Laughter has become a formidable weapon in Finland against anger and bloodshed
As national governments and the European Union struggle to come up with a viable plan to deal with the refugee influx from the south, unpleasant far-right elements have taken to forming vigilante gangs that aim to harass and intimidate newcomers.
Finland is no different and a squad of thinly veiled neo-Nazis calling themselves the ‘Soldiers of Odin’ (after the Norse God) has arisen, originating in the northern town of Kemi, near an entry point for migrants. Blaming crime on immigrants, especially those who are Muslims, they patrol the streets menacingly. The ‘Soldiers’ have been encouraged recently by the sex attacks in Cologne and Sweden and the alleged cover-ups in both places, as well as an unprecedented surge in sexual attacks in Helsinki on New Year’s Eve that the capital’s police have blamed on some Iraqi asylum seekers (though this conclusion has been disputed). The Soldiers of Odin Facebook page has 29,000 ‘likes’.
In 2015, Finland received a 900 per cent increase in immigrants entering the country compared to 2014, yet this is still well below the EU average for foreign composition of the population. Moreover, there are plenty of Finns outside of the government and police who are disturbed by the antics of the Soldiers. Some Finns have taken to combatting these patrols not through angry marches (for Finns are mostly peaceful and non-violent) but through mockery. ‘Lol’, the textspeak for ‘laugh out loud’, has an international currency (though not for the current British Prime Minister) and some multilingual Finns have adopted it to become the ‘Loldiers of Odin’. This comedy collective that claims both groups are clowns and wants to march alongside the Soldiers night after night, wears a combination of bathrobes, pyjamas, white face make-up and red noses.
In Tampere, the ‘Manchester of Finland’ (from its industrial, red-brick past) and a short bus ride away from the town of Nokia, the local branch of the Soldiers were in the midst of questioning some non-white people on the street, demanding to see their victims’ ID cards and asking if they were Muslim when they were intercepted by the Loldiers. A member of the latter group, named Daffodil, said: ‘The night was dark and full of terror, we spread some fun to correct this error!’ Such fun included playing around in shovelled snow, kicking balls and shaking tambourines.
One of the Loldiers, dressed in a striped dressing gown, a bushy beard and a ‘traditional’ horned Viking helmet (along with other various items of clothing underneath commensurate with protection against -30 degrees) proclaimed himself jokingly as Odin and said: ‘My soldiers are keeping the streets safe. Everyone can be safe tonight’. Another waved a flag which on one side had a splayed mockery of a swastika and on the other ‘Sieg Fail’. The Soldiers were unimpressed (later complaining online about ‘anarchist clowns’) and, being embarrassed, beat a rapid retreat out of the town centre. The Loldiers waved goodbye and sang them a farewell song.
Is laughter the best way to confront fear and intimidation in a manner going back to Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and David Low’s cartoons? The issues surrounding the level of immigration are serious, and integration as well as assimilation with Finnish values will take time. Vigilantes like the Soldiers of Odin are themselves against Finnish values of tolerance and compassion, and if they can be shamed off the streets, then those who seek a new and peaceful life in Finland will be better able to participate in society. In this sense, the Loldiers perform a valuable service at the grassroots level in a way that is both uniquely Finnish and appealing to the universal aspect of humour.