Officials from the National Coalition Party – known in Finnish as Kokoomus – are distancing themselves from an election candidate who used a campaign event to spread his views that multiculturalism doesn’t work.
It’s the kind of rhetoric which shows how blurred the lines are between some of those on the right of Kokoomus’ ideology, and the ethno-nationalism of some Finns Party members; and exposes a divide within the National Coalition Party itself between more traditional right-wingers and liberals.
The theme of the evening was security, and on the agenda a talk by Kaleva titled “Why does multiculturalism not work?”.
The event was arranged, endorsed, and advertised under the auspices of Helsingin Seudun Kokoomus ry, the party’s official organisation in the capital city.
In a statement to News Now Finland, Helsinki Kookomus’ Executive Director Sini Jokinen says that while she wasn’t at the event herself, she “warmly welcomes discussion in a rational and civilized manner”.
“Kokoomus wants to protect all human rights and we see our national and cultural identity as multidimensional and forever changing […] as part of a civilized society, we are open both internationally and culturally” says Jokinen.
“Our candidates have our full support” she adds.
New Zealand terror attack & Hungary’s right wing leader
Kaleva’s Puotila address came the same day as a terrorist gunman killed 50 people and injured dozens more at two mosques in the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch.
The terrorist was inspired, he wrote in his manifesto, by right wing extremist Anders Breivik in Norway, who was violently opposed to multiculturalism, and wanted Norway to be a monocultural society.
Kokoomus officials say privately that although Atte Kaleva’s speech was arranged well in advance, it was a lapse of judgement for it go ahead on the same day as the New Zealand attack.
Atte Kaleva’s opinions also line up with those of Hungary’s right wing leader Viktor Orban who believes that multiculturalism does not work. This week, Kokoomus was one of the European political parties which campaigned successfully to kick Orban’s Fidesz Party out of their European People’s Party EPP group.
While the National Coalition Party’s stated values include embracing Finland’s changing society, those ideals are at odds with Atte Kaleva’s message as a Kokoomus party candidate.
“I am arguing that multiculturalism doesn’t work. This is my point. I’m quite vocal and quite out in the open with my opinion” says Kaleva, at an electioneering stop in Vuosaari the day after his Puotila speech.
At this event he’s talking to another group of Kookomus supporters alongside other prospective members of parliament. There’s around 50 people in the audience, all of them white and over 50.
“We have different opinions in the party of course. It’s not the Communist Party where every has to think alike” Kaleva tells News Now Finland, acknowledging that others in his party harbour the same views as him about multiculturalism.
“Some of us agree with me. Some of us are more ideologically inclined to think that it would be so nice if it would work, so they try to see that it works. But my argument is based on research that has been conducted in Western Europe” he explains.
Kokoomus parliamentary candidates speak out
Not all the other prospective MPs attending the Vuosaari campaign stop wanted to comment on the record about their colleague’s stance against multiculturalism. But several did speak out.
“I disagree [with Atte] but it’s okay. In politics we agree and disagree. In some other parties they have more homogeneous opinions” says Jenni Pajunen, a Helsinki City Councillor who is also running for parliament.
“I see actually multiculturalism as an asset, it’s a positive thing for Finland, and we need immigrants to come here” says Pajunen, who herself lived in a number of different countries in North America and Africa, and says she’s more liberal than Atte Kaleva.
“How I interpret it, we have the conservative side and the liberal side of the party. And we have some candidates who are borderline with Perussuomalaiset” say Pajunen.
Another prospective Kokoomus MP Mia Nygård says she’s on the right side of the party due to her position on economics, and is more cautious on the subject of multiculturalism.
“I don’t think it’s just black and white” says Nygård, who stood outside Vuosaari metro station handing out flyers to prospective voters in this very multicultural district, before coming inside a nearby shopping centre to speak at the Kokoomus campaign event.
“I think that we can do things much better than what we have done now. The key things are that we should make things really simple for people to start working because work is the key to get involved in part of the culture” explains Nygård.
“In every case we should remove those barriers how people should get into work life. It’s the number one thing. And the number two thing, and number three” she says.