Janne Strang column: Deliverance day for Finland’s left

The incoming government offers the opportunity for healing in Finland's fractured political discourse, as long as the various actors realise it.

Juha Sipila (L), Annti Rinne (C) and Li Andersson (R) present the new government's programme, 3rd June 2019 / Credit: Laura Kotila, VNK

As the party line-up of the new Finnish government and its policy program was formally announced on Monday, the fiscally conservative right, who for the last decade have been managing the country through austerity and cutbacks, were forced to face their nightmare as PM elect Antti Rinne (SDP) committed to veritable spending increases in the social, educational and environmental sectors.

Having beat Jussi Halla-aho’s populist Finns Party by hardly a whisker in April’s Parliamentary elections – and behind in polls since then – it was with urgency and no small amount of ideological determination that former union boss Rinne set about building a firmly leftist, green and liberal government base in support of his first tenure as Prime Minister.

As nineteen ministers from five parties – Social Democrats (7), Centre Party (5), Greens (3), Left Alliance (2) and the Swedish People’s Party (2) – now share cabinet duties, Finland’s 75th government will, in Rinne’s own words, be a new take on the “red ochre” governments of old, where urban socialists and the rural labor force sought to combine their common working class interests against the bourgeoisie, to speak in timely Marxist terms.

Other nicknames were floated in public debate too, and the slightly more provocative ‘People’s Front’ would perhaps not have been a total misnomer either, seeing as the concept from 1930’s France, when communists and liberals joined forces to check the rising tide of fascism, arguably has some relevance again today.

So, with the specters of both Marx and Halla-aho hovering over the negotiations, Rinne, routinely criticized for his anemic and dull style of leadership, seems to have in himself found a reserve of ideological propulsion previously hidden from public view. Having been on sick leave in the months leading up the election sprint, the PM-to-be is now giving an alert and liberated performance.

File picture of Finnish Parliament / Credit: News Now Finland

Power is a hell of drug

The freshly agreed upon government program, a 200-plus page tome of highly ambitious aspirations, was leaked already on Friday, sending the right wing of Suomi-Twitter into a weekend-long meltdown mode that still ripples. There was – is – no shortage of both plebs and pundits painting ghastly pictures of the inevitable demise of this entrepreneurial republic in the hands of Rinne’s freewheeling communist band.

Their critique is not inaccurate, many questions can be raised about how to pay for the different spending sprees, but in their self-righteous focusing on the impossibilities of Rinne’s economics, they are missing some of the point. It’s not about economics this time around.

While he was trolling the nationalists, self-proclaimed realists, and austerity hawks with his policy ideas, Rinne did nothing to explain away the €1.2 billion of increased spending, sweeping tax hikes or the only slightly less menacingly formulated migration policies.

The incoming PM merely mused at the crying and squirming on the right.

The liberal left on their part welcomed Rinne’s uncompromisingly humanistic agenda warmly, interpreting it as both a symbolic and concrete end to a decade marked by a depressing mix of ever-tightening austerity measures, technocratic rule and an untroubled tolerance of bigotry at the highest level of society.

Monday the 3rd June 2019 was then, it seems, a Day of Deliverance many had been waiting for.

Copy of the new government’s policy programme / Credit: Jussi Toivanen, VNK

Rinne’s bold initiatives, however fantastically viewed from the right, sparked spontaneous exclamations of joy on Finland’s liberal left, many saying they’ve regained hope for a future they thought forever lost.

Such is the power of words, of ideas and of hope, and perhaps this Monday was the electoral victory embodied, the peak feeling of political empowerment. There is always so much more residing in hope and expectation, than could possibly fit into reality. And now the actual work only begins.

But the point lies not in what will and won’t be achieved. The value of political elections lie precisely in being given a license to dream, in the audacity of hope, as yet another Marxist may have put it, as well as in the power of choosing what it is we’ll be discussing from now on, what the ills of society are and what topics the public debate should engage in.

And, no less important, what kind of language our leaders adhere to when describing the problems and issues at hand, as well as the labels and adjectives we assign to ourselves and to others.

Ideological fervor, as intoxicating and energising as it is, can only deepen divisions and must soon be set aside. There is now true opportunity for a bit of mending of the badly polarized national discourse, and much of the responsibility for introducing a new dignified and respectful way with words lies with our nineteen soon to be announced cabinet ministers.