The ‘gentleman historian’ and the change in Finnish fascism
2017-11-15 14:35:00 -
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Panu Höglund

In the good old days, being a right-wing radical in Finland meant hating Russia, or the Soviet Union. Our foreign policies were friendly towards Moscow, although this didn’t appeal to everyone, but at the same time, you couldn’t really have a political career in Finland without lip service to the Soviet Union. Those who weren’t capable of this hypocrisy had to give up politics, even politicking, and they tended to drift to neo-Nazism or join related marginalised groups.

 

One of the most visible neo-Nazis in Finland has since the 1980s been the man whom I will only call ‘the gentleman historian’ in this context. He lived in Tampere, the city of the workers’ movement in Finland; not the best place for neo-Nazi activism, you’d think. 

 

He spent some time studying history at the local university, but never got his degree, as the faculty found his thesis too biased against Russians. So your man did not get to be a professional historian, but afterwards took a leisured gentleman’s interest in history. Whether he was a very gentle man I don’t know, but thanks to living on the dole, he had at least enough leisure.

 

Most of his time he was bad-mouthing Russia, the Russians and all politicians who were, according to his lights, too sympathetic towards Russia: that would mean every politician in our country. 

 

The vocabulary he used expressing his opinions was much worse than anything you’d hear from street drunkards. These antics made him a despised figure in the whole country, especially with the advent of the internet.

 

He started to create blogs under the names of his enemies (that is, anybody he saw as an enemy, which amounted to pretty much everybody) and filling them with obscenities. In the end, this massive campaign earned him a prison term. Finnish criminal law does provide for two years of prison for libel, but I reckon the gentleman historian was the only person in this country ever to be imprisoned for this crime. Of course, he interpreted the verdict as Russians and communists infringing on his freedom of expression and declared himself a patriotic martyr.

 

For a long time, most right-wing radicals in Finland were of the opinion that the gentleman historian was damaging their cause. But gradually even the more respectable among them adopted his methods, such as online persecution campaigns. These days, racist extremists usually call the gentleman historian a ‘people’s artist’, understanding that he was a trailblazer and a harbinger of their own movement.

 

As is the nature of his ilk, the gentleman historian was also very appreciative of Hitler and the original Nazis. When he was invited to the Finnish parliament by the True Finns MP James Hirvisaari, he attracted the attention of the very mass media by performing a Nazi salute in plain sight, so that he could be photographed by every journalist passing by. This salute ended Hirvisaari’s political career, for the poor man was abandoned by his voters when the next general election was up. 

 

To give the gentleman historian his due, however, Hirvisaari himself was not much more civilised than his guest when it came to insulting people whose opinions, or the colour of whose skin, he didn’t agree with.

 

Recently, though, the gentleman historian showed that he was still able to surprise us. For a while, it seemed that he would never give up his anti-Russian insults, while the rest of the radical right was joining the ranks of Putinists. When a Neo-Nazi demonstration in Tampere made some noise in the media and in the blogs, the gentleman historian was seen busy defending the demonstrators in the comments boxes, as you’d expect him to do. Interestingly, though, he began one of his statements with these fateful words: “I am not stating that the demonstrators were sympathetic to Russia, but…”

 

I think I wasn’t the only person to recognise the end of an era in these words. The ‘traditional’ radical right that was there once, drawing on the old post-war anti-Russian vindictiveness, was gone. Now the gentleman historian himself was siding with Russia, the Vatican of the international church of neo-Nazism.

Panu Höglund is a Finn who writes in Irish.

 

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