Break the Silence

It is not too often you see more than 15,000 Finnish people gather together in one place. Unless, of course, one recalls May 16, 2011. Finland won the Ice Hockey World Championship games. Beyond that day of endless drinking and celebrations, a recent occurrence on Saturday September 24, 2016, was somewhat startling. A great number of Finnish people had come together to protest and show unity.

It was all triggered by the murder of 28-year-old Finnish man, Jimi Karttunen, on September 10. While out in Helsinki, Karttunen approached a neo-Nazi Finnish Resistance Movement demonstration. Wanting to challenge their ideology, the conversation escalated and he spat at them during the exchange. The group conceded that they then “confronted” the victim in police reports. More specifically, it was found that Karttunen was beat down to the ground by a 26-year-old suspect with a history of violence and neo-Nazism, Jesse Torniainen. The suspect was placed in custody. Several days after the initial attack, Karttunen died in hospital from a brain hemorrhage.

The news of the tragedy travelled fast. Outside of Helsinki Central Station, a small vigil sprang out of the growing dialogue. Flickering candles illuminated bright yellow chalk that read ‘Stop the Hate.’ Soon, there was an event on Facebook for an anti-racist protest. At first, there were 200 people going, then 1,700 people going, 5,000 people going, and, suddenly, 7,000 people going. And on that autumnal Saturday of September 24, 15,000 protesters marched against the neo-Nazi Finnish Resistance Movement.

With an ever more socially-conservative mass media and government,  there has been an undercurrent of tension between the right and left. Though, the issues of neo-Nazism and right-wing populism have taken root and flourished in Finland despite opposing will. It is a sign that, although liberal Finns are cautious, demonstrations against such hate should have occurred sooner. And perhaps now, the silence surrounding the unresolved leniency banning such racist organizations, like the Finnish Resistance Movement, has resulted in a homicide.

The passive acceptance of racism and xenophobia has been present in Finnish culture for some time now. All the different movements, such as “Close the borders,” have certainly gotten stronger over the past few years as the refugee crisis and the sanctity of the European Union has been questioned, putting real and imagined pressures on Finland. It is the more moderate and open-minded Finns who have realised it is time to come together and preserve tolerance.

Neo-Nazism reared its ugly head and showed Finland just what happens when people are told to fear refugees and open borders. After this tragic escalation of intolerance, Finland has displayed solidarity and unity outside of hockey games. With the eminent rise of the far-right in Finland and throughout Europe,  it is disheartening that it took such violence to break the silence.

Laura Korte 

Image 1: Susanna Pesonen; Hopeful anti-racist protestors at the demonstration in Finland on Sept 24.