Civic engagement and right-wing populism amongst young people

Vesa Puuronen & Kari Saari (eds.)

(In Finnish: Nuorten yhteiskunnallinen osallistuminen ja oikeistopopulismi)


This book is based on the surveys, interviews and ethnographic material produced by the research project MYPLACE (Memory, Youth, Political Legacy and Civic Engagement), which was funded by the EU and carried out in 14 European countries in 2011–2015. The main themes of the book are youth civic engagement and support for right-wing populism in the context of Eastern Finland. The material pertaining to Finland was collected in Kuopio, as well as in Nurmes and Lieksa in Pielinen Karelia.

The study reveals that young people are not indifferent to civic matters; on the contrary approximately half of young people are interested in politics and political parties. Finnish young people are not politically passive compared with the young people in other MYPLACE countries. During the period of the study, young people in Eastern Finland were active voters, they used their influence online and took a stand e.g. through their personal consumer choices. The individuality, voluntariness and flexibility of social activity was typical for young people. The material from all MYPLACE countries shows that socio-economic and local factors have a significant impact on young people’s civic engagement.

Young people do not use the terms “right-wing” or “left-wing” in their traditional sense; instead they discuss ideologies and values using new terms, such as cultural liberalism or cultural conservatism. Young people in Eastern Finland valued the Finnish welfare state and its support networks. There was, however, a paradox in their attitudes: the majority of young people support equality and the respect for human rights, but a large share of the young people did not see ethnic minorities living in Finland as being equal to the native population.

Surprisingly, the study revealed that the majority of young Finnish people have negative attitudes towards the Roma. The combination of negative attitudes towards ethnic minorities and simultaneously emphasising the privileges of the native population is favourable soil for the ideological seeds of nationalist populism. On the other hand, a community may react to openly racist groups through both local and national moralization. Moral panic may be a sign of condemning racism in public, and an expression of a racism that society is aware of but accepts.

When examining the youth organisation, the Finns Party Youth, right-wing populist characteristics can be found in its ideology and activities. The basic elements of radical right-wing populism – populism and nativism – appear the most clearly within the youth organisation’s opinions. When examining the ideologies of participants of the online discussion forum Hommaforum, which has close ties to the Finns Party, it becomes clear that their main ideas are related to nationalism: welfare chauvinism and ethnopluralism are important dimensions of this ideology.

Keywords: young people, activism, populism, politics, youth research, xenophobia, ethnic relations