The police encircle a group of 19 men at Museokatu in Helsinki’s Etu-Töölö district on December 6, 2021. The men were on their way to cause disturbance to a protester group called Helsinki Without Nazis. Photograph: Tony Öhberg/Finland Today

HELSINKI—Finland’s 104th Independence Day was celebrated under strict coronavirus restrictions but in beautiful, bright winter weather.

Many outdoor traditions, such as the national flag-raising ceremony, the president laying a wreath at the Cross of Heroes in Hietaniemi cemetery and waving from the balcony of the Presidential Palace to the University Students’ Torchlight Procession, took place with dozens of observers.

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Finland’s Independence Day has also always been the time for many protests. And this year was no exception.

Smaller nationalistic protests were seen in the afternoon in the Helsinki center but when the 612 Torchlight Procession with about 500 participants—a protest that according to the organizers welcomes anyone who respects the Finnish flag and the sacrifices of the past generations began at 18:00 at the Töölö Market Square—a clash between another protest group called Helsinki Without Nazis with about 1,500 people was barely avoided.

Members of the Helsinki Without Nazis group were supposed to cross over Runeberginkatu, the same street the torchlight procession was about to be walking, but instead, the protesters decided to stop in the middle of the road for hours. (Watch the Twitter video of the action below.)

The police had no choice but to completely shut down the street from other protesters and traffic. The torchlight procession had to change the route to reach their destination at Hietaniemi cemetery where the torches were put out.

Meanwhile, around the block on Museokatu in Etu-Töölö district, known for its peaceful atmosphere and luxurious apartments, a group of about 20 men in their 20s and 30s were marching rapidly.

The loud bang of police vans shutting their doors broke the silence on the street where distant echoes of the protest not-too-far away could be heard faintly.

The police with white helmets and other protective gear jumped out from the vans and walked hurriedly until they reached the marching men. The police encircled them against an old apartment building from the early 20th century.

The marching men wore dark clothes, bomber jackets, some covered their faces with scarfs and at least one of the men had the word “Finland” and the Finnish flag printed on the scarf.

This was their end stop.

“You are going to be arrested to prevent you from crimes and causing a disturbance,” one of the police officers said. “So, let’s take it easy.”

The men nodded.

A lot of bystanders, elderly people, fathers and sons, were walking by while taking nervous glances at the dozen police officers wearing helmets and another dozen in standard uniforms. The police were quick to redirect any drifting elderly ladies who came too close to the sealed-off area.

After about 30 minutes of standing in the freezing weather in the encirclement, a bus arrived. This one had been taken off the public transport to serve as “a police bus.”

One by one, two police officers began escorting the dark-clad men into the bus.

A man is taken to police custody for attempting to disturb the protest group Helsinki Without Nazis. Photograph: Tony Öhberg/Finland Today

Around the block, the members of the protest group Helsinki Without Nazis were dancing and sitting on the frozen Runeberginkatu while cars were redirected. One bus that was on its way to Malminkartano, to the outskirts of the city, was stuck on a narrow side street around the corner. The police said on Twitter that they had tried to reach and call the organizer of the protest but the attempts were unsuccessful.

“The street has now been blocked from Nazis,” the protesters screamed.

It took another 30 minutes to get the protesters moving to their destination, Taivallahdenaukio, just around the corner. It’s unclear how exactly that happened, but finally, the traffic was flowing again.

Later, the police released an official statement where they said that they had apprehended 21 people during the Independence Day protests.

19 people, according to the police, were caught because they were on their way to disturb those who demanded that the streets of Helsinki stay clear of Nazis.

Crime reports have been filed for carrying a dangerous object, for the possession of an object suitable for hurting someone, for disobedience toward a police officer and for a narcotics offense. The organizer of Helsinki Without Nazis protest is suspected of an assembly violation.

“The Independence Day in Helsinki,” the police noted, “has in our view proceeded quite peacefully.”



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