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Finnish MP widely berated for comments showing "lack of empathy" towards unemployed

National Coalition Party MP Susanna Koski said "listen, we all have limitations" to an unemployed woman with several debilitating illnesses on TV this week, setting off a political firestorm.

Kansanedustaja Susanna Koski ja helsinkiläinen työtön Anna-Maija Tikkanen.
Susanna Koski and Anna-Maija Tikkanen Image: Jussi Koivunoro

Susanna Koski, MP for Finland's centre-right National Coalition Party, has accused Finland's leftist elements of "machinating" a smear campaign against her after a controversial comment she made on television on May 14.

Koski appeared with Anna-Maija Tikkanen on Yle's Kuplat television series to discuss Finland's system of social benefits. The concept of the programme is to feature two people at opposite sides of an ideological spectrum discussing an issue. Tikkanen is unemployed and has several illnesses she says prevent her from working outside of her home. She spoke about how hard it was for her to make ends meet on just 491 euros per month in state-issued social assistance.

At one point in their discussion, Tikkanen said, "The world is full of opportunities for those who are able to use them, but if there are limitations…" Koski then interrupted her, saying "listen, we all have limitations" with a laugh and a smile.

The statement immediately led to a heated public reaction in Finland, with many politicians and members of the public saying that Koski's "arrogant" response showed a distinct "lack of empathy" for Tikkanen's financial straits and poor health.

Koski appeared on Yle's Pressiklubi programme on Friday, saying that the opposition has hijacked the situation in order to deflect the need for a difficult conversation about Finland's need to reform social security.

"Ad hominem diarrhea"

She said that the uproar about her comment is the "greatest case of ad hominem diarrhea that the Finnish people have ever seen." Ad hominem is an argumentative strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic is avoided by instead attacking the person making the argument.

"The same thing happened with the activation model. The aim is to traumatize Finnish decision-makers, so they won't, for example, reform the system of benefits," she said.

Koski said she is simply seeking solutions, and that politics should prioritize the use of reason over emotions.

"I felt I was speaking in light of the opportunities available. I believe this kind of politics is virtuous. There's perhaps something wrong with our society on a broader basis if we approach things in terms of the limitations that are presented, instead of considering all of the opportunities." Koski said on Friday.

Tikkanen finished the discussion with Koski on Monday by saying:

"I have the very strong feeling that we live in different worlds. I feel as if there is nothing I could say to you to make you understand the truth of my reality."

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