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Extreme right radicals seeking more visible presence in Finland

Some Finnish extremist groups are promoting their message more publicly. In some cases, this has led to public scuffles. The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) notes that while only a few extreme groups exist in the country, their influence must not be underrated.

Joukko äärioikeistolaisia seurasi rasisminvastaista kulkuetta Turussa lauantaina 20. marraskuuta 2010. Image: Roni Lehti / Lehtikuva

Last week’s stabbing incident at the Jyväskylä city library has rekindled discussion concerning extremist groups in Finland.  Supo estimates around twenty extremist groups currently operate in Finland. They believe membership to total several dozen persons. Nonetheless, SUPO agrees with the public view that such groups have been seeking a higher profile recently.

”General activity has increased and their ideology has been on display,” says Tuomas Portaankorva, Chief Superintendent at Supo.

To some extent, general public discussion has allowed for extreme views to be aired more publicly. However, Portaankorva advises that matters should be viewed in the correct context.

”Even if we say that membership numbers are small, it does not mean that we are underrating the phenomena. It must, however, be seen in a proper perspective.

Individual acts or idealism

A report issued by Supo last August highlighted the threat of anti-jihadism. This is an ultra-rightist view which claims Islam poses a threat to Europe and that the power elite are responsible for immigration and problems linked to it. Anti-jihadists believe democratic means can no longer solve the problem.

Supo’s report concentrated on the violent actions of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway and considered whether Finnish extremists could perpetrate similar terrorist attacks. The report concluded that they could.

“Breivik should not be considered as a crazy lone wolf. He probably carried out his deadly attacks by himself but he was not alone with his ideological views,” writes Supo researcher Maria Paaso in the report.

However, the extreme right is not a single entity. Many groups and activists exist each with partially similar doctrines. Nationalism remains a common theme in addition to opposition to those from “elsewhere” that extremists claim to pose a threat to national culture. Behind this is the belief that society, the political establishment and media encourage “non-Finnish values.”

Neo-Nazi group spreads

Not all extreme rightist groups seek the destruction of contemporary society. However, one grouping with national socialist aims is the Finnish Resistance Movement (Suomen vastarintaliike SVL).

”It has surprisingly quickly and effectively spread across the country from a simple internet based operation into a grouping differing from those of the past,” says researcher Jussi Jalonen.

SVL publicises itself via its own website. They operate clubs in various cities which, for instance, practice martial arts. Operations exist at least in the Helsinki area, Turku, Tampere, Oulu, Jyväskylä and other towns. The groups openly proclaim their aims and activities.

Its leadership claims to be national socialist with a disdain for parliamentary democracy. They believe the time is gone to peacefully awaken the Finnish nation from its slumbers.

“We must be even more visible, aggressive and united,” claims SVL leader Juuso Tahvanainen on the group’s website.

International model

The SVL maintains close links with similar groups abroad but primarily with its sister organisation in Sweden: Motståndsrörelsen (SMR). Some analysts believe Finland’s SVL is actually led from Sweden.

In Sweden, SMR is noted for its frequent violent acts and the nation’s security police have listed it as the nation’s most serious security threat. Illegal arms have also been confiscated from the group.

From bill posting to violence

Most of SVL’s current activity appears to be handing out fliers and posting stickers on walls. However, some members have been involved in scuffles in several cities.

For example, during the 2011 parliamentary election campaign, a verbal exchange in front a National Coalition Party campaign tent led to an assault on a party official. One of those in the attack wore a bullet proof vest. Police overcame the three-man gang using a taser and pepper gas. One of the three involved was also suspected of participating in a spray attack on the leftist politician and author Dan Koivulaakso in Oulu.

From the viewpoint of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service, idealism is not prohibited wherever it originates from. Freedom of speech is not a problem unless it threatens public order. In other words, opinions can be expressed over the net but violence on the streets is a different matter.

“Finnish extreme groups are local in nature, for which reason clashes erupt on a local level,” says Supo’s Portaankorva.

Both SUPO and researchers agree that revolutionary extremists will hardly achieve their aims but this does not rule out individual violent acts. It depends on just how far some groups are prepared to go.

”At first gas spray attacks were made. A logical progression would be the use of a firearm,” explains Jalonen. In his view, some SVL members wish to be martyrs who end up behind prison bars.

“Prison is a good recruitment site,” notes Jalonen in an interview with Yle.