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Hate speech, climate "propaganda": Starkly diverse views aired in small parties’ debate

Two party chairs said women should be required to serve in the military, while two others said global climate change is overhyped.

Pienpuolueet Ylen vaalitentissä.
Nine of Finland's minor political party chairs took part in an Yle-hosted debate on Tuesday. Image: Derrick Frilund / Yle

With less than two weeks away to parliamentary elections on 14 April, nine of Finland's minor parties made their stances known in a debate hosted by public broadcaster Yle on Tuesday evening.

According to opinion polls, none of the parties appear to have any chance of getting into government. Yle's most recent political party poll found there was about 3.1 percent voter support for all of the minor parties combined.

That same poll found that the combined voter support for the top three major parties last month - including the Social Democrats, National Coalition Party and the Finns Party - was 51 percent.

Given their positions, if the minor parties somehow did ascend to government the country's policies and laws would look quite different than they are today.

The parties that participated* in Tuesday's debate included:

  1. Feminist Party
  2. Citizens' Party
  3. Finnish People First
  4. Pirate Party
  5. Animal Justice Party of Finland
  6. Liberal Party
  7. Communist Party of Finland
  8. Communist Workers' Party
  9. Independence Party

Climate change

Global climate change is one of the top concerns among voters, according to several recent political surveys. In response to a straw poll question on whether climate change is a looming threat, seven party representatives answered yes, while two others said no.

Chair of the anti- immigration party Finnish People First, Marco de Wit, characterised the concept of global climate change as "propaganda." The EU-sceptic Citizens' Party's Sami Kilpeläinen agreed.

"Each and every one of us can certainly do something to slow down climate change, but the threat [of climate change] is exaggerated," Kilpeläinen said.

The chair of the Feminist Party, Katju Aro, disagreed.

"We must stop global warming temperature [levels] at 1.5 degrees (Celsius) and cut our carbon output by 2030 at the latest - that's completely clear. We still have a lot to do," Aro said.

Tea Törmänen, chair of the Liberal Party, said that Finland should take advantage of climate change as a business opportunity, saying the country could sell its technical expertise in areas like nuclear energy abroad.

Meanwhile, the Pirate Party's Petrus Pennanen said that half of the carbon emissions in Helsinki were due to the use of fossil fuels for its district heating system and said it could be powered by small-scale nuclear power plants.

Fundamental outliers

In the unlikely scenario that the Communist Workers' Party was voted into government, the party's chair, Mikko Vartiainen, said it would likely be difficult to find other parties with similar values with which to cooperate.

"No parliamentary group has the same goal as us, that is, to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism," Vartiainen said.

The ideological differences between the various parties were sometimes major, particularly when it came to the topic of national defence.

Regarding international military assistance from outside the country, the Citizens' Party's Kilpeläinen said that he would not support having foreign soldiers on Finnish territory "under any circumstances."

He said that the party would like to stop Finland's international defence cooperation with Nato as well as Sweden.

Both representatives from the Independence Party and Finnish People First said that they would like to put a stop to international military cooperation.

A straw poll on whether or not the representatives would consider Finland as part of the West in the face of a world conflict resulted in six parties answering yes. The Independence Party, the Citizens' Party and the Finnish People First party all said no.

Health care reform

Last month Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's centre-right government collapsed in the final weeks of its four-year term after long-planned reforms of the country's health and social care system (colloquially known as sote) failed.

The Pirate Party's Pennanen said he wasn't a believer in the reform's aim to significantly re-consolidate the country's health care system by region.

"We already have five districts for specialised health care services in Finland - it's a good foundation on which to build. The municipality-based system can be developed further, but the state must be prepared to assist municipalities that can't manage on their own," Pennanen said

Conscription and hate speech

The topic of Finland's conscription system was raised by both the Feminist and Liberal parties, but in terms of equality. Currently only young men are required to serve in the military, but women are able to do so voluntarily.

"We absolutely support gender-neutral conscription, our present system is really unfair," the Liberal Party's Törmänen said.

The Feminist Party's Aro said she has has been the target of hate speech and the recipient of hate mail.

"I have received a good deal of various [kinds of] hate mail. Our voters and supporters have too, some of whom are immigrants. I don't agree with the notion that forbidding hate speech is a form of limiting free speech," Aro said.

However Kilpeläinen of the Citizens' Party said that the police have better things to do than enforcing hate speech laws.

"Hate speech is a fictitious concept. The powers of police are being used to control others. We already have defamation laws. Why are we even talking about hate speech?" Kilpeläinen said.

Neither of the communist parties could come to agreement on the topic of hate speech.

Mikko Vartiainen, chair of the Communist Workers' Party, said that there are already laws on the books prohibiting incitement to hate and violence.

But chair of the Communist Party of Finland, Juha-Pekka Väisänen, said that he would be prepared to ban hate speech.

* The relatively newly-minted Seven Star Movement was also invited to the debate but the party's founder and chair Paavo Väyrynen declined.

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