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President Niinistö: "Anti-Semitism and racism on the rise" in Finland

"Hate speech, too, generates a myriad of emotions in its targets, from shame to hatred," the president said.

Eduskunnan puhemies Matti Vanhanen (vas.) ja presidentti Sauli Niinistö kättelevät valtiopäivien avajaisissa eduskunnan istuntosalissa Helsingissä 5. helmikuuta 2020.
Parliamentary Speaker Matti Vanhanen (left) and President Sauli Niinistö at the formal re-opening of Parliament on Wednesday. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

Finland must show resolve in combating rising racism and anti-Semitism, according to President Sauli Niinistö. Speaking at the formal re-opening of Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, Niinistö recalled the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and noted that even though decades have passed, human nature has not become immune to hatred.

"There are signs of anti-Semitism and racism being on the rise, unfortunately also in Finland. We must be resolute in opposing them. They do not deserve any foothold in our society," the President declared.

Niinistö said that racism involves denying the worth of others because of their descent and noted that hate speech has very similar roots.

"Hate speech, too, generates a myriad of emotions in its targets, from shame to hatred," he added

Caution against normalision of name-calling

He pointed out that labelling others should not be done lightly and said that everyone should be able to enjoy similar levels of protection, including against labels, regardless of whether they belong to majority of minority groups. He warned against the normalisation of name-calling.

"We need to consider what kind of a development makes people to acquiesce in, or at least turn a blind eye to, activities that they just a moment ago could not even have imagined," Niinistö remarked.

"The path appears to stem from confrontation, leading to gradually intensifying hatred and ultimately to a disappearance of humanity. As a result, an otherwise ordinary person may turn into someone who practices cruelty, first in words, then in deeds," he continued.

The President also touched on four global threats that the global community needed to pull together to address: nuclear weapons, terrorism, pandemics and climate change.

Speaker calls out politicians under legal scrutiny

Meanwhile Parliamentary Speaker Matti Vanhanen drew attention to the current escalation of public discourse and its contradiction with the compromise required in politics.

"The new parliamentary term is starting in a situation in which several political players are the subject of legal scrutiny, either because of their role or otherwise due to their words or actions in society," he cautioned.

Vanhanen was likely referring to Finns Party lawmaker Juha Mäenpää, who in a parliamentary plenary session compared asylum speakers to an 'invasive species'.

Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen has asked MPs for permission to bring charges against Mäenpää over his comments. Lawmakers will have a preliminary debate on the request on Thursday before the Constitutional Law Committee considers it.

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