HELSINKI – You could see the sorrow in the eyes of the demonstrators, as they stood at the Old Student House in the centre of Helsinki on Thursday evening at 18:00. There were about 80 of them. They were holding ‘Je Suis Charlie’ signs, meaning ‘I am Charlie’, now a worldwide symbol of solidarity, support and free press.
The support protest was held to honour the victims of the Thursday’s massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper in Paris, France, which was attacked by masked gunmen who killed at least 12 people and wounded 11. The newspaper is known for its covers and cartoons making fun of religious figures, including the Prophet Mohammed.
The protesters consisted mostly of the members of the French-Finnish community and it was a notion of coming together for a common cause, spontaneously initiated by a fellow in their group, Laurence Prempain. The members of the community had decided to join the cause, whatever the weather might bring. Tonight it brought drizzling rain.
There weren’t much chanting; just a focused face, the eyes looking somewhere at the distance.
When the clock at Stockmann was about 18:20, the crowd started strolling forward along Aleksanterinkatu to their final destination: the Senate Square.
They held their signs high. No need to scream or bang drums. The passers-by looked and knew what was going on, anyway.
When they reached the end of their protest, they heard the heart-breaking string melody of the light festival Lux, playing its final tune as part of the final day of the installation of music and the avant-gardist-lit Helsinki Cathedral.
They stopped and organised into a long line and posed with a straight face.
“We are here to support preserving the liberty of citizens and the right to say what you want. There’s no politics involved,” said Laurence Prempain, 46, who moved to Finland from Lyon several years ago.
“Even if we are far away from our country, we think that we have to support the right to freedom in our home country and elsewhere. This is especially important if we think of our young kids and teenagers.”
Next to Prempain stood Soleane, 5, and her mother, Nathalie Alt-Antskog, 39, was holding a candle low at her waist.
Soleane’s ‘Je Suis Charlie’ sign covered half of her pinkish jacket, printed with red flowers.
She looked at her mother.
They smiled in the warm light of the candle, which now clearly illuminated their signs in the darkness:
‘Je Suis Charlie’.