The international media have for some time depicted Finland as the black sheep of the European Union because of her reluctance to pay for other member countries’ debt and thus help to save the eurozone from its present crisis.  This impression was reinforced by recent statements made by senior government officials in Finland, including foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja and finance minister Jutta Urpilainen.

But neither of these two Finns was included in a list of Europe’s ten most dangerous politicians for the eurozone, compiled last August by the German news magazine Der Spiegel.  Instead, that list included Timo Soini, a Finnish Catholic MP, chair of the parliament’s foreign-affairs commission, former presidential candidate, and leader of the Finns Party, which received record support in 2011’s parliamentary elections on a euro-critical platform, garnering almost one fifth of the vote..

In addition, on September 9, Italy’s largest daily, Corriere della Sera, included Timo Soini among the five most “populist” leaders in Europe.  Soini, in particular, was cited by the paper as being “bastian contrario”—an habitual contrarian, a frequent opponent of accepted mainstream policies, opinions, or practices.  This is evidenced, the paper contends, by the fact that he is a Catholic in a predominantly Lutheran country.

According to Der Spiegel, Soini has changed Finnish politics.  “Since the election, Finland has demanded that Greece provide collateral in return for Finnish aid,” the paper reported.  Soini was quoted as demanding an end to that aid: “Not a penny more,” he says.  “We’ve paid enough.”

Soini refuses to kowtow to the politically correct.  He does not mince words, whether he’s upholding the right to life or offering a stringent criticism of euro-related policies.  For example, he argues that voting to use E.U. funds to bail out countries like Greece “does not bear merely economic implications, but also moral ones, since the mandate I received from the voters does not allow me to divert taxpayers’ money in favour of other EU citizens.”  In other words, it is not fair for us to pay for others’ mistakes.  Although it is highly unlikely for an outspoken man like Soini to win widespread acceptance, he has earned the respect of his political adversaries, to such an extent that even Finland’s liberal daily Savon Sanomat came to his defense in August 2012, denying he was actually “dangerous.”  “The headline is polemical and—at least as far as Soini is concerned—simply wrong,” the paper contended.  “Soini isn’t dangerous.  The right word is embarrassing.  Far more dangerous than him are the politicians in the EU states that have landed the euro in its present dilemma.”

I met Timo Soini in his office at the parliament building in Helsinki.

Tell us about the euro crisis from the Finnish perspective.

Timo Soini: The crisis is rather complicated, particularly from a moral and economic viewpoint.  The European Union’s own regulations state that there would not be a joint debt.  Each of the member countries has its own debt, and the member-states are not responsible for other countries’ debts.  Now, unfortunately, that is no longer the case.  This trend has continued and is going to continue with the eurobonds and more bailout packages.  I have been against bailout packages.  I don’t object to any country helping its own banks or people, but it’s not up to the Finnish taxpayer to do so.  This is what my position is all about, and then I read in Der Spiegel that I was listed as one of the most dangerous men in Europe for defending the Finnish taxpayer.  If defending taxpayers makes a man dangerous, that is news to me.  But this whole crisis is a competitive crisis, an insolvency crisis.  I think Italy is a different case from Spain, Portugal, and Greece, because especially in northern Italy there is a very advanced industrial infrastructure.  I was in Treviso when I was an MEP, and I could see how well it was functioning.  But the euro crisis is also a moral crisis.  If some countries are gambling and taking profits, when they lose they may not come to fleece the taxpayers’ pocket.  That doesn’t go in a country like Finland.  It is not acceptable.

If Finland were to leave the eurozone, what sort of scenario would you envisage?  Back to the markka?  Or some sort of monetary agreement with the other Nordic countries?

That is a really hard question, because the eurozone has become so important to many people and politicians and industries in Europe.  And even in Finland—our economy is in good shape, and we are not in debt—it would be a very big thing politically for us to leave.  I am sure that economically we would do fine, like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, but the political price, breaking the euro from the north, would be very big news.  But as responsible politicians, we must recognize that, if this trend of bailout after bailout continues, the possibility of leaving the eurozone must be on the table.  Withdrawing would be easier for Finland than for countries like Greece.  But this is a big, big question, and this was discussed in the Finnish parliament weeks ago, and I said that we must take an alternative approach—namely, to admit that the euro is not forever, but I am not demanding an immediate exit.

The chief of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, has a different opinion, and he is on record as saying that going on the euro is “irreversible.”

Certain things made and left by Christ are irreversible, but nothing that humans are doing is irreversible.  Pharaohs, Franks, Romans, Soviets—they have come and gone.  Manmade things may last for a long time, even hundreds of years, like the Ottoman Empire, but not for good.  The rhetoric of “irreversibility” simply does not work; it means scorning people, suggesting that you don’t matter, and we can do whatever we want.  In politics, people can make bad choices, leading to bad results, but that is democracy.  Why bother to vote if you cannot affect anything?  It is not dangerous that we have troubles—mankind has always had troubles throughout the history of the world—but if we don’t listen to people, that’s the real trouble.  My emphasis is on the ballot box.  I think that people are going to elections to put their paper into the ballot box, not taking to the streets to burn vehicles, and so on.

Tell us something about your experience as a presidential candidate, especially being a practicing Catholic in a secularized context.

I was quite happy with my result.  I got 9.4 percent; nearly 300,000 Finns voted for me, and it was 6 percent more than I got the previous time, but all the media said that I lost the elections, because we got such a big landslide in parliamentary elections.  I said that former prime minister Paavo Lipponen got 6.7 percent, yet nobody accused him of having failed.  And our support in the latest opinion polls was 17.5 percent.  But the campaign was very harsh.  You have no privacy, they are trying to involve your wife, your family, everything, and sometimes it was very heavy.  And I was attacked on moral issues, because of my pro-life views, because abortion is morally wrong and I do not accept it.  It was constantly in the media, with the press and TV saying, How can you say this if there is incest, rape, etc.?  Of course I condemn that kind of action.  But still, 97 percent of our abortions are for convenience, and nobody talks about that.  People sometimes say they do not share my views on these issues, but they respect the fact that I have the courage to say that these are my views, and I have never suffered in any case on these issues.  But sometimes it’s very hard, because my party and I get labeled “extremists.”  I am just a rank-and-file Catholic, a normal, average Catholic like the other billion Catholics worldwide.  In Finland, that kind of normal Catholicism is radical, but I have no problem with that.

Then I presume you would face the typical accusations leveled at those who challenge the politically correct—extremist, xenophobic, etc.  How do you respond?

Constantly and clearly.  I am no xenophobe and think that every human life has value.  We are a big party, and there are some people who write or tell stories in the name of our party, which I do not accept.  But if you have two or three bad apples, the whole party and its leadership are tarred by them.  It is a bit tiring to have to ask continually, “Where did I say or write this and that?” only to hear “No, it’s not you, it is the other.”  This treatment is not applied to the other parties, for their leaders are never associated with or questioned about the possible misdeeds of other members.  But I am often grilled and put in the dock if some rank-and-file members are doing something stupid: Mr. Soini has to take responsibility for that.  These accusations are not fair, but they always coincide with my criticisms of the big parties with regard to their bailout plans for the eurozone countries on the verge of default.  Thus, my criticism is not discussed, and I am dismissed as xenophobic.  That is very hard, because I don’t have bodyguards, and it’s not very nice to have Business Insider or Der Spiegel describe you as “dangerous.”  Der Spiegel went so far as to include me on what might appear to be a sort of hit list: the ten most dangerous politicians for the eurozone, alongside Silvio Berlusconi, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, and British Euroskeptic MEP Nigel Farage, as well as some German Christian Democrats.  Some lunatics may even think that it’s so.

. . . lunatics like Anders Breivik, for example, the Norwegian mass murderer, whose victims were recently mourned in the first anniversary of the massacre.

Exactly.  It was horrible what happened in Norway; Breivik is a criminal and mad.  I hope and pray that nothing like that ever happens again, but regrettably we have seen shootings and school shootings here in Finland, albeit not on that scale.  No more than a few months ago, in a place called Hyvinkaa, 30 miles north of Helsinki, a guy fired from the rooftop of a house, killing three people and injuring many more.  Then we had two tragic school shootings, followed by one bomb attack.  In my youth we never ever thought that it could happen in Finland.  We always used to think that was something that happened in the United States, where weapons are easy to get, but not here.  But it happened, and happened again.

It is very, very dangerous to label any group of people, because there are some madmen, most of them young, who need to be taken care of, particularly if they have mental-health problems, or are frustrated by a lack of schooling and/or job, in which case they should not be left to themselves, but carefully followed and looked after by the competent bodies.  Recently, when I was in Afghanistan in my capacity as president of the parliament’s foreign-affairs commission, I was told that, if just one young man in Pakistan would join Al Qaeda, that would create a massive problem.  This tells us how dangerous and vital it is that we do not leave anybody out, because some of them can get bitter and resolve to go on a shooting spree.

Finland-Russia relations at times have been rather problematic, to say the least.  What do you think of the amazing development of Russia having turned from an atheist totalitarian anti-Christian region into a sort of bastion of Christianity?

I am really very happy that I could see communism collapse in my lifetime, because when I was young I was told that “this is irreversible!”  You cannot change it because nobody wants to get out of the Soviet Union, everybody loves it, and it’s the paradise for the working class!  But the reality was totally different, as we know.  It was an atheistic and very, very harsh regime.  For example, smuggling Bibles into Russia was considered a very serious crime, and even when, in the 1970’s, Russian Christians came to Finland, some of our (Lutheran) bishops criticized the clergy who had dared to open their churches to them.  But now I am really happy that Russia can be a bastion of the Christian Faith, the Orthodox Church is getting stronger, and people are freely practicing their religion.  It’s amazing and encouraging that 70 years of communist dictatorship and persecution could not uproot the Christian Faith from Russia.  That is very good.

Last June, Finland and the Vatican celebrated the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic relations.  Some people, including the bishop of Helsinki, Msgr. Teemu Sippo, claim that the Vatican’s early recognition of the young Finnish state in February 1918, and the subsequent establishment of formal diplomatic relations in July 1942, helped to keep Finland largely out of World War II, preventing Russia from occupying it.

I am 50 years old, but both of my parents remember the war, and some of my mother’s brothers were soldiers fighting the war.  If you think about what happened in Stalin’s and Hitler’s realms in Europe, it is amazing that there were only three capitals which were not invaded in the war: Moscow, London, and Helsinki.  All the others were occupied: Paris, Rome, Berlin, etc.  Some historians have claimed it was a miracle that Finland was not occupied by the Soviet Union.  We had the Winter War, then the Continuation War; our chances were limited when the Soviet Union attacked Finland.  We made a deal with the devil—namely, Germany—but was there another option?  Maybe in some sense Stalin respected that Finland fought her own war, and when the Germans were asking us to dismantle the Murmansk railway, Mannerheim said no.  Perhaps in 1944 the Soviet Union thought that Finland was demanding too many of their soldiers and that they could take the country later, as the Soviets did with Bulgaria, Rumania, the Baltic states, and then on to Berlin.  And after that the Finns had to pay a very high price: 84,000 soldiers were killed, tens of thousands of civilians perished, and we lost 12 percent of our territory from Karelia, from Petsamo in the north.  We had to pay very heavy war damages, and that is another reason why the Finns are a bit critical of the euro bailout issue.

After World War I we paid our debts back the United States, then we paid war damages to the Soviet Union, then we rescued our banking sector (1991 to 1994-95), and now we are being asked to pay the debts of the others.