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Theatre predator case: City officials urge youth to reach out

Renowned thespian Veijo Baltzar has been accused of manipulating and preying on teenagers in his theatre company.

Veijo Baltzar kuvattuna kesäkuussa 2012.
Veijo Baltzar is an internationally renowned cultural figure. Image: Kimmo Mäntylä / Lehtikuva
Yle News

Students who may be distressed in the aftermath of the shocking scandal surrounding theatre impressario Veijo Baltzar should seek help, said a letter the City of Helsinki has reportedly sent out to high schools.

The internationally renowned cultural figure has been remanded in custody on suspicion of aggravated human trafficking.

Baltzar has been accused of manipulating and preying on unsuspecting teenagers who were part of his theatre company, according to an investigative piece published by Helsingin Sanomat.

Liisa Pohjolainen, executive director of education at Helsinki city, pointed out in the bulletin that high schools in the capital will not cooperate with Baltzar’s arts and culture association Drom.

Tip-offs welcome

Pohjolainen encouraged distressed students to turn to student welfare bodies.

"Many young people are very sensitive and may feel anxious about such cases," Pohjolainen said.

Tabloid Iltalehti has reported that the letter sent out to schools also included police contact information for students who have any information about suspected crimes.

Pohjolainen said they decided to send out the message to encourage more young people to reach out to authorities during such times.

"The threshold for young people to contact the authorities should be as low as possible when it comes to matters of sexual harassment," Pohjolainen said.

Questionable teaching methods

Helsingin Sanomat reported that Baltzar manipulated, controlled and made passes at underage girls and young women in his theatre company between 2011 and 2018. He has also been charged with aggravated human trafficking.

Baltzar is politically well-connected and internationally-renowned and helped found the International Roma Writers Association (IRWA).

In 2011, the Ministry of Education and Culture commissioned a study of the then cultural counsellor Baltzar's teaching methods at the Humak University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki (Humak). The purpose was to determine whether Baltzar's experiential teaching method could be used as a general model for art education in vocational schools.

However, the report that came out in 2012 was very critical of his methods. Anita Lehikoinen, the current secretary at the Ministry of Education, had said that Baltzar's methods were not theoretically sound and ethical. Lehikoinen was the head of the department of higher education and science at Humak during that time.

Politicians explain

The researchers in the report did not recommend further development of his teaching methods.

After the news of Baltzar's charges broke out, Paavo Arhinmäki, who was the Minister of Culture at the time, told Yle that he was shocked by the news and is wondering why he didn't get information about Baltzar's dubious methods.

The then Minister of Education, Jukka Gustafsson also said he does not remember hearing anything about the report when it was released.

However Lehikoinen has clarified that the report was not buried anywhere. "It's been public and visible, all these years."

On Monday, Prime Minister Antti Rinne also told reporters that he was "really shocked" when the story broke out.

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