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Conservative Finnish MP Jussi Halla-aho: “Every Russian Tank Destroyed in Ukraine Is One Less Tank on Our Own Borders”

Interview with Jussi Halla-aho, MP for the Finns Party, of which he was its leader until 2021, and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Halla-aho was elected party leader in the summer of 2017, after which most of the MPs split and formed a new party. Despite this, Halla-aho led the Finns Party to success in the 2019 elections: it regained all lost seats, becoming the second largest party in Parliament (after the Social Democratic Party), and won the highest share of personal votes in the country. The Finns Party belongs to the ‘Identity and Democracy’ group in the European Parliament.

The invasion of Ukraine has put an end to Finland’s neutrality. Your party, like most Finns, has supported NATO membership, but do you think Finland should have taken this step earlier? Has the political class been blind to what Putin stood for as in the rest of Europe?

There has been much naivety and wishful thinking about Russia in Finland, as in most Western European countries after the Cold War. In addition, many people in the media and politics have had residual, instinctive sympathy towards the Kremlin and equally instinctive antipathy towards the West, especially the U.S. and NATO. Unlike in, for instance, the Baltic States, such people were not purged from the political system after the collapse of the Soviet Union but remained in very influential positions. One clear example is Tarja Halonen, president 2000-2012, an extreme left-wing social democrat who did not hide her strong sympathies for Mr. Putin.

To put it briefly, until February 24th this year, it was not possible to have a fruitful discussion on joining NATO. Much of the political elite and the media were fanatically against, while for most of the rest, a full membership did not seem necessary. Now our interpretation of Russia and our security environment has changed.

Finland has sent ten packages of military aid to Ukraine worth 160 million euros. Do you favor increasing this aid, and is there any opposition in Finland to continued support for Ukraine?

Finns identify very strongly with the Ukrainians because of our own similar and traumatic experiences in the past. There is no meaningful opposition to sending aid either among politicians or the general public. Rather, there is constant pressure to increase the aid. We realize that every Russian tank destroyed in Ukraine is one tank less on our own borders.

Finland is not energy-dependent on Russia because it has replaced its energy sources, but it has suffered economic costs because of the war. Do you support the EU’s sanctions policy?

We lost most of our bilateral trade with Russia already in 2014 after the initial sanctions and counter-sanctions, so this time the economic shock was smaller. We support the toughest sanctions possible, and there is no visible opposition to them, either. The eastern regions of Finland do suffer from the loss of Russian tourists, but it is an interesting detail that the support for sanctions is strongest in those very regions.

Many have compared the Russian invasion in 2022 to that suffered by Finland in 1940, although unlike in 1940, Ukraine is not alone against the invader. How do you think the war will develop?

I do not have a crystal ball and my predictions would be worthless. Few people could foresee the collapse of the Soviet regime in August 1991, equally few predicted the war in February this year. Anything can happen. Suffice it to say that no Russian regime has survived a lost major war.

The next parliamentary elections will be in April 2023. Do the Swedish elections, with the Sweden Democrats’ strong result and the formation of a right-wing government, improve your expectations?

Not really. Elections are local and people vote on things that affect their lives. I do, however, believe that the new Swedish government and its more restrictive (and reasonable) approach to immigration and climate policies will make it easier to advocate such changes also in Finland. Sweden has traditionally been an important model for many Finnish politicians, especially on the left, and the destructive Swedish immigration policies have served as an argument in favor of similar policies also here.

Sweden has a serious immigration and insecurity problem. In Finland, the situation is not as bad, but there have been terrible cases such as the rapes of minors in Oulu at the hands of “refugees.” The answer of the left is to make ridiculous and expensive campaigns that do not solve any problem, what does the Finns Party propose?

In qualitative terms, our situation is no better than that of Sweden. The only difference is that the number of problematic migrants is, so far, smaller in Finland, but this is changing rapidly. European experience indicates that nobody has invented a way to successfully integrate large numbers of people from Africa and the Middle East. The only way to avoid the problems we see elsewhere is to drastically reduce the number of such migrants.

Finland should be made less attractive for people looking for tax-funded benefits and more attractive to people who are willing and able to look after themselves. This is a multifaceted problem and requires measures in the area of taxation, social security, the criminal justice system, residence permit requirements, etc.

Apart from immigration, what are the main ideas of the Finns Party?

We cannot afford the public sector that we have at this moment. The state chronically funds its basic functions by borrowing money. We must prioritize and cut our public spending on the principle that the only purpose of the Finnish state is to protect the safety and well-being of the Finnish people. No one else will do that for us.

There are conservative governments in Hungary, Poland, now Sweden, Italy… Are we in the midst of a conservative revolution?

Countries are different and so are their conservatives. There are things on which we do not agree with each other, but there are certainly common denominators such as the support for sovereign nation-states and national cultures, opposition to an “ever-deepening political union”, anti-elitism, and emphasis on everyday well-being and security.

Álvaro Peñas is a political analyst specializing in Eastern European countries. He writes for El Correo de España and several European digital outlets. He is deputy director of two programs on Decisión Radio and a regular contributor to the television channel 7NN.

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