by Jolanda Knott
Trumpism is an international phenomenon and not just specific to America. Finland has also seen a rise in support for xenophobia, racism and authoritarianism. The neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement has grown rapidly and now has approximately 500 members. This anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant group, however, has not gone unchallenged, as anti-racists turned out to confront this new threat.
A far-right demonstration called “612” was held on Finnish Independence Day, Dec. 6, last year. It was an attempt to bring together small far-right organisations into a united front. A torchlight procession went through Helsinki’s centre and gathered approximately 2800 people in support of the racists, which is a significant turnout for a country of only 5.5 million people.
In response to the call for “612,” the Left Youth of Helsinki, together with A-ryhmä, an anarchist group, organised a counter demonstration, “Helsinki Ilman Natseja” (“Helsinki without Nazis”) on the same night. The event was advertised on Facebook and through their website. The invitation urged people to join their march against the far right, stating that “Fascism and Nazism are not opinions, but an insult to humanity.”
Chanting slogans that translate as “Open the borders for love” and carrying signs reading “No room for fascism – not in the streets nor in parliament,” this counter march was attended by 3000 people, and publicly supported by dozens of different organisations.
“Capitalism is a disease – Fascism its symptom”
In December, 2017, the court in Turku issued a ban on the Nordic Resistance Movement in Finland. The National Police Board (NPB) had requested that the neo-Nazi organisation be outlawed, calling it a “violent and openly racist” organisation. Then, on March 16, 2018, the high court rejected NPB’s request on the basis that the court couldn’t temporarily ban this group, since unregistered organisations can’t be “banned” (because you can’t ban a group of friends from meeting each other).
Pro-Migrant Groups Offer Aid and Fight Deportations
As well of being part of the Helsinki Without Nazis demonstration, the nationwide Left Youth also plays an active role in the effort to protect and improve the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. One of their political campaigns, “No One Is Illegal,” aims to support asylum seekers and resist deportations. They organise demonstrations and activity days, and spread current information about asylum seekers’ rights. In March 2018, they started a petition to the government to commission an independent investigation into the Finnish Immigration Service’s operations and the toughening legislation regarding refugees’ rights.
In addition to party-linked organisations, Finland has a range of networks that work for freedom, equality and human rights. Varis is a Finland-wide network that promotes “a society based on equality, freedom and mutual aid; a society in which people are not driven to compete against each other.” They were part of organising the Helsinki Without Nazis demonstration, and their main focus lies on creating resistance against fascism. They emphasise the need of independent movement “that unites all the oppressed, the poor, the precarious, and those struggling for basic necessities of life.”
“The purpose of the Varis network is the exchange of information and experiences and the realisation of shared projects. The network has no central command or representatives. All action begins on local level. Local groups meet regularly in country-wide meetings, where new local groups may be accepted and common operating principles decided. Our work consists of, for example, affecting public opinion, discussion, organising events, and, if necessary, physical confrontation with fascists. We only act extra-parliamentarily, but other than that we are open to all tactics and methods in the struggle against fascism.”
Link to American white nationalists
Varis reported on a secret fascists’ meeting in a Helsinki restaurant on April 8. They called the restaurant multiple times throughout the day, asking why the restaurant caters to anti-Semitic, racist and misogynistic far-right gatherings, without getting any straight answer. Varis reports that the main speaker for this meeting was Jared Taylor, the founder and editor of American Renaissance, a white supremacist online magazine. The organisers called this “the first ethno-nationalistic conference”–they want to distance themselves from cultural nationalism which, according to the organisers, has lost nationalism’s racial dimension.
The group “Stop Deportations” started in early 2017 with an asylum seekers’ demonstration in Helsinki called “The Right To Live.” It lasted for over seven months. They have been actively demonstrating against deportations since, by spreading news, insider information and locations of possible deportations. Most of their communications have gone through their Facebook page, which has over 12000 followers.
Other groups have formed to aid with issues regarding legal advice, residence permits and asylum issues. Vapaa Liikkuvuus – Free Movement, is a network of migrant rights activists and has been operating since the early 2000. They offer free legal advice and practical support in central Helsinki to all refugees and asylum seekers. They also arrange a weekly free-of-charge café where they discuss migrant right.” They welcomes anyone “regardless of what it says on your passport or whether you have one at all.”
After the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, a significant shift towards tighter immigration controls was introduced. This considerable turn can not be explained by new legislation alone, and can be seen as a constitutional crisis. Finland is a welfare state but it is now actively circumventing its own laws, following the letter rather than the spirit when it comes to asylum seekers’ deportations. Finland had up until now been renowned for its respect for due process when dealing with deportation cases.
These anti-racist and pro-migrant events are part of a broader movement that expresses solidarity towards marginalised groups around the world and represents a polarisation between racist reaction and the determination to stand up to it. The kind of base that still supports Trump’s reactionary agenda has parallels in many countries across the world, but fortunately, so does the Resistance that opposes them.