Thursday, November 3, 2016

MV-lehti: a Finnish anti-immigration irony

By definition, xenophobes are bigoted, prejudiced and often racist individuals who dislike immigrants or, in general, dislike people from other countries. It is therefore ironic to have someone who seemingly dislikes immigrants but is himself the son of an immigrant, currently lives in a foreign country and at the same time runs an anti-immigrant website from his adopted country. 

An anti-immigrant website has been on the news lately in Finland. According to Yle, the site, MV-lehti, was founded in 2014 and has been accused of racism, slander, conspiracy theories, copyright infringement and privacy violations in Finland. Yle reports that the website has gained a larger readership in Finland over the past year since the migrant crisis began in Europe after publishing incendiary, erroneous and abusive articles on immigration and other subjects. The website is reportedly known for also publishing, amongst other things, pictures of [foreign] crime suspects and convicted criminals in violation of Finland's privacy laws.

Screenshot of MV-lehti header
The website's founder, Ilja Janitskin, told Yle in an interview (in Finnish) that his father was born in Leningrad (known nowadays as St. Petersburg), Russia. His father migrated to Finland (from Russia) when he fell in love with a Finnish woman. The couple settled in Lieksa, eastern Finland, where they gave birth to and raised the founder of the anti-immigrant website MV-lehti. He tells Yle that he considers himself "100% Finnish." In the 2000s he emigrated to Miami, Florida where he lived for 2 years. He returned to Finland from Miami, and joined an organized criminal motorcycle club after being unable to find work. He then moved to Spain where he now lives in Barcelona where MV-lehti was founded.

Several youth and political orgainzations joined forces and launched a campaign against MV-lehti and another anti-immigrant website in an effort to cut off funds by targeting the websites' advertisers. The rationale of the campaign is that the websites in question agitate hatred towards minority groups in Finnish society hence companies should not benefit from that. The campaign against the sites was reportedly launched by the Social Democratic Students (SONK), and the organization's chair reportedly received death threats following the launch of the campaign.

A police investigation was launched on the request of Finland's Deputy Prosecutor General to determine whether or not charges should be pressed against the founder of MV-lehti. According to Yle police received dozens of complaints about the website, and launched an investigation on suspicion of copyright infringement, libel, aggravated defamation, fundraising crimes and gambling crimes. Helsinki district court rejected a petition by police to shut down the website. The site's founder was however remanded in custody in absentia. Police want to question him on suspicion of inciting hatred against an ethnic group and aggravated slander. He is also suspected of illegal threats, money laundering and gambling crimes, breaches of confidentiality and copyright crimes.  Yle reports that the suspect said he will not willingly give himself up for questioning and that he may consider seeking asylum in Spain to avoid Finnish authorities. He could face arrest and extradition to Finland since the Helsinki Appeals Court threw out an appeal against the remand order.

The suspect was detained in Spain following the decision by Finnish courts to remand him in custody. He was however released by Spanish authorities a few days later. 

My Take

I watched Yle's interview with Janitskin, titled "Janitskinin totuus??!!" Sitting on a sofa stroking a bunny, IIja Janitskin came across in the interview as defiant. But despite his best attempt to debunk claims that he is an immigrant himself, nothing can change the fact: he is an immigrant demonizing immigrants. Not only Somalis and Africans are immigrants. A Finn living in Spain is also an immigrant in Spain. It is that simple. Janitskin reportedly emigrated to Miami at one point and later to Spain. He is as immigrant as an immigrant can get. If he is not an immigrant in Spain no one living in a foreign country is - not even the Somalis bearing the brunt of racism in his hometown of Lieksa, which by the way has a unflattering reputation

It is ironic to see someone whose father was an immigrant and who is currently an immigrant himself running an anti-immigrant website against immigrants living in the country to which his father emigrated from his native Russia. And it is telling that Janitskin says he would seek asylum in Spain if need be. Someone radically opposed to immigrants and asylum seekers considering seeking asylum elsewhere. Paradoxical.

Mindful of the fact that his father was a Russian who migrated to Finland, Janitskin is of immigrant background by birth. To put it into perspective - president Barack Obama of the United States is of immigrant background. Obama was born in the United States to an American mother and a Kenyan father. Obama is 100% American in the same way Janitskin is, in his own words, "100% Finnish" - although some racist Finnish right-wing extremists, many of whom, I think, enjoy the content of website would argue - in private if not in public - that he is not 100% Finnish as he claims.

The first thing that stroke me while watching the Yle interview was that he felt the need to brand himself "100% Finnish." This led me to believe this might be someone struggling with identity crisis; someone who probably thinks he is more "Finnish" than others. It would be interesting to know what he thinks of a person who was, for example, born in Finland to a Tanzanian mother and a Finnish father. In other words, I would like to know whether  Janitskin also thinks someone born in Lieksa to a Somali father and a Finnish mother is also "100% Finnish." Drawing from the anti-multiculturalism and anti-migrant content on his MV-lehti website my guess is he probably does not think so.

Ilja Janitskin touched on freedom of expression in the Yle interview. According to him people have the right to write what they want. From a legal standpoint it is not true. There are justifiable legal limitations to freedom of expression in both national legislation and in international human rights conventions like the European Convention on Human Rights (article 10) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Janitskin claims he does not force anyone to read his thoughts or comments of his readers. This statement points to a common problem among people who spew and incite hate online: they are often quick to point to their rights while being oblivious to their duties and the rights of others. Everyone reserves the right to visit a website that is open to the public and the right to report to the authorities if they think a crime is being committed online. That is why Finnish police have the Net Tip or Nettivinkki section on its website through which internet users can submit non-emergency information to the police in relation to any suspicious material found online, including racist or hate crimes and discrimination.The publisher of an inflammatory website cannot ask people of good conscience to look away.

I welcome legal action against hate speech and incitement of hatred both online and offline, and I commend those who proactively take legal action against hate-mongering websites and against individuals that threaten public safety by inciting hatred against minority groups. It is unfortunate that the chair of SONK, Hanna Huumonen, received death threats for launching a campaign against MV-lehti and a related website. The death threats are an indication of the threat posed by such websites and the people who run them. People of goodwill fighting social ills should not be cowed by illegal threats designed to silence them and intended to create an environment conducive for racism to foster. 

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