Two sides of the same coin

The curious standoff between two types of political extremism on the fringes of Europe – yet in close proximity to the Russian Federation – continues unabated. Most recently,  Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat daily newspaper reported on one aspect of the affair, namely the news that Finland’s public prosecutor is demanding a jail term for the Finnish businessman Mikael Storsjö, who is accused of illegally helping dozens of Chechen refugees to enter Finland. But this is only a part of the ongoing situation, which involves a vitriolic campaign by two Finnish pro-Russian activists – the Lutheran pastor Juha Molari and the university lecturer Johan Bäckman – whose aim is apparently to call into question the activities of human rights campaigners in the North Caucasus, and also at the same time to challenge the policies of governments in the Baltic states, particularly those of Estonia and Latvia, with regard to their Russian-speaking minorities.

The problem for outside observers who are trying to make sense of it all is that the confrontation between Molari/Bäckman on the one hand, and Storsjö/pro-Islamist (Doku Umarov) Kavkaz Center website on the other, looks suspiciously like a manufactured conflict representing two sides of the same extremist coin.  Since most of the details are published either in Finnish or Russian on websites not normally visited or read by Western media, the potential for disinformation on these and related issues is probably rather high.

One comment

  1. Mikael Storsjö writes by email:

    I’m not so very happy being depicted as a side of some extremist coin. I believe in so-called European values. You should also be aware of my long-lasting activity within several Human Rights organizations – Finnish-Russian Civic Society (Finrosforum), Finland-Chechnya Society and Electronic Frontier Finland, just to mention a few.

    Words without deeds are just empty phrases. My present trial regards helping Chechen refugees to Finland. The prosecutor has conceded that I have not got any pecuniary benefits from this activity, and that these
    refugees have been in need of so-called international protection. The main topic in the prosecution seems to be about how far an individual may go in providing humanitarian help to those in need. Well, my defence lawyer questioned, should the Red Cross and Amnesty International be regarded as criminal organizations, as they help so many people.

    I’m happy living in a country governed by the Rule of Law, thus I have full confidence that the legal system will direct a verdict of acquittal, probably already in the court of first instance.

    Finally, one main topic on my own political agenda is supporting Freedom of Expression. My engagement in Kavkazcenter is a part of this work. I’m devoted to the idea that freedom of expression is a basic human right
    which belongs to all and everybody. It is to be regretted that many people and authorities do not share my ideals.

    Mikael Storsjö
    Helsinki, Finland

    My reply:

    Regarding your involvement in helping Chechen refugees to come to Finland, let me say that I do not see that as a manifestation of political extremism – and indeed in my post I linked to Fatima Tlisova’s article, which is sympathetic to your human rights cause. I also hope that this matter is resolved in your favour by the Finnish authorities.

    However, regarding the publications and statements of the Kavkaz Center website, I can’t see how they can be characterized as anything but extremist. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but that’s how they seem to me, as someone who is trying to understand yet another dark period in Russian/ North Caucasus history. I also can’t forget Kavkaz Center’s attacks on the mild and moderate Prague Watchdog human rights website, which occurred when I was an editor there.

    I cannot see how such extremism helps your cause in connection with the aid of the refugees, as it can be so easily confused with another kind of extremism – the Molari/ Bäckman kind, which plays on the fears and sensibilities of the populist “True Finns” and their supporters. In my view, that type of extremism also endangers the cause of human rights, but from the opposite end of the political spectrum. That’s why I wrote about “two sides of the same coin”. It’s a matter of perception, and of how this conflict appears to the outside world.

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