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Researcher: Political leadership remiss in reaction to fatal assault

University researcher Leena Malkki says Finland's public discourse has been enabling political violence for too long.

Leena Malkki.
Political researcher Leena Malkki. Image: Yle

Leena Malkki, a specialist in terrorism and political violence at the University of Helsinki, says that the events that transpired at the Central Railway Station two weeks ago will prove to be a turning point in Finland's political climate.

Malkki said in a Saturday morning interview with Yle that when conflict or the actions of a group lead to deaths, whether intentionally or involuntarily, it radically changes people's perceptions of the issue at hand.

"The Finnish Resistance Movement (FRM) has been around for years, and nothing in the incident differered from their activities so far," Malkki said. "The only unusual thing is that the victim perished, and that essentially changes things in a political sense."

Malkki first wrote a year ago that Finland has birthed a public discourse that enables political violence; in practice, a way of speaking that involves certain values and attitudes. She has mainly pointed to the silent approval of people resorting to illegal methods, such as individual acts of violence against asylum seekers and reception centres.

The FRM, however, has long been known to be an organisation with a propensity for violence. Malkki says that the growing tension in Finland can primarily be seen in the discussion following the act: the act itself is nothing new.

"Disproportionate countermeasures breed radicalism"

Malkki identifies a number of different factors that contribute to the practice and silent approval of political violence. First, the political system is open, and able to channel the concerns and discontent of the people. Citizens have to be able to trust that politicians are committed to safeguarding their personal security from threats and maintaining public order.

This trust has now been eroded, says Malkki, who adds that Finland's political leadership has not read the situation after the neo-Nazi attack correctly and has therefore not provided the communication and reaction the situation would have called for.

Politicians are now demanding that the Finnish Resistance Movement be banned.

"It's good that we're talking about what to do with extremist groups like the FRM. The country's policy so far has been to observe and even partly condone such organisations, with the idea that they will eventually collapse because they are considered absurd and have a relatively small number of followers," Malkki explains.

"There's a certain wisdom there, because disproportionate countermeasures can breed radicalism. It's the same as if various organisations were judged differently in relation to what they do."

Malkki says that Finland's leaders have been remiss in not stating political violences does not belong in the Finnish system of government. She says that expressing this simple fact would be more pertinent now than ever.

"Consequences should not depend on ideology"

Leena Malkki says that there is no clear rule as to when a group's activities should be prohibited. Organisations have in fact been shut down for similar actions in Finland's past, she says.

"It wouldn't be an unusually tough line if Finland chose to do it. The Finnish way has usually been moderate. It's more symbolic, but that shouldn't be downplayed," Malkki says.

She says that in practice, all communications should focus on stressing that the organisation is considered to be detrimental to society and legally unfit to practice in Finland.

The researcher says it is important to separate a group's ideological stance from how its actions are dealt with.

"Similar deeds and activities should have the same consequences, regardless of the ideology behind the action."

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