The New Fascist Tradition of Independence Day: The 612 Demonstration in Finland 2014-2016

Pohjoismaisen vastarintaliikkeen jäseniä 612-mielenosoituksessa järjestön liivit päällä.

This is an English translation of an article the anti-fascist network Varis published 29th of November 2017 in Finnish. The text was published just before the 100 years anniversary of Finland’s independence. It describes the origins and development of annual fascist demonstration called “612 Torch parade” in Helsinki.

The “612 torch parade”, initiated on Finnish Independence Day 2014, originated as a far-right joint effort. In this text we take a look at the thrice held annual demonstration’s backgrounds, organizers, and changes in both the event and its surrounding environment. The article is limited to focus on the political activities of the fascists on Independence Day, not the many forms of resistance against them.

In October 2014, the website of the 612 march was opened, advertising the “patriotic torch parade” which was being arranged for the first time. We wrote back then that behind the march was a number of far-right activists, ranging from the Finnish section of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM, in Finnish Pohjoismainen Vastarintaliike, PVL) to the neo-fascist Suomen Sisu.

The march organized by these fascist elements from the start had (at least) three political goals:

  1. To bring the far right into the streets, and break the prevailing consensus in Finnish society that the far-right doesn’t hold demonstrations.
  2. To gather the scattered far-right into one demonstration to unite their forces.
  3. To create a new fascist Independence Day’s tradition, for the far-righters and sympathizers who wish to celebrate the day in a political way.

Three years and three marches later, the 612-demonstration has grown into the most significant single, annual event of the Finnish far right. The above-listed goals have all been realized to some degree, but it didn’t happen in one year nor without encountering resistance. The social context and the far-right environment have changed markedly since the first march. As such it is prudent to take a look at the history of the 612 march, so that we can estimate what’s in store this year and in the future.

Background: growth of the far right

Before the breakthrough in the autumn of 2015, the events organized by the Finnish far-right were still very small, and open events were practically not arranged at all. Towards the end of the 2000s, the far-right began more determined organizing, after a long period of quiet which had seen mainly internet commenting and occasional clandestine nazi concerts. Suomen Sisu, founded in 1998, got their first members into municipal councils in 2008. In the same year, the Hommaforum web-board started to draw keyboard racists together. In 2008, the Suomen Sisu neo-fascists also got a competitor, the more aggressive and openly national socialist Finnish Resistance Movement (Suomen vastarintaliike, SVL, from 2015 PVL/NRM). The latter was founded by Esa Henrik Holappa, who later turned publicly anti-racist, together with activists from the White Power music subculture. Even after this, public pre-announced events were not organized for many years, as Suomen Sisu was practically on break while its actives focused on working inside the party machinery of the Finns Party, and the NRM sect, with less than 20 members in the whole country, sneaked around in the night posting stickers. In other words the far-right concentrated mainly on inwards-turned activity, slow recruitment of new members, and unlikely attempts at creating room for itself to act in.

However, the 2011 parliamentary elections changed everything. The rise of the Finns Party to the third largest party shook Finnish society throughout. Structural racism started to increasingly blatantly burst out into visible forms in the streets and in the cabinets. The tactical choice of the Finns Party to stay in the opposition, and the austerity politics of the “sixpack” coalition government of Jyrki Katainen, made the situation worse. All of this was also affected by the global economical crisis of 2008: both the parliamentary and the extra-parliamentary far-right benefited from the situation.

In 2012, the palette of the far right was complemented with pseudo-intellectualism, when Timo Hännikäinen, known for publicly disseminating his misogyny, together with Jarkko Pesonen, Riku Hautala, Jukka Aakula, Rami Leskinen, Kai Murros, and other eccentric fascists, founded the web journal Sarastus (“The Dawn”). Sarastus has since its beginnings had close ties to all the far-right currents, and has tried to avoid sectarianism. It has ties to NRM, the White Power music subculture, and just as much to Suomen Sisu, all the way to members of parliament. Especially close ties Sarastus has had with Suomen Sisu, as among its founders Pesonen, Hautala, and Aakula were all members of Suomen Sisu. Hännikäinen also finally joined Suomen Sisu in 2015. Leskinen on the other hand has been involved in the nazi music scene since the 1990s, and is acquainted with members of NRM.

The second coming of Suomen Sisu and its activation under the leadership of young Finns Party MP Olli Immonen, bolstered the far-right voice, and gave legitimacy to the fledgling new far-right. Still in the beginning of 2014, not a single one of the far-right organizations was able to organize public demonstrations or other publicly advertised events. One of the first objectives of the 612-march was precisely to break the prevailing consensus that the far right doesn’t march on the streets of Finland.

Who started the 612 torch parade?

Straight away in 2014, when the march was organized for the first time, as a joint project of the far-right, the advertising of the 612-demonstration made evident that among the main organizers were Timo Hännikäinen from Sarastus and Teemu Lahtinen from Suomen Sisu. The website of the event was and still is registered in Hännikäinen’s name. Publicly the organizer was announced to be the unregistered association 612, represented by chairman Hännikäinen and vice chairman Jari-Pekka Marin. The event was also immediately promoted by NRM as well as a number of lesser far-right actors. Info about the event was spread in practically all nationalist channels, such as Hommaforum, Facebook page “Poliittisen korrektiuden parhaat” (“Best Of Political Correctness”) and so on. In 2014, it was a surprising thing that Hitlerist, overtly national socialist street nazis like NRM, were organizing a demonstration together with the fascists of Suomen sisu, who try to pass themselves off as more presentable.

In front, left to right: the 612-association’s vice chair Jari-Pekka “Jape” Marin chatting with NRM’s Ali Kaurila, who is acting as march security, during the 2014 march. On the right, the 612-association’s chair Timo Hännikäinen.

Timo Hännikäinen wrote in his memoir named Lihamylly, published 2017 by Kiuas publishing company (jointly owned by Sarastus and Suomen Sisu), that the initiative for the march came from Jari-Pekka “Jape” Marin, who has a long career in the army behind him. Resigned ex-leader of the Finnish NRM, Esa Holappa, has on the other hand told that NRM was the proactive party in the organizing of the march.

Hännikäinen in his memoir tells his own, politically slanted view of the originators of the 612-march (brackets contain clarifications about the organization backgrounds of the actors):

Who were then the event’s organizers? Apart from me and Marin, the planning involved a large and mixed group of people. Teemu Lahtinen [Suomen sisu] was involved in the organizing from the start, Jarkko Pesonen [Sarastus, Suomen sisu] has been active in the two later marches. Apart from them, there’s been several less well-known actives, with various social backgrounds from unemployed to primary school teacher. The only NRM member that i know to have taken part in the planning is Ali Kaurila [NRM], originally from Turku, and he also probably brought his co-members as security guards for the first march.

Hännikäinen admits in his memoir that NRM activists acted as security in the first 612 torch parade, but denies that NRM was one of the march’s organizers. Probably because public cooperation with an openly national socialist group like NRM, would make it hard to claim that a far-right demonstration is an “apolitical torch parade”.

However, Esa Holappa, founder and first leader of Finland’s Nordic Resistance Movement (which until 2015 was known as Finnish Resistance Movement), has confirmed NRM’s active role in the organizing of the march. Last year Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) interviewed Holappa and wrote (English translation here] about the 612 demonstration:

Finnish Resistance Movement works persistently to unite the Finnish far-right, nationalist, and racist groupings. One example of this is the nationalistic torch parade 612 to be held on Independence Day. According to Holappa, SVL was proactive in the organizing of the torch parade, and in the first march SVL’s activists acted as security.

The SVL activists also created and maintained the event’s webpages. Almost all members and supporter-members participated in the march, but with low profile. The long-term plan was that SVL would become the whole Finnish far-right’s invisible umbrella organization. Holappa tells that the movement didn’t want to alienate potential participants by openly having SVL as an organizer. Therefore the official version was that the torch parade was an apolitical event.

Yle also wrote in another piece based on an interview with Holappa:

In the 612 march organized in 2014, Suomen sisu and SVL cooperated closely, even though it was advertised that SVL is in no way involved. SVL for example made the 612 website.

This confirmed the view that the march was initiated jointly by NRM, Sarastus, Suomen sisu, and individual actors like Jari-Pekka Marin

The 2014 torch march

The first 612 demonstration was held in 2014.

The 2014 torch parade surprised the anti-racists and anti-fascists, and marched almost undisturbed – a historical error, which made resisting the event harder in the following years. About 130-150 people gathered in Töölöntori (Töölö square), mainly members of the aforementioned far-right organizations, foreign far-right activists that they had invited, and a small number of sympathizers of the organizations. The purpose of the first 612-demonstration was to smooth out the internal divisions of the far-right and get together on a joint march, the like of which hasn’t been organized in Finland for decades. Matias Turkkila, one founder of Hommaforum and nowadays the editor of the Finns Party news-site Suomen Uutiset, was present and made a photo report in which the event was dubbed a “right-wing torch parade”.

Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) members ready to fight with cut-protection gloves on their hands in the 612-demonstration. On the left is Jesse Torniainen, later known for the killing of Jimi Karttunen.
Nordic Resistance Movement members as security in the 2014 demonstration. From left to right Pauli Kaila, Ali Kaurila, Kimmo Saarela.

The event started with the handing-out of the torches, which was carried out at least in part by the NRM activists. Photos taken on the location and later published show that security was handled by NRM’s activists, from Ali Kaurila to Jesse Torniainen (the NRM nazis carried radio phones, cut-resistant gloves, etc). Because the photo material published online proved the fact, the organizers had no choice but to admit the participation of NRM’s activists. Hännikäinen wrote in Sarastus in a text about the issue: “personally I don’t have a problem with part of the security being neo-nazis”. Since then the 612-march’s vague line seems to have been to admit the participation of NRM nazi activists, but at the same to downplay the role of the nazis in the organizing of the event.

Before the march was set in motion, Timo Hännikäinen, one of the main organizers, got onto a stage and held a speech as “invited honorary speaker”, even though he himself also acted as chairman of the 612-association. After this the parade marched with their torches, led by the Finnish flag carried by Saku Snicker, through Töölö (neighbourhood) to the Hietaniemi graveyard, where Marin and NRM’s then-leader Juuso Tahvanainen (led the organization 2012-2015) ceremonially laid wreathes on graves of war heroes. The participants marched with torches erect in three-person rows, giving a military impression and making the demonstration seem larger than it actually was. Alongside Hännikäinen and Pesonen marched Marin and Kaurila who led the NRM’s security functions through radio phone. Jesse Torniainen, who two years later would kill Jimi Karttunen in Helsinki, wrote a report immediately afterwards on NRM’s webpages, where he hyped the 612 torch parade: “The whole day was in all ways a perfect success for Finnish nationalism and for ever more visible activity”. Torniainen also stated that the event saw participation of “activists from the other organizations of the Nordic Resistance Movement as well as guests from Germany and Italy”.

NRM member Kimmo Saarela (eyeglasses) distributing torches in the 612-demonstration of 2014.
NRM leader in 2014, Juuso Tahvanainen, laying a memorial wreath at the end of the 612-demonstration.
Jari-Pekka “Jape” Marin laying the other wreath, 2014.

Many papers wrote about the far-right nature of the march, but that probably didn’t bother fascists who’ve been through this and that. The march succeeded in its first objective, i.e. getting the far-right onto the streets. The other objectives didn’t yet succeed in the first year. The whole far-right was not gotten together in one place, despite the attendance of the most significant groups, and of course no (fascist) tradition results from one event. Also, apart possibly from some exception, the first year didn’t see participation of people who weren’t already politically and ideologically committed members of Finnish fascist groups, or NRM’s nazi comrades form the Nordic countries and elsewhere in Europe. However, already in the first year groundwork was laid for realizing the other objectives.

2015, year of changes

The Independence Day activities of the far-right have seen various changes since 2014. The only recurring element has been the 612 torch parade. In 2014, the march was still the only far-right Independence Day march in Helsinki. However, the anti-migrant sentiment which exploded forth in the autumn of 2015 also multiplied the Independence Day demonstrations of the far-right.

The beginning of 2015 was quiet and it seemed that despite their march of unity, the activity of the far-right didn’t increase much. In June 2015, far-right organizations behind the march, NRM, Suomen Sisu, and Sarastus, continued working to normalize of fascism, and tested the waters by gathering in Porvoo at Eugen Schauman’s statue. In August 2015, there started in several cities the “Rajat kiinni” (Close the borders) anti-immigration demonstrations, and counter-demonstrations. The anti-fascist counter-demonstration culture, decades old in e.g. Sweden and Germany, arrived in Finland in the course of one autumn.

Opponents of fascism tried to stop the far-right’s 612 demonstration in 2015.

In 2015, 612 was no longer the only far-right demonstration on Independence Day, but it gathered the largest number of different actors. Antifascists organized a counter-demonstration called Vapaus pelissä (“Freedom at Stake”). Before the 612 demonstration, there was, in addition to Suomen Sisu’s flag celebration, demonstrations by the previously quarreling far-right “Itsenäinen Suomi 2015” -demonstration (“Independent Finland 2015”), on Kansalaistori (Citizen square), and the “Rajat kiinni”- and “Erotaan EU:sta”- (“secede from EU”) “popular movements'” demonstration on Narinkkatori square. Participants from all the aforementioned demonstrations drifted over to the 612 demonstration in the early evening.

The “Itsenäinen Suomi 2015” demonstration gathered on Kansalaistori square, and marched to the starting point of the 612 demonstration to join it. In front on the right, Suomen Sisu active Terhi Kiemunki from Tampere.

2015’s 612-demonstration gathered in a rainy Töölöntori square. In the second year, it gathered an estimated 300-400 people. The event was organized and advertised by the same actors as the first year. In the invitation on their webpages, the editors of Sarastus wrote:

It is anyway clear that the event has value in itself, for those identifying as nationalists, traditionalists, or identitarian.

Traditionalism and identitarianism are European, post World War II neo-fascist tendencies, less known in Finland. Sarastus classifies itself among other things as a traditionalist web magazine.

The event featured a musical performance by far-right artist Stormheit, who had begun performing in the Rajat Kiinni demonstrations. As honorary speaker acted Tapio Linna, who got active in far-right activities already in the 1980’s. This was a reach-out from the 612 organizers to the contingency of longtime fascist activists. After the event, e.g. NRM activist of Oulu, Santeri Keränen, wrote a positive report on the organization’s webpages.

Stormheit from Ylöjärvi performed at the 612 torch parade in 2015.
Longtime Finnish neo-fascist active Tapio Linna served as honorary speaker in the 612 demonstration of 2015.

In 2015, the far-right achieved another of its three objectives, along with the first. The 612 demonstration brought together the fractious far-right, and in addition to the three organizing groups (NRM, Suomen Sisu, Sarastus), it brought together a more mixed bunch of internally quarreling far-right groups (Rajat kiinni, Jotain Rajaa, Itsenäinen Suomi 2015, etc). The event also succeeded in blurring the line between patriotic sentimentality and organized fascism, bringing sentimental Independence Day celebrators onto the same march as the Hitlerists of NRM, without the former necessarily even realizing what they were marching for.

The 612 demonstration of 2015. Jarkko Pesonen (Sarastus, Suomen Sisu) carrying the Finnish flag in front.

2016 Independence Day: new record of far-right marches

Like 2015, also 2016 was a year of rapid change for the far-right movement. The Rajat kiinni -movement which began in autumn 2015 dried up after the year shift, and splintered in February 2016 in internal quarreling and the inexperienced leaders’ eccentrism and blundering. At the same time the nazi patrol organization Soldiers of Odin spread rapidly to new localities, and former Rajat kiinni -actives started organizing activities under the name Suomi ensin (“Finland first”).

The farcical performances of Soldiers of Odin and Suomi ensin in the suburbs of Helsinki and in various places around Finland, managed despite everything to carry on racist street activity over the critical months, and the winds started changing again in early autumn. On September 10th, NRM assaulted Jimi Karttunen, who had walked past their event and opposed their politics, and filmed the victim laying on the blood-splattered ground for their propaganda video. Only a day later in Itäkeskus (lower-status suburb/neighborhood of eastern Helsinki) racists in the Suomi ensin -group’s demonstration assaulted a local muslim woman. The next week, news spread that Jimi Karttunen, the bypasser assaulted by NRM’s Jesse Torniainen, had died in hospital of his injuries.

Because of the killing of Jimi Karttunen, antifascists organized on the Independence Day primarily against NRM, who announced they would organize their first open demonstration, named “Kohti vapautta” (“towards freedom”) on Independence Day 2016. It seems that in 2016 NRM wanted to organize an “openly political” national-socialist march alongside the “apolitical” 612 torch parade, even though the organization had been involved in starting the 612-demonstration in 2014. The situation of the far right had changed much in two years: an unprecedented number of anti-migrant demonstrations had been held around the country. Perhaps NRM felt that it no longer needed to hide within the 612-demonstration like in 2014, but instead could organize its wholly own and openly nazist march. The “Kohti vapautta” demonstration which gathered in Hakaniemi saw participation almost only by NRM members from Finland, Sweden, and other countries, with an estimated total of 150 participants. After their own march, NRM continued straight to the 612 demonstration, whose organizers, braved-up from the preceding years, had already in advance publicly declared that they weren’t bothered by the participation of neo-nazis.

Nordic Resistance Movement’s nazi demonstration “Kohti vapautta” gathered in Hakaniemi. NRM marched to the Kaisaniemi park, from whence its participants continued to the 612 demonstration.

Independence Day of 2016 was marked by events by several far-right groups. The racist environment which remained from the Rajat kiinni -movement had reorganized in the autumn, and was now organizing events under the monikers Suomi ensin and Fortress Europe. Suomen Sisu, web-magazine Sarastus, Soldiers of Odin, and even Suomalaisuuden liitto (“Union of Finnishness”) stirring from its inactivity, organized activites each on their own. However the Pyhä kuolema concert planned by Suomalaisuuden liitto was canceled in venue William K, due to the far-right connections of the artist. The concert of Pyhä Kuolema was then taken over by web-magazine Sarastus. Wised-up from the error of Suomalaisuuden liitto, they didn’t publicize the venue in advance, but a few days before Independence Day it was discovered that it was going to be Pub Pete in the Etu-Töölö neighbourhood.

All the aforementioned groupings were brought together by the 612 torch parade, which featured Suomen Sisu’s Lapland district’s chief Tuukka Kuru as honorary speaker. Tuukka Kuru is known also for his background in Rajat kiinni, and the webradio program Monokulttuuri FM. The choice of Kuru, who had had relations with almost all far-right groups, and the activity of the many different groups, also showed in the amount of participants in the torch parade. Suomi ensin, Fortress Europe, and NRM, moved with their supporters from their own demonstrations to join the 612 demonstration. Likewise Suomen Sisu’s flag celebration continued straight to the 612 march.

Like in the previous two years, the 612 demonstration of 2016 gathered in Töölöntori and marched from there to the Hietaniemi graveyard. This year, Suomen Sisu spokesman and member of Kokoomus (rightwing National Coalition Party) Kristian Viding did the honors of carrying the Finnish flag at the front of the march. The fascists have repeated the police’s hasty estimate of 3000 demonstrators, but according to different estimates and eyewitnesses the real number of marchers was slightly under 1000, which is also easy to count from the number of march rows.

Suomen Sisu spokesman and Kokoomus member Kristian Viding carried the Finnish flag in the front of the 612 demonstration of 2016.
Suomen Sisu’s Lapland district head Tuukka Kuru held the honorary speech in the 612 demonstration of 2016.

Although the amount of participants maybe didn’t match what the fascists had hoped for, in 2016 the 612 torch parade reached its goal of uniting the whole far-right. Even though NRM had distanced itself from the organizing forces behind the torch march and was now doing its own march, it like other groups organized its own march in such a way that participants could continue straight to the torch parade. Also, the 612 march, the organizing of which this year fell mainly to Suomen Sisu and Sarastus, kept the door open for NRM. “It’s totally the same to us if even moon-men show up”, the torch march’s media person Jari-Pekka Marin responded to queries about the participation of neonazis, “the only function of the march is to honor the work of previous generations”.

During 2017, this unity has started to crack especially with the inflammation of the relations between NRM and Suomen Sisu, but so far this doesn’t seem to affect the Independence Day activities.

In conclusion

In 2017, the Independence Day seems to fairly much resemble year 2016. Suomen Sisu organizes its traditional flag event on Tähtitorninmäki (Observatory Hill), NRM announces that like last year it will organize its national socialist “Kohti vapautta” demonstration, and the 612 torch parade again gathers on Töölöntori to assemble the whole far-right field together. Sarastus additionally organizes a bus transport to the nazi concert they organize in Vantaa (suburb municipality of Helsinki), with performances by Vapaudenristi, Pyhä kuolema, and Sankar’hauta.

Also the Helsinki Without Nazis demonstration, organized first time the previous year and gathering as many as 3000 people to oppose fascists, returns 2017. We encourage everyone to take part in the anti-fascist demonstration on Independence Day, and to oppose the far-right demonstrations in Helsinki in what way you see fit! We will soon write more about the upcoming 2017 Independence Day.

See also: