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Tuesday's papers: Honours for tyrants, Soini slaps down Sebu and Bottas celebrates contract

Finland's honours system is in the spotlight on Tuesday, along with a conviction for a Finns Party politician and plenty of celebratory coverage of a Finnish Formula One star's new contract at Mercedes.

Syyrian presidenttin Bashar al-Assad ja tämän vaimo Asma Assad sekä Tarja Halonen.
Former President Tarja Halonen gave an Order of the White Rose to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Image: Jussef Badawi / EPA

Honours for foreign leaders are always a delicate matter for governments, and Finland is no different. Medal diplomacy can give ammunition to political opponents at home, but also grease the wheels of international deal-making, and so a balance must be struck. Tuesday's Ilta-Sanomat looks at some recently declassified information on medals handed out to foreign dignitaries since 1994, when Martti Ahtisaari became President.

It's a long list and includes a fair few unsavoury characters who have received the Order of the White Rose of Finland, one of the country's three merits. Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad is in there, as is the king of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled his country since independence in 1991.

All three received their medals from Tarja Halonen, who defended the awards to IS by noting that they are part and parcel of state visits, and that 'it would be a big thing if we didn't give an award'. She also argued that the medals are not given for human rights accomplishments, but for diplomacy and international co-operation.

Even so, IS managed to dig out comments Halonen made as Foreign Minister in 1998, when she criticised President Martti Ahtisaari for giving medals to Indonesia's Forestry Minister and to businessmen who had done deals with Finnish companies. At that time, two years before she was elected president, Halonen had told Vasabladet that she wanted an honours system that reflected the country's political, democratic and human rights outlook.

Tynkkynen conviction

On Monday Finns Party politician Sebastian Tynkkynen was convicted of incitement against an ethnic group and breach of religious peace for his online comments criticising Islam. He's the fifth Finns Party politician to get such a conviction, and party leader Timo Soini has been criticised loudly for his refusal to expel members who get into legal difficulties over hate speech.

Yesterday Soini gave a colourful comment on Tynkkynen's conviction to STT, suggesting that Tynkkynen focus on more concrete matters, also taking a side-swipe at a video from the party's youth wing that featured a man in a loin cloth outside a church, supposedly enslaved by the onerous responsibility of being required to learn Swedish.

"I'd say to Tynkkynen the kind of fatherly, long-term political advice, that sometimes it pays to focus on perhaps students' social issues and young people's employment, rather than crawling around in a nappy on the steps of Helsinki cathedral or publishing these types of writings," said Soini in comments carried by several newspapers.

Aamulehti, meanwhile, quoted Party Secretary Riikka Slunga-Poutsalo as saying that hate speech convictions will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and do not in themselves disqualify candidates from running in this spring's local elections. Tynkkynen is a candidate in Oulu, while his party comrades Teuvo Hakkarainen and Terhi Kiemunki--both recently convicted of hate speech--are also running for election to local councils.

Bottas boosted across the sports pages

It's rare for a Finnish sportsman to make the news worldwide, but Valtteri Bottas managed it on Tuesday. He signed with Mercedes for the 2017 Formula One season, replacing retired Finnish-German driver Nico Rosberg.

He immediately told the press that he is targeting a world championship, which is unsurprising given his new team's total dominance in the sport but ambitious given that Bottas hasn't yet won a race in 77 attempts.

The Finnish press went to town with the news, naturally enough, declaring this a dream move for Bottas. Aamulehti said that a season 'for the ages' is in store, while Ilta-Sanomat columnist Janne Aittoniemi reckoned that Bottas was better suited to Mercedes than Rosberg, who often clashed with team management and his team-mate and rival, Lewis Hamilton.

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