Just suppose, dear reader, that a bunch of anti-Putin foreign students decided to travel to Russia and participate in a demonstration against Putin on Red Square attacking a piece of anti-American neo-Soviet propaganda being circulated in Russian theaters. How do you think the Kremlin would respond? Would it allow such a thing to occur?
The Russian government-supported youth movement, Nashi, plans to hold demonstrations in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, on 23 March 2009 against a seminar organised by the Estonian Embassy in Helsinki. Johan Bäckman, leader of the self-declared “Finnish Anti-Fascist Committee” (Safka), said Estonia’s pro-Moscow Nightwatch (Nochnoy Dozor) organisation will also take part in the demonstrations. The organisers of the planned demonstration repeat Kremlin’s assertion that the seminar, Fear Behind the Wall, is “anti-Russian” and “pro-Nazi.”
The Estonian Embassy will organise the seminar in cooperation with the Latvian and Lithuanian embassies, Finnish book publisher WSOY, and Finland’s National Audiovisual Archive (KAVA). The seminar will mark 60 years since the March deportations in Estonia and 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain. Political scientist Iivi Anna Masso will interview authors Imbi Paju and Sofi Oksanen, editors of the article compilation, “Fear Behind Us All.”
Speaking on Russia’s state-run First Channel, Johan Bäckman claimed that “anti-Russian forces” have spread their activities from the Baltic States to Finland. He claimed prized Finnish author Sofi Oksanen and Estonian-born political scientist Iivi Anna Masso were spreading “fascist, pro-Nazi propaganda” in Finland. Bäckman characterised the series of documentary films, “Fear Behind the Wall,” to be screened at the Finnish National Audiovisual Archive’s Orion cinema, as a series of “anti-Russian films”.
Bäckman has made numerous provocative statements against Estonia and in support of Kremlin policies. He has published books that are uncritically supportive of Russia’s official party line and denigrating Finnish critics of the regime in Moscow. Bäckman’s novel, “Saatana saapuu Helsinkiin,” smeared late journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya and Finnish critics of Putin’s rule; the book “Pronssisoturi” accompanied Moscow’s anti-Estonian campaign after the riots in Tallinn that followed the transfer of the Soviet war memorial, the “Bronze Soldier,” in spring 2007.
Bäckman has launched several blogs, which he uses to spread disinformation about politics in Russia, Finland, and the Baltic States. Many well-known critics of Russia’s current regime are constantly being targeted with verbal attacks in Bäckman’s various blogs. Those at the receiving end of Bäckman’s verbal abuse include, among others, Jarkko Tontti, vice-chairman of the Finnish branch of International PEN; Jukka Mallinen, former chairman of Finnish PEN; Finnish political scientist Iivi Anna Masso; Estonian journalist Imbi Paju; Finnish novelist Sofi Oksanen; and Ville Ropponen, chairman of the Finnish association of progressive artists and writers, Kiila.
These absurd allegations are eerily reminiscent of Soviet disinformation campaigns and can be seen as a form of political pressure. Their intended purpose is clearly to intimidate critics and to impose a new form of self-censorship in Finnish public debate. Bäckman has adopted an aggressive tactic of accusing his opponents of defamation, thus deflecting attention from his own libelous allegations against a wide spectre of Finnish cultural and political figures. His latest venture, bringing Russian pro-regime street thugs onto the streets of Helsinki, takes his campaign to a whole new level.
Senior figures in the Russian presidential administration encouraged the creation of the Nashi movement, which by late 2007 had around 120,000 members. The Kremlin’s primary goal may have been to create a paramilitary force to harass and attack Putin’s critics and members of the democratic opposition. Nashists have also inflitrated opposition groups as the regime’s paid spies. Recently, Nashi members claimed responsibility for cyber attacks that crippled Estonia’s internet infrastructure amidst a diplomatic quarrel with Russia in spring 2007.
The demonstrations planned in Helsinki on 23 March 2009 may be part of an attempt by Johan Bäckman and his cohorts to spread Nashi’s venomous intimidation of critics of Russia’s ruling regime outside of Russia’s borders. Bäckman has actively propagated the same inverted logic of “anti-fascism” that Nashists adhere to. Recently, Bäckman launched an initiative to establish a “Russian People’s Party” in Finland. This, and previous ventures, are clearly an attempt to mobilise Finland’s Russian-speakers into supporting Moscow’s cynical, anti-integrationist policies in its “near abroad.”