HELSINKI (AP) — Finland’s leaders strongly condemned an assault on a Jewish lawmaker who was assaulted and punched in the face Saturday while campaigning for the country’s April 2 general election.
President Sauli Niinisto tweeted that Saturday’s physical attack on veteran conservative politician Ben Zyskowicz, 68, was “a cowardly act” that delivered a blow to Finnish democracy.
Zyskowicz told Finnish media that a large man who appeared to be between the ages of 30 and 40 confronted him at a metro station in Helsinki, the capital city that he represents.
The man started yelling, blaming him for Finland’s decision to join NATO and hurling antisemitic insults, Zyskowicz told Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, adding that the perpetrator also threatened to kill him and to push him onto the subway tracks.
The confrontation turned into a scuffle, and Zyskowicz reported he was hit in the face and fell on the ground, suffering bruises, scratches and other minor injuries. Police later appreciated a suspect.
Zyskowicz has served in Finland’s parliament, the Eduskunta, for over 40 years, and is one of the most visible representatives of Finland’s Jewish community.
The lawmaker told Helsingin Sanomat he thinks his assailant’s motivation was political. Zyskowicz is a member of the center-right National Coalition Party, which polls predict is in position to receive the most votes in the upcoming election.
The party has advocated for Finland to seek NATO membership for over 20 years.
“Under no circumstances must physically attacking candidates become part of Finnish society, not even as an entirely marginal phenomenon,” Zyskowicz told the newspaper.
Political violence is extremely rare in Finland. a nation of 5.5 million where lawmakers and government ministers regularly move around cafes, markets and shopping centers without guards while campaigning, sometimes getting around on public transportation.
Only the Finnish head of state and the prime minister are known to have body guards. Prime Minister Sanna Marin condemned the attack on Zyskowicz as “shocking”.
“Everyone must have the right to campaign in peace, without the threat of violence. An attack on a candidate is an attack on democracy.” Marin said.