Rival rallies brought 300 Neo-Nazis and more than 1000 anti-fascists to the streets of Turku, as the city remembered the anniversary of Finland’s first terror attack.
Last August, 22-year-old failed asylum seeker Abderrahman Bouanane from Morocco killed two people and wounded several others as he went on a stabbing spree in the west coast city.
He has since been convicted in court of a terror offense, inspired by Islamic militants in the Middle East.
Anti-Nazi, Anti-Racism Rally
The ‘Turku Without Nazis’ rally was the largest event of the day, with young protesters and families joining a crowd that gathered at the city’s Puolala Park.
Flags and signs highlighted their opposition to racism and fascism, as a drum squad and megaphones amped up the noisy, mostly peaceful event.
”The event was planned with the police to ensure that it stays peaceful and everyone willing can join” says Pekka Rantala, one of the local organisers.
One marchers who came out today was Karolina, a Polish national living in Turku.
“When I moved to Turku it was a very welcoming city, and I did notice a chance in the atmosphere and attitudes, especially towards migrants and foreigners. I want to bring back the welcoming and friendly Turku that I first knew, the town I really got into. I think it really does belong to everyone” she tells News Now Finland.
“I am lying if I say I’m feeling entirely safe, because I don’t. Still, it’s the right place to be today” she adds.
Attack Survivor Speaks Out
One of the people speaking out at the anti-Nazi rally today was Hassan Zubier, a British national who was trained as a paramedic, and was visiting from Sweden with his family last year when he got caught up in the attack.
Zubier was paralyzed and left unable to walk, his spinal column severed during the stabbing spree, as he himself tried to help one of the victims.
He has been recognised for his bravery by Queen Elizabeth, and President Niinistö.
“Today a year ago two people were killed and eight were injured severely […] so it’s a sad day, but it’s also a day to remember all the heroes who protected Finnish victims and saved lives. People say I’m a hero, but there were a lot of heroes on that day” Zubier tells News Now Finland.
“It’s sad that the Nordic Resistance Movement is using this day to spread fake news, to try to destroy our way of living, our democracy, using this day to dance on the graves of the victims who died. I think it’s despicable. We have to fight them. We have to fight them everywhere. We have to fight the darkness in the world” says Zubier.
Nordic Resistance Movement Marchers
There was a heavy police presence on the streets of Turku as the Neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement held a march and rally.
Members of other far right groups like Soldiers of Odin and the Finnish Defence League also joined the gathering at a city square where knifeman Abderrahman Bouanane was capture, after being shot by a policeman.
A group of Swedish far right extremists from the Nordfront organisation had traveled to Turku earlier on Saturday to attend the event, with their propaganda team filming the rally.
The Nordic Resistance Movement faces ongoing legal action in Finnish courts which would make the group illegal. The Finnish National Police Board has said it considers their activities to be against the law.
NRM activists opposes any ban, citing their rights to freedom of speech and association.
“Police is trying to ban us in Finland, and also maybe in other Nordic countries. So we are demonstrating against that and also freedom of speech, because police is saying we don’t have freedom of speech and that is the main reason we are here” says chapter leader Antti Niemi.
The far right procession was guarded by police with dogs and on horseback, with armed riot police on standby.
As the rally came to Turku’s market square where last year’s attack took place, counter protesters shouted, and threw fruit at the Neo-Nazis.
At least two people – one from each side – were taken away by police, as Nordic Resistance Movement speakers denounced several members of government as traitors; with some NRM members making Nazi salutes.
Antti Niemi dismissed the counter protesters, who outnumbers the right wingers three-to-one.
“They can do whatever they want, I don’t care about them” he told News Now Finland.
Political Support And Preventive Arrests
Members of the Turku City Council – except the Finns Party – had signed a declaration against Saturday’s Nordic Resistance Movement rally.
However, Mauri Peltokangas, a Finns Party council member from Kaustinen, was one of the main speakers at a nationalist event to which NRM members continued after their march. Finns Party Member of Parliament Kike Elomaa was also present at far right events today.
Police made preemptive arrests of far left protesters coming from Helsinki to Turku to join the anti-Nazi demonstration. Armed police stopped a bus on the motorway, and detained three people on board.
Turku’s Dignified Reaction
Turku’s political leaders took a dignified approach to the one year anniversary of last August’s terror attack.
Mayor Minne Arve (NCP) said that the city council didn’t feel the crime nor its perpetrator deserved a memorial day.
“We respect the victims and helpers by working to improve safety, understanding between cultures, and the integration of immigrants every day together with other authorities and the civic society” she said in a press release.
“The results are measured in many ways, not just by this one incident in the past, which is why we should not give it the status of a symbol or landmark” the mayor said.