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"Bans don't help": Former President Halonen weighs in on Finland's swastika debate

Values must be internalised because it's not easy to legislate individual behaviour, according to former President Tarja Halonen.

Tarja Halonen
Former President Tarja Halonen said it is dangerous when people do not know history. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Former President Tarja Halonen has called for consideration of tighter restrictions on displaying Nazi symbols, but says bans don’t help people do good.

Speaking on Yle’s Ykkösaamu Saturday morning talk show, Halonen said however that Finland would do well to ponder whether or not banning certain kinds of symbolism would be useful.

"In my view Justice Minister Kai Mykkänen put it well when he said that it would be problematic to prohibit certain symbols. On the other hand, we would be in line with mainstream European if we adopted a stricter position on this," Halonen commented.

Halonen was commenting on Independence Day demonstrations, which saw police seize flags bearing swastikas from participants participating in marches by far-right nationalist groups.

The former president said that it felt dreadful to see neo-Nazis marching with swastikas on Independence Day. "It's always dangerous when people don’t know history. History tells us how certain policies have come into being," she cautioned.

"How can anyone idealise violence?"

She described the situation as nothing to play around with, however she appeared to be on the fence over the idea that certain symbols should be legally proscribed in Finland.

"I'm at an amber light over whether or not it would help to look into the matter. On the other hand, bans do not help. Values must be internalised because legislation is not very effective for guiding people to do good," she noted.

Halonen said however that it is difficult to understand how Nazi ideology could flourish in any way in modern Finland. "How can anyone idealise violence?" she asked.

She said that the idea that anyone had the right to exterminate an entire ethnic group seems quite remote from today’s society.

On Friday, Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen also said that he opposed an outright ban on swastikas, despite calls from police for clarity on existing legislation.

Tarja Halonen served as Finnish President for two terms between 2000 and 2012 and was the first woman to serve as the country’s head of state.

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