A Finnish government minister has apologised for making ‘foolish’ remarks which indicated sympathy towards Adolf Hitler.
Vilhelm Junnila, Finland's Minister for Economic Affairs, joked about the number 88, which was randomly assigned by the Finnish Election Commission as his candidate number in the 2019 parliamentary elections.
However, 88 is coded shorthand for ‘Heil Hitler’ for neo-Nazi’s, as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
The incident took place during an event hosted by a local branch of Junnila’s far-right Finns party in Raisio in March.
According to Finnish tabloid Iltalehti, he said: “First of all, congratulations on an excellent election number. I know it’s a winning card.
“Of course, this 88 refers to the two letters H, which are not discussed further,” he then said, drawing laughter.
Following his remarks, someone in the audience shouted “Heil Hitler” and he then quietly apologised.
AJunnila 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 apologise for my actions.”
He also expressed regret for appearing at a rally organised by neo-Nazi groups in 2019.
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, when two women were stabbed to death.
The event’s name was called “Flower 188” and was arranged by an organisation called the Coalition of Nationalists. The coalition was an umbrella group formed in 2017 for those on the far-right including the Finns Party, the now-banned Nordic Resistance Movement militia, and the Soldiers of Odin vigilante movement.
The Coalition of Nationalists had hit the headlines in Finland after they were exposed for organising firearms training at a camp where the targets were faces of Finnish government ministers.
Junnila added: “There was a crowd of people there. Delivered a speech at the event. It was an event to honour the memory of the victims of the attack, not a demonstration or political event. The video recording of the event is still available online.
"I would no longer participate in such an event if it was organised," he said, describing the Nordic Resistance Movement as "aggressive and deliberately seeking conflict."