Its summer in Finland. We sit in a circle with seven people from RoR Helsinki, and a few guest sambistas. Questions are put on the table, and soon after come the answers, from different directions. Here an attempt to capture some of what was talked. Thanks to everyone that participated:
1. How is RoR Helsinki? Can you describe it for us?
We sound good. We rehearse on Mondays, at 19:00, and as far as we can remember it’s always been that way. We are always open to new people. We don’t have a website and we hardly any PR at all: we prefer face-to-face communication and being known and heard in the streets. People join through the friends network. Sometimes we sign statements to support campaigns or actions, and people get to know us like that, and write us to our email account ( rorhelsinki äT riseup.net ).
There are about 40 people on our mailing list, and in the rehearsals we can be between 8 and 15 people, sometimes more if a big action is approaching. At actions, we are between 10 to 15. Our record is up to 27, when the Tampere band joined us.
We try to rotate the roles within the band. When there is an action, one person plays a coordinator role by ensuring that everyone has the information, including those who didn’t come to the rehearsal, and that there are enough people and instruments.
We have started to set up a system where an old member (buddie) would accompany the new member through the learning process. Some old members have become less active because the tunes start feeling repetitive, however some us currently active have been in the band from the beginning.
2. What about the history of the band? When did you start? Have you gone through different stages?
In 2008 an Amsterdam sambista moved back to Finland and a year later started a band in Helsinki. An invitation was spread around through a few lists and some people showed up at the first meeting. At the beginning we only had a few second-hand children’s drums and an agogo. We rehearsed in the legalised squat, social center Satama.
On this squat there was a Roma community living in the yard. The city pressured the collective, offering them to keep the place only if they get rid of the Roma, but the squatters refused. We tried to defend the squat, and stayed there until the end. Finally the city evicted and demolished the building. We managed to take the instruments out before they broke it down. That was in 2011.
After that the band met on an irregular basis, because we had nowhere to practice. In 2012 we started again in a new place. Since then we play there most of the year, and in the summer we move to a nearby squat where we can play outside and enjoy the fresh air and the mosquitos. The new setup gave us a lot of renewed motivation for actions.
3. Some of us in the network felt very inspired when we saw you in action last winter. Would you tell us a bit about the actions you have done?
Our first action happened in December 2010, on the Global Day of Climate Action. Some of us had been at the COP15 protests in Copenhagen before. That day it was raining sleet, dark, cold and we were all wet. After a demonstration outside in the city center, we walked into the Kamppi shopping mall scattered in small groups and met on the top floor to start playing while slowly walking around the floors and shops. We shouted in Finnish “Stop climate change by shutting the fossil economy”. Cops arrived and asks us to leave, which we did without rushing, to another shopping center nearby to play again. Shopping malls are designed so that costumers have to take a long route to leave, and this played in our favor to prolong the disruption.
To come back to more recent actions, December the 6th is the Finnish independence day. The President organises a big party for the elite, and this is broadcast live so people can watch it on tv. Between 1996 and 2003, “Party crasher“ protests were organised around the President’s castle that day. This concept re-emerged with slight modifications in 2013. The President’s castle was under renovation, so the party had to be organised in Tampere (the second biggest city in Finland).
In Finland ice-hockey is a very popular sport. The anarchists used this as a tool to mobilise for the action day. The message on the posters and call-outs was carefully thought, with references to the history of class struggle in Tampere and local dialect adding to a humoristic effect. The theme was “Ice hockey party crashers”. Hockey equipment was distributed among the protesters along with cardboard masks with printed faces of local or hockey-related celebrities. People organised into affinity groups, and a few hundred showed up at the starting point.
The police forces had sent mounted police all the way from Helsinki and had set up fences all around the venue. Some protesters were grabbing and pulling the fences, and the cops charged with pepper spray, also running into the crowd on horses. The police also had difficulties controlling their horses, maybe because of the noise. After some time, the crowd regrouped and started to walk to the center. Downtown some banks were targeted and their windows got broken but there were no arrests. At the end of the day some people got arrested mostly after returning to the venue, and released again with fines.
Some liberal and right-wing politicians got outraged. The media picked the event up and started a discussion about the anarchists and the class war. They wanted to interview anarchists and organisers. Of course they didn’t draw a very nice picture of that day, but the participants found the action really successful and the action stayed in the headlines and news a very long time.
As a follow up, anarchism has gained visibility, new members have joined anarchists groups and anarchism is discussed in the media. At the same time as some of us see it repression has increased. We saw that at this years May day. Police kettled a part of the anarchist block as the traditional May day march was starting to move. We along with some other demonstrators stayed around the kettle. Eventually the kettle was opened and we marched in our own spontaneous demonstration.
4. How is the political scene in Finland?
Its a small country, not so much happens here. When something happens it makes the headlines. The media can easily ignore a 1200 people demonstration in Helsinki against the TTIP, but when sabotage is used in protest they are interested.
Surprise visit to institutions that were financing Talvivaara mine (the time we got arrested)
The politics in the country have a long tradition of compromises (mainstream consensus). To avoid uprisings, since the times of the civil war all governments have made loads of concessions. “Integration politics”. The grassroots political scene is very small. Many movements have been absorbed by the State. Funding conditions NGO’s work and their campaigns.
5. What are the challenges in your group?
For me it would be a challenge if new people join the band but don’t share our values or have missed basic information. How can we transmit our principles to new members? It doesn’t help that we are such an informal group.
Helsinki Pride 2014 (PinkBlack Block from 5:40)
6. How can the RoR network support your band? I think Finland is too far away to organise a TNM (transnational meeting of the RoR network), people wouldn’t be able to come, I would appreciate it if it happens a little closer to Scandinavia than usual. For us to organise a TNM we would need loads of support, and only one of us was ever in a transnational samba meeting.
Come to Finland!!! or Sweden or Estonia! We are isolated from most of the bands in the network. We have a contact that wants to start a band in Tallinn and we would like to support that to happen. There is a new band in Moscow. In general we are in a strategic position to connect with activists in the East.