Do or Die

An article from Do or Die Issue 6. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 119-121.

Earth First! Finland

A movement faced by Finnish society

Disclaimer: Naturally, as for everything, I only speak for myself and therefore take responsibility for my writings as my own opinions.

A brief history of Finnish nature conservation.

In Britain you have a long history of civil disobedience whereas in Finland our first enviromental movements were established only in the late sixties. Our radical eco- movements dried up right at the beginning. The first (and in my opinion the last) really huge action was at Koijarvi, in which right from the beginning the media gave a negative image of the movement.

Koijarvi was a small lake in the north of Finland (we have thousands of lakes that size so you must understand how pitiful it was from our perspective even if it really is a normal size lake to people in Britain). It was an important breeding place for many birds. The local farmers wanted to drain the lake because it flooded their fields every spring.

When the digging of the drying-trenches began the local ornithologists were outraged and called for people to gather and stop the digging. Hundreds of people gathered in a few days, dammed the trenches and stopped the machines by chaining themselves to them. The radicality of the movement was really reflected in an incident where the conservationists themselves had to guard the machines, because the most radical wing had threatened to blow them up with dynamite.

After a couple of days the police got organized enough to make a hit on the place. The people were then just dragged out of the site by only a couple of dozen police officers. The failure was afterwards blamed on the inexperience of the people involved. But more important was the media's reaction to the blockade: right from the beginning they portrayed the protestors as either young radical leftists (or communists) or stupid anarchists.

In the wake of Koijarvi the Finnish Nature League's Forest-action team is the only one I know of still doing serious actions these days. People have chained themselves to machines and blockaded logging roads many times, and dozens of people have been arrested. Such actions have saved many small areas of great value from logging or have ensured that they are permanently protected.

However, while I don't want to underestimate the influence of their actions in the protection of our old-growth forests, it's kind of funny to expect to save the biodiversity in our forest ecosystem if 95% of it is already under plantation (the famous "sustainably managed Scandinavian forests, as seen on the back of greeting cards) and the remaining 5% is in continuous danger of getting chopped too.

After the Koijarvi incident the green movement became dominated by conservative compromisers, whose new agendas - such as unemployment, the lack of housing and other important but social problems - were added to the original green agenda and have taken a great deal of attention away from the original true issues. The contradiction between the old radical agenda and these new ideas was reflected in the argument against nature conservationism that you could have heard during the last recession or even nowadays: "while there are so many unemployed in Finland who gives a damn about nature" or "the growth of GNP and the market economy will develop new jobs, so nature conservationism is actually all bad in this situation".

And (in my opinion) we did not have a homeless problem (if we compare the magnitude of the problem to you or the States) so it was just another invention of the wishywashies to blur the original agenda. Nowadays the green movement is a political party that has places in government and Parliament (and even in the EU Parliament). You can guess what is left of the original ideas after the party decided that getting the votes was more important then the issues they were trying to pursue.

A movement faced by Finnish society.

Our number of movements and organizations is very small if you exclude the humanitarian organizations. Of course, movements like anarchists and animal-rights people are regarded as total loonies or dangerous vandals or terrorists, but even not-so-radical movements like Amnesty International or WWF are respected only so long as they don't give any negative news about Finland. [Not a million miles removed from the British situation - eg. Thatcher's fury at Amnesty for questioning the treatment of prisoners in Northern Ireland - 'human rights abuses' only ever occur in other countries, of course.] Student organizations are only working within universities and mostly under political parties so our "intellectual sector" has always been on the leash of industry and government. To understand the difficulties faced by an enviromental movement in Finland you must understand the Finnish society.

The general mentality of the Finnish people differs much from your society. We have never had big social gaps between people and in fact one of the stongest qualities has always been the unity of people and respect for traditional values. Christianity and nationalism have always kept our nation strong against outside threats. These values are good for the independence of our country but within a peaceful society they turn into conservatism and racism.

It has always been utterly difficult for minorities and radical movements to get any stand in Finnish society. If you try to change something, or even just criticise the society, you will get the hate of at least some part of the people and the ignorance of the rest. If you aren't a communist then you are a fascist or terrorist or just a plain young anarchist idiot. There's no way you can get the sympathies of the people if your agenda irritates them in any way.

The police have always been the ultimate power in finland. We rarely have demonstrations. For example, while there are 500,000 unemployed in Finland (10% of our population) and while the government is pursuing a policy that promotes industries but not in a way that would create new jobs, the last demonstration on this issue that I can recall was a year ago.

Apathy and ignorance are the two strongest qualities of the modern Finnish people. Authorities aren't respected so much as they are feared. It's easy for the authorities to intimidate people when all the media does is repeat everything that the police and the politicians say. The SUPO (police under the Ministry of Interior) has had difficulties finding "enemies" to fight after the fall of the Soviet Union. Animal rights people and nature conservationists are an easy target for them.

When the media has done it's job of intimidating people and getting them to fear our not-yet-so-radical eco-movements, it is all too easy for SUPO to justify their illegal home searches and blacklists. SUPO has established a wing that concentrates on animal rights and nature conservationist people (similar to your MI5). The authorities are so paranoid that they even keep a record of every individial who, for example, subscribes to certain magazines or has shown up at a peaceful demonstration. They also invent absolutely hilarious claims that - for example - we are a throughly organized bunch of terrorists whose only purpose is to get political power by spreading violence and chaos... etc.

So, you must understand that methods that are effective in Britain and the US aren't necessarily any use in Finland. Actions like demonstrations don't evoke any reaction but laughter, and on the other hand radical non-violent direct action like road blockades would probably be met with brutal force (and anyhow people will not give their sympathies - regardless of our message - if you disturb their "normality" of living.)

Monkeywrenching could have even more serious consequences. If we are terrorists (according to the speech by our PM) just by sitting in front of a factory then what are we when we actually go and do some damage to it? As we have seen in the cases of animal-rights people releasing foxes from fur farms and burning them down you could have the whole state's police at your back if you did even a small scale ecotage.

You can imagine the situation if you know how for example the authorities dealt with the local motorcycle gang. They used an army APC to crush through the front gate of the headquarters while an armed chopper hovered above the building. An armed to the teeth strike team then crushed the front door, shot a sleeping dog on the sofa with their assault rifles and then rushed upstairs to brutally arrest a couple of unarmed sleeping gang members, and to confiscate their "huge weapon hideout" - an unloaded revolver in a locked safe.

As I see it, if our enviromental movements don't fall apart due to their internal discrepancies then they will certainly stumble from the oppression of the goverment, the intimidation of the media and the ignorance and racism of the people. So while we are making progress in getting the wishywashies out, making the movement more radical and agreeing in our agendas (all these things aren't exactly so perfect yet) we should really concentrate our brainpower to solve this problem of methods.

Earth First! Finland

Earth First! Finland isn't exactly anything yet. We haven't done anything yet but stupid WWW pages. On the other hand we have had a lot of positive dialogue with Finnish animal rights and ANTIFA people and we have agreed about solidarity between the movements. The crucial questions are now at hand.

Where and how to start ? It's not that we would have problems in agreeing about our goals, or have moral problems with using extreme methods. It's just that the methods we have available are far from the goals we are pursuing. And there is also a contradiction between the causes of some radical methods, as you can probably conclude from what I have said about Finnish society.

We either have to choose the path of extremists or compromisers. In other words you can either try to change the minds of politicians and people with tolerated actions or you can try to force and destroy the system brick by brick. Both paths look hopeless and both have been tried many times before. It's just a question of which of these belong in Finland.

As with any other Earth First! group, non-violence in our methods is one thing we are going to follow. No other method is as effective in taking the moral basis out of our enemies' attempts to directly attack us (abuse us they always will). But remember everyone, damage to lifeless objects can't be considered as violence .

Earth First! Finland
Viivinkatu 17 as 17
33610 Tampere 61
Web: [ Not working at 22/7/02 - we're looking into it ]

For more information and contacts:

The Nature League
Tallberginkatu 1D
00180 Helsinki
Tel: +358 0 6947 899

Finnish Forest Action Group
Kullervonkatu 29 AS. 2
33500 Tampere
Tel: +358 31 555 023

Taiga Rescue Network
Coordination Centre
Box 116
S-962 23
Tel: +46 (0)971 17039

Women's Environmental Network
Aberdeen Studios
22 Highbury Grove
N5 2EA
For their "Snow Forest" campaign.

Joni/ 'Muutoksen Kevat'
PO Box 847
33101 Tampere
'M.K.' is a well produced magazine (in Finnish, with English summary), that describes itself as 'eco-revolutionary'. Welcomes international contacts.

Do or Die DTP/web team: