Vigilante gangs, the Finnish police service and our denial of racism

by , under Enrique Tessieri


The big news story in Finland today is vigilante gangs by xenophobic, far-right and neo-Nazi groups. That’s not all. Some of the members of these vigilante gangs have criminal records.

Should we be surprised?

Not really. The political and xenophobic atmosphere in Finland is ideal for the growth of such vigilante gangs.

Näyttökuva 2016-1-6 kello 8.16.12
Neo-Nazi gangs with criminal records patrol the streets of Finnish towns and cities.

I use the term “gang” to describe these groups because for non-white Finns they don’t offer any sense of security but severely undermine it. Such vigilante gangs are a nasty reminder of Finland’s racism problem and how it is has come to back haunt us from the 1990s.

These vigilante gangs are as well a good example of how something racist in Finland gets national attention and becomes mainstream and a household word.

The Perussuomalaiset (PS)* are the best example of how racism and hostility against migrants, minorities, and cultural diversity become mainstream and acceptable by the political establishment, media, and public. While our attention is on groups like the Soldiers of Odin the real culprits are the PS and us, who give them the benefit of the doubt and a platform for their racist views.

As long as the PS are in power and as long as the Center Party and National Coalition Party need their support in government to trim the welfare state, matters will get worse in Finland for migrants, minorities and our culturally diverse community.

How did racism become an instant political hit in Finland? The answer is that there was little to no opposition to it. The reason why there is too little opposition to such a social ill reveals our denial and how we play down the problem collectively. Racism doesn’t affect white Finns directly so there’s no reason to be too worried about the issue.

The same way some of us were fascinated by the likes  of sentenced racists and far-right politicians like Jussi Halla-aho, James Hirvisaari, Juho Eerola, Olli Immonen and others before the 2011 parliamentary elections, we’re similarly attracted by these latest stories of vigilante gangs. We continue to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The first time I read about the Soldiers of Odin, a Kemi-based vigilanti gang led by Mika Ranta, who is a member of a neo-Nazi association that aims to turn Finland into a fascist state, was in October. What surprised me most about the story back then was that it didn’t condemn too openly this type of activity.

Today, however, Kemi-based Pohjolan Sanomat tells us that the Soldiers of Odin’s leader Ranta has a criminal record for attacking a migrant.

Why did it take the Kemi-based daily roughly two months to tell us this important fact? Is it because the daily gave the vigilante gang the benefit of the doubt because it didn’t consider it a threat. What do you think the paper’s reaction would be If the Soldiers of Odin would be a Muslim group patrolling the streets of Kemi?

The fact that they give the Soldiers of Odin the benefit of the doubt shows how much in denial we are in Finland about racism and how we play down its poisonous effect on society.

Lahti-based daily Etelä-Suomen Sanomat has been much faster on the ball than Pohjolan Sanomat. They reported that one of the members of Asikkala-Turva, an association patrolling the streets of a small town near Lahti, has a criminal record because the person threatened to kill and chop a social worker and her family with an axe if the official didn’t pay his drug rehab bill.

Add to the latter worrisome mix a police service that still doesn’t take racism and far-right ideology seriously and a disturbing picture emerges.

The police service of Häme is an unfortunate disappointing example of how biased the Finnish police service is when it welcomed Asikkala-Turva’s vigilante gang activity despite the fact that one of its members has a criminal record.

The police service of Häme’s statement has been criticized by Interior Minister Petteri Orpo for being too understanding to vigilante gangs, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

National Police Commissioner Seppo Kolehmainen hasn’t done any better either. He stated that vigilante gangs are fine as long as they didn’t break the law. “It’s a positive matter that [Finnish] citizens [note: migrants are excluded] are interested in their neighborhood’s security and take part and debate in such matters,” he was quoted as saying in Helsingin Sanomat.

Are all of these statement by the police a sign of poorly chosen words or do they reveal how they play down the threat of these vigilanter gangs? Does it reveal what the police service thinks  and that asylum seekers and migrants are a threat to Finland?

Like Orpo, The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (SUPO) said that such gangs don’t enhance security but undermine it, according to MTV3.

“In our view, this types of unofficial spontaneous vigilante gangs distort the image of the general security situation,” said Supo.

The Finnish name for the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The English names of the party adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We, therefore, prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings.

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