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A soldier of The Guard Jaeger Regiment is observing the Hietaniemi Cemetery in Helsinki, Finland on December 6, 2017. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The Independence Day, the hundredth in turn, was celebrated on Wednesday, December 6, with respect and values that like President Sauli Niinistö said in the order of the day of the Commander-in-Chief makes “Finland the best country for Finns and worthy to defend today and tomorrow.” Niinistö issued his second order of the day during his presidency of nearly six years to commemorate the centenary of Finnish independence.

The day began with a mild frost, a clear sky and a beautiful sunshine. The national flag was hoisted at Tähtitorninmäki in Helsinki. Dozens observed the gigantic flag wave in the mild breeze. “Independence means to us Finns the right to define by ourselves what is best for our society and most fitting for our way of life,” said Sampo Terho, the minister for European affairs, culture and sport, in his speech. “Briefly speaking, independence protects the right to be Finns.”

The celebrations continued by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Hietaniemi Cemetery, the final resting place for many heads of state and heroes of war. The president, prime minister and others laid wreaths to the Cross of Heroes and grave of Marshal Carl Gustaf Mannerheim. Thereafter, the state leadership was escorted to the other side of the city where they attended the Ecumenical Jubilee Service at the Helsinki Cathedral.

The afternoon was reserved to honor one of the core values of a democratic nation: freedom of speech. In Kamppi at Narinkkatori, national-minded people summoned to march “toward freedom.”

“Is that the Finnish flag?” asked a young girl from his father, who had pulled out his cell to document a group of men who had arrived at the square screaming and holding green flags with an upright arrow in the middle.

“No, I think it’s their own flag,” the father replied.

It was the flag of the Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi organization that had just been banned in court due to links to violence. The court order wasn’t yet legally valid, so the surrounding swarm of police officers was humbled to escort them. (It was, after all, the police who had demanded that the organization was banned.)

The group started their march toward Töölö district while chanting names that they had defined as “traitors.” The names included the former and current prime minister, the interior minister, the foreign minister, the police and the judge who had “nearly destroyed them.” The speaker of the protest was screaming the names in a distorted megaphone, and the screams echoed from the walls of the surrounding red-bricked buildings of the 1920s. The police had blocked all possible crossings to ensure the safety of the march. Protesters against Nazis and nationalists were also on the move.

The Hesperia Park formed the biggest threat due to hundreds of counter-protesters and because of the wide and open area that demanded a close watch. The police in riot gear had formed a wall in the park. German Shepherds were barking on leash.

There were no opportunities for the protesters to clash. An occasional middle finger flashed in the street lights of the park, but the neo-Nazis kept moving.

Around 19:00 in the evening a group of a few thousand had summoned at Töölöntori, the Töölö Market Square. Anyone who considered him or herself national minded was welcome to join what the group called the 612 Torchlight Procession. 612, naturally, refers to the date of the Independence Day.

The protesters started their march toward their destination, Hietaniemi Cemetery where they would show respect to the Finnish soldiers who had died in the Second World War. At the corner of the square, there were a few counter-protesters screaming “buuu” and demanding a “world free of Nazis.”

“We are not Nazis,” an elderly woman screamed with a raspy voice.

“They have tricked a granny to join them,” a man drinking cheap beer said and after seeing a small dog pitter-patter among the marches he continued, “That’s animal cruelty!”

An occasional middle finger was shown from the streets as the march continued. But the very large police presence ensured that were no conflicts, and the marchers reached the cemetery in peace. (In total, the police had apprehended 10 people during the evening. Some had thrown a few eggs or a beer can or were carrying small illegal objects. Others were simply too drunk.)

At the Presidential Palace, the Independence Day reception was gathering momentum. The guest list included 1,900 people, who had distinguished themselves during the different decades of independence.

Many homes across the country tuned into the direct TV broadcast from the ball. After the presidential couple, Sauli Niinistö and Ms Jenni Haukio, had shaken hands with the guests and waltzed around the Hall of State, they walked to the balcony to watch the fireworks that officially closed the centenary year in Helsinki.

“Let’s give three cheers for the hundred-year-old Finland — Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!” President Niinistö concluded the order of the day.

The national flag is hoisted at Tähtitorninmäki. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Mayor of the City of Helsinki, Jan Vapaavuori, (on the left) is approaching the Cross of Heroes to lay a wreath. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

First Lady Jenni Haukio is entering the Helsinki Cathedral for the jubilee service. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The guests respect the presidential couple by standing up. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Candles are lit at the altar. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The Nordic Resistance Movement is standing at Narinkkatori in Kamppi. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

A man is apprehended for disturbing the peace. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Police in riot gear are keeping a close watch. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Neo-Nazis are marching through Etu-Töölö. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

A protester is giving the middle finger to neo-Nazis. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The neo-Nazis are saluted by another middle finger. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Torches are lit at Töölöntori. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The protesters of the 612 Torchlight Procession are faced with defiance. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Thousands of torches illuminate Runeberginkatu. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

President Sauli Niinistö and his spouse, Jenni Haukio, are ready for the Presidential ball. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Ilkka Paananen, the founder of mobile game company Supercell, is greeting First Lady Jenni Haukio. Picture: Juhani Kandell/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Formula driver Kimi Räikkönen and his spouse, Minttu, are attending the reception. Picture: Juhani Kandell/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

The presidential couple performs the first waltz. Picture: Juhani Kandell/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

The presidential couple is observing the fireworks from the balcony of the palace. Picture: Katri Makkonen/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

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