Finnish politician Vilhelm Junnila apologized Thursday for remarks indicating sympathy toward Adolf Hitler, which drew further attention to the economic affairs minister’s far-right connections.
The incident occurred during an event hosted by a local branch of Junnila’s far-right Finns party in Raisio in March. There, Junnila remarked that the local party chairman’s election number was 88, the same number that Junnila himself had in 2019 elections. The number 88 is widely recognized among neo-Nazis as a symbol for the “Heil Hitler,” due to H being the eighth letter in the alphabet, making 88 signify “HH.”
“First of all, congratulations on an excellent election number. I know it’s a winning card,” Junnila said. “Of course, this 88 refers to the two letters H, which are not discussed further,” he said, drawing laughter. Following his remarks, someone in the audience shouted “Heil Hitler” and then quietly apologized, according to the Finnish tabloid Iltalehti.
The surfacing of the incident created a headache for Finland’s new right-wing government, which was sworn in on Tuesday. In response, Junnila wrote on his Facebook page: “Over the years, I have joked in a way that, looking back, seems foolish and immature. I have acted incorrectly, and I apologize for my actions.”
The remarks stirred discussions about Junnila’s connections to the far-right. The Yie news site reported that in 2019 Junnila spoke in front of neo-Nazis during a memorial event for the 2017 terror attack in Turku, in which two women were stabbed to death. The event’s name, “Flower 188,” also featured the problematic number.
The gathering was organized by the Coalition of Nationalists, an umbrella group for far-right movements. That same year the Coalition of Nationalists sparked controversy with a shooting training camp that used targets with the faces of Finnish government ministers.
Responding to the report, Junnila said he would not attend such an event if he could make the decision again, insisting that “neo-Nazis are not my friends” and that he doesn’t condone such actions.
Concerns have also been raised regarding Speaker of the House Jussi Halla-aho, also a member of the Finns Party, who has made racist remarks in the past and has been convicted for “disturbing religious worship” and “ethnic agitation,” according to a Euronews report.
He wrote in June 2006 that Islam is a “religion of pedophiles” and that Somalis have a “genetic trait” for “robbing passersby.”
Also that year, he implied he would be happy if a Green party MP was raped by a gang of immigrants and later wrote: “I still and will continue to sincerely and wholeheartedly believe that if a woman who opposes the deportation of immigrant rapists is raped by an immigrant rapist, it is a happy thing.”
He has also spoken out against Finland’s LGBTQ community, according to the report.
When asked by Finnish journalists about his past remarks, Hallah-aho usually dismisses them as old and rehashed by media, Euronews noted.
In April, the conservative National Coalition party received 20.8 percent of the vote in the Finnish parliamentary election, thereby securing 48 seats. Party leader Antti Petteri Orpo was appointed prime minister after forming a coalition with the Finns, who received 46 seats, and the Swedish People’s Party and the Christian Democrats, who received 9 and 5 seats respectively. Former Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Social Democratic party received 43 seats.