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Majority of parties support banning use of swastika, Finns Party oppose

While most parties want to criminalise public use of the swastika flag, some want to wait for a decision by the Court of Appeal while the Finns Party rejected the suggestion.

Helsinki police officers interrupting the march by members of the neo-Nazi 'Kohti vapautta' ('Toward freedom') group on 6 December 2018. Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

The majority of parliamentary parties in Finland would be prepared to criminalise the displaying of swastika flags in public, according to the results of an Yle survey of each parties' parliamentary group.

The survey comes after Helsinki District Court dismissed criminal charges against five men suspected of incitement against an ethnic group for participating in the displaying of swastika flags at an Independence Day demonstration in 2018.

Emma Kari, chair of the Green Party's parliamentary group, told Yle she believes that public use of the swastika flag should be prohibited by law.

"Legislation must protect against racism and discrimination. If the current legislation does not do so, then it must be rectified," Kari said.

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Emma Kari of the Green Party. Image: Berislav Jurišić / Yle

However, Kari added that any possible ban would raise challenging issues over how and where the flag could be displayed.

"It is a different thing to present the [swastika] symbol in a museum than to use it to incite hatred," she said.

SDP ready for "necessary changes"

According to the Social Democratic Party's parliamentary group chair Antti Lindtman, the use of a swastika flag or any other symbol that violates human dignity should not be allowed in Finland.

However, Lindtman added that his party is awaiting the outcome of the ongoing legal process regarding the use of the swastika flag on Independence Day 2018, as state prosecutor Raija Toiviainen has indicated she plans to appeal the district court's decision in the case.

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Social Democratic Party's parliamentary group chair Antti Lindtman. Image: Markku Pitkänen / Yle

"If it turns out that the legislation is deficient in this respect, we are ready to make the necessary changes. In this case, it must be ascertained whether the correct method of regulation is to prohibit one symbol or whether it is appropriate to prohibit the use of other symbols that degrade human dignity in general," Lindtman said, adding that the association with the ideologies and deeds of Nazi Germany in the 1940s cannot be ignored.

"The genocide of the Jewish people is one of the most horrific crimes and chain of events in human history. That history should not be forgotten or hidden, so its public glorification is highly questionable. It must be possible to restrict the public dissemination and presentation of Nazi ideology," he said.

Finns Party: Individual freedoms a "greater concern"

Ville Tavio, chair of the Finns Party's parliamentary group, told Yle he believes that it is not necessary to use legislation to ban the use of swastika flags.

Tavio cited the ultima ratio -principle of criminal law, according to which the criminalisation of a problem should only be used as a last resort.

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Ville Tavio of the Finns Party. Image: Jani Saikko / Yle

"In my opinion, this is not such a serious social problem that it requires the strongest possible intervention of the state," Tavio stated, adding that he is more concerned about the growing restrictions on individual freedoms than about the use of the swastika flag in Finnish society.

NCP: Use of threatening symbols must be prohibited

According to Kai Mykkänen, chair of the National Coalition Party's (NCP) parliamentary group, the use of a symbol as incitement against an ethnic group of people or as a threatening gesture must be criminalised.

"However, I have concerns about which symbols would be on the exclusion list," Mykkänen said, adding that in addition to the swastika, other symbols may be encountered now or in the future, which are associated with incitement against an ethnic group.

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Kai Mykkänen, chair of the National Coalition Party's (NCP) parliamentary group. Image: Petteri Bülow / Yle

"It should be possible to think long term in regard to the legislation," he said.

Mykkänen added that, in his view, the swastika was used during the 2018 Independence Day demonstration in a way that should be prohibited.

"It is then necessary to clarify the legislation if a court interprets that a judgement cannot be given on that basis," he said.

Räsänen: Swastika flags on streets are "disgusting phenomenon"

The Christian Democrat (CD) party would also support prohibiting the use of swastika flags, as the party is very concerned about anti-Semitism, parliamentary group chair Päivi Räsänen said.

Räsänen said she believes that banning the use of swastika flags in Finland should be "seriously considered".

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Päivi Räsänen of the Christian Democrats. Image: Petteri Bülow / Yle

"The scenes of swastika flags on the streets are a disgusting phenomenon. Anti-Semitism must be combated by remembering the events that led to the Holocaust. However, we [CD party] also emphasise the need for extensive work against anti-Semitism, prohibiting use of the flag alone is not enough," Räsänen said.

Centre: Swastika "does not belong on the streets of Finland"

Chair of the Centre Party's parliamentary group, Juha Pylväs, told Yle that he does not want to take a stance on the decision by Helsinki District Court, as the appeals process is still ongoing.

However, he said that it should be possible to restrict the use of the swastika flag by law.

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Juha Pylväs, chair of the Centre Party's parliamentary group. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

"On a general level, public use of the Nazi flag is reprehensible, and the Centre Party's parliamentary group want to make the necessary legislative changes," Pylväs said, adding that "the flags of the Nazi regime, which committed genocide and other heinous crimes, do not belong on the streets of Finland."

Left Alliance await Court of Appeal's decision

Jussi Saramo of the Left Alliance said there is no need to make legislative changes until the Court of Appeal decides on whether a crime was committed in relation to the carrying swastika tickets on Independence Day 2018.

However, Saramo added, it is quite evident that the "public waving" of swastika flags should be banned in Finland, as has been done in other countries too.

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Left Alliance MP Jussi Saramo. Image: Benjamin Suomela / Yle

"The reason why that flag is banned elsewhere and why it should be banned [in Finland] too is that it represents pure evil. It is sad that our society has declined in such a way that this needs to be discussed at all," Saramo said.

SPP: Swastika flag is "particularly powerful symbol"

Anders Adlercreutz, chair of the Swedish People's Party (SPP) parliamentary group, told Yle that his party "does not rule out" legislative action.

"The swastika flag is a particularly powerful symbol from European history, and the decision of the district court has also provoked a debate among legal scholars," Adlercreutz said, but also added that his party is awaiting the decision of the Court of Appeal.

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Anders Adlercreutz of the Swedish People's Party (SPP). Image: Johan Hagström / RKP

"After the Court of Appeal's decision, it will then be time to evaluate how to follow up, and we do not rule out legislative action. However, from a legal point of view, for example, this is not quite straightforward," he said.

Ano Turtiainen: Legislation would be "endless swamp"

MP Ano Turtiainen, who recently founded the Power Belongs to the People Party (VKK) after he was ejected from the Finns Party, outright rejected the idea of banning the swastika.

He argued that public use of any flag should not be prohibited by law, as such restrictions on people's freedoms could spread further.

"The path to prohibiting [the swastika] would be like an endless swamp," Turtiainen said.

For this article, Yle asked representatives of all parliamentary parties whether the public use of the swastika flag should be prohibited by law. Harry Harkimo of the Movement Now party did not respond.

Yle News investigated the complex history of the swastika in Finland in 2017.