Participants at the "We do not be silent! protest against racism and fascism in Helsinki on September 3, 2023. LEHTIKUVA


Thousands gathered at the anti-racism protest in Helsinki “Me Emme Vaikene” (We are not silent) on September 3, Sunday as a show of strength for demonstration against racism and fascism in Finland. Finnish Police estimates that around 11,000 people were present in the gathering which went smoothly without any disruptions. The demonstration was also lined up by several artists like Loituma, Kuumo, Vesta, Paleface, Juno, among others.

The event in Helsinki was described as a peaceful and politically neutral protest with over 100 supporting organizations. It started in Senate Square at 1pm and protesters marched towards Töölönlahti Park. The demonstrations come at a time when the new government is embroiled with controversies about racism scandals revolving I’ll politicians from the far-right parties and inefficiency in addressing these concerns in the new government programme. Protestors also believed that the new anti-racism measures announced by the government are not enough to eliminate the issue of systemic racism in Finland.

Prime Minister Orpo (NCP) announced plans to allocate 1-1.5 million euros for specific measures during the autumn budget session. The government statement defines racism as labelling individuals or population groups as inferior due to factors like ethnic origin, skin color, nationality, culture, language, or religion. It points out that racism can appear as discriminatory norms or practices in society and as discriminatory behavior between individuals and groups.

“It shows the parliament returning from the summer break that racism that violates human rights, undermines democracy and undermines the sense of security of people belonging to minorities does not belong in Finland or the Finnish government,” Elsi Sloan, from the working group that compiled the program of the demonstration, said in a release.

The atmosphere at the event resembled a vibrant summer concert, as numerous artists passionately lent their support and voiced their concerns regarding the pervasive issue of racism in Finland. Attendees were equally committed, arriving with a multitude of banners bearing powerful messages such as ‘No room for racism,’ ‘Racists out,’ ‘Tolerating racism is racism,’ and ‘Down with racism and fascism’.

Some protestors shared their concerns with Helsinki Times about the rampant visibility of racism after the recent emergence of agendas against immigrants and hate-speeches by politicians.

Lilli Keh, owner of All Day Management, highlighted the racism in the structures, different opportunities, and salary negotiations with respect to people who are from mixed backgrounds as compared to Finnish people. “The new measures introduced by the new government are not enough. And to cover it up, they are now talking about criminalizing the denying of the Holocaust. Definitely it happened, and it was horrible, but racism is still happening every day in many ways in our society, and that should be fixed as a first priority,” Keh said.

Another protestor, Antti Vierta held a banner with “Orpo on niin pihalla” (Orpo is out of touch) and believes that the new government led by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo needs to criminalize racism in Finland.

“Racism is unveiling in the country in a new way, the election of Finns party shows that. It is good that people have identified that, and we are beginning to resist it,” Vierta said, who had come to Helsinki from Turku for the protest.

“Racism should be criminalized by the government. It is a question of human rights”, he added.

During the speeches at the Töölönlahti stage, participants engaged in traditional demonstration chants, with people shouting, “What do we want? – Racists out! When? – Now.” The crowd echoed with calls for immediate action, emphasizing the urgency by repeating, “When, when, when? – Now, now, now!”

The event featured speakers who represent the diversity and energy of civil society, with expertise in human rights. Notable figures included Ahmed Hassan from the Somaliland Association, anti-racism expert Paco Diop, poet and activist Laura Eklund Nhaga, and researcher Anette Åkerlund.

Elina Sagne-Ollikainen, one of the organizers of the demonstration, highlighted Finance Minister Riikka Purra and Economic Affairs Minister Wille Rydman’s involvement in recent racism discussions. “The people will never support the highest positions of the society with racist ideas. It is unacceptable to have ministers like Purra and Rydman in the ministerial positions,” she said. Purra faced criticism for past racist online remarks dating back to 2008, while Rydman was under scrutiny for racist private messages sent in 2016.

Helsinki Times had earlier reported that The Green League and Left Alliance parliamentary groups had announced their intention to submit motions of no confidence against Riikka Purra and Wille Rydman.

By Sonali Telang