HELSINKI—With a click of the shutter, the photojournalist’s camera captures vans, passenger cars, a few trucks, a bus—dozens of vehicles blocking about a kilometer of Mannerheimintie on a cold, snowy Friday just after six in the evening.
“Hey! Is that the police in undercover clothes taking pictures of the cars?” A man in his 20s asks his buddy. “Is it. . . ? Can’t be. Or, is it?” the buddy, about the same age, joins the exercise of imagination.
The shutter keeps clicking, and the lads keep walking. They disappear in the crowd of hundreds roaming back and forth in front of the Parliament Building as if having no real purpose.
“The people are here for their own reasons,” Liisa, 34, who crawled here from the Citizens’ Square, the designated place of the legal rally, explains to the journalist a moment later.
“As to demonstrate for cheaper gas?” asks the journalist.
“Sure. I don’t own a car, but I want that my daughters can live freely, go to school freely, join a hobby freely without being forced to take coronavirus vaccines. I’m planning to stay here until Sunday with one of my daughters.”
“And take your goddamn mask off, so that I can understand your questions!” Liisa exclaims.
At a distance, a man just past his puberty is waving his hands wildly and gives a finger to a police officer in riot gear at the steps in front of the parliament.
“No masks! No masks!” the crowd chants behind him.
Once in a while, a protester after another holding a beer can attempt a climb at the steps, but the riot police (there are dozens of them scattered at the length of the building) quickly stop the efforts latest on the third step.
While the rally doesn’t seem to have any leader or organizer, it has a name: Convoy Finland.
Its prototype can be traced across the Atlantic to Canada’s Ottawa, where thousands of people against coronavirus restrictions, demanding personal freedom, blocked the roads in the city at the end of January.
“The honking through the night happening almost a week is a form of torture,” a resident in Ottawa said on Twitter.
In the Finnish adaption, there are hardly any trucks on the streets. It may be because of the fact that long trucks are basically banned at the Helsinki center, and the police are not too happy to let protesters in trucks pass through.
Or maybe some of the demands, such as mixing gas and corona, seems illogical even to the non-brightest minds: “We took one of the claims to lower the taxation of gas on the list so that we would get enough trucks at the place,” said Annika Finland in an interview on Tokentube.
A small man in dark clothes watches the convoy on the street.
“At first it looked like not much was happening,” he says in a quiet voice. The man says he came here hundreds of kilometers down the coastline from the city of Pori.
“It looks like it was worth it. It looks like the traffic in Helsinki is finally starting to jam,” he continues, and a flickering smile appears on his lips.
The insight seems useful.
“What’s your name?” the journalist asks.
“Are you writing to some media? I am not giving you my name! I’ve had my ass kicked in the media for too long!”
At the Parliament Building, some of the younger crowd are flexing their muscles by trying to provoke the police with continuous insults.
There, a pair of TV journalists are doing a live broadcast when a man holding a beer can starts screaming:
“You have been lying to us! You have been lying to us for too long!” he screams next to the camera. The reporter tries to ignore him and the cameraman turns away.
The riot police descend the steps hurriedly. “Get away from them!” the police command.
The man lifts his hands up in the air and swears that he is not trying to hurt anybody.
When the police turn away, the man utters:
“I love you R2D2. I love you all. But you have to love us as well!”
The snowfall is thick and the wind is hard, and the cacophony of rap, rock and the soccer anthem “Ole, Ole, Ole,” echoes on Mannerheimintie.
A man with a shaggy beard hammering a kettledrum walks by while chanting. Fireworks illuminate the sky.
It’s getting late. Someone who claimed to be the organizer had told the police that the protest would end by ten in the evening, but there are no signs of that happening soon.
“Attention!” a woman screams on the megaphone.
“They have begun towing cars away at the north end!”
A smaller crowd aims to stop the police from doing that. The police report that someone has punctured a tire of a tow truck with a knife.
At first, the police catch 12 people.
The police command the crowd to disperse.
An hour later, a total of 24 protesters have ended up in police custody.
At 02:00 in the morning, the police in riot gear are still dispersing the crowd.
The total of detained people has increased to 55, the police report. Dozens of vehicles have been towed away.
The area around the Parliament Building has been sealed off from anyone entering the area.
Wroom! An officer on a quad bike appears in the whirling snowfall.
“Alright, folks! The party is over for today.”
Editor’s Note: The Convoy Finland protesters have threatened to return to disturb the traffic every day until Wednesday, February 9. Their supposed time to protest is from 10 in the morning until 22:00 in the evening at the Citizens’ Square. Based on their actions on Friday, the location and schedule are likely to be “flexible,” and traffic jams are expected throughout the week.