Finnish politicians hit out at interior minister Sanna Marin comments

Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE).
Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Politicians in Finland have hit out at remarks made by Estonian interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) on Sunday. Critics even include members of the Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset), who are allied to EKRE at the European level, ERR reports.

Finns Party representative Riikka Purra said all politicians and decision-makers should have a working career behind them, including in less glamorously perceived roles than prime minister, ERR reports, quoting Finnish daily Ilta-Sanomat (link in Finnish).

Purra also brought back to mind her own career, tweeting that: "I don't understand why working as a cashier is portrayed so negatively. All politicians and decision-makers should have a working career behind them. It would be suspicious if they did not."

Helme's comments, aired on TRE Raadio talk show Räägime ajast on Sunday morning, included a charge that a "salesgirl" was now prime minister of Finland. He also said that in his view the Finnish government was now in the grip of leftists bent on turning the country into an EU satrapy, calling it a form of revenge for the reds defeat in the Finnish Civil War of 1918.

"I would still recall [Soviet leader] Vladimir Ulyanov-Lenin's saying that every cook could become a minister, or something to that effect," he said. "Now we can see that a salesgirl has become prime minister and some other street activist and uneducated person has also become a member of the government."

He commented more broadly on the Finnish government as well.

"Now we can actually see to some extent how the historical revenge of the reds on the whites is taking place — that is to say, the reds who wanted to liquidate the Finnish state in the [Finnish Civil War of 1918] already have now come to power and are now desperately trying to liquidate Finland, turning it into some kind of europrovince which may still be called Suomi or Finland as a territory, but which in fact completely drags along the tail of the ideological philosophy of the so-called Fukuyama-esque end of history."

Simon Elo, a former Finns MP, was reportedly also surprised by Helme's use of words.

"A stunning statement from the Estonian interior minister about our Prime Minister. I myself have also worked as a salesman, customer service representative, gardener, restaurant worker and as a fundraiser. Any honest work will build character." Elo said.

Li Andersson, Minister of Education and leader of the Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto), which is in coalition with Marin's Social Democratic Party (SDP) and, believed that Helme's talk was a sign of dangerous development.

"Yet another sign of how even those in leading state positions are adopting such a policy of, instead of talking and using argumentation, people are attacked with irrelevant and erroneous statements," she continued.

Sari Multala, of the center-right National Coalition Party (Kokoomus), said that the Estonian interior minister should keep what she called his idiotic thoughts to himself.

"This may of course be a matter of opinions, but the interior minister of a neighboring country should keep such idiotic thoughts to himself. His reference to the Civil War represents a complete lack of knowledge of our history and contemporary political parties," she said.

Sanna Marin herself has not explicitly commented on Helme's words, but posting on her social media page on Sunday, wrote that: "I'm extremely proud of Finland. Here the child of a poor family can educate themselves highly and reach many goals in life. A cashier can become Prime Minister, for instance. Finland would not survive without its workers. I highly value the work of every employee, professional and entrepreneur."

The comment was also retweeted by the Finnish Embassy in Estonia.

Response in Estonia

Leading members of the Centre Party, in coalition with EKRE, including Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, started distancing themselves from Helme's remarks Sunday evening, with Ratas commenting on his own social media page that: "Finland is our close friend and companion, with whom all of Estonia's government has worked with good and close cooperation."

"This has not been affected by what kind of democratic parties belong to, or are run by, the coalitions in both countries," Ratas, who met Marin at a European Commission meeting in Brussels last week, went on.

Opposition Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas wrote that: ''It is so embarrassing for the Estonian government to act this way towards the Finnish people, the Finnish Prime Minister, and women."

''Helme seems to think we have too many friends. This is Estonia [in] 2019," she added, on her social media page.

Kallas was also joined by Reform's two MEPs, Urmas Paet and Andrus Ansip, as well as former prime minister Taavi Rõivas, in condemning the remarks.

Social Democratic Party leader Indrek Saar followed suit on Monday morning, with foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) saying that Helme's thoughts might have been better kept to himself, given the time of year.

On Monday, Kaja Kallas called for the prime minister to either remove Mart Helme from office or face a vote of no-confidence (in Helme). This would be the second such vote Reform would have brought against the interior minister, and the fourth against the coalition government as a whole, since it entered office at the end of April.

President Kersti Kaljulaid phoned her Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö on Monday, asking him to pass on her apologies to Sanna Marin.

Mart Helme initially said that his remarks were not meant to reflect the coalition government's stance as a whole, just his own and that of his party, adding that continued cooperation and good relations between Estonia and Finland would remain the norm.

When asked for comment by ERR's Tiina Jaakson on Monday, Helme said that he had not insulted Finland or the Finnish prime minister, adding that it was ERR who insulted Estonia's northern neighbor and tarnished its home country's international image.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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