The following essay is by the renown Finnish blogger, Vasarahammer.
It’s about the present Finnish Foreign Minister, Erkki (Ol’Scruffy) Tuomioja, who just this past week, gained the attention of Professor Efraim Karsh, head of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London. Karsh wrote an article about the Finnish FM concerning his statements during a meeting of hard left-wing activists at a “peace-forum” seminar in Helsinki. He (Tuomioja) claimed Israeli polices are tantamount to apartheid. National Coalition MP, Ben Zyskowicz, chastized Tuomioja face to face over the comments in the Finnish parliament:
“It appears as if “you have waged your own personal 30-year war, or at least your 30 year war with Israel for decades.”
‘Eki’ has had a long sordid history of anti-Israel comments and general tomfoolery as a public official, that would have ended many a politicians’ career elsewhere. Perhaps his ability in getting re-elected to parliament is his best achievement as a politician. But then again, getting the same empty headed drones to continually vote him back into office isn’t really that much of a feat, now is it? KGS
The man who is always wrong, a brief political biography of Erkki Tuomioja
Before getting to the man himself, it is perhaps appropriate to introduce a bit of history concerning the Social Democratic Party of Finland. The party history is not really something to be ashamed of, even though the role of Social Democrats as the primary force resisting Finlandization has later been somewhat exaggerated by writers close to the party like Lasse Lehtinen.
The history of the Finnish Social Democratic Party cannot be compared to the way Social Democrats have dominated the post-war political landscape in other Scandinavian countries, like in Sweden and Norway. The Finnish SDP has never had a monopoly of power like their Swedish sister party.
The Finnish SDP was founded in 1899 but only became a party committed to parliamentary democracy in the aftermath of the Finnish Civil war of 1918. Led by Väinö Tanner the party established itself as the leading center-left force in pre-war Finnish politics. The Communists could not compete, since the Communist party was outlawed up to the end of Continuation War due to its failed attempt to carry out a revolution.
Tanner went on to serve in the war time government and was punished for it in the kangaroo court called War-responsibility trials. Tanner was sentenced to five years and six months imprisonment for his involvement in the events leading to the war against the Soviet Union. Wartime leaders convicted in these trials were not regarded as war criminals by the Finnish public at large but as people who did their duty and sacrificed themselves for the greater good. Tanner was one of them.
Tanner, who was hated by the Soviet leadership made the SDP politically unreliable in their eyes even in the post-war period that was characterized by the fear of Communist coup. In the first post-war election in 1945 the communists emerged as the second largest party. The Finnish business leaders saw SDP as a way to counter the communist influence in the trade unions and provided financial and other support to the party until the 1970’s.
Up to the 1960’s the SDP struggled to prove their reliability in terms of foreign policy. The SDP minority cabinet of 1958 led by, Karl August Fagerholm, had to step down due to pressure from the Soviet Union. The SDP also participated in the failed attempt to oust president Urho Kekkonen in the 1962 presidential election. It was not until the party became loyal to Kekkonen and his foreign policy that the SDP could become the ruling party.
The student radicalization in the late 1960’s and early 70’s brought new faces to politics. One of them was Erkki Tuomioja, son of the former prime minister Sakari Tuomioja. These new young people did not have the same apprehension of the Soviet Union like the wartime generation that both feared and respected the big neighbor to the east.
Tuomioja, however, did not belong to those who sang the loudest praises to the Fenno-Soviet friendship and cooperation. Perhaps because of his privileged upbringing Tuomioja’s leftism was more ideological than those of his compatriots who used the official political liturgy to advance their careers in both the civil service and in politics.
In the government broadcaster Yle’s archives, there is a videoclip documenting the state visit by the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi. The clip also shows the anti-shah demonstrators, one of whom is Erkki Tuomioja. The clip is from the year 1970 and at that time it was not conceivable for anyone to know what kind of regime would follow the shah. What mattered to Tuomioja was the fact that the shah was supported and armed by the United States.
It did not matter to him that there were worse dictatorships around the world that were supported by the Soviet Union. Even Tuomioja understood that opposing communist dictatorships would not be politically wise in Finland of the 1970’s and that the shah was a safe enough enemy for him and other left-wing radicals of the time.
The first time Tuomioja supported the wrong cause was in the early 1970’s. The issue was the free trade agreement between Finland and the EEC. It was also politically sensitive, and president Kekkonen had to travel to the USSR to explain the necessity of the agreement to the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
Tuomioja signed the anti-EEC petition in 1973 and was accompanied by a large group of influential leftists including the current president of Finland Tarja Halonen. But Tuomioja’s role in the anti-EEC movement was bigger than that. He was responsible for leaking the so-called Zavidovo memorandum about the discussions between Soviet leader Brezhnev and president Kekkonen. Tuomioja confessed leaking the document in his book published in 1993. The target was to prevent the agreement which was regarded by many as vital to Finnish business interests at the time.
Back to the politics
Tuomioja worked in the Finnish Parliament ”Eduskunta” during the 1970’s. However, in 1979 he moved away from day-to-day politics by becoming the vice mayor of Helsinki. He worked in that position until 1991 after which he returned successfully to the Finnish Parliament.
Tuomioja made his way to the cabinet in 1999 when he became the minister of trade andindustry in Paavo Lipponen’s second cabinet. It was during this spell that Tuomioja made his second big error in judgement when he prevented the sale of government-owned telecommunications company Sonera. The year 1999 was in the height of the dot com boom and Sonera with its cooperation with Nokia was a technologically advanced player in the mobile phone market.
If the deal had gone through, the Finnish government would have been able to pay back the entire government debt that had accumulated during the early 90’s economic recession. But this was not to be, since Tuomioja opposed the sale of government-owned companies for ideological reasons. Tuomioja’s error in judgement turned out to be very costly to the Finnish taxpayer. Sonera lost a lot of money in the UMTS frequency auctions in the early new millennium. Eventually the company was sold to the Swedish goverment-owned telecommunications company Telia with a fraction of the price offered in 1999.
The election of Tarja Halonen as the president of Finland opened the way for Tuomioja to advance in the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs. The period that followed was the high point in Tuomioja’s career as well as the change of Finnish foreign policy in general. The cynical pragmatism of the previous decades was replaced by leftist moral high ground that would have made the late Swedish Prime minister Olof Palme proud.
In 2001 Tuomioja granted an interview to a Finnish magazine Suomen Kuvalehti (pdf version in Finnish). In the interview Tuomioja claimed that Israel treats the Palestinians the same way Germany treated the Jews in the 1930’s. Tuomioja was horrified of the way Israel humiliated, subjugated and empoverished the Palestinians. ”The only thing that it provokes is endless hatred”, Tuomioja said. The interview led many Israelis to demand that the Israeli ambassador should be recalled.
After the interview, Israeli ambassador in Finland (Miryam Shomrat) condemned the way Tuomioja compared Israeli policy to the one conducted by the Nazis. Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres describes Tuomioja’s statement as gross and shocking. However, Tuomioja denied on his website that he compared Israel to Nazi Germany.
In 2006 Tuomioja got his chance to shine in the limelight of international media. Finland held the rotating EU presidency during the war between Israel and the Iranian-backed terror organization Hezbollah. Tuomioja made the most of it and called for direct talks with Hezbollah and a political agreement that would include the Lebanese shi’ite terror organization.
During the Finnish EU presidency Tuomioja was not afraid to speak his mind in other matters as well. After Saddam Hussein’s execution in Iraq Tuomioja was worried that Saddam Hussein would become a martyr. He stated that the EU was opposed to the death penalty and expressed his fear that Saddam could become a martyr even though he does not deserve that. Five years after the execution it is clear that Saddam Hussein has not become a martyr but only a defeated tyrant who belongs to the dustbin of history.
After SDP’s four year spell in the opposition Tuomioja is once again the minister of Foreign affairs. In the cabinet containing the faux-conservatives of the Coalition party as well as all the parties of the left Tuomioja has once again provoked controversy with his anti-Israeli statements.
A few weeks ago Tuomioja made a controversial statement about Israel yet again. He stated that any country based on apartheid is not justified or stable. Tuomioja made the statement during a panel discussion in Helsinki. It was not the first time he used the word apartheid in public. In 2003 he compared the Israeli security fence to apartheid. Tuomioja denied after the panel that he was responsible for the apartheid comparison. He said that it was the Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak who used the word apartheid before him.
Finally, it looks like Tuomioja has found the friends he has been looking for. The joint statement made by the foreign ministers of Nordic countries expressed concern of the measures taken by Israel after the admission of Palestinians to the UN body UNESCO, the decision that was supported by the Finnish government.
Tuomioja has run for the leadership of the Social Democrats four times, but has always been defeated. In 2008 he was defeated in the leadership election by the inexperienced Jutta Urpilainen. It seems that SDP will elect anybody but Tuomioja as their leader, even though Tuomioja is by far the most experienced politician in the party. It seems that the party currently struggling in the polls is not ready to surrender the leadership to a man who would only appeal to the left. It also seems that Tuomioja could have done better if he was born in Sweden or Norway, in which his brand of ideological leftism has more support than in Finland.