On 18 February, the Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala claimed that Finnish National Coalition Party and United Russia have been fraternal parties for a long time. The National Coalition Party denies the cooperation with United Russia as well as sharing the same ideology, although there are reports of cooperation between the parties in the past.
The National Coalition Party (Kokoomus) is a large centre-right political party in Finland. United Russia (Yedinaya Rossiya) is the ruling political party in Russia. The relations between the parties have been discussed in Finland several times before.
A Finnish blogger and graphic designer Kasper Strömman posted on 16 February an Instagram picture of Vladimir Putin and Petteri Orpo, the chairman of Finnish National Coalition Party Kokoomus, in front of their political posters. In the picture, the similarity between the graphic design of the slogans behind Putin and Orpo is noticeable. The original publisher, Strömman, is known for posting parodic pictures often related to graphic design.
On February 18 Finnish MEP and Vice President of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala reposted Kasper Strömman’s Instagram post of Putin and Orpo and claimed in her tweet that ‘’This conformity can’t be a surprise because the National Coalition Party and United Russia have been fraternal parties for a long time’’. Hautala herself has a long history of representing the Finnish Green Party.
The term “fraternal party” can be defined in several ways. Fraternal parties often share the same political ideology but their views on some topics can differ a lot. We found definitions for the term from Finnish language regulator Kotus and Wikipedia.
When we asked our sources about if the parties are or have ever been fraternal parties, different sources seemed to emphasize different criteria. We decided to categorize these arguments in four sections: cooperation between parties, common ideology, belonging to the same political internationals and party’s own statement on the issue.
We reached out for Hautala and she answered us via email, in which she said that the Strömman’s picture in the tweet was humoristic, but the claim about fraternal parties was not.
Hautala based her statement on several Finnish news articles and editorials published between 2006 and 2014. In those articles there were references to different occasions where the National Coalition Party and United Russia had cooperated in 2006-2011. Hautala also emphasized that she meant to write in past tense in her tweet. She had also tweeted another post where she underlined the ‘’has been’’ -part in her post and clarified that she did not mean that the parties would still cooperate.
Different sources, some of which Hautala also referred to, have reported on cooperation between the parties in the past.
According to an article in the National Coalition Party’s online news-service Verkkouutiset, United Russia’s representatives planned to visit the National Coalition Party in Finland in 2006.
The chairman of the National Coalition Party Jyrki Katainen said in the article that the National Coalition Party and United Russia have had a relationship since the chairmanship of Ville Itälä and the National Coalition Party is just about the only party in Finland keeping regular contact with Russian political parties. He also mentioned cooperation plans with European People’s Party group (EPP) and United Russia.
“We are aiming to keep up good relations with United Russia. They have a centre-right mindset”, Katainen stated in the article in Verkkouutiset.
According to Finnish national broadcasting company Yle, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian Duma, Konstantin Kosachev, who is also one of United Russia’s politicians, said in 2010 that United Russia and National Coalition Party have relations. Russian media has also named United Russia and National Coalition party as ‘’sister parties’’. The National Coalition party said that this was a canard.
According to the Administration Manager of the National Coalition Party, Timo Elo, the National Coalition Party has once organized a seminar for some of their operators about party activities in Western democracy. They also discussed about developing the relations between Finland and Russia.
The National Coalition party is not the only Finnish political party which has connections with United Russia. The Centre party of Finland has also cooperated with United Russia. Ilta-Sanomat published the text of a cooperation contract between the two parties back in 2009, though the Centre party said it was never signed.
Despite Katainen’s 2006 claim that United Russia and the National Coalition Party shared some common values, already in 2011 an influential member of his party had a different tone. According to a news story by the Finnish news agency STT, the National Coalition Party politician Ilkka Kanerva visited United Russia’s party congress in 2011. At that time, Kanerva said to Ilta-Sanomat that United Russia and the National Coalition Party do not share the same ideological base.
It is noteworthy that the public image of Putin and his party has changed a lot in the Western world during the past two decades, and having relations with them was not always regarded as politically toxic. Tuomas Forsberg, Professor of International Relations at the University of Tampere, says the global change in attitudes happened somewhere between the years 2005 and 2006, at the beginning of Putin’s second presidential term.
“There were several incidents like the murder of Anna Politkovskaya (a Russian journalist critical of Putin and the wars in Chechnya), and an authoritarian trend. In Europe, attitudes towards Putin changed well before the Georgian War of 2008.”
These trends, however, did not prevent the National Coalition Party from maintaining relations with United Russia in 2006 and 2011.
One way to determine if the two parties could be characterized as fraternal parties is to look at their stances on various issues. On these grounds, Markku Jokisipilä, the Director of the Centre for Parliamentary Studies at the University of Turku, says Hautala’s comparison sounds rather peculiar.
“United Russia is a nationalist, illiberal party that is closely connected to Putin’s authoritarian administration. Despite its name, the National Coalition Party is a socially liberal, European movement.”
According to Jokisipilä, unlike the various social democratic parties across Europe, United Russia and the National Coalition Party do not come from the same ideological family. Hautala’s characterization is, in his words, ”far-fetched.”
Political internationals and The National Coalition party’s own statement
The National Coalition Party has claimed that they have not officially cooperated with United Russia and do not consider the party their fraternal party. It counts the parties that are members of the same political internationals as their fraternal parties.
“Our fraternal parties are members of The European People’s Party group (EPP) or International Democrat Union (IDU). United Russia isn’t part of them. We don’t cooperate and United Russia has never been our fraternal party”, says Matilda af Hällström, the Head of International Affairs of the National Coalition Party.
Despite the fact that there has been some cooperation between the National Coalition Party and United Russia in the past, the National Coalition Party states that United Russia has never been their fraternal party and also their ideologies differ. The term “fraternal party” can also be defined in several ways. Therefore, it is difficult to determine if United Russia and the National Coalition Party have ever been fraternal parties. Because there are different definitions to this case and we couldn’t prove just one of them right, we came to the solution that this fact is uncheckable.
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