Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in the Finnish capital Helsinki to express discontent with racism and right-wing extremism, more than a week after the death of a young man allegedly killed by a neo-Nazi leader.
Some 15,000 protesters took part in the rally, which was held at Kansalaistori Square on Saturday, Helsinki police said in a message posted on Twitter.
The demonstration, titled “Stop This Game – Let’s Break the Silence,” had been organized by a Facebook group with the aim of breaking the silence in the Finnish society, which according to the organizers, “enables and fosters racism and violent right-wing extremism in Finland.”
“During the last few years, a culture of silence and hushing that has nurtured the growth of fascism and racism has prevailed in Finland. Violent right-wing extremism has grown stronger and one brave soul that dared to challenge it, has paid the price with his life,” the Facebook note said.
On September 10, a 28-year-old man, named Jimi Karttunen, was passing a small anti-refugee demonstration held by the Finnish Resistance Movement (SVL), a Finnish branch of the Nordic neo-Nazi organization in the capital, when he allegedly spat on the ground in front of some demonstrators to show his hate of their cause, and then walked away.
A well-known neo-Nazi leader, Jesse Torniainen, 26, however, followed him and kicked him on the chest, knocking him down head-first. Karttunen was taken to a hospital and received initial treatment and was soon discharged, but six days later he lost his life due to a cerebral hemorrhage.
Torniainen was arrested on charges of aggravated involuntary murder, but he has rejected having any role in Karttunen's death.
The tragic death of Karttunen, however, shocked the Finns and sparked public outrage against far-right groups.
According to organizers of the Saturday rally, the SVL has committed violent crimes over the years, and the “reluctance to condemn or take action by the politicians has encouraged them and other similar movements.”
Similar protests were also held around the Nordic country with thousands of people taking part, including Prime Minister Juha Sipila, who took part in a demonstration held in the central town of Kuopio.
“People are coming out for the right reason, because the rise of violent extremism is a concern to the large majority of Finns,” said a protester.
Reports say that several smaller protests in favor of racism were also held in the capital on Saturday, but police kept the groups apart and there were no clashes.
Right-wing extremists have become more active since a record 32,500 refugees were granted asylum in Finland in 2015.
Anti-refugee sentiments have existed side-by-side with pro-refugee attitudes in the European countries that have been receiving irregular asylum-seekers in the recent past. While the EU does allow the refugees in, it subjects them to a rigorous process of qualification assessment that usually results in deportation.
Many blame the West for the militancy and violence that has displaced millions of people in the Middle East, mainly Syrians, causing the huge refugee influx into Europe.