After minister joked about Nazis, Finland moves to criminalize Holocaust denial

JTA — The government of Finland agreed on a policy to combat racism and Holocaust denial on Thursday in the wake of multiple racism and neo-Nazi scandals that have rocked the administration in its early months.

The governing coalition’s parties agreed on the content of a statement submitted to Finnish parliament that calls for “non-discrimination in Finnish society,” according to a press release, and for new legislation to work toward that goal.

“Acts motivated by hate against Jews, Muslims, Christians and other religious groups will be prevented and Holocaust denial will be criminalized,” the release says, adding that the government would also explore “the possibility of criminalizing the use of at least Nazi and Communist symbols to promote ideology.”

The ruling coalition, formed in April, is the most right-wing in the country’s history and has already faced numerous racism scandals. Thursday’s statement comes two months after then-Minister of Economic Affairs Vilhelm Junnila resigned after only 10 days on the job over revelations that he had joked about Nazi symbology at a far-right political event in 2019. His successor also was revealed to have sent racist messages, as was the deputy prime minister.

“There is no room for racism in Finland. Political decision-makers must set an example in building a safe and equal society, and we need all of society to take part,” Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said on Thursday.

International Jewish groups celebrated the government’s actions.

“Open discourse is one of the keys to a healthy democratic society, but for too long there have been those who have hidden behind the shield of free speech while desecrating the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators,” said World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder in a statement.

The only Jewish member of Finland’s parliament, Ben Zyskowicz, contributed the statement’s passage on criminalizing Nazi and Communist symbols. Zyskowicz reported being assaulted and targeted with antisemitic slurs in Helsinki earlier this year. His proposal was supported by the chair of the Finnish Holocaust Remembrance Association.

If passed, Finland would join more than a dozen other countries including Germany, France, Canada and Russia that have formed laws to combat Holocaust denial.

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