Anti-fascist summary of the year 2019 in Finland

From an anti-fascist point of view, the year 2019 was surprisingly different compared to the years 2015-2018, when time after time, anti-fascists were forced to respond to the demonstrations of the extreme right with counter-demonstrations and other actions. During the year 2019, the far right organized significantly fewer public events, as there were only three actual demonstrations (the 188-demonstration in Turku in addition to two demonstrations on Independence Day). For the extreme right, the year of 2019 was one of legal proceedings, reorganization and movements coming to a halt due to fading resources of imagination. These were served mainly by the Awakening conference for a select inner circle, closed discussions, a semi-public Nazi music subculture and a summer camp causing headlines in the media. As a result, anti-fascists also had more time compared to previous years to build strength, to think about the direction of the movement and to engage in wider social struggles. In this piece, we review the year 2019 from an anti-fascist point of view.

Early year: a slow start for the extreme right predicted a decline in activity

The year 2019 started slowly in extreme right circles. Fascists around Suomen Sisu and the Finns Party who declare themselves “ethnonationalists” prepared for their Awakening-conference due to take place in April, the Nordic Resistance Movement (Pohjoismainen Vastarintaliike, PVL) prepared for its criminalization trial and the Finns Party campaigned for the parliamentary elections coming up in April. Anti-fascists continued researching (mainly Finns Party) politicians’ links to the fascist movement, the Nazi music scene and new initiatives of the extreme right. This work has continued throughout the year. 2019 also saw the celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Varis network.

In February 2019, the Varis network celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Following birthday gigs in three different cities, feminist demonstrations were held in several cities on International Women’s Day. The climate movement gained tremendous momentum from the international wave, which began to land in Finland already towards the end of 2018 in the shape of the climate strikes by Extinction Rebellion, locally operating under the name Elokapina. Both of these continued throughout 2019, as well as a protest camp in Valkeakoski opposing a planned goldmine threatening the region’s forests and ground waters. As of 2019, it is possible to speak of a new coming of the environmental movement.

Unlike previous elections in the 2010’s, the election debate in spring 2019 was no longer dominated by immigration policy and demands for militarization of borders and the police force as well as infringement of rights. Alongside increased border and state control, the Finns Party raised a new campaign theme: climate change denialism and combating all forms of environmental awareness. The press gobbled up the Finns Party’s talk about “climate hysteria”. Once again, the tension between “red greens” (environmentally conscious liberals) and conservative climate denialists rose to the forefront as the central dynamic of the elections, no longer exclusively dominated by immigration however. In its own quest for power, Finns Party have also attacked the judiciary, the police, the media and universities throughout the year with the aim of destroying trust in institutions. The Finns Party has deliberately polarized the climate debate, turning it into a question of values and so called “climate identity politics” rather than discussing scientific facts. The climate movement and anti-fascists both need to find ways for combating this and dismantling the entire position.of

Raising the fight against climate action as a new visible theme alongside the demonization of immigration showed a certain capacity for ideological renewal from the extreme right. With this theme, the Finns Party succeeded in mobilizing groups of people clinging to their privileges in a stubborn defence of modern fossil capitalism, unwilling to acknowledge the need for a radical rearrangement of our ways of life and production.

This development foreshadow a wider shift in Finland and elsewhere in the world, where right-wing populists and the extreme right, who have been on attack position in all issues relating to immigration and state control throughout the 2010’s, have been forced to a reactive defense. Political initiative has moved elsewhere, especially to the ecological, anti-capitalist and feminist movements.

Meanwhile, in the shadow of the election campaign of the Finns Party, the neo-Nazi organization Nordic Resistance Movement prepared for a new round of bans ruled by the courts. The trial against NRM dates back to September 2016 with the killing of Jimi Karttunen. Karttunen, who passed by the Nazi organization’s event on the street, was killed by Jesse Torniainen, the leader of one of the organization’s two Helsinki branches. This was the start of a process that led to the police filing a lawsuit to ban NRM in 2017. In November 2017, the Pirkanmaa District Court banned the Nazi organization, but the ruling was not final as the Nazis appealed to the Turku Court of Appeal. In September 2018, the Turku Court finally upheld the Pirkanmaa District Court’s ruling to ban the Naziorganization.

At the end of March 2019, the Supreme Court in Helsinki (korkein oikeus, KKO) granted the appeal, however at the same time, the organization was banned temporarily. It is likely that the referral of the case to the Supreme Court is an attempt to make the ban on the Nazi organization a legal precedent. The court, however, ordered the association to temporary suspension, and as the lower courts did not act accordingly the ruling of the Supreme Court in 2019 was decisive. This had a direct impact on the Nazi activities throughout the rest of the year. The temporary ban will remain in effect until a Supreme Court decision expected to be made in early 2020.

The temporarily banned Nordic Resistance Movement carried on distributing leaflets under the new name of Kohti Vapautta (Finnnish for ‘towards freedom’) throughout the year 2019.

Following the ban, the NRM has relocated much of its activities under the banners of Kohti Vapautta (“Towards Freedom”) and Suomalaisapu (“Finnish Aid”) which operate as NRM’s front organizations. Early in the year, the NRM quietly finished its failed party project that lasted less than a year. The NRM has continued its core activities under the Finnish Aid front organization: distributing leaflets to mailboxes and occasional brief banner-actions in a few cities, yet fewer than in recent years. This cat-and-mouse game of continued Nazi activity determined the entire NRM in 2019, culminating in Independence Day.

SPRING: Ethnonationalist defeats

The fascist clique formed in recent years within the Finns Party Youth and neo-fascist organization Suomen Sisu, which started off calling itself “ethnonationalist” in the manner of its US role models, experienced several setbacks just before the summer. Just like last year, when small scale ideological purges were made within the Finns Party Youth, these blows took place around the time of the Awakening-conference.

Held for the second time in 2019, the Awakening-conference, has been a new opening from the Finnish fascist movement. Among others, it drew influences from the Estonian neo-fascist Etnofutur conference, the US-American racist American Renaissance conference as well as conferences connected to the identitarian fascist movement and Alt-Right circles, held in Sweden and elsewhere. The main organizers of the event were Tuukka Kuru, Riku Hautala, Jarno Alander, Timo Hännikäinen, Jarkko Pesonen, Tiina Wiik and Junes Lokka, who are all members of Suomen Sisu.

The conference did not happen according to plan this time either. The first setback took place already a week before the event, when, weary of the antisemitism and Nazi admiration of the conference organizers and participants, a participant of Jewish background leaked a secret conference chat to the public. Just moments later Jared Taylor, a US-American neo-Nazi theorist and activist scheduled to speak at the conference, received a two year ban of entry into Europe. The reason was Taylor’s anti-Semitic speeches and “spreading of totalitarian ideology” as he likes to call it. His speech at the Awakening-conference was canceled. Later that year Greg Johnson, who for two years had been selling books by his fascist publishing enterprise, was detained in Norway and expelled from the country on the grounds that Johnson was admired by the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik. As fascists organize themselves internationally, so do anti-fascists also have to organize internationally. A sign of this was the establishment of new relationships to the USA by asking for an interview with the extreme-right researcher Shane Burley.

The secretive conference remained small, gathering only closed extreme-right circles.

On the actual day of the event, the Awakening-conference caused a minor uproar as anti-fascists revealed the secret conference venue to the public. Before the morning of the conference, neither the participants nor even all organizers knew about the exact location of the venue. Apparently, the organizers had also kept the nature of the event secret to the restaurant itself. The owner of the restaurant Suomalainen pohja in Turku told the local newspaper Turun Sanomat that he had been cheated by the fascists and that he would prevent any similar gatherings in his restaurant in future. In an interview with Helsingin Sanomat (largest newspaper in Finland), the Helsinki restaurant Ravintola Kaisaniemi which hosted the Awakening-conference previous year, also stressed that they “do not support racism in any form whatsoever nor the kind of white nationalism that has occurred here.”.

The comments of the restaurant owners as well as the secrecy of the organizers show how little foothold racial and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as the “ethnonationalism” represented by the organizers of the Awakening conference have in Finnish society. In two years, they have not managed to find a single restaurant in the whole country to whom they could openly discuss the nature of their event. This is the result of years of sustained antifascist work, which must be continued. Thus despite pompously advertised, the Awakening-conference remained a closed networking opportunity for a small fascist circle.

Just a month after the Awakening-conference, the Finns Party Youth suffered their own share of the ethnonalists’ losing streak. First, the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY) removed the Finns Party Youth’s academic suborganization HAPSU Ry from its member register. The dismissal process began with HAPSU’s publication of a statement titled “Finnish universities should feel Finnish” on the 3rd of March. However, this was part of a broader discussion about organizations breaking HYY’s principles of equality.

Only a day after HAPSU Ry was sent out the door, the Ministry of Education announced that it would re-consider the state aid granted to the Finns Party Youth as a consequence of the organization’s racist outbursts. The state aid amounting to 115 000€ granted to the Finns Party Youth has been an important factor in the institutionalization and mainstreaming of Finnish fascism, which is why the Finns Party Youth were always reprimanded for their mistakes by the party leadership. State aid was finally frozen by a decision of the Ministry of Education on June 19th, 2019. Known for their victim mentality, the Finns Party Youth appealed both in the case of HAPSU Ry as well as the loss of state aid, yet no appeal was granted in the first round (the ethno youth have announced that they will take their appeals to the Supreme Court).

SUMMER: Finns Party and neo-Nazi shooting practice uproar and demonstration – the inactivity of the extreme-right continues

In the beginning of May, a group of 80 members of the neo-Nazi organzation Soldiers of Odin (SOO) arranged a surprise gathering in Tampere, during which the Nazis attacked people who expressed despise towards them. Long-standing investigation and action against the music scene of the far right proved fruitful when Bar Rock Bear, known for organizing Nazi gigs, went bankrupt in the beginning of summer. The summer months are generally quiet, but this summer, in the midst of the heat, the extreme-right ended up attracting national attention once again as a result of anti-fascist research work.

Members of the Finns Party and other far right members practiced shooting at images of politicians and Jews during their summer camp in June 2019. In the picture NRM leader Antti Niemi.

In the beginning of June (7-9.6) a semi-public camp was arranged by the Nationalist Alliance (Kansallismielisten liittouma, KL) which registered as an association in December 2018. Active members of the Finns Party and the Nordic Resistance Movement attended the camp, as well as people affiliated with these organizations. It was later revealed that the camp was held at the Tuuhonen camp center in Ruovesi. To our knowledge, at least three similar camps have been organized before, hidden from the public. The summer camp arranged by the Nationalist Alliance caused national outcry after our articles revealing the joint shooting practice of members of the Finns Party, the Nordic Resistance Movement and other known fascists. The targets for these shootings were mugshots of ministers from the left political spectrum in Finland, among these Antti Rinne (Social Democratic Party of Finland), Li Andersson (the Left Alliance) as well as George Soros, a standard target of antisemitic conspiracy theories.

The Finns Party’s involvement in the neo-Nazi camp was investigated in the Tampere municipal council and within party leadership; Terhi Kiemunki was expelled from Tampere’s Finns Party faction following the uproar. For a long time, Kiemunki has been unpopular with the party and district leadership, so her dismissal was undoubtedly just a cosmetic act, as the others who attended the camp were able to get out of the mess with a “slap on the wrists”, typical of the party’s internal culture since the times of Soini (Timo Soini, previous leader of the Finns Party). At that time, we called for the far-right camp to be understood as part of a broader unity between the Finns Party and neo-Nazis, and for the party’s Nazi connections to be wiped out nationwide.

Vilhelm Junnila, a Finnish MP, speaks at the 188th right-wing protest in Turku on August 18, 2019. In the background, neo-Nazis belonging to the Nordic Resistance and Soldiers of Odin stand in formation.

Towards the end of the summer, KL organized the first publicly-advertised extremist right-wing demonstration on the anniversary of the Turku murders. Apparently this was an important event for the extreme right, seeing as virtually all extremist right-wing organizations mobilized their members. The Finns Party, Soldiers of Odin and the Nordic Resistance Movement all appeared side by side in Turku. Vilhelm Junnila, of the Finns Party party, was the main speaker, while the latter groups occupied the riverbank. About 200 people attended the demonstration all together. Meanwhile, a memorial ceremony organized by the Finns Party on the outskirts of the market square saw only thirty neo-Nazi participants. That same day, an anti-fascist demonstration, Turku without Nazis, counted around 700 people marching from the center of Turku to the local liberatarian Book café, where the day’s activities commenced in a concert. Turku’s anti-fascists worked hard to achieve local mobilization in connection with the demonstration, as well as mobilization in the broader sense among anti-fascist communities nation-wide.

Almost 700 participants marched for Turku without a Nazis.

AUTUMN: NRM suffer losses in Finland and other Nordic countries, Sisu Finland elect new board members.

In September, as in recent years, various memorial events were held for Jimi Karttunen who was killed by neo-Nazis. A demonstration was held in Tampere for the second year in a row. In general, the Nazis did not seem to be doing as well as the Nordic anti-fascists: in the fall of 2019, the Nordic Resistance Movement practically crumbled as an organization. The biggest blow to the organization was a failed internal coup d’état attempt and a subsequent split in Sweden. Klas Lund, founder and long-time cult leader of the organization, resigned, bringing several leaders and local groups with him to the new Nordisk Styrka (Nordic Strength) group. Meanwhile, the NRM in Norway practically disintegrated as the majority of its assets were transferred to the new organization. The Finnish branch remained under NRM’s Simon Lindberg’s “liberal command,” before suffering a temporary ban. They began operating under the name Finnish Aid in the Tampere region; with operations throughout Helsinki, Tampere and Pori under the name Towards Freedom.

Elsewhere, the Denmark faction suffered of the afthermath of their failed antisemitic campaign throughout Nordic Countries, all the way to Helsinki. Broken down by activist arrest and a failed campaign, Martin Durvad, leader of the Danish NRM, resigned. Durvad wiped his name from the organization’s website and offered to assist the anti-fascist research group Redox in reducing the party to “a state of total weakness and dissaray.” Just before his resignation, numerous NRM activists resigned.

The final setback for the NRM occurred on December 4, just two days before Independence Day, when the Finnish police announced that the Nazi organization, which was still under temporary ban, would not be allowed to organize its demonstration under the name Towards Freedom. The police had previously stated that NRM was not allowed to organize a demonstration under the banner of the Nordic Resistance Movement. Since the spring, anti-fascists had maintained that the NRM was continuing its illegal activity under the name Towards Freedom. The legal status of NRM and its Towards Freedom and Finnish Aid operations will finally get settled in spring 2020 when the Helsinki Supreme Court gives its ruling on a three-year injunction. The banning of the Towards Freedom demonstration was a significant loss for a Nazi organization that marched on Independence Day the previous three years, and was prohibited from holding a single demonstration under its own name in 2019.

Last autumn, Suomen Sisu (SS), a long-standing Finnish extreme right organization, elected new board members. In Turku, as per the organization’s nationalist tradition of “Hakkapeliitta,” a new board was elected during the autumn meeting of the SS, where Olli Immonen – a Finnish MP, was replaced as the chairman by Henri Hautamäki – a member of Turku’s Finns Party. Hautamäki is a district commander of the SS in Southwest Finland and a member of the Finns Party Youth. Olli Immonen, trailing a string of scandals behind him, led the SS organization since its reactivation in 2013, but retired from active publicity on the group’s behalf a few years ago. He endured long-term, considerable pressure to give up the position as the group’s leader.

The current chairman of the SS, Henri Hautamäki.

From a political standpoint, Hautamäki sits at the core of the extremist far-right wing of the Finns Party and its youth organization, which has been approaching fascism in recent years and has gained visibility for their “re-branding” of ethnonationalism. There were other changes within the SS board: Teemu Lahtinen, one of the founding members and core activists of the organization, was replaced by Timo Hännikäinen, who is known for his hate speech and racial slurs. Kari Salminen from Hausjärvi was a new member of the Käräjoki district. Among the old members of the Board, Vice Chairman Riku Nevanpää from Harjavalta, scriber Jenna Simula, Oulu, and Juha Mäenpää from Ilmajoki, remain in their duties.

In the autumn, Finland also saw the largest mobilization to the date in defense of Rojava, during which demonstrations and other events were organized (literally) across Finland – from Helsinki to Rovaniemi. Many anti-fascists were involved in supporting the Kurdish movement, as internationalism is central theme to anti-fascism. The environmental and anti-fascist movements were also internationally brought together in their opposition to far-right extremist Jair Bolsonaro, who gave his blessing for the brutal destructions of the Amazon rainforests in Brazil. While authoritarian leaders continue to emerge, support for the climate movement has soared. In particular, young people are showing up in substantial numbers, caling for climate justice and opposing fossil capitalism.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: Nothing new on the far right front

The Independence Day 2019 was just a minuscule version of previous years. The Independence Day demonstration, along with other extreme-right activities last year, saw the number of participants decrease while the activities turned anonymous and fascist. Unlike previous years, anti-facist support grew, not only Helsinki, but also in the north where the first “Oulu without Nazis” march was held. Like Helsinki, the extremist right-wingers of the Soldiers of Odin and Finns First Party (Suomen Kansa Ensin, SKE), who were responsible for the march in Oulu, were caught lying about the protest.

Like the last three Independence Days, the anti-fascist Helsinki Without Nazis demonstratioan was by far the largest Independence Day demonstration with nearly 3,000 participants. The main event of the far-right Independence Day, the 612 demonstration, drew a smaller crowd than last year (est. 1,000-1,500) in Töölö, Helsinki. Practically the entire Finnish extreme right from the Nordic Resistance Movement to the Finns Party, along with a mix of Russian, German and Nordic neo-Nazis participated in the march. Only a few years ago, Helsinki seemed like a far-right romp. In 2019 – in addition to the torchlight march – there was really only one noteworthy demonstration and an inner circle neo-Nazi gig, which was organized anonymously and held in a secret location. The year 2019 reflects the societal evolution whereby extreme right activities have both declined and the participating groups have decreased in size. After Independence Day, the 612 demonstration’s official website posted: “The Association would like to thank all those involved in the procession, and especially this year, the very small but active group of individuals who participated in the organization.” Appearently, Jape Marin, Henri Hautamäki, Timo Hännikäinen and other protest organizers received less event production support from the other rightwingers.

612 torch march.

Unlike the early years, the general appearance of the 612 torch march has become increasingly blatantly fascist. The number of masked and drunk “Sieg-Heiling” neo-Nazis participating in the marches has grown; the slogans and chants of European neo-Nazis have become more commonplace. It is true that the 612 march mirrored the overall appearance of 2019’s only other far right demonstration: the Kukkavirta demonstration in Turku, where Vilhelm Junnila of the Finns Party spoke before the NRM and Soldiers of Odin neo-Nazis. Further proof of this, is that the keynote speaker of the 612 march, Jasmina Ollikainen, has close ties to the Finns Party – to be exact, she is a member of HAPSU ry, an association for members of the Finns Party Youth.

The year 2019 was marked by an even more open co-operation between the Finns Party and the NRM Nazis than the previous year – the collaboration was visible at demonstrations and in rogue political activities. In addition to the Kukkavirta demonstration in Turku, the aforementioned extreme right camp in Ruovesi during the summer is another example.

For NRM, Independence Day was a bitter defeat, as the organization had to march without its symbols in a Nazi demonstration called by Soldiers of Odin. NRM has organized Independence Day marches for a relatively short period of time in Finland – only since 2016. The year 2019 was different due to a temporary ban: the police preemptively prohibited the NRM demonstrations under its own name, as well as their alias, Towards Freedom.

Nordic Resistance Movement activists held the organization’s banner and led one of the blocs during Independence Day’s “Bring Safe Finland Back” demonstration on December 6, 2019.

Due to the collapse of Nordic organizations and the banned proceedings the previous autumn, the pressure on NRM was higher this year than last. Only two days before Independence Day, the police banned the NRM’s Towards Freedom march, after which the Soldiers of Odin (closely linked to the NRM from the outset) rushed to their aid, announcing they would organize a new Nazi march in its place. On December 6th, “Bring Safe Finland Back” met on Helsinki’s Kansalaistori Square, the events’ choreography and casting was fully in line with NRM’s previous Nazi marches. All that was missing were the NRM logos and some of the oldest active members.

The Nazi march, which barely managed to mobilize 200 people, was completely overshadowed by Independence Day’s largest anti-fascist “Helsinki Without Nazis” demonstration (which saw 2,700 participants), and the day’s second largest event: the 612 march. During the lengthy speeches in the park, many of the Nazi demonstrators left before the official end.

Towards the new decade

The decade changed amidst turbulence. People’s movements around the world, from Hong Kong to the Middle East and South America, challenge authoritarian regimes and global capitalism that is destroying the environment. Likewise, mass movements such as the climate movement and yellow vests in Europe are reinvigorated. Anti-fascists must analyze this social development, establish cooperative relationships with other activists, and actively participate in the wider anti-capitalist movement for a free, equal and ecological life. At once, the shifting of political initiatives away from the extreme right also contributes to new models and priorities for anti-fascist.

For the Finnish far right, 2019 was a difficult year, as you can see from the setbacks and turmoil described above. It may well be that some parts of the far right in Finland are trying to renew their image, one way or another in the years to come. As a whole, however, the extreme right-wing environment is much larger than it was at the beginning of the decade, so a plenty of work needed to combat it. The Nordic Resistance Movement neo-Nazis clearly lost their position as the most dynamic player on the far right that they had in the first half of the 2010s. The results of the organization’s prohibition trial may further weaken the position of the NRM (possibly leading to the actual dissolution of the entire organization) or, if the ban fails, improve it (leading to a reinvigoration of the Nazis). From the perspective of the far right, however, the rise and radicalization of Finns Party has dominated over the last decade, as the results of the 2019 parliamentary elections and the current poll results on party support show. As a result, fascism, which is more suited to cabinets and conferences, has become more prevalent in the Finnish extreme right, such as the Finns Party Youth, Suomen Sisu and Sarastus.

For years, the anti-fascist movement has made it clear that the fascists wearing suits pose a greater political threat than neo-Nazis carrying swastika flags or demonstrating in the street (the latter at most constituting the occasional threat of violence to themselves and others). However, in practice, this observation has not always been reflected, and updating policies to reflect this analysis will be one of the greatest challenges for the anti-fascist movement in the coming decade. We do not yet know what the extreme-right and anti-fascism of the 2020s will look like, but the work required is already underway.

Closing Remarks to English Translation

Since this article was published in Finnish, a lot has happened though we are only a few months into 2020. The Corona virus COVID-19 have spread world-wide and shown how fragile and suspectible to collapse the capitalist system actually is, but also how neighbourhood solidarity and mutual aid is possible amidst chaos. For the far-right, there have also been many changes during these months; the Finns party tried to regain control of their youth organization Perussuomalaiset Nuoret, but the ethno-nationalist wing won the vote which led to the party severing ties with them and creating a new youth organization called Perussuomalainen Nuoriso.

This does not however change the fact that the Finns party themselves keep politicians that time after time express ethno-nationalist and fascist views without consequences and this conflict should be seen merely as a power struggle between chairman Jussi Halla-Aho and the younger radicals, even if Toni Jalonen of PS-nuoret was expelled for describing himself as a fasist at the “Etnofutur” conference in Estonia in february 2019.
Time will tell how the ethno-nationalists of the “old” youth organization will move on now that the party is actively trying to shut down the organization and they no longer receive economic funds from the state or party. It is probable that they will try to start a new fringe party (like Sweden´s “Alternative för Sverige” which emerged when the Sweden Democrats severed ties with their former youth organization) or join other far-right organizations.

In the meantime, the ethnonationalists continue to co-operate with other fascists and make a headlines – the latest example is the secret “Aamunkoitto” seminar in the Turku area on March 7th 2020. Here former and present ethno-nationalists from PS-nuoret held speeches together with national socialist Pauli Kaila (Ukonvasama, former NRM) and Tiina Wiik (far-right youtuber).

Pauli Kaila (Ukonvasama, former leader of NRM Turku), Linus Linsén (board member of PS-nuoret), Tuukka Kuru (Suomen Sisu, organizer of the “Awakening” conference, Tina Wiik, Toni Jalonen and Toni Saarinen (former secretary of PS-nuoret, wearing a shirt with the schwarze sonne and the text “National socialist”).