Paul Kirby, BBC, July 11, 2023
Finland’s far-right finance minister, Riikka Purra, has apologised for a string of racist comments she posted 15 years ago that have just come to light.
Describing the posts as “stupid”, she said she was sorry for the harm and resentment they had caused.
Ms Purra’s Finns Party secured high-profile cabinet posts in the new government of conservative Prime Minister Petteri Orpo.
But in only three weeks it has been beset with accusations.
It is not a good look for a government that has barely got to grips with office, and for a prime minister who is due to welcome US President Joe Biden to Helsinki on Thursday.
President Sauli Niinisto, who was attending the Nato summit in Lithuania, suggested it would be wise for the new government to “take a clear stance of zero tolerance of racism” which was soon forthcoming.
Mr Orpo made clear on social media there was “zero tolerance for racism” and each of the government’s ministers were committed to working against racism at home and abroad.
“I’m not a perfect person, I’ve made mistakes,” said Ms Purra on Twitter. She also co-signed a government statement with Mr Orpo and two other coalition party leaders assuring Finns that the entire cabinet was committed to equality and non-discrimination.
Her anti-immigration, Eurosceptic Finns Party narrowly won second place in April elections, their best-ever result, finishing behind Mr Orpo’s National Coalition Party. As well as taking up the post of finance minister she is also Finland’s deputy prime minister.
But it was a series of racist comments made on a party colleague’s blog in 2008 that have stirred controversy, written under the username “riikka” and uncovered by Finnish media.
One written on 25 September 2008 complained of young people of immigrant origin on a train: “If they gave me a gun, there’d be bodies on a commuter train, you see.”
She also referred to “Turkish monkeys” and then made a racial slur about black street hawkers selling “fake Vuittons” while she attended a conference in Spain: “Greetings from Barcelona, there is no ‘alarming immigration problem’ to be seen here.”
Initially she did not confirm the comments were hers but did point out that the comments had been written years before she entered politics. Accepting that she had written and said “stupid or absurd” things, she was adamant that “in this position, stage of life and age, I would not write anything like that”.
By Tuesday afternoon she had admitted the comments were hers but made clear they were 15 years old: “I do not accept any kind of violence, racism or discrimination.”
She became leader of the Finns Party, pushing their support to 20.1% of the electorate, after predecessor Jussi Halla-aho stepped down.
He is now speaker of parliament. It was his own blogging in 2008, including racist remarks about Islam and Somalis, that led to his resignation from a parliamentary committee in 2012.
Riikka Purra’s racist past is the most serious threat to Finland’s young government so far – though is not the only scandal.
At the end of June, her party colleague Vilhelm Junnila was forced to resign as economy minister for making references to Adolf Hitler at a far-right event in 2019 and for references to abortions in Africa.
Last week, Interior Minister Mari Rantanen – who is in the same party as Ms Purra – made clear she did not subscribe to conspiracy theories, after media reports alleged she believed Finns were being replaced by other races.
The Orpo-led coalition is made up of four parties. They have promised Finns they will lower government debt and tighten immigration rules on citizenship and residence permits.