Anti-racism protests in Helsinki could prove to be a watershed moment for Finnish politicians and society.
That's the view of Kaari Mattila, Secretary General of Ihmisoikeusliitto, the Finnish League for Human Rights. Mattila makes the comments on today's episode of Newsmakers, HSTV's weekly English-language current affairs show.
On September 24th, an estimated 15 000 people took to the streets of the capital under the "Peli Poikki" – Game Over – banner, to protest against extremist groups, racism and fascism; and to show support for the family of 28 year Jimi Joonas Karttunen, who died after apparently confronting members of the neo-Nazi Finland Resistance Movement group outside Helsinki's central railway station earlier in September.
But what effect do organisers think the protest will have?
"One event as such doesn't change politics, but it might be a turning point to political leaders to do more" says Mattila. I always think of demonstrations as a space for anyone to come out and take part, and that as such is an important act. It's very empowering to be part of 15 000 thousand people in the capital" she adds.
Mattila says although violent attacks are tragic, she hopes they can galvanise people to come out and demand a change. But she complains that Finland's coalition government was too slow to condemn recent attacks.
"This demonstration was [...] a demand for political leaders to take action" explains Mattila, adding that the Peli Poikki event wasn't just a celebration of multiculturalism, but a protest delivering a specific message.
"Political leaders have to be stronger" says the human rights campaigner. "They have to be consistent in what they say, what they do. There needs to be stronger reaction by the government coalition against racism, fascism and racist crimes".
In the aftermath of Karttunen's death, political leaders called for more legislation to crack down on extremist groups. However this week, government ministers announced that no new laws would be introduced, saying the existing laws could be used by police to target violent extremist groups.
"There's a big paradigm shift that needs to take place" says Mattila, noting that too often, politicians' response are limited to 'we don't tolerate racism'. She says her organisation would like to move the debate beyond just talking about tolerance.
"It's not about tolerating people we think are different from ourselves. It's about rights. They are rights holders. Our whole constitution is based on international rights systems, which makes all of us rights holders".
Ihmisoikeusliitto has been working with the Ministry of Education to help add human rights classes to the new national curriculum for schools.
"Schools are the best agents of change" says Mattila, and explains that while previously, children had been taught more generally about multiculturalism, tolerance and global affairs issues, they would now be specifically taught about legal rights.
"It's a challenge for teachers and schools to actually know how they should be teaching it, and we as a civil society are trying to facilitate this process" says Mattila.
The Finnish League for Human rights has also been working with police authorities, to introduce compulsory human rights training for new recruits at the police college.
But Mattila would like to go further and have more education for senior officers as well. Up to now, such training has been done on a voluntary basis, and Mattila argues that it should be mandatory.
"We've been pushing the police to do better, and that's been partially successful".