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Protesters against neo-Nazis marching along Aleksanterinkatu. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Protesters against neo-Nazis marching along Aleksanterinkatu. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

“This tram will go on an alternative route because of a protest for and against racism,” the driver of tram number 6 announced on Saturday afternoon.

Indeed, there were two protests held on the opposite sides of the Citizens’ Square in Helsinki. But there were hardly any trams switching tracks for the one against those supporting tolerance and demanding human rights. Both protests were called “Stop This Game,” the one against immigrants named after the one against racism. Clever? Confusing? Hardly.

Nationalists protesting against people who welcome immigrants to Finland. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Nationalists protesting against people who welcome immigrants to Finland. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

About 60 nationalists waving Finnish flags and banners against immigrants were cornered by the police to the far end of the Citizens’ Square. On the opposite side, about 15,000 people blew their whistles and demanded justice – a society free of racism and fascism. A country free of neo-Nazis.

The people knew their place. There were those who wanted to listen to the message, where the immigrants were painted as “harassers at indoor swimming pools and in the streets,” painted as people “who are a danger to our Finnish women and girls.”

The nationalists stressed that they wouldn’t resort to violence unless violence would be brought upon them. They, however, became furious in a split of a second when a guy with long hair and sunglasses, holding a cigarette in his hand came over from the opposite side and shouted: “They serve red wine and sex on the other side. Why don’t you join us?”

“Get the hell out of here, you fucking hippie!” the nationalists shouted loudly.

“Have you ever been working?” a man holding the Finnish flag added.

The police had been observing the situation keenly. They came over and escorted the guy with long hair to the opposite side.

“I tend to get wild in these situations,” a nationalist said.

“But then I saw his face and it calmed me down.”

A man is being escorted to the other side after inviting the nationalists to join the protest against racism. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland

A man is being escorted to the other side after inviting the nationalists to join the protest against racism. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland

It was understandable that the trams and cars would be using alternative routes when the march against neo-Nazis started along Mannerheimintie.

A lonely man hanging at the Three Smith's Statue, where a demonstration for closing the borders was to be arranged. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

A lonely man hanging at the Three Smith’s Statue, where a demonstration for closing the borders was to be arranged. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

They passed the Three Smith’s Statue, opposite Stockmann, where another protest was supposed to be held for closing the borders. 12 people had announced to join, but the police had blocked the area around the statue with four big police vans.

15,000 people gathered on the Senate Square, according to the police. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

15,000 people gathered on the Senate Square, according to the police. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The march continued to the Senate Square, where various people, entrepreneurs, activists and others had arranged a diverse program. Among others, the former Finnish president, Tarja Halonen, was speaking.

President Tarja Halonen speaking for tolerance at the Senate Square. Picture: Rory Barr for Finland Today

President Tarja Halonen speaking for tolerance at the Senate Square. Picture: Rory Barr for Finland Today

“How many Nazis does it take to change the light bulb?” the emcee asked President Halonen.

“None. Nazis are not needed for anything,” Halonen said.

Finland Today took the question even further and asked President Halonen after her speech, “What can we do to prevent right-wing extremism in everyday life?” “Be in active demonstrations like this one. Use the rules that apply here in everyday situations. Behave in everyday life as we do in these demonstrations,” Halonen said.

That is to say: hug each other, respect people from other cultures and don’t let fear to take over.

Ever.

Background

On September 10th, Jimi Karttunen, 28, was attacked by a neo-Nazi in Helsinki center after expressing his opinion about right-wing extremists. He was attacked with a kick to his chest. He hit his head on the street and was hospitalized. About a week later, he died of cerebral hemorrhage. Read the full story here. Click here to read the back story on the protest against neo-Nazis.

 Elizabeth Catherine Barr contributed to this report.