Varis-verkosto published in the end of 2018 an analysis, which went through antifascist mobilisations between 2015 and 2018. We published this text in English as a part of an international call to action to come to Helsinki to demonstrate on the Independence Day. This interview made together by Helsinki-based antifascists completes our analysis from last year by going through far right activities and antifascist resistance it faced in 2019.
Going back to the themes of the earlier text, is there anything to add to the text about years 2015-2018, from the perspective we have now?
The situation itself has developed in my opinion quite naturally from where it was on the Independence Day of 2018. The far right’s ability to mobilise people has in practice collapsed during the spring of 2019 and has not returned to its previous level since. The “188” demonstration organized in August in Turku gathered only about 200 participants for a demonstration which lasted only for about 45 minutes, ending as swiftly as it began. The memorial event for the 2017 Turku knife attack held by Finns Party and their youth organization gathered a meager 30 participants. You could see from this that the far right’s ability to mobilise in public has broken down, and not even its internal ability to mobilise is working. The far right events organised during the last year gathered less and less people after every event.
Another important addition to the article is that whereas the public and political space of the far right has become more narrowed, the political arena of operation for antifascists has become broader. Especially the climate movement that became massive in the spring of 2019 gathering especially young people to the streets and the movement that rose to oppose the Turkish invasion to Rojava in the autumn have had an impact on this. These two questions have partially defined extraparliamentary movements this year and antifascists as well have used considerable resources to work with these movements. We can see this also on the Independence Day when we’re seeing in the Helsinki without nazis demonstration blocs for both international solidarity as well as enviromental activists.
Before we’re going to the year 2019, let’s quickly go through what went down in 2018. What were the most significant developments in the far right during 2018 especially looking at street activities and the Independence Day?
If we can think of the years 2015-2017 as the years of development for far right street activity, it’s clear that in 2018 we started to see its decrease both in quality and quantity. It’s also important to note that in the same year a shift of the far right began, more from the streets to a more parliamentary and institutional direction with the rise in the support of the Finns Party. This decline was noticed by the far right as well and one reaction to it was the Alliance of Nationalists (Kansallismielisten liittouma) which was founded in 2017 and became more active in 2018.
But what caused this decline for street activities? One of many reasons is for sure the banning process of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) that has lasted for several years now and has in practice destroyed their ability to act even before its actual temporary ban. Partially the decline also had to do with the people from the racist street movements of 2015 disappearing for good. While none of these groups or movements never by themselves had a significant capability to mobilise, they often acted as a good audience for events held by NRM and other more established far right actors. When NRM started to turn more inwards again, Suomen Sisu (https://varisverkosto.com/2018/12/what-is-suomen-sisu/) has started to gain again more of a foothold in the public and semi-public ativities of the Finnish far right, one example being the Awakening seminar it organised for the first time together with the fascist webmagazine Sarastus in 2018.
The Independence Day of 2018 in practice materialised the trends of the entire year. Both the NRM demonstration as well as the 612 torch march decreased in size. However this same trend also came through for the antifascist Helsinki without nazis -demonstration. This might be partially because even though the far right has not gone anywhere and has simply changed their place, the more open conflict on the streets has decreased.
How has the far right developed during 2019? There seems to be fewer demonstrations and other kind of street activities than in the earlier years. Is the year 2019 different from other years?
As was said before, the far right’s capability to mobilise in public has crumbled during this spring, if not before. Street activities have in practice ended in several places altogether. Different kind of racist street actors which formed the support base for these groups have practically disappeared. The far right seems to be going through some kind of period of reconstruction, where they’re fumbling to reach the same kind of organisational form they had in 2015-2017. This is unlikely to succeed and NRM’s clumsy rebranding to become “Towards Freedom” is a perfect example of this.
What is the far right focusing on if not the streets? This development is only starting, but it seems that most activity and energy can be found in and around the Finns Party Youth. The party youth organisation has been active especially in the media and the so-called “ethnonationalist” trend that started out in the organisation in 2018 has de facto taken over, including its chairman Asseri Kinnunen. This much more publicity-driven strategy is not completely under their control however, as they for example lost all of their state funding after accusations of racism which shook the organisation.
As the focus of the far right is moving more from the streets to the parliaments, this will mean a significant challenge also for the antifascist movement which must come up with new ways to oppose this change and the new ways of doing far right politics. We will need broad social movements like the anti-deportation movements of 2017 in the future as well. The new climate movement will also offer ways for young people to become some kind of a counter-force for these kinds of political developments.
If we’re looking at the most significant far right groups in Finland, what have they done in 2019?
Nordic Resistance Movement’s temporary ban while they wait for the Supreme Court to decide their fate has practically destroyed their structures and has driven its old members into the shadows. The clumsy rebranding as “Towards Freedom” has failed and even though Towards Freedom is clearly trying to copy the structures NRM had, it’s clear that you can’t just copy and paste ten years of organisational work into a working entity in just a few months, if ever.
Suomen Sisu was actively involved in organizing the Awakening conference also in 2019. The organization has made their position within the Finns Party and its youth organization stronger. Their changes in leadership have cemented the connections Sisu has to the active far right even more with the selection of Timo Hännikäinen and Henri Hautamäki into the board.
The webzine Sarastus led by Hännikäinen and the collective around it has become an organic part of Suomen Sisu. The publishing house Kiuas owned by Sarastus and Suomen Sisu which was kicked out of the Helsinki Bookfair in 2018 didn’t even try to get a table spot in 2019. Through Kiuas and Awakening, Sarastus and Suomen Sisu try to actively renew the Finnish far right ideology and also have an impact on the broader right-wing and conservative discussions.
The Alliance of Nationalists was part of the failed 188 Flower Stream demonstration in Turku in August. Before this the alliance became infamous in the scandal that started out in the summer when pictures of them were spread in public. In these, various members were seen shooting with different kinds of devices at pictures of recently elected government members. After the August demonstration they’ve been mostly quiet. The street patrol movement Soldiers of Odin has also been very quiet in 2018, mostly participating in the events of either the Alliance of Nationalists or NRM and sometimes patrolling in the Helsinki area. Altogether their activity has been very scarce.
The nazi music subculture is going through their second golden age and is partially keeping both formal and more informal nazi networks alive. Both NRM and Sarastus have several connections to the nazi music scene, examples of this being the nazi gigs that have been organised as the afterparty for the Independence Day demonstatrions in the last few years.
The Finns Party has been on the rise. After the new government was sworn in, their popularity has increased steadily, polling at best around 23 per cent support. This in addition with their even more open far right contacts and politics is quite concerning and will pose a big question for antifascists in regards to how we should act. Their youth organisation has also radicalised significantly in the last year and its members have become even more vocal supporters of more radical far right politics. The youth organisation tried to spread into student politics during 2019 in Helsinki through the “Academic Finns” student organisation but due to their racist comments they were removed from the university.
What are you expecting from the Independence Day in 2019 both from the far right and antifascist perspective?
The far right’s focus moving away from the streets could mean that the demonstrations will no longer gather as many participants, but this doesn’t mean they’re less of a threat and it’s no less important to oppose them this year, too. The Towards Freedom demonstration NRM is organising again this year but only a bit over a week ago: all we’ve heard of them was frightened advice on how to prepare for police violence. The 612 torch march seems to be doing the same thing they’ve done since 2014. It’s entirely possible that every demonstration of the day will be smaller than the year before. Then it will be important to ensure that the antifascist demonstrations will, much like the last year, remain the LARGEST of the day. Maybe the most important trend this year will be how different kinds of parliamentary actors participate and react to street activities.
This year’s Helsinki without nazis -demonstration is broader than ever before. Several blocs will participate in the demonstration, like the bloc for international solidarity, the environmental bloc and the workers’ red bloc. Performers in the demonstration are F, Pimeä Hedelmä, Paleface Laineen Kasperi and MC Koo. The broad mobilisation antifascists have been doing now for the fourth year has brought results as people recognise the concept of the demonstrations and are spreading the invitations to participate both in social media as well as elsewhere. We’re expecting to see all the readers of this interview together with us on the streets on 6th of December!