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About 50 occupiers took over the Porthania building of Helsinki University on Friday afternoon September 18. Over 400 people have joined the protest on Facebook. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Ayoung man riding the shoulders of another is holding a black flag. When they reach the big iron letters of the Helsinki University’s building Porthania, they ram their flag in the letter ‘H’.

This is now activist territory, a playground of the occupiers, who after being fed up with the constant rundown of education and research, have occupied the building just moments after the labour unions’ protest ended at the Railway Square on Friday afternoon.

“The unprecedented education cuts, made under the guise of austerity, will drastically undermine universities’ position in society and their role as a pillar of civilization,” the occupiers said in a bulletin,”the announced massive employee cooperation negotiations will be impossible to carry out without destroying the level of research and teaching. The occupiers of Porthania call into question the replacement of decreased state funding with increased commercial cooperation.”

Inside the building, about 50 people are scattered around the floor. Some play cards. Some simply mingle. A big banner saying, “You can stick your innovations up your ass,” is hanging from the balcony of the second floor.

According to the occupiers, the university community has already suffered from constant funding cuts, structural reforms, staff reductions and curricular reforms during the term of the previous government. These reforms and changes are part of a constant spiral of reforming and developing that has not lead to the improvement of research, studies or the university community.

“The most distinct change to the societal position of the university was the Universities Act of 2009, which has enabled the centralization of power from the university community to university management and the board,” the occupiers said.

“University management at the University of Helsinki has shown an uncritical public response to education cuts. This is unacceptable. Therefore the people of the university are taking over their own spaces to demonstrate that the autonomy of universities is not for sale.”

The activists are planning to stay in the building until Saturday morning.

According to Teppo Salmikivi, the manager of the University buildings, the occupiers told about their intensions earlier. The university is observing the situation and the police is not planning to interfere because the owner of the building has not asked them for help.

Salmikivi said that there have been many occupations during the long history of Helsinki University.

During the previous occupations, the activists have left the building peacefully.

Tony Öhberg