One of the cornerstones of right-wing populist websites is their challenge to traditional mainstream media to give voice to “the people”. In Finland, one of the best known of these websites is
- the people
- right-wing populist online publication
- right-wing populist rhetoric
- refugee coverage
In recent years, a societal confrontation relating to immigration and refugees has been reflected in the Finnish media, for example, in increasing online publications strongly criticising professionally edited journalistic news media (Reunanen, 2018). A crucial principle for these websites is their declaration that they represent the people, allegedly contrary to mainstream media, which are said to betray the people and report mostly for the ruling elite (e.g., Esser et al., 2017; Fawzi, 2018; Krämer, 2018; Nord & Strömbäck, 2003). This argument is especially common among populist movements, which appeal to “ordinary citizens” and object to “elites” and the societal values they represent (e.g., Canovan, 1999; Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2017; Müller, 2017). For populists, a distinctive vision is presenting these elites as a corrupt group opposing the people's general will (Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2017).
At the centre of this article is a nationally well-known Finnish-language website titled Translated from a banner on MV-lehti's earlier website (retrieved December 1, 2018, from
Translated from a banner on MV-lehti's earlier website (retrieved December 1, 2018, from
In the field of journalism studies, this research explores the transitioning boundaries of journalism in an online environment. The aim is to contribute to the discussion on the elements of journalism (e.g., Deuze & Witschge, 2018; Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2014) by investigating an online publication that, on the one hand, depends on journalistic media, but on the other, contests them (Tuomola, 2018). For these purposes, in this study, I examine right-wing populist publicity related to journalism involving the public debate on refugees. Hence, the focus is on a rhetorical style of a right-wing populist publication – which can be defined as rude and racist – in contrast to journalistic style (e.g., Wodak, 2015).
The populist style establishes a central binary between “us” and “them” – an in-group and an out-group (Jagers & Walgrave, 2007; Mudde, 2004). In most definitions of populism, there is an idea of a homogenous group of people, an authentic majority in-group that is opposed to out-groups (e.g., Fawzi, 2018; Krämer, 2018; Mudde, 2004; Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2017; Müller, 2017; Wodak, 2015). The in-group shares common values, traditions, institutions, and ways of living (Krämer, 2018; Pelinka, 2013; Wodak, 2015), and these are vital to the discursive construction of national identities (e.g., Wodak, 2015). Accordingly, the central binary is underpinned by racism, which nowadays resides in the ways some groups of people profit from the systematic exclusion and subordination of other groups (Kundnani, 2007) when the cultural norms, values, traditions, and lifestyles of the others appear problematic, instead of their physical appearance (Lentin & Titley, 2011). Finally, uncivility occurs in a right-wing populist style that values attention and provocation over politeness and political correctness, simplicity over complexity, and first-hand experience over expert knowledge (Hokka & Nelimarkka, 2020).
Since 2015, when over 1.3 million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe, the public debate – especially in the digital environment, including in Finland – has been strongly polarised with two dissenting stances: The “immigration critics” resist asylum seekers and refugees, while the “tolerants” advocate multiculturalism, and where anti-immigrant visions attack supportive contentions, and vice versa (Nikunen & Pantti, 2018; see also Alvares & Dahlgren, 2016). Thus, polarising approaches have reshaped the definition of the people as a concept when dissenting views have collided (Nikunen, 2019; see also Berry et al., 2016).
This article focuses on news texts from the above-mentioned Finnish-language right-wing populist website, How is “the people” constructed in
How is “the people” constructed in
In the next section, I introduce the key ideas of this article, which relate populism and the people. Then I introduce concepts from right-wing populist rhetoric that I unpack in the analysis. Following this, I focus on the criteria for belonging to a nation.
At the core of this study is an argument proposed by populists that their group represents “ordinary, decent people” who are overridden by “arrogant elites, corrupt politicians, and strident minorities” (Canovan, 1999: 5). This standpoint is supported by Cas Mudde's (2004: 543) definition of populism as an ideology that separates society into two antagonistic groups – “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite” – arguing that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people. According to Mudde (2004: 546), the people as depicted by populists are essentially a constructed and mythical subset of the whole population, an “imagined community” like the “nation” of the nationalists. Therefore, it is crucial to profoundly delve into the conceptual construction of the people and analyse its meanings in right-wing populist rhetoric.
According to Chantal Mouffe (2005), the concept of the people is constructed within political discourses in mythic, nativist terms, and this is problematic. In Europe, the end of the adversarial mode of politics has created a situation in which right-wing populist demagogues exploit the fears and resentments of those citizens who feel that they have been left frustrated, abandoned, and with no future prospects (Mouffe, 2005). These people blame the elites for their distress, using them as scapegoats for engineering multiculturalism to spread out to Europe without real popular discussion. This approach gives the concept of the people an anti-immigrant nuance, as Mouffe (2005: 69) shows her concern about its current “xenophobic character, and the fact that in all cases immigrants are presented as a threat to the identity of the people”. As Wodak (2015) argues, our identities are inherently tied to nationalistic, religious, and ethnic categories, where national identity implies similar emotional dispositions, stances, attitudes, and behavioural conventions that are shared collectively (see also Wodak et al., 2009).
For the purposes of this article, it is justifiable to utilise the concepts of right-wing populist rhetoric (Wodak, 2015) as a research instrument for an in-depth text analysis. As Wodak (2015) notes, when drawing apparent boundaries between “us” and “them” in exclusionary rhetoric, language is used to determine similarities and differences. In this research, rhetoric can be approached as discursive practices, which draw on and reproduce the comprehensive structures of a discourse (De Cleen, 2015; Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002). Right-wing populist rhetoric combines both style and content in its propaganda (Wodak, 2015). Below, I briefly list principal concepts and strategies of this rhetoric, leaning on Wodak's (2015) ideas. Later, I utilise these concepts in the analysis.
Right-wing populist rhetoric divides the world into “us” and “them” by constructing simplistic dichotomies and a “positive self- and negative other presentation” (Wodak 2015: 67). A positive self-presentation can emerge when attempting to turn blame into credit, for example, when claiming to save the country from danger, such as migrants or terrorists. Negative other presentation, in turn, can be utilised for an exclusionary purpose when defining “others” who do not belong to “us”. Scapegoating refers to constructing culprits and enemies – that is, “others” – to blame for current woes by emphasising traditional stereotypes and images of the “enemy” (Wodak, 2015). Scapegoating stems from the right-wing populist demand for simple answers to all the fears and complexity that multiculturalism, foreigners, and elites may cause (Pelinka, 2013; Wodak, 2015). In addition, conspiracy theories strengthen the difference between “us” and “them” as being the discursive constructions of fear. Right-wing populism also correlates with anti-intellectualism, with its appeals to “common sense” and “traditional and conservative values” – elements that can be linked to aggressive exclusionary rhetoric (Wodak, 2015: 22).
A typical justification strategy of right-wing populist ideology is claiming victimhood by victim–perpetrator reversal and blaming the victim. This suggests that the victims are transformed into powerful perpetrators, and vice versa, as the victims must be held accountable for their terrible fate and deserved “punishment” (Wodak, 2015). Wodak refers to van Dijk (1992), who also identifies “denying” as a part of a general defence or justification strategy when accused of being racist. Denial can be actualised, for example, by mitigations or using euphemisms when describing one's own negative actions. Justifications can involve different types of denial, such as “counter-attack” when attacking the accusation and accuser or “moral evaluation”, which involves legitimising one's own actions according to the national values (Wodak, 2015). Finally, the strategy of normalisation refers to powerful actors who frame their actions as reasonable and normal by naturalising them. This practice evolves from the right-wing populist idea of a homogeneous people, defined by blood-related criteria, and of a heartland that must be protected against dangerous outsiders (Wodak, 2015).
Right-wing populists define the people by nativist criteria (Wodak, 2015). Mudde (2004) remarks that the step from the nation to the people is easily taken, and many nationalism scholars have defined a nation as a constructed concept rather than a natural phenomenon (e.g., Anderson, 2017). In this article, I utilise the concept of ethnic nationalism, which has been described as primitive and emotional in nature, focused on ethnicity by blood and belonging (Kohn, 1944; Tamir, 2019). Ethnonationalism builds on a sense of belonging to a “community of the blood”, that is, to a people that share a single identity, with a common language, religion, and history, and shared ancestors (McCrone, 1998; see also Banton, 1983; Eriksen, 1993; Kellas, 1991). This means that, for example, no one can become a Finn simply by adopting Finnish cultural habits. In right-wing populism, a nationalistic ideology draws on the exclusion of “the others”: Access to national identity or membership in the nation would only be allowed by heritage or ancestry (De Cleen, 2012; Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2017; Reinemann et al., 2017; Wodak, 2015). Therefore, the multicultural state poses a threat to ethnic nationalism, as multiculturalism is not based on common ethnicity or shared identity and culture (Kellas, 1991).
The online publication Retrieved May 20, 2020, from
Retrieved May 20, 2020, from
Despite its media-referential title and resemblance to a news site, The Council of Mass Media is a self-regulating committee run by publishers and journalists in the field of mass communication with the task of interpreting good professional practice and defending freedom of speech and the press.
The Council of Mass Media is a self-regulating committee run by publishers and journalists in the field of mass communication with the task of interpreting good professional practice and defending freedom of speech and the press.
The data in this work consist of online articles published in
Studied material from MV-lehti
|Timeframe||17 Sep.–31 Dec. 2016||11 Sep.–31 Dec. 2016|
The data were collected by going through the entire Open Access archive of
Both examined news cases are related to the European refugee crisis, which I understand to have started during 2014–2015 and resulted in a large number of people seeking asylum in Europe from the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. In 2016, the number of refugees had already peaked in Finland; local people had had one year to adjust to a new situation in which asylum seekers were located all over the country in accommodation centres. In addition,
Case 1 refers to a violent altercation that took place at the Station Square in the centre of Helsinki in September 2016. A Finnish man, aged 28, was walking through the square with a friend during a neo-Nazi group's demonstration. The man stopped in front of the demonstrators, who belonged to the National Resistance Movement. He called them names and spat on the ground, with the result that he was kicked in the chest by one of the activists. The man fell down and hit his head, sustaining serious injuries; he died in the hospital six days later. At the trial, the jury considered whether the death was caused explicitly by violence, and the demonstrator was sentenced to prison for two years for aggravated assault.
Case 2 includes articles about a Finnish man who was killed by two asylum seekers in a small village called Otanmäki in northeast Finland, where the Iraqi asylum seekers were staying at an accommodation centre. In September 2016, they encountered a 52-year-old man on his way home from a bar, robbed him, and then beat him to death. The two men were convicted and sentenced to prison.
The Station Square case evoked a significant public debate on political violence and racism in Finland. The media coverage was substantial, and many politicians commented on the topic. In addition, President Sauli Niinistö condemned the case and declared racism as a crime in Finland (Pilke, 2016). The case was also noticed overseas; after the man's death, more than 15,000 people gathered in Helsinki to protest against racism and violence (Bloomberg, 2016; The Guardian, 2016). The Otanmäki case also gained publicity at the time and affected the decision to close the accommodation centre in Otanmäki (STT, 2017). Moreover, it is a fruitful counterpart to the Station Square case; for those who resisted immigration, it offered a cautionary tale of the consequences of multiculturalism.
The comparability of the Station Square and Otanmäki cases emerges in the wide public debate that their media coverage provoked. Several frontline politicians juxtaposed the cases; for example, then Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and Foreign Minister Timo Soini condemned the violence of the cases in the same context (MTV Uutiset, 2016; Sipilä, 2016). This approach encountered strong criticism when the opponents argued that the defendants of the cases – the neo-Nazis and asylum seekers – were not comparable with each other (Kansan Uutiset, 2016).
The data were examined in three phases using critical, in-depth reading. First, I investigated how Finns and Finnish citizens were discussed in the news texts, and based on these perceptions, I considered who explicitly belonged to “us” and who was envisioned as “them” from
I divided the three functional patterns of the people in
The most detailed attribute, which exemplified who belongs to the people in
Social cohesion is strengthened among the people in
A distinctive feature for strengthening national identity is emphasising conservative values and morals (Wodak, 2015; Wodak et al., 2009). People talked about the Otanmäki victim as an “ordinary citizen, a father, and a recent grandfather, a Finnish man”; such characterisations imply typical conservative values and patriotic citizenship. Conservative values are underpinned by common sense, which Wodak (2015; see also Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2017) stated is also a symptom of right-wing populist rhetoric, supporting anti-intellectualism with its simplistic explanations and solutions. For example, blogger Junes Lokka Lokka is a Finnish anti-immigrant activist; according to a biography he has published, he was born in Morocco and moved to Finland in 2005 (Lokka, 2017). He has been a council member of the Oulu city council since 2017 (Karppinen, 2017), and in 2019, he became an independent candidate for both the Finnish and European parliamentary elections, but he was not elected (Neihum, 2019).
Lokka is a Finnish anti-immigrant activist; according to a biography he has published, he was born in Morocco and moved to Finland in 2005 (Lokka, 2017). He has been a council member of the Oulu city council since 2017 (Karppinen, 2017), and in 2019, he became an independent candidate for both the Finnish and European parliamentary elections, but he was not elected (Neihum, 2019).
Right-wing populist rhetoric is distinguished by creating fear and exclusion, which have become more common when speaking of strangers who “threaten” the nation and the country (Canovan, 1999; Wodak, 2015). Likewise, in
Another strategy of right-wing populist rhetoric is creating distrust of those who do not belong to the people – to “us” – by constructing scapegoats to blame strangers for the hardships we experience (Pelinka, 2013; Wodak, 2015).
Negative other presentation also requires positive self-presentation for its reverse side to strengthen its effectiveness (Van Dijk, 1992; Wodak, 2015). The Soldiers of Odin group has an ideological background in the extreme nationalism of the twentieth century, and it enjoyed political support from the True Finns – a national-populist parliamentary party (Nikunen & Hokka, 2021) – before the party broke up in 2018. The National Resistance Movement was founded in 2008 as an equivalent to its Swedish counterpart (Nikunen & Hokka, 2021). In September 2018, the movement was forbidden by order of the court of appeal. The movement appealed to the supreme court, but the appeal was dismissed in October 2020.
The Soldiers of Odin group has an ideological background in the extreme nationalism of the twentieth century, and it enjoyed political support from the True Finns – a national-populist parliamentary party (Nikunen & Hokka, 2021) – before the party broke up in 2018.
The National Resistance Movement was founded in 2008 as an equivalent to its Swedish counterpart (Nikunen & Hokka, 2021). In September 2018, the movement was forbidden by order of the court of appeal. The movement appealed to the supreme court, but the appeal was dismissed in October 2020.
The third element of constructing the people in
One's own ideology is also justified by the strategy of denial (Van Dijk, 1992; Wodak, 2015). For example,
The results of this study indicate that
Studied material from MV-lehti
|Timeframe||17 Sep.–31 Dec. 2016||11 Sep.–31 Dec. 2016|