The Foreign Influence Behind Finland’s Far Right ‘Awakening’

Composite picture showing Awakening poster, Suomen Sisu wreath and Suomen Sisu logo / Credit: News Now Finland

Finnish right wing activists are set to hold a conference this weekend, bringing together white nationalist speakers from Europe and the USA to a secret Helsinki location.

It’s part of a new resurgence in the Finnish right that takes its inspiration from international far right movements, and blurs the lines between mainstream politics and extremism.

Sunday’s ‘Awakening’ conference has attracted the attention of Finland’s domestic intelligence service SUPO who say the event is on their radar.

The main organiser of Awakening is Tuukka Kuru, a Finns Party Youth member who is also involved with nationalist groups. He’s a provincial leader of Suomen Sisu, an organisation that opposes immigration and multiculturalism; and he’s also been a featured speaker at the annual 612 marches in Helsinki on Independence Day, which attract far right protesters.

Kuru describes Awakening as a ‘white existence’ event.

“Our speakers are coming from the countries where demographics has changed greatly in last few decades. United States, for example, has evolved from nearly all white society of 1950’s to the current situation, where whites are becoming minority group in their own country. The same trend is happening in almost all western countries. As a nationalists with European background, we oppose this replacement of our people with foreign elements” he says.

Although there is no suggestion at this point that senior Finns Party leaders will either endorse or attend the Awakening event, several high profile Finns Party figures are said to be members of Suomen Sisu including Chairman Jussi Halla-aho; and MPs Olli Immonen, Janmes Hirvisaari and Juho Eerola.

MEP Halla-aho has previously been found guilty by the Finnish Supreme Court of disturbing religious worship and of ethnic agitation over texts he wrote.

“This is a difficult area for us as authorities. It is a grey area” says Tarja Mankkinen from the Ministry of Interior.

“Of course we have freedom of speech, but it’s difficult to say when a politician crosses the line, the courts must decide, especially if they do it in private” she adds.

Extreme Speakers To Helsinki

The list of featured speakers at Awakening read like a who’s who of far right proponents.

American Jared Taylor is given top billing. He was banned from Twitter at the end of 2017 over abusive content, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has tracked hate groups in America for decades, describes Taylor as a “crudely white supremacist […] a kind of modern-day version of the refined but racist colonialist of old”.

Taylor hosts an annual event in the USA for Klansmen, white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and has written that “blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization, any kind of civilization, disappears”.

Another guest speaker is Marcus Follin, a Swede who describes himself as ‘The Golden One’ and frequently poses shirtless, fighting and lifting weights, on his YouTube channel.

“If you look to the future it isn’t looking very bright being an ethnic minority as white. If we look to the places where whites are an ethnic minority, they’re not being treated very kindly at all” says Follin in one of his lengthy video rants against the media, immigration, foreigners and perceived injustices against white people in Sweden.

So why are people with such extreme views allowed into the country? It comes down to the potential to disrupt Finnish national security.

“Prohibition of entry can be considered if person in question could endanger general order and safety, and is considered case-by-case” SUPO spokesperson Verna Leinonen says.

“In general, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service pays attention to radical movements, but is interested in only such domestic extremist movements that may endanger national security” she says.

By keeping the location of the event secret, Awakening organisers hope to stop any potential clashes.

“Violent counter protests resembles a threat we have to deal with while organizing the event of this caliber. Even though our nationalist demonstrations and conferences have always been peaceful, our rivals has sometimes turned them to a brawl between them and the police. We want to ensure that our audience can enter and leave the conference peacefully” Tuukka Kuru tells News Now Finland.

Kuru says that after Jared Taylor agreed to come to Finland, it was easier to attract other speakers including Estonian Ruuben Kaalep. “He is active and well known in ethno nationalist circles already” says Kuru.

Re-Branding As Ethno Nationalists

Over the last 18 months, many on the Finnish right have re-branded themselves as ‘ethno nationalists’. It’s one of the new buzzwords for extremist groups across Europe, and helps show the links between Finnish right wing groups and their international counterparts.

Earlier this year, Tuukka Kuuru spoke at the ‘Etnofutur’ conference in Tallinn which brought together right wing activists. Other Finns Party members have been openly speaking at white nationalist events in Finland and Estonia; and Kuuru says he met several of Awakening’s guest speakers at a Rotterdam conference last year.

The British campaign group Hope Not Hate, which is backed by politicians and celebrities, says that “people, ideas, and tactics cross borders with an ease not previously possible” and has highlighted a number of events where North American right wing thought leaders are teaming up with European right wing groups to endorse and amplify their message.

The Awakening event in Helsinki is another example of this cooperation.

“People who call themselves ‘ethno-nationalist’ in contemporary terms prioritise the interests of their group and consider the group’s territory, their nation, to belong exclusively to them” explains Sarah Green, Professor of Anthropology at Helsinki University.

“It means that nobody other than the ethnic group can be nationals; and nobody except the nationals truly belong in the nation, even if non-nationals may visit or pass through” she adds.

Finns Party Moves Right

Since Jussi Halla-aho was elected Finns Party Chairman last summer, and then the party split in half, there is a perception that the remaining rump of the Finns Party has moved further right.

The rise of ethno nationalism within its ranks, and high profile memberships of Suomen Sisu are indicators.

Previously, Tuukka Kuru has been denied membership of the Finns Party, but after Halla-aho’s election he was allowed to join the Youth wing.

“Presumably something happened which made him eligible, and I’m guessing the shift in the party leadership probably had something to do with it” says Dr Jussi Jalonen from Tampere University.

“There is no doubt that the rank and file has become more vocal and more eager to show up in events such as [Awakening]” he adds.

Kuru denies that Halla-aho has been an inspiration for him, and says he is more influenced by foreigners.

“This kind of ideas are mainly coming from international political circles, and Mr Halla-aho has very little to do with it” says Kuru.

There is some really bright youth activists who have started to think outside of the box and question the current civic nationalist narrative […] I have been building this kind of ideological platform with other activists for last couple of years” says Kuru, who co-hosts a programme on internet radio channel Monokulttuuri FMI which he claims “has popularised these new radical ideas for the bigger audience”. 

Leaving Finns Party Over International Outreach

When Jussi Halla-aho took over leadership of the Finns Party, Tiina Ahva stayed on for a few months as 1st Vice Chair of the party’s Youth Wing, where Tuukka Kuru is a member.

But she quit, and joined the Blue Reform party, over ideological differences.

“For me the problem wasn’t what the party stood for, the problem was where do you draw the line, who do you cooperate with?” Ahva tells News Now Finland.

“I drew the line far more near than they did. They were willing to cooperate with ethnic nationalists and white nationalists” she says.

Witnessing the rising influence of Suomen Sisu within the Finns Party, Ahva said she was never pressured to joining, but party members who had a problem with Suomen Sisu’s activities or ideology would have “a problem inside the party, you have to accept that many people are members of the Suomen Sisu organisation” she says.

Suomen Sisu members, explains Ahva, benefit from not really being out in the open. She says that would lead to debates and conversations about the organisation. So on the surface there is a kind of “soft nationalism”. It’s only when members become more deeply involved do they understand what it stands for, she adds.

“It gets more about ethno nationalists, and you realise people are talking about race and ethnicity and valuing people according to that. And I realised that’s not for me, this is not something I want to be involved with. Ethno nationalism and white nationalism are beyond a line that I don’t want to cross” says Ahva.

National Action Plan Against Extremism

Finnish authorities have been developing a national action plan to counter hate speech and extremism, as well as working with local groups on an ‘exit’ programme that allows people in extremist groups to find a way out. At the end of last year there were about 20 people from the Finnish far right signed up to ‘exit’ from various groups.

One of the target areas for the Ministry of Interior is to prevent recruitment to extremist groups in the first place, but that can be difficult when recruitment methods and numbers are opaque.

“According to my knowledge and to the research, the peak for far right group activities was in 2015 and after that their activities, not including the Nordic Resistance Movement, has gone down a little bit” says Tarja Mankkinen at the Ministry of Interior.

One problem authorities have is figuring out how many actual members the various groups have, since people are often active in several far right groups at once. Officials say they’re conscious that an apparently busy social media presence doesn’t necessarily mean groups like 612, Finland First, Close the Borders or Soldiers of Odin have strong membership numbers.

“The aim of these groups is that they would like to look very powerful, popular and widely supported. That is their strategic objective” says Mankkinen.