hate crime in Finland and Sweden from 2008 to 2018 and the connection the trends in the crime statistics might have with the support of the respective populist, right wing parties in the two countries. I gathered data on the Finns’ Party’s as well as the Sweden Democrats’ support during the years in question and then compared the trends in hate crime and the trends in the support of these parties in their countries.
In Sweden, the SD’s upward-trending support started in 2010, and since then, total hate crime in the country has grown by 20%, and racist and xenophobic hate crime by 18%. Respectively, the party’s support has risen to 17,5% during the same timeframe. By 2020, the party has become the biggest in Sweden.
In Finland, a similar straightforward trend cannot be seen, but, interestingly enough, the upward and downward trends in the Finns’ Party’s support seem to be accompanied with similar trends in the hate crime statistics. In 2009, as the party experienced a success in the Finnish municipal elections and their then-leader Timo Soini enjoyed a landslide of support to take him to the European Parliament, the rhetoric on immigration was reportedly turning harder – and both total and racist hate crime experienced a peak that was only reached in 2015. Interestingly enough, in 2018, the party’s support had hit rock bottom as it shrunk to less than 9%, and simultaneously, the total number of hate crime decreased notably. However, since then, the party has become the single biggest party in the field of Finnish politics, enjoying popular support of over 24% in January 2020. Unfortunately, the hate crime statistics for the year 2019 will only be released in December 2020 – but given that my argument holds, we are likely to find an increase.
Of course, I could keep on writing about the results until tomorrow, but I believe that the reader has already grasped my argument. How much should we worry about the tightening political rhetoric, then? How far do we allow these parties and their politicians to recklessly dismiss human value and to spread their hateful, racist agenda? It could be argued that hate crime as a phenomenon is more harmful to the society at large than crimes that do not carry an ideological motive. This is because an ordinary violent incident often only targets the individual victim whereas in the case of hate crime, the victim is interchangeable. This means that the crime does not merely target the person, but rather, the community that person represents, and hence, ideologically-motivated hate crime manages to create fear and horror in the entire community that was targeted. If the members of that community fail to be protected by the state they live in, this could potentially increase the tensions, hatred and violence even further.