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Most Pride event organisers in Finland report harassment, violence

The most common types of harassment experienced by the respondents were hate speech and vandalism, an STT poll found.

Photo from last year'sSápmi Pride parade in Utsjoki. Image: Veikka Ritola / Yle

Nearly all Finnish Pride organisers who responded to a survey by news agency STT said they have experienced some sort of harassment. The poll enquired about possible forms of harassment and violence the people involved in organising the event advocating for sexual and gender rights are subjected to in Finland. Twenty-two out of 25 respondents reported such experiences.

The most common types reported were inappropriate and offensive speech as well as vandalism and theft of Pride flags.

Hate speech researcher Tuija Saresma from the University of Jyväskylä says the high numbers indicated by the poll could be indicative of organised anti-queer activity.

"Such a high number raises the question of whether the harassment could be organised or encouraged by someone. That is just a scary idea," Saresma said.

Flag vandalism 'a deliberate and violent act'

In certain areas, the vandalism of rainbow symbols and the theft of Pride flags has become the norm, according to Anni Rannikko, coordinator of the North Karelia branch of Seta, Finland's main LGBTI rights group. Last year alone, flags were stolen in Lahti, Joensuu, Oulu and Riihimäki, among others.

The Pride event organiser says that in Joensuu, Pride flag theft has become increasingly common since flagging started some six years ago. This year, the city of Joensuu hung its rainbow flag on the flagpole of the city hall tower in an attempt to prevent its theft.

Some perpetrators go as far as to burn rainbow flags. Examples include cases in Helsinki in 2020, Kouvola in 2019 and Tornio in 2017.

"The flag symbolises the rights of the rainbow community, so the actions against the flag also affect our human rights and our right to be," Rannikko said.

Earlier this month, the Oulu Police Department reported that two Oulu men were suspected of flag thefts and incitement of hatred. The men destroyed two rainbow flags which they stole from the Oulu Pride event in August 2021. In a preliminary investigation, one of the suspects said the act was motivated by "boredom with the excessive presence of sexual minorities."

Saresma adds that both the theft and destruction of flags is a serious act, especially when taking into account the motive of hatred.

"If someone removed the Finnish flag from a pole and set it on fire, it would not be treated as unimportant either. Burning a flag is a deliberate and very violent act in which an object with a strong symbolic value is publicly shamed," she said.

Recent years have also seen other types of rainbow symbols such as painted stars and park benches vandalised. The poll's respondents said they have often reported the incidents, however, the crimes are rarely pursued due to lack of evidence or the value of the stolen or destroyed property has not been considered significant enough by police.

Harassment and Pride violence rife

It is not only objects that fall victims to harassment and violence. Rannikko says harassment is almost guaranteed for Pride event organisers and participants alike.

"Cyberbullying, hate mail and emails. General shouting on the street. After a Pride parade last fall, participants were followed by a car and pelted with eggs," Rannikko said.

One of the biggest Pride event attacks happened in 2010 in Helsinki, when 88 people were attacked with tear gas. Three men were sentenced to four months in prison for assault and other crimes.

Politician Dan Koivulaakso (Left) was also attacked with tear gas during an Oulu Pride event in 2012. The perpetrator, reportedly active in the neo-Nazi Nordic resistance movement, was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison, Oulu newspaper Kaleva has reported.

More recently, a beach party organised by the Jyväskylä branch of Seta became the target of a bloody attack in July 2021. The attack involved a young man who kicked and punched participants at the event, and even bit two women.

Pride events will be held this year in a total of 32 locations, a record number for Finland, according to Seta.