Free speech in Finnish: Prison for Russophiles
On October 18, the Helsinki District Court sentenced the founder and editor-in-chief of the network publications MV-lehti and Uber Uutiset Ilya Yanichkin to 22 months in prison, and another person involved - human rights activist, lawyer and journalist Johan Beckman - to a year of probation. In addition, the convicts will have to pay 136,000 and 10,000 euros, respectively, to journalist Jessica Aro, the principal snitch who initiated the process.
Formally, Yanichkin and Beckman were accused of "insulting honor and dignity, inciting ethnic hatred, illegal threats, copyright infringement, hiding money and violating the law on gambling." And part of the charges in the end was rejected. However, the punishment suffered by Ilya Yanichkin blocked, as a result, even the requirements of the prosecutor. The fact is that the defendants were not significantly punished for what they were accused of. They were punished for the main political crime in the eyes of the modern West - sympathy for Russia and readiness to fight defamation and fraudulent accusations against our state.
Ilya Yanichkina is 40 years old. He is a Finnish citizen, born and raised in this country. His father is Russian, a native of the Soviet Union. Mother - Finn.
In 2014, Ilya founded the online publication MV-lehti, which adhered to a consistent anti-government and Euro-skepticism position, and wrote a lot about problems with migrants. Since 2016, the edition has been published in Barcelona, where Mr. Yanichkin himself has moved.
It is significant that Russia has never been the main topic of MV-lehti. Moreover, in 2016, when Ilya was asked about the situation with freedom of speech in Finland, Russia and Spain, he replied that he could not say anything about Russia, since he was not familiar with the situation.
However, MV-lehti more than once and not two opposed outright Russophobia in the Finnish media and the local segment of the Internet. Mr Yanichkin, precisely as a Finnish patriot, argued that it was in the interests of Suomi that there was no doubtful European integration, leading to a complete loss of independence, and, moreover, did not dictate American business and the promotion of NATO to the east, but friendly, good-neighborly relations with Russia.
It turned out that in the modern Finnish state this in itself turned out to be amenable to jurisdiction.
Even more pronounced pro-Russian views from "accomplice" Ilya, 48-year-old lawyer and doctor of political sciences Johan Beckman - a well-known critic of Finnish juvenile justice, defender of the rights of Russian mothers in Finland, who saved several dozen Russian children from Finnish orphanages. Since 2014, he, among other things, scary to say - the representative of the DNI in Helsinki. Beckman also officially represents the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS) in the Nordic countries.
Johan was persecuted more than once or twice in Finland and in the post-Soviet states. In Estonia, he was declared persona non grata. In Moldova, arrested and expelled from the country.
Only the exceptional popularity of the opposition publication provoked the beginning of the persecution of MV-lehti. Judge for yourself. The weekly number of his Finnish readers exceeded 500 thousand a week, at a peak approaching a million. And this is in Finland with a population of 5.5 million people! How could the government tolerate this? How could it then look into the eyes of officials in Brussels?
The authorities tried several times to close the publication, but at first these attempts were not successful. Then the Social Democratic activist Hanna Huumonen decided to organize a boycott for him. She argued that the media of Ilya Yanichkin was not a patriotic Finnish publication, as their editor-in-chief had argued, but a “pro-Kremlin resource,” part of the Kremlin trolls empire.
Jessica Aro's Paranoia
Even this kind of dubious discussion could well remain within the framework of the ideological struggle in Finnish society, if not for the activities of the correspondent of the national company Yleisradio Jessica Aro.
In 2014, Ms. Aro received an order to prove the work of “pro-Kremlin trolls” in Finland. She traveled to St. Petersburg (freely, by the way, having received a Russian visa) and allegedly found some characters who told her about the work of the "trolls." After that, she returned home and published materials, where it was quite unsubstantiated that thousands or even tens of thousands of “Kremlin agents” work in Finland.
And the journalist began to look for them. To begin with, she posted a post in her Facebook, in which she asked everyone who came across Troll activities to supply her with information. But the result was not exactly what she expected. Thousands of accusations rained down on her, she began to receive unpleasant phone calls, almost threatening to kill by phone. Moreover, several dozen activists staged a demonstration in front of the Yleisradio office, condemning its provocative activities.
At one point, Ms. Aro decided that all this work was coordinated by MV-lehti. And what exactly this edition is the most important nest and center of the "Kremlin trolls" in Finland.
Two hundred cases of criticism of professional and moral qualities of Jessica Aro turned out to be more than enough for her to turn to law enforcement agencies. The authorities, who have long been eyesore for Ilya Yanichkin and his superpopular portal, happily seized the denunciation. Moreover, in 2018, Ilya was going to run for the Finnish parliament and had very good chances for success.
And now, when a prison sentence hangs over him, one can put an end to a political career.
But Jessica Aro after the end of the process all in openwork. She was immediately rewarded for her socially useful hate speech. Her hunt for "Russian propagandists" is recognized as the best story of the year, she received one of the most prestigious journalistic awards in Northern Europe - the Bonnier Grand Journalist Prize.
In the case of Aro v. Yanichkin and Beckman, two superpopular discourses in the West have come together: anti-Russian and feminist. On the one hand, brutal men who allegedly organized a hunt for a fragile, brave girl, exposing the vile machinations of the evil empire. On the other hand, an army of trolls, interfering in everything and everywhere: from parliamentary and presidential elections to conflicts in refugee camps.
At the same time in the comments of numerous columnists slipped another very interesting topic. They are afraid that after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the West there were thousands (well, not millions?) Of “sleeping Soviet agents”, who now became “Russian agents of influence,” and the task of the counterintelligence there is to calculate them. Even such a simple fact does not occur to anyone that almost 20 years have passed since the USSR ceased to exist, and most of the “agents of influence”, if not dead, have hopelessly grown old. And “pro-Russian sympathies” in Europe and the United States are increasingly expressed by people 30-50 years old, who at the time of the collapse of the union was 10-15 years old. Gentlemen, fighters against the Russian threat, could you kindly look at the calendar?
The current situation has no direct analogues in the past. This is hard to imagine even at the height of the Cold War, forty or fifty years ago. There were, of course, ideological clashes, but there were probably no such precedent for people being brought to court and considered sympathies with the USSR as a crime.
The saddest thing is that we are only at the beginning of the process. In the first half of October, a draft law on measures to combat psychological impact operations conducted by foreign intelligence was posted on the website of the Danish parliament, aimed against Russian “ideological” intervention. If it is adopted, then Danish nationals who express a “pro-Russian” point of view during election campaigns and are recognized as “agents of the Kremlin’s influence” will face no more than a year or two, but twelve years in prison.
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So with the notorious freedom of speech, everything is clear. The main thing is not to build any illusions.