Analysis of the 612-torch march in 2019: number of participants stagnates, fascism is no longer covered up

Picture: Niklas Meltio (HS)

Following last years’ tradition, the fascist 612-torch march held on Finnish Independence Day 6.12.2019 gathered some 1000 to 1500 people in Helsinki’s Töölö neighborhood. Once again, all of Finland’s extreme right participated in the march, from the Nordic Resistance Movement (in Finnish Pohjoismainen Vastarintaliike, PVL) to members of the Finns Party (in Finnish Perussuomalaiset), as well as a motley crew of Russian, German and Nordic neo-Nazis. Meanwhile, the Helsinki Without Nazis demonstration upped its numbers of participants considerably, gathering 2700 people to oppose the torch march and continuing to be the largest demonstration on Independence Day.

612-torch march stagnant in numbers, yet takes on a clearer fascist character

This year, the organizers of the 612-torch march on Independence Day took to the streets from a weak position. While still some years ago Helsinki appeared a playground for the extreme right, apart from the torch march, this year’s Independence Day saw but one single noteworthy right wing demonstration as well as a neo-Nazi music gig organized in a secret place for a closed inner circle. This reflects a larger societal development, by which the activity of the extreme right has dwindled as the number of active members has decreased. In 2019, virtually only one extreme right demonstration took place before Independence Day – the Kukkavirta-demonstration in Turku – when only a few years ago, racist demonstrations were organized weekly at its worst.

It is intellectually dishonest that the invitation to the torch march states a worry over “societal inequality” and “political polarisation”. Anyone can tell which political party close to the 612-demonstration has done its best to polarize all political issues by linking everything to immigration and, a new theme, belittling preventive measures in the face of the climate crisis. The party in question is of course the Finns Party that has also promoted growing inequalities in Finnish society by pushing cuts within low-earning sectors and public institutions in the government headed by Juha Sipilä 2015-2016. Following the fascist tradition, the march demands “national unity”, but whips up a patriotic smoke curtain in order to mask concrete economic and political decisions that nurture inequality.

Although the 612-demonstration strives to present itself as politically independent, this aspiration cracked under the weight of actions undertaken by the organizers themselves in 2019. Timo Hännikäinen, president of the unregistered 612fi-association (the official organizer of the 612-demonstration) also functions as editor-in-chief of the neo-fascist Sarastus web publication (sarastus is the Finnish word for dawn). This year, in addition to the official invitation to the 612-demonstration, Sarastus published yet another invitation on their webpage. This invitation positions the torch march specifically against the current government as follows:

“Although 612 is a politically and ideologically independent event, participating in the march has become a statement. Respect for the fatherland and for the ones who have sacrificed themselves for it is being denounced as suspicious, even dangerous. The current government in particular would like to get openly patriotic-minded demonstrations out of sight. That is why it is important to take to the streets on Independence Day in order to express what we believe in and what we are not willing to let go off.”

What is even more amusing about the contradiction between “non-political” and “political” invitations to the march is that both groups (the team behind 612 and Sarastus) are officially headed by the same person.

Year-round antifascist pressure has gnawed at the extreme rights’ capacity for organizing open events and demonstrations, which has weakened the mobilizing potential of the torch march as well. Year after year, the Helsinki Without Nazis demonstrations have left the torch march in the shade. This year, the number of antifascists rose from 2000 to 2700. The 612-torch march gathered 1000-1500 people, which is more or less the same number of participants like previous years, but indicating small decline. Some of the participants arrived to Töölö market square straight from a smaller Nazi demonstration organized in the name of Soldiers of Odin, after the police banned the march originally planned by the Nordic Resistance Movement. True to their tradition, the organizers of the torch march falsely claim 2500 people to have participated, though anyone can prove this a lie and count the participants in the videos shot by the extreme right activists themselves.

In the picture: a poorly masked Petri Nordman, member of the criminalised neo-Nazi organization Nordic Resistance Movement from Tampere, makes a Nazi greeting. Nordman delivered a speech on behalf of the Nordic Resistance Movement during the Nazi demonstration organized earlier that day. In the foreground, to the left of Nordman , Ville Nurmela from Uusikaupunki (member of the Pori regional group) tries to mask himself with a scarf.

At the same time, the overall appearance of the 612-torch march has become increasingly flagrantly fascist. Larger numbers of more openly disguised Nazi skinheads and boozed up neo-Nazis participate in the march, and slogans of the European neo-Nazis have become more common in the previously rather quiet march. This does not really seem to bother the organizers, as there is practically nothing left of the “non-political” facade of the march and the number of participants is stagnant. Indeed, the 612-march reflects the general appearance of this year’s only extreme right demonstration, the Kukkavirta-demonstration in Turku, in which Vilhelm Junnila of the Finns Party gave a speech in front of neo-Nazi members of the Nordic Resistance Movement and Soldiers of Odin. Likewise, the main speaker at the 612-march Jasmina Ollikainen is also closely affiliated with the True Finns – more specifically HAPSU, a patriotic student organization and sub-organization of the Finns Party Youth.

There have been so few demonstrations of the extreme right in 2019 that it is difficult to draw larger conclusions, but this year has in any case been characterised by a closer and ever more open cooperation between the Finns Party and Nazis in demonstrations and extra-parliamentary activities. Apart of the Kukkavirta-demonstration in Turku, an example of this is the extreme right summer camp held in Ruovesi, which caused a national media storm as antifascists revealed members of the Finns Party were practicing shooting at images of Left politicians together with the neo-Nazis.

Who participated in the 612-demonstration in 2019?

Extreme right marcher uses torch as striking weapon. Image: Niklas Meltio (HS)

The event gathered active members of practically all Finnish extreme right groups as well as their sympathisers and supporters in the streets of Töölö. In the demonstration, the number of Finns Party members and its youth organization activists is no doubt high, but detailed investigations of the participants of the 612-march are yet to be made. Hence, the public face of the march is represented by Neo-nazis from scarcely populated areas who, fond of doing Nazi greetings, fail to cover up their fascist politics even to the extent of the representatives of Finns Party’s extreme wing.

Jasmina Ollikainen.

The main speaker of this year’s march was the previously mentioned Jasmina Ollikainen from HAPSU. Besides Tiina Wiik, Ollikainen is one of the few women visible within the extreme right scene. The 612-march was the second time this year that Ollikainen, a history student, was featured in events of the extreme right. In April 2019 she gave a speech at the closed Awakening-conference in Turku, alongside a US race theorist and a representative of a Ukrainian paramilitary fascist group. Around the same time, Ollikainen’s association HAPSU was suspended from the Student Union of the University of Helsinki because of the racist theories it disseminated.

The torch march was hosted by Jari-Pekka “Jape” Marin, a long term figur within Finnish facist circles. Marin, who drives a taxi for a living, has been part of organizing 612-marches from the very beginning and held a prominent position already during the first year. Known as a meme-maker prior to the the 612-marches, Marin has gathered support mainly as the administrator of the Facebook group “The best of political correctness”, a site spreading cheap extreme right memes.

Screenshot of a video recording: Jari-Pekka “Jape” Marin (left) assists Henri Hautamäki (right) and orders him to move to the front of the demonstration to the corner of Runeberginkatu.

Henri Hautamäki, president-to-be of Suomen Sisu, functioned as flag bearer at the forefront of the 612-demonstration. Hautamäki is Suomen Sisu’s District Manager in the region of Southwest Finland and board member of the Finns Party Youth. During Suomen Sisu’s Autumn Meeting, Hautamäki was elected president of the organization starting 2020. Politically, Hautamäki is positioned at the extreme right core of the Finns Party that has approached fascism in recent years and its youth organization, which has gained visibility in the past year with its “ethnonationalistic” rebranding.

Speaker Jasmina Ollikainen (left) and flag bearers Liina Isto and Henri Hautamäki.

Liina Isto from Turku also functioned as flagbearer. Isto is first vice chairman of Finns Party Youth and operates as editor-in-chief of its member magazine.

The organizers of the march no longer need to protect its “non-political” patriotic facade, as it de facto no longer exists. In any case, the march is treated as a extreme right demonstration, which it indeed is. When the expansion and outreach of the 612-march reached its limit, mobilization of activists within the established extreme right circles has grown all the more important for securing the continuity of the march. It is clear that the majority of participants in the 612-march come from the extreme right groups such as Finns Party and its youth organization, the Patriotic Alliance (Kansallismielisten Liittouma), Soldiers of Odin and the Nordic Resistance Movement; as well as loose networks like the Nazi music scene. However, this reliance on internal mobilization sets a theoretical upper limit to the size of the march, which presently seems to be around 1500 people. From here, there is no other way to go but down.

Surely, the ambivalence of the organizers of the 612-demonstration towards the Nazis participating in the march can be explained by the fact that the organizers themselves have been hard-line extreme rightists from the very start. In the beginning, however, they felt a need to cover up their background and clean up their facade, as the march tried to expand beyond traditional extreme right circles. Thanks to years of continuous antifascist work, the forces behind the march and its ties to the extreme right scene have continuously been brought into the open. At least since 2017, also the rhetoric of commercial media has acknowledged the extreme right character of the march, instead of relying on sugarcoating expressions such as “patriotic”. At the same time, the number of participants began to dwindle already in 2018 and indeed the torch march struggles to even keep up with current numbers.

The social space of the 612-march is narrowing down

The police arrested neo-Nazis in the Helsinki metro, who were in possession of at least one knife and several torches.

While the march profiles itself all the more extreme right in character, its backing forces strive to make as little noise as possible of themselves. In this year’s post-release, the organizers call themselves a “small group of private individuals”, while before they have figured under pretentious names such as the “612fi-association”, publicly lead by Timo Hännikäinen, known for his misogyny, open rape fantasies and troll-updates on social media. Over the years, also Sarastus, the Nordic Resistance Movement and Suomen Sisu – at least single activists within these – have taken turns to claim the honor of their role in organizing these marches. This year, even the Nazi gig that took place after the march, which has previously been held in the name of the Sarastus publication, was arranged anonymously and in secret place.

This illustrates the achievements of anti-fascist work in recent years, and is partly related to the failures of the backing forces of the 612-march, both in regard to Independence Day and elsewhere. For example Bar Rock Bear in Vantaa, which has previously openly hosted Nazi gigs, went out of business in May this year. Bar Rock Bear attracted negative attention especially in 2017, when media covered Nazi gigs organized there. The venue became the target of direct action at least twice. As also the pizzeria Alem and Ravintola Kaisaniemi have gone out of business, there are virtually no venues in Helsinki that could openly host fascist events.

Last year Kiuas publishing, run by Suomen Sisu and Sarastus (both backing forces of the 612-march), was kicked out of the Helsinki Book Fair. The Awakening-conference organized by the same organizations, got into an embarrassing situation in the spring of 2019, as the conference venue was unveiled and the restaurateur publicly condemned the sketchy fascists, who lied about the nature of the event when renting the venue. The Finns Party Youth lost state funding because of their openly racist statements. On top of it all, the Nordic Resistance Movement, the initiator and supporter of the march, is temporarily banned by a court ruling and is lacking a direction. These examples as well as other minor losses have significantly reduced the social space of the extreme right and pushed fascist activities further onto a path of anonymity and lies, which was evident in the mobilization for this year’s 612-march.

Where do we go from here?

With its 2700 participants, Helsinki Without Nazis was once again the largest demonstration on Independence Day.

Helsinki Without Nazis –– along with many others in opposition to the 612-torch march, both on the streets and online –– has already substantially disrupted the publicity and marketing efforts behind the 612-march, reducing the “non-political” event’s ability to recruit beyond established right-wing circles. Thanks to the long-standing efforts of anti-fascists, the 612-march has waned in numbers and has been portrayed across mainstream media as an extreme right-wing event. Opponents of fascism must ensure that the far-right marches continue only to lose steam each year on independence days.

Although the external mobilization of the 612-march, and, to that extent, the goal of quantitative growth, has been considerably stunted, the annual torch march has again succeeded this year in its aim to unite the extreme right into a common march. The temporarily banned Nordic Resistance Movement, as well as the Finns Party Youth, and all fragments in between, continue to support the 612-torch march, mobilizing their members and followers abroad. The internal mobilization of the extreme right must be reversed directly in order to drive the torch march to zero.

The internal mobilization of extremist right-wing groups and networks cannot be eliminated through isolated protests, this objective requires year-round sustained resistance to fascism. Organized factions within the fascist movement are not necessarily fazed by counter-demonstrations, their reception by the public, or even the success of their own demonstrations. But, nevertheless, the pressure of countermeasures makes an impact. Participation in the 612-march is primarily cultivated through relationships between extremist right-wing groups, and the willingness and potential of those groups to mobilize their members. In turn, the level of participation is directly correlated to the capacity and resources of the established right-wing groups.

The progress and success of the extreme right on any given day of the year is directly linked to the success of the torch march. Likewise, setbacks, failed events, activist burn-outs and the disappearance of organized groups – which are all already underway – have a direct impact on their membership, mobilization and resources, and ultimately on the success of their claim on Independence Day. Alongside year-round antifascist activity, the Independence Day counter-protests must advance proactively and, through direct action, make concrete efforts to eliminate the torch march entirely. More active tactics were seen this year as well as activists from the environmental organization Elokapina (Extinction Rebellion, Finland), for example, blocked the route of the Nazi march organized by the Soldiers of Odin.

The Helsinki Without Nazis demonstration joins together various social movements and Helsinki inhabitants against a common enemy.

We look forward to 2020 as a year of increasingly active and broad-based anti-fascist initiatives. 2019 has already been a successful year in this respect, while new social movements for freedom, equality and ecology have strengthened in Finland and around the world. The tremendous increase in the number of participants in the Helsinki Without Nazis demonstration, as well as the blocs of environmental organizations, international solidarity and the workers, all symbolize the expansion of antifascist ideas in society and social movements, which we noted already earlier this year. Through continuous, determined and ever-expanding efforts, we will take this aim to its end.

We urge those who participated in the Helsinki Without Nazis demonstration this year to join the year-round and organized resistance to fascism. We also call on antifascists, feminists, environmentalists and anti-capitalists to engage more deeply with the fight against fascism as well as with other social and ecological issues. Only through continuous and organized action will we end the torch marches – not to mention the other far-right initiatives and organizations.

If you are interested in joining the Varis network, contact your nearest local group!

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For additional content on Finnish fascism in English see In English section.